From Much Ado About Nothing. Ed. A. Wilson Verity. London: Rivingtons.
Dramatis Personae. — The stage-direction in the Quarto
and the Folios is as follows: "Enter Leonato govenor of
Messina, Innogen his wife, Hero his daughter, and Beatrice his niece, with a messenger." Here we have an allusion to a
character — Innogen — who never appears in the play at all. Probably Shakespeare intended to introduce her on the scene,
found that there was no place for her, and so dropped her out of the scheme of the piece; only, through some inadvertence,
the name was left in. We might have expected the Folio version to correct the error of the Quarto. Innogen may be a
corruption of Imogen, the name, one need scarcely add, of the
heroine in Cymbeline.
Title. — It may be worth while to note that the title of the
play passed into a proverb; or was already one. Thus Cotgrave
has, "Une levee de bouclier: Much ado about nothing; a great shew, or much doings to little purpose; mightie preparations
for a meane exploit."
7 Sort. 'Rank,' or 'reputation.' So, amongst other passages,
Henry V. iv. 7. 142, "His enemy is a gentleman of great sort."
Sort is derived, through the French, from Latin sortem.
21 Badge. 'Sign.' So in Sonnet 44 we have, "Heavy tears,
badges of either's woe."
25 Kind. 'Natural.' Shakespeare applies the epithet in
Lucrece, 1423, to a picture which is true to life —
"Much imaginary work was there;
Conceit deceitful, so compact, so kind."
28 I pray you. Note that Beatrice's first enquiry is about
Benedick, for whom, of course, she has an unacknowledged
liking. The sarcastic, ironical tone of her query sounds the
keynote of the word-and-wit encounters that subsequently take
place betwixt this "happy, happy pair."
Montanto. Implying that Benedick was a great fencer, since
Montanto was a fencing term, "an upright blow or thrust," as
Cotgrave defines it. The form montant occurs in the Merry
Wives, ii. 3. 27, in a list of similar technicalities. Montanto is,
no doubt, a quasi-Italian formation from this. Cf. coranto, from
34 Pleasant, 'Witty,' 'facetious.' A very common meaning.
Cf. the French plaisant, plaisanterie.
36 Set up his bills. When a fencing-master visited a town
he posted up bills setting forth his accomplishments, and the
reasons why the world should learn fencing from him alone.
Probably, too, these notices contained challenges to all who
might feel inclined to have a bout with him. Fencers, however,
were not the only people who employed this system of reclame.
Dr. Faustus asks himself —
"Are not thy bills hung up as monuments,
Whereby whole cities have escaped the plague?"
— Act i. scene i, lines 19-20;
where the bills, pretty certainly, are the advertisements with
which, as a travelling physician, he had had towns placarded...
37 At the flight. The flight, in archery, signified a special
and very difficult kind of shooting. Elsewhere it is called
"roving," and the point of the exercise appears to have been that
the archer aimed at objects only just within arrow-shot. Clearly, therefore, the skill consisted in accurately judging distances.
39 The bird-bolt. The bird-bolt was a short blunt arrow. These bolts were used by sportsmen in shooting small birds;
being flat at the end, they would just stun the bird without
damaging its plumage, or spoiling the flesh for eating purposes.
Allusions to them are frequent. Cf. Love's Labour's Lost, iv. 3. 23, "Sweet Cupid, thou hast thumped him with thy bird-bolt;" and (to go outside Shakespeare) Lyly's Sapho and Phao,
i. I, where the distinction between bolts and ordinary arrows
is emphasised: "Hee gives thee bolts, Cupid, in steed of
arrowes." From Fletcher's Faithful Shepherdess, ii. 3, it would seem that there were other baser uses to which they came —
"Gins to catch him birds, with bow and bolt
To shoot at nimble squirrels in the holt."
"The birdbolt" is the sign of an inn at Cambridge.
40 Killed, and eaten in these wars. A natural piece of exaggeration. Cf. Henry V. iii. 7. 99-100 —
"Ram. He longs to eat the English.
"Con. I think he will eat all he kills."
42 Tax. 'Censure.' Cf. As You Like It, i. 2. 91, "You'll
be whipped for taxation."
43 Meet with you. 'Even with you.' A provincialism.
51 Stuffed with. 'Full of.' Compare Romeo and Juliet,
iii. 5. 183, "Stuffed ... with honourable parts."
60 Five wits. "The wits," says Johnson, "seem to have been
reckoned five, by analogy to the five senses, or the inlets of ideas." As a matter of fact the "five wits" are often equivalent
to the five senses. This is clear from many passages; e.g. from a quotation which Hunter gives (Illustrations, vol. ii. p. 271)
from Henry the Eighth's Primer (1546), "My five wits have I fondly misused and spent, in hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting,
and also feeling." Shakespeare has the same reference in Twelfth Night, iv. 2. 92; Sonnet 141; and Lear, iii. 4. 269. Wit,
according to Malone, was in Shakespeare's time "the general term for the intellectual power." (Dyce's Glossary to Shakespeare, p. 57.
62 Wit enough to keep himself warm. A proverb. So the Taming of the Shrew, ii. i. 268-69 —
"Pet. Am I not wise?
"Kath. Yes; keep you warm."
63 Difference. 'To serve as a distinction.' A term from heraldry, too intricate to be explained here. Compare Hamlet,
iv. 5. 183, "Wear your rue with a difference."
66 A new sworn brother. That is, 'bosom friend.' Said in
allusion to the mediaeval expression, "Frates jurati," or "Fratres
conjurati." They were persons, says Hunter, "linked together in small fellowships, perhaps not more than two, who undertook
to defend and assist each other in a military expedition under the sanction of some stricter tie than that which binds the
individuals composing a whole army to each other. They are found in genuine history, as well as in the romances of chivalry."
(Illustrations of Shakespeare, vol. i. p. 244.) Shakespeare has the phrase several times; e.g. in Richard II. v. I. 20-21 —
"Sworn brother, sweet,
To grim necessity;"
and Winter's Tale, iv. 4. 607, "What a fool Honesty is! and
Trust, his sworn brother."
70 Block. That is, 'the wooden block on which hats are
made.' A term still in use. "This is a good block," says
Lear (iv. 6. 187), meaning 'shape.'
71 Not in your books, 'Not one whom you trust, and to whom you give credit.' We still say that a man is in a person's
"books," good or bad, and probably the phrase originated in some commercial practice. To be in a tradesman's "good
books " meant that he regarded you as a safe customer, whose debts would not, in technical language, prove "bad."
74 No young squarer. That is, 'quarreler.' The noun is not found elsewhere in Shakespeare; the verb he uses several times
in this sense, e.g, in Midsummer Night's Dream, ii. I. 28-30—
"And now they never meet in grove or green,
• • • • •
But they do square."
"To square up to" a person is still in use, the metaphor of course being from the position of a boxer.
89 To meet your trouble. Said, presumably, in allusion to the proverb, "Don't meet your trouble half way."
95 Charge. 'Burden;' i.e. of entertaining Don Pedro. Mr.
Marshall aptly remarks: "The royal progresses in which the Sovereign used to indulge in Shakespeare's time no doubt
conferred great honour upon the person her majesty visited; but they were also a source of considerable expense." A famous royal visit was that which Elizabeth made to the Earl of Leicester at Kenilworth.
101 Have it full. 'Now you know all about it;' or perhaps
the words imply that Benedick has had the worst of the wit-encounter.
103 Fathers herself. 'Shows by her face who her father was.'
105 If Signior Leonato, &c. Probably Benedick says this to Beatrice, Don Pedro and Leonato having moved away. As to
the sense of the sentence. Benedick seems to mean that Hero would not care to change heads with her father; but the
repartee leaves something to be desired.
113 Courtesy. We may remember Milton's derivation — correct enough — in Comus, 322-325 —
"Thy honest offer'd courtesy,
Which oft is sooner found in lowly sheds
With smoky rafters, than in tapstry halls
In courts of princes, where it first was nam'd."
So Spenser, Faerie Queene, vi. I. i; so, too, Skeat.
114 Must convert. 'Convert' = 'change,' used intransitively,
is not uncommon. Cf. Lucrece, 592, "Stones dissolv'd to
water do convert;" and "convert from" in Sonnet 49, "Love,
converted from the thing it was."
116 Only you excepted. When "excepted" and "except"
follow the noun they are probably to be regarded as passive
participles; when they precede, as prepositions. Contrast the
present instance with iii. I. 93, "Always excepted my dear
Claudio;" and see Abbot, Shakespearian Grammar, p. 81.
119 A dear happiness. 'What good luck for them.'
128 As yours were. It is tempting to leave out the "were."
129 A rare parrot-teacher. Implying that she has a fine
faculty for prattling.
130 Of my tongue. 'Which I have taught;' or, 'A bird
with such a tongue as mine.'
159 Too low. 'Too short.' Cf. Midsummer Night's Dream,
i. I. 136, "Too high to be enthrall'd to low."
160 Too brown for a fair praise. The quibble is obvious.
As to "brown" compare what Beatrice says of herself in act ii.
scene I, "I am sun-burned." Doubtless, there is an allusion
to the Elizabethan distaste for dark complexions. As we read in
Sonnet 127, "Black was not counted fair." So Lovers Labour's Lost, iv. 3. 247-270.
168 Case. 'Jewel-box.' Case sometimes meant 'a suit of clothes.' So "Cases of buckram" in 1 Henry IV. i. 2. 201.
169 with a sad brow, 'In sober earnest,' 'seriously.' Compare As You Like It, iii. 2. 156, "Sad brow and sober maid."
"Sad" = 'serious,' 'grave,' is very common in Shakespeare.
Play the flouting Jack. As a schoolboy phrases it, "Are you
trying to be funny?" So Tempest, iv. 198, "Done little
better than played the Jack with us;" i.e, 'made fools of us.'
A Jack was the typical saucy, pert fellow. Like the French Jacques, the word had a contemptuous sense, even as early as
Chaucer's time: "Go fro the window, Jacke fool, she said"
(Canterbury Tales, 3708, "The Miller's Tale.") It has enriched the language with a whole series of compounds, "Jack-an-apes,"
"Jack-ass," "boot-Jack." With regard to what follows — "Cupid is a good hare-finder," &c. — I suspect Benedick is
talking intentional nonsense.
172 To go in. 'Join in.'
176 There's her cousin. Evidently Benedick is not so indifferent about Beatrice as he would have his friends believe.
186 Sigh away Sundays, Why Sundays? Warburton thought that it was a proverbial expression; but it does not occur elsewhere. Perhaps Sunday was only taken as being the day of rest, and there may be a sneer at the Puritan do-nothing Sabbath.
194 He. Claudio.
195 Your grace's part; i.e. 'to ask with whom he is in love.'
198-99 So were it utter'd. Like the old tale. As to the "old tale." The reference is to a popular story of the time, the tale
of Mr. Fox, a grisly conte of the "Bluebeard" type, which reappears in different guises in different countries. Cf., for
instance, the tale of Jacke of Shrewsberrie in the Ingoldsby
Legends, ii. pp. 169-185. Even with the story to guide us the text is difficult, and one is inclined to think with Johnson
that something has dropped out of the dialogue. Johnson
himself proposed a very neat change: he suggested that Claudio's speech should break off before utter'd, and that
utter'd should be assigned to Benedick. The arrangement
would then be as follows:
"Claud. If this were so, so were it (implying that Benedick's
account is incorrect).
"Bene. Utter'd like the old tale, my lad" (criticising Claudio's
rather oracular remark).
Taking the text as it stands, I think the words mean, 'Your
description would be quite correct — if only it were true,' ...
205 Fetch me in. 'To trick me into an admission that I love her.'
221 Recheat. A hunting term. When the hounds were called
off a certain set of notes was sounded on the horn; this was
called a recheat; Old French requeste; Modern, requete. No one need be reminded that Shakespeare was familiar with the
terminology of all sorts and conditions of crafts and pursuits...
222 Baldrick. 'Belt.'
225 Fine. 'End,' 'conclusion.' "The fine is the crown"
(i.e. finis coronat opus) All's Well, iv. 4. 35. Much the same
word-quibble occurs in Hamlet, v. I. 115.
235 Argument. A signal proof of the futility of railing at
marriage. Argument often = 'theme,' 'subject.' Cf. argument = 'plot of a piece.'
236 Hang me in a bottle like a cat. The domestic cat, placed
in a small wooden barrel ("bottle"), or basket, served as an
target for the Elizabethan sportsman. To add to the
happiness of the animal a quantity of soot was sometimes
inserted in the barrel.
238 Call'd Adam. Theobald was certainly right in regarding this as a reference to the famous archer and outlaw whose praises
are sung in an old ballad included in Percy's Reliques...
240 In time the savage bull. A quotation, or rather mis-quotation, from Kyd's Spanish Tragedy, which dramatists of
the time were never tired of burlesquing and poking fun at.
There is a similar hit in the Induction to the Taming of the
Shrew, 9. 10.
244 As they write. On the outside of inns and stables.
250 In Venice. Which had a very evil name. Young Englishmen of fashion resorted [there], and returned with
252 Temporize with the hours. 'Change in course of time.'
259-62 To the tuition of God, &c. This is a hit at the conventional method of ending a letter, especially an epistle dedicatory. The editors quote a good parallel from Barnabv Googe,
who finishes the dedication to his Palingenius (1560) on this
wise: "And thus committyng your Ladiship with all yours to
the tuicion of the moste mercifull God, I ende. From Staple
Inne at London, the eighte and twenty of March." Shakespeare
sneers at "the dedicated words which writers use" in Sonnet 82,
and Timon of Athens, i. i. 19-20; while his own prefaces to
the poems are commendably brief.
264 Guarded, 'Ornamented,' 'trimmed.' Guards were strips
of velvet, cloth, or whatnot, placed along the edges of clothes
to prevent their getting frayed and worn. No doubt, too, they
were made to serve as decorations. Compare Merchant of
Venice, ii. 2. 163-64 (with Mr. Beeching's note) —
"Give him a livery
More guarded than his fellows'."
In Love's Labour's Lost, iv. 3. 59, when Longaville says that
he will abjure poetry, and "write in prose," Biron replies, " O,
rhymes are guards on wanton Cupid's hose;" and parallels
without number might be quoted, down to Scott's Lay of the
Last Minstrel — "A crimson hood,
With pearls embroidered and entwined,
Guarded with gold, with ermine lined."
— Canto vi. stanza 5.
265 Flout old ends. 'Mock at.' By old ends Benedick must mean the hackneyed conclusions of letters which they have just
274 Affect, 'Love.'
276 When you went onward, &c. 'When you left for the
war which has just finished.'
279 And that. 'Now that.' Sometimes now by itself is
equivalent to 'now that' or 'when;' e.g. in Midsummer Night's
Dream, iv. I. 67, "And now I have the boy, I will undo."
(Abbott, Grammar, p. 194.)
283 To wars. The omission of the article in such adverbial
phrases is common. Cf. "To cabin," Tempest, i. i. 17; "He
foamed at mouth," Julius Ccesar, i. 2. 256. Abbott gives a
number of parallels, p. 65. The Globe Edition puts a full-stop
after wars; but probably Claudio was interrupted in the middle
of his speech by Don Pedro, who dreads a "lover's tale."
285 Book of words. 'A long harangue.' Cf. v. 2. 32.
287 Break with her, 'Disclose the matter to her.' Cf.
ii. I. 272, "I have broke with her father."
294-6 What need the bridge, &c. The sense is simple. 'We
should dispense with all that is superfluous: best come straight
to the point: what will serve is fit.' The difficulty lies in 1. 306,
where the meaning would be much clearer if we could read plea
with Hanmer, or ground with Collier's MS, Corrector, Taking
the verse as it stands, I would interpret, 'Admit that a thing is
necessary; that is the fairer, more excellent way;' i.e. grant = 'admission' (concedo).
294 What need. The syntax here is doubtful. What may be
the adverb, and need the verb; or the former an adjective, and the
latter a noun; i.e. 'What need is there that the bridge be broader?'
296 'Tis once, 'Once for all.' A curious phrase, which
Schmidt takes rather differently, "It is a fact past help." See Abbott, p. 47.
How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. Much Ado About Nothing. Ed. A. Wilson Verity. London: Rivingtons, 1890. Shakespeare Online. 20 Feb. 2010. (date when you accessed the information) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/much_1_1.html >.