Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Much Ado About Nothing
Introduction

Much Ado About Nothing is a masterpiece that “seems virtually to inaugurate a genre” (Garber 371): the romantic comedy, lately called “rom-com.” A play titled A Historie of Ariodante and Geneuora was presented “before her maiestie on Shrovetuesdaie at night” (Clark 534; Ogburn and Ogburn 480; Anderson 186-187): 12 February 1583. The names come from Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso and their story is essentially the Claudio/Hero plot, the faked death of the wronged lady borrowed from an Italian novella by Bandello set in Messina and including characters Leonato and Don Pedro.

A play referred to as Benedicte and Betteris was presented to King James in the early 1600s, no doubt a later revision. One suspects the Benedick/Beatrice relationship to be a reflection of the relationship between the Earl of Oxford and his mistress Anne Vavasour (Anderson 76-81), and perhaps was reworked after the death of Oxford’s wife Anne Cecil in 1588 (Anderson 221), though I doubt this Anne ever really captured Oxford’s heart or imagination. Perhaps Vavasour merges with Queen Elizabeth in such later revision (Ogburn and Ogburn 854). Claudio may also be a vague reflection of the younger Oxford; “But the namby-pamby side of Claudio, willing to give up his betrothed without question and with small show of feeling, is Philip Sidney, who seems to have been emotionally immature, if not insipid” (Ogburn and Ogburn 493). Oxford and Sidney clashed in poetic philosophy and notably during a tense “tennis-court incident.” The end of the play, though, “seems to mark the complete reconciliation between Oxford and Philip Sidney” (Ogburn and Ogburn 492), maybe invented or exaggerated after the latter’s death when it was no longer politic to denigrate or mock him.

The pre-history may also be explained if this play is a much revised version of the sequel to Love’s Labours Lost, an unknown play titled Love’s Labour’s Won, listed in 1598 by Francis Meres as among Shakespeare’s comedies (Ogburn and Ogburn 201; Ogburn 614). Certainly some equations make sense: Oxford/Vavasour = Benedick/Beatrice = Berowne/Rosaline (Anderson 162). Dogberry and Verges could be seen as reincarnations of Nathaniel and Holofernes (Ogburn and Ogburn 205). At a later time, then, the play would have received what currently remains “its gaily self-deprecating title” (Garber 371), although there is a lot more to the deceptively dismissive “Nothing”!


Much Ado About Nothing, Act by Act

Much Ado Act I

Much Ado Act II

Much Ado Act III

Much Ado Act IV

Much Ado Act V


Further Resources

Filmography

Much Ado About Nothing. Dir. Franco Zeffirelli. Starring Maggie Smith. BBC, 1967. This British television version was thought lost until 2010. Sir Derek Jacobi plays Don Pedro. Here’s a clip.

Much Ado About Nothing. Produced by Joseph Papp. Starring Sam Waterston, Kathleen Widdoes. Kultur. New York Shakespeare Festival, 1973. This tv version sets the play in turn-of-the-[20th]-century America, with a greenhouse watering system explaining Beatrice’s congestion. Here’s a moment of the “merry war” between Benedick and Beatrice.

Much Ado About Nothing. Starring Cherie Lunghi, Robert Lindsay. BBC Shakespeare Collection, 1984. This teleplay is praised for the acting. It does not take liberties with the text.

Much Ado About Nothing. Produced and adapted by Kenneth Branagh. Starring Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Michael Keaton. The Samuel Goldwyn Company / Renaissance Films, 1993. Keaton plays a greasy and somewhat demented Dogberry and uses the fake horse gimmick from Monty Python and the Holy Grail; but there is little to object to in this version. For many, this contains or is the best of Shakespeare on film. The Italian setting is gorgeous. Here’s another version of the “merry war” between Benedick and Beatrice.

Shakespeare Retold: Much Ado About Nothing. Directed by Brian Percival. Starring Sarah Parish, Damian Lewis. BBC, 2005. Here’s an absolutely delightful adaptation setting the characters in a British tv newsroom. Just be prepared not to be able to get that Tom Jones song out of your head for about two weeks. The writers found a touching way to include a Shakespeare sonnet. Here’s the full film!

Much Ado About Nothing. Starring David Tennant. Sonia Friedman Productions, 2011. Here’s a major portion of the film.

Much Ado About Nothing. Produced by Joss Whedon. Starring Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof. Lionsgate, 2012. A b&w modernized version filmed at the director’s California residence, the plot seems sometimes to clash weirdly with the domestic setting, but the “set” is cluttered with liquor bottles and the drinking is constant, so yay. Here’s a new musical setting to the song “Sigh No More.”

Best Editions

Bevington, David, ed. The Complete Works of Shakespeare. 6th ed. Pearson Education Inc., 2009.

McEachern, Claire, ed. Much Ado About Nothing. The Arden Shakespeare, 3rd ed. NY: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016.

Weller, Philip, ed. Much Ado About Nothing. Shakespeare Navigators. This online full text version has line numbering and annotations.

Other Valuable Oxfordian Perspectives

Allen, Percy. “Much Ado About Nothing — A Burlesque of the Oxford-Howard-Arundel Quarrel.” 1950, April Shakespeare Fellowship News-letter April 1950: 4-5. [Repr. in Clark, Hidden Allusions, 3rd ed., Ed. Ruth Loyd Miller. 1974. 549-551.]

Boyle, William E. Much Ado About Something Airs on PBS. Shakespeare Matters 2.2 (Winter 2003): 30-31.

Clark, Eva Turner. Hidden Allusions in Shakespeare’s Plays. 3rd ed. by Ruth Loyd Miller. Port Washington: Kennikat Press, 1974. 534-549.

Desper, Richard. “Much Ado About Oxford, Part 1.” Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter 42.3 (Fall 2006): 3-4, 21+. [Reprint. in Altrocchi, Building the Case for Edward de Vere as Shakespeare 9:283-96.]

Desper, Richard. Much Ado About Oxford, Part 2. Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter 42.4 (Fall 2006): 16-20. [Reprint. in Altrocchi, Building the Case for Edward de Vere as Shakespeare 9: 297-307.]

Dobbs, Anne. Film Review. “Much Ado About Something Explores Marlowe’s Case.” Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter 38.1 (Winter 2002): 20.

Farina, William. De Vere as Shakespeare: An Oxfordian Reading of the Canon. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Co., 2006. 44-48.

Fiore, Nora. “Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing: The Keys to Shakespeare.” Shakespeare Matters 8.3 (Summer 2009): 21-24.

Hinds, Amanda. Review of Much Ado About Nothing produced by the National Theatre. De Vere Society Newsletter 29.4 (Oct. 2022): 48.

Holland, Admiral Hubert H. “Much Ado About Nothing and The Shepherd’s Calendar.” Shakespeare Fellowship News-letter (1947): 6-8.

Hughes, Stephanie Hopkins. “Much Ado…On the Hudson.” Shakespeare Oxford Newsletter 45.2 (Sept. 2009): 27, 47.

Johnson, Philip. “John Lyly’s Endimion and William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.” De Vere Society Newsletter (2001): 12-16. [Reprint in Great Oxford: 151-158].

Johnson, Philip. “Much Ado About Nothing. In Gilvary, Dating Shakespeare’s Plays.” (2010): 91-100. Dating Shakespeare’s Plays.

Ogburn, Charlton. The Mysterious William Shakespeare: The Myth & The Reality. 2nd ed. McLean, VA: EPM Publications, Inc., 1992.

Ogburn, Dorothy and Charlton Ogburn. This Star of England. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, Pub., 1952.

Sexton, Mildred (Pidge) B. Much Ado About Nothing. “What Shakespeare’s Audiences Knew” pamphlet series. St. Louis: 1999.

Showerman, Earl. “Shakespeare’s Many Much Ado’s: Alcestis, Hercules, and Love’s Labour’s Wonne.” Brief Chronicles 1 (2009): 109-140.

And Other General Resources

Goddard, Harold C. The Meaning of Shakespeare. Vol. 1. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1951.

Smidt, Kristian. Unconformities in Shakespeare’s Later Comedies. London: The Macmillian Press, Ltd., 1993. 22-45.

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