Essay about Much Ado About Nothing: A Comedy with Deep Meaning

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Much Ado About Nothing: A Comedy with Deep Meaning


Much Ado About Nothing--the title sounds, to a modern ear, offhand and self-effacing; we might expect the play that follows such a beginning to be a marvelous piece of fluff and not much more. However, the play and the title itself are weightier than they initially seem. Shakespeare used two other such titles--Twelfth Night, or What You Will and As You Like It--both of which send unexpected reverberations of meaning throughout their respective plays, the former with its reference to the Epiphany and the topsy-turvy world of a saturnalian celebration, and the latter with its implications about how the characters (and the audience itself) see the world in general and the Forest
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For the characters of Beatrice and Benedick, Shakespeare drew not so much on a specific story or plot as on the tradition of wit combat and characters from his own earlier comedies; these two characters can be seen, in fact, as wittier and more mature versions of Kate and Petruchio from The Taming of the Shrew. Dogberry and Verges also have no clear literary source, but seem instead to be taken from hakespeare's England. (For a detailed discussion of Much Ado's sources, see A. R. umphreys' introduction to The Arden Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing, London and New York: Methuen, 1981, 5-25.)

These characters, different though they may be, mesh together (and frequently clash) through their observations, chance overhearings, and deliberate eavesdroppings. The first sign of this comes early in Act I. When Claudio asks Benedick what he thinks of Hero, Benedick responds, "I noted her not, but I looked on her" (1.1.158). It becomes increasingly clear that they see in Hero two entirely different people. To Claudio she is "a modest young lady," "a jewel," and "the sweetest lady that ever I looked on (1.1.159, 175, 181-2). But to Benedick, "she's too low for a high praise, too brown for a fair praise, and too little for a great praise" (1.1.165-70).

This is, as John Wilders "notes," "a play much concerned with…