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MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.
It is said that the main plot of this play is derived from the story of Ariodante and Ginevra, in the fifth book of Ariosto's Orlando Furioso. Something similar may also be found in the fourth canto of the second book of Spenser's Faerie Queene; but a novel of Bandello's, copied by Belleforest in his Tragical Histories, seems to have furnished Shakspeare with the fable. It approaches nearer to the play in all particulars than any other performance hitherto discovered. No translation of it into English has, however, yet been met with.
This play is supposed to have been written in 1600, in which year it was first published.
DON PEDRO, Prince of Arragon.
DON JOHN, his bastard Brother.
CLAUDIO, a young Lord of Florence, favorite to Don Pedro.
BENEDICK, a young Lord of Padua, favorite likewise of
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.
SCENE I. Before Leonato's House.
Enter LEONATO, HERO, BEATRICE, and others, with a Messenger.
Leonato. I LEARN in this letter, that don Pedro' of Arragon comes this night to Messina.
Mess. He is very near by this; he was not three leagues off when I left him.
Leon. How many gentlemen have you lost in this action?
Mess. But few of any sort, and none of name.
Leon. A victory is twice itself, when the achiever brings home full numbers. I find here, that don Pedro hath bestowed much honor on a young Florentine, called Claudio.
Mess. Much deserved on his part, and equally remembered by don Pedro: he hath borne himself beyond the promise of his age; doing, in the figure of a lamb, the feats of a lion: he hath, indeed, better bettered expectation, than you must expect of me to tell you how.
Leon. He hath an uncle here in Messina will be very much glad of it.
Mess. I have already delivered him letters, and there appears much joy in him; even so much, that joy could not show itself modest enough, without a badge of bitterness.
Leon. Did he break out into tears?
Leon. A kind overflow of kindness: there are no faces truer than those that are so washed. How much better it is to weep at joy, than to joy at weeping!
Beat. I pray you, is seignior Montanto' returned from the wars, or no?
Mess. I know none of that name, lady; there was none such in the army of any sort.
Leon. What is he that you ask for, niece?
Hero. My cousin means seignior Benedick of Padua. Mess. O, he is returned; and as pleasant as ever he was.
Beat. He set up his bills here in Messina, and challenged Cupid at the flight:2 and my uncle's fool, reading the challenge, subscribed for Cupid, and challenged him at the bird-bolt. I pray you, how many hath he killed and eaten in these wars? But how many hath he killed? For, indeed, I promised to eat all of his killing.
Leon. Faith, niece, you tax seignior Benedick too much; but he'll be meet with you, I doubt it not. Mess. He hath done good service, lady, in these
Beat. You had musty victual, and he hath holp to eat it he is a very valiant trencher-man; he hath an
Mess. And a good soldier too, lady.
Beat. And a good soldier to a lady; but what is he to a lord?
Mess. A lord to a lord, a man to a man; stuffed1 with all honorable virtues.
Beat. It is so, indeed; he is no less than a stuffed man: but for the stuffing,-well, we are all mortal. Leon. You must not, sir, mistake my niece there
1 Montanto was one of the ancient terms of the fencing school; a title humorously given to one whom she would represent as a bravado.
2 Flights were long and light feathered arrows, that went directly to the mark.
4 Stuffed, in this first instance, has no ridiculous meaning.
is a kind of merry war betwixt seignior Benedick and her: they never meet, but there is a skirmish of wit between them.
Beat. Alas, he gets nothing by that. In our last conflict, four of his five wits went halting off, and now is the whole man governed with one; so that if he have wit enough to keep himself warm, let him bear it for a difference between himself and his horse; for it is all the wealth that he hath left, to be known a reasonable creature.-Who is his companion now? He hath every month a new sworn brother.
Mess. Is it possible?
Beat. Very easily possible: he wears his faith but as the fashion of his hat; it ever changes with the next block.
Mess. I see, lady, the gentleman is not in your books.
Beat. No: an he were, I would burn my study. But, I pray you, who is his companion? Is there no young squarer now, that will make a voyage with him to the devil?
Mess. He is most in the company of the right noble Claudio.
Beat. O Lord! He will hang upon him like a disease he is sooner caught than the pestilence, and the taker runs presently mad. God help the noble Claudio! If he have caught the Benedick, it will cost him a thousand pounds ere he be cured.
Mess. I will hold friends with you, lady.
Beat. Do, good friend.
Leon. You will never run mad, niece.
Beat. No, not till a hot January.
Mess. Don Pedro is approached.
1 In Shakspeare's time, wit was the general term for intellectual power. The wits seem to have been reckoned fire, by analogy to the five senses. 2 This is an heraldic term. So, in Hamlet, Ophelia says, "You may wear your rue with a difference."