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MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
THE EDITIONS. A quarto edition of Much Ado About Nothing was published in 1600 with the following titlepage : Much Adoe About Nothing, as it hath been sundrie times publikely acted by the right honourable the Lord Chamberlain his servants. Written by William Shakespeare. London. It had previously been entered on the Stationers' Register, August 23, 1600. No other edition is known to have been published previous to the publication of the First Folio, 1623; the play was evidently printed from a copy of a Quarto in the possession of the Theatre, or of the original Ms., corrected for the purposes of the Stage.1 There are many minor variations between the Quarto and the First Folio, but most of them seem due to the printer's carelessness.
DATE OF COMPOSITION. As the play is not mentioned by Meres, in 1598, and was printed in 1600, it may be safely assigned to the year 1599, in support of which date the following points are noteworthy :-
1. Probable allusion in the opening scene to a circumstance attending the campaign of the Earl of Essex in Ireland, during the summer of 1599.
1 See Facsimile Quarto Edition, ed. by Mr. Daniel.
2. The character of “Amorphus, or the one Deformed,” in Cynthia's Revels, 1600, may be compared with “ that Deformed, a vile thief this seven year" (cp. iii, 3. 115-117, 154, 157).
3. The instructions which Dogberry and Verges give to the night-watch may possibly be intended as a burlesque on The Statutes of the Streets, imprinted by Wolfe, in 1595.
SOURCE OF Plot. The incident of the interrupted marriage is identical with the story of Ariodante and Ginevra in Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, canto v.; this had been translated into English by Beverly in 1565, and by Harrington in 1591. The story was dramatised before 1582, and was rendered into English verse by George Turbervile ; later on, it found a place in Spenser's Faërie Queene, Book ii. Canto iv. Shakespeare may, however, have derived his story from Belleforest's translation in his Histoires Tragiques of Bandello's 22d Novella. It is noteworthy that about the same time the German Dramatist, Jacob Ayrer, founded his Beautiful Phænicia upon the same tale, and the English and German plays have certain points of resemblance. Possibly they were both indebted to a lost original.1
Dr. Ward sums up the evidence as follows : “ As the date of Ayrer's piece is not known (it may have been written before or after 1600), and as that of Shakspere's is similarly uncertain, it is impossible to decide as to their relative priority. That, however, Ayrer did not copy from Shakspere seems, as Simrock points out, clear from the names of the characters in his play, which follow Bandello; while Shakspere has changed all the names except those of Don Pedro and old Leonato.”
1 See Cohn's Shakespeare in Germany.
GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS. The mixture of tragedy and comedy in this play is so perfectly blended that it may well be regarded as the culminating point of Shakespeare's second period of activity, - the period to which belong Twelfth Night, As You Like It, and The Merry Wives ; the metrical tests actually place it last in this group. Beatrice and Benedick should be compared with their prototypes Rosaline and Biron; and Dogberry and his comrades should be contrasted with the earlier clowns, in order to understand the advance which this play marks in Shakespeare's career. Perhaps,” says Hazlitt, “ the middle point of comedy was never more nicely hit, in which the ludicrous blends with the tender; and our follies, turning round against themselves in support of our affections, retain nothing but their humanity.”
LATER VERSIONS OF THE PLAY. Two plays were founded upon Much Ado About Nothing, — (1) Davenant's Law against Lovers, which Pepys saw on Feb. 18, 1661 ; and (2) The Universal Passion, by Rev. James Miller, 1737.
DURATION OF ACTION. For a detailed study of the « time” of the play the reader is referred to Mr. Daniel's “ Time-Analysis ” (Transactions of New Shakespeare Society, 1877–79, p. 144). He believes that just as the Prince forgets his determination to stay “ at least a month” at Messina, so the “ just seven-night" to the wedding was