DATE AND SOURCES
Much Ado About Nothing marks Shakespeare’s greatest achievement in comedy together with As You like It and The Twelfth Night. The date of its first performance was 1598 and it was probably printed two years later. A story by the Italian author Bandello is the source of the plot, read by Shakespeare in the French version by Belleforest in his Histoires Tragiques.
ACT ONE. Don Pedro, Prince of Arragon, visits Leonato, Governor of Messina, together with Benedick and Claudio, two young noblemen who have been serving with him in the wars. Between Benedick and Beatrice, Leonato’s niece, there has been a merry war and during this meeting they renew their antagonism. Meanwhile, Claudio is attracted once again to Leonato’s daughter, Hero. Don Pedro offers to woo the lady on Claudio’s behalf.
ACT TWO. Leonato arranges a masquerade in honour of his visitors. During the party Hero is promised to Claudio by her father. Benedick and Beatrice’s friends, thinking that they are well matched, decide to arouse their mutual affections. Benedick is made to overhear that Beatrice loves him.
ACT FOUR. Claudio believes Hero faithless and repudiates her during the ceremony. She faints and, on the advice of a friar, she is said to be dead. Beatrice cannot believe her cousin guilty and demands Benedick to show his devotion by killing his friend Claudio.
ACT FIVE. Leonato wants to fight Claudio to avenge his daughter’s honour but Benedick challenges Claudio. The testimony of the watchmen finally reveals the plot of Don John and Hero’s innocence. Leonato forgives Claudio on the condition that he marries a niece who is said to be very much like Hero, but whose face he is not allowed to see until the ceremony is over. Claudio consents to this. The lady finally proves to be Hero herself. Also Beatrice and Benedick end their arguments whit a kiss.
THE POWER OF REPORTED WORD
The central part of the action revolves around on two main plots: the Hero-Claudio plot, which is a conventional story belonging to the tragic-comedy type, and the Beatrice-Benedick plot, belonging to the comedy of wit. In this way we are offered different views of the same reality, views which we might call respectively romantic and realistic, in whose clash and interrelation lies a great part of the substance of the play.
Shakespeare explores the nature and the limitations of love, as well as of the accepted code of honour, in a brilliant and dynamic society. In the foreground their intense life, their games and jokes, easy enthusiasms and excesses.
LINGUAGE AND IMAGERY
Beatrice and Benedick stand at a distance from their own words; language is a sort of mask behind which they protect their inner feeling and privacy. They talk a witty, articulate prose, whereas the Hero-Claudio plot is mainly written in verse.
Images of clothes dominate the play and the most frequent figure of speech is antithesis. Clothes symbolize the difference between appearance and reality, and hypocrisy. There is also a setting of active outdoor work and sport characterized by the lively images of dancing, music, song, riding, galloping, hunting all of which contribute to the sparkling, unsentimental atmosphere of the play.