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“ Much adoe about Nothing. As it hath been sundrie times publikely acted by the right honourable, the Lord Chamberlaine his seruants. Written by William Shakespeare.—London Printed by V. S. for Andrew Wise, and William Aspley. 1600.” 4to. 36 leaves.
It is also printed in the division of “ Comedies" in the folio 1623, where it occupies twenty-one pages, viz., from p. 101, to p. 121, inclusive. It was reprinted in the other folios.
We have no information respecting “Much Ado about Nothing " anterior to the appearance of the 4to. edition in 1600, excepting that it was entered for publication on the books of the Stationers' Company, on the 23rd of August in that year, in the following manner :
“ 23 Aug. 1600. And. Wise Wm. Aspley] Two books, the one called Muche adoe
about Nothinge, and the other The Second Parte of the History of King Henry the ürith, with the Humors of Sir
John Fallstaff : wrytten by Mr. Shakespeare.” There is another memorandum in the same register, bearing date on the “4th August,” without the year, which runs in these terms: -"As you like yt, a book. Henry the ffift, a book. Every man in his humor, a book. The Comedie of Much Adoe about nothinge, a book.” Opposite the titles of these plays are added the words, "to be staied.” This last entry, there is little doubt, belongs to the year 1600, for such is the date immediately preceding it; and, as Malone observes, the clerk seeing 1600 just above his pen, when he inserted- the notice for staying the publication of “Much Ado about Nothing" and the two other plays, did not think it necessary to repeat the figures. The caveat of the 4th August against the publication had most likely been withdrawn by the 23rd of the same month. The object of the “stay” was probably to prevent the publication of
Henry V.," “ Every Man in his Humour,” and “ Much Ado about Nothing," by any other booksellers than Wise and Aspley.
The 4to. of “Much Ado about Nothing," which came out in 1600, (and we know of no other impression in that form) is a well-printed work for the time, and the type is unusually good. It contains no hint from which we can at all distinctly infer the date of its composition ', but Malone supposed that it was written early in the year
Chalmers (Suppl. Apol. 381.) conjectures that when Beatrice says, “ Yes, you had musty victuals, and he hath holp to eat it,” Shakespeare meant a sarcasm upon the manner in which the army under the Earl of Essex had been supplied with bad provisions during the Irish campaign. Most readers will consider this an overstrained speculation, although, in point of date, it accords pretty accurately with the time when “Much Ado about Nothing may have been written.
in which it came from the press. Considering, however, that the comedy would have to be got up, acted, and become popular, before it was published, or entered for publication, the time of its composition by Shakespeare may reasonably be carried back as far as the autumn of 1599. That it was popular, we can hardly doubt; and the extracts from the Stationers' Registers seem to show that apprehensions were felt, lest rival booksellers should procure it to be printed.
It is not included by Meres in the list he furnishes in his Palladis Tamia, 1598; and “England's Parnassus," 1600, contains no quotation from it. If any conclusion could be drawn from this fact, it might be, that it was written subsequent to the appearance of one work, and prior to the publication of the other. Respecting an early performance of it at Court, Steevens supplies us with the subsequent information:- “Much Ado about Nothing' (as I understand from one of Mr. Vertue's MSS.) formerly passed under the title of Benedick and Beatrix.' Heminge, the player, received on the 20th May, 1613, the sum of £40, and £20 more as his Majesty's gratuity, for exhibiting six plays at Hampton Court, among which was this comedy." The change of title, if indeed it were made, could only have been temporary.
The divisions of Acts (Scenes are not marked) were first made in the folio of 1623. The adaptation of “Much Ado about Nothing," coupled with the chief incidents of another of Shakespeare's dramas, (see the “ Introduction” "Measure for Measure,”) by Sir William Davenant, was first printed in the edition of his works in 1673.
The serious portion of the plot of “Much Ado about Nothing," which relates to Hero, Claudio, and "John the Bastard," is extremely similar to the story of Ariodante and Geneura, in Ariosto's “Orlando Furioso,” B. v. It was separately versified in English by Peter Beverley, in imitation of Arthur Brooke's “Romeus and Juliet," 1562, and of Bernard Garter's “ Two English Lovers,” 1563 ; and it was printed by Thomas East, without date, two or three years after those poems had appeared. It was licensed for the press
in 1565 ; and Warton informs us (Hist. Engl. Poetry, iv. 310, edit. 1824) that it was reprinted in 1600, the year in which “Much Ado about Nothing" came from the press.
This fact is important, because either Shakespeare's attention might be directed to the story by the circumstance, or (which seems more probable) Beverley's poem might then be republished, in consequence of its connexion in point of story with Shakespeare's comedy.
Sir John Harington's translation of the whole “Orlando Furioso" was originally published in 1591, but there is no special indication in “Much Ado about Nothing" that Shakespeare availed himself of it. In a note at the end of the canto occupied by the story of Ariodante and Geneura, Sir John Harington added this sentence :
“ Howsoever it was, surely the tale is a pretty comical matter, and hath been written in English verse some few years past (learnedly and with good grace), though in verse of another kind by M. George Turbervil.” If this note be correct, and Harington did not confound Turberville with Beverley, the translation by the former has been lost. Spenser's version of the same incidents, for they are evidently borrowed from Ariosto, in B. II. c. 4, of his "Faerie Queene,” was printed in 1590; but Shakespeare is not to be traced to this source. In Ariosto and in Spenser the rival of Ariodante has himself the interview with the female attendant on Geneura; while in Shakespeare “John the Bastard” employs a creature of his own for the purpose. Shakespeare's plot may, therefore, have had an entirely different origin, possibly some translation, not now extant, of Bandello's twenty-second novel, in vol. i. of the Lucca edition, 4to, 1554, which is entitled, “Como il S. Timbreo di Cardona, essendo col Re Piero d'Aragona in Messina, s'innamora di Fenicia Lionata ; e i varii fortunevoli accidenti, che avvennero prima che per moglie la prendesse.” It is rendered the more likely that Shakespeare employed a lost version of this novel by the circumstance, that in Italian the incident in which she, who may be called the false Hero, is concerned, is conducted much in the same way as in Shakespeare. Moreover, Bandello lays his scene in Messina; the father of the lady is named Lionato; and Don Pedro, or Piero, of Arragon, is the friend of the lover who is duped by his rival.
Nobody has observed upon the important fact, in connexion with “Much Ado about Nothing," that a “History of Ariodante and Geneuora" was played before Queen Elizabeth, by “Mulcaster's children,” in 1582-3. How far Shakespeare might be indebted to this production we cannot at all determine ; but it is certain that the serious incidents he employed in his comedy had at an early date formed the subject of a dramatic representation'.
In the ensuing text the 4to, 1600, has been followed, with due notice of any variations in the folio of 1623. The first impression contains several passages not inserted in the re-print (for such it undoubtedly was) under the care of Heminge and Condell, and the text of the 4to is to be preferred in nearly all instances of variation.
1 Thomas Jordan's “ Royal Arbor of Loyal Poesie,” 8vo, 1664, contains an ill-written ballad, called “ The Revolution, a love-story,” founded upon the serious portion of “Much Ado about Nothing."