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Much Ado About Nothing

  • First Things First
    • This lesson will teach you how to read and understand a play by William Shakespeare, one of the greatest playwrights in the history of the English language (and the man who invented quite a lot of it).
    • These videos are not a substitute for reading Shakespeare, listening to Shakespeare, or watching Shakespeare performed.
    • Seriously. Don’t be that guy.
  • Background
    • Written 1598 – 1599
    • Taken from various Italian romances
    • Performed at a court wedding in 1613
    • Beatrice and Benedick are original to Shakespeare
    • One of Shakespeare’s most popular comedies
    • Published in 1600
  • Setting
    • The palace at Messina
    • Visitors from Aragon, Padua, Florence
    • A recent war
  • Major Characters
    • Don Pedro—The kind prince of Aragon; he dabbles in matchmaking and practical jokes
    • Benedick—Nobleman from Padua, companion of Don Pedro, accidental lover of Beatrice, incorrigible wit and smartmouthextroardinaire
    • Claudio—Count of Florence, lover of Hero, and all-around straight man.
    • Don John—“Bastard prince” of Aragon; he hates his brother, Don Pedro, and likes to spoil his plans
    • Borachio and Conrade—Servants of Don John. Borachio romances Margaret.
    • Leonato—Governor of Messina, father of Hero, host of the action.
    • Hero—Daughter of Leonato, cousin of Beatrice, ingenue. She falls in love with Claudio.
    • Beatrice—Cousin of Hero, a witty smartmouth who has a “merry war” of words with Benedick, and later falls in love with him.
    • Antonio—old man, brother of Leonato.
    • Ursula and Margaret—Hero’s attendants. Margaret wears Hero’s clothes to impersonate her (though it’s not clear whether she knows about the plot).
    • Friar Francis—A priest
    • Dogberry—A self-important night watchman who botches everything he does.
  • Plot
    • Visitors on the way home from the wars
      • Brave soldiers
      • Beatrice mocks Benedick
    • The guests arrive
      • Everyone in a good mood
      • Claudio and Hero
      • Beatrice and Benedick
      • Plans for the masquerade
    • The ball
      • Don John messes with Claudio
      • Beatrice messes with Benedick
      • The wedding is arranged
      • A game to fill the time
    • A plot against the lovers
    • Eavesdropping in the garden
    • Beatrice and Benedick in love-ish
    • An accusation and promised proof
    • The polite watchmen
      • Borachio, Conrade arrested
    • The wedding
      • Accusations
    • Hero faints
    • The friar’s plot
    • Beatrice and Benedickconfess their love
    • “Kill Claudio.”
    • An interrogation
    • Two challenges to a duel
    • The watchmen reveal all
    • Claudio’s grief
    • Leonato’s terms:
      • A public epitaph
      • Marry a niece
    • The Bs attempt to flirt
    • The wedding day
      • The tomb
      • The big reveal(s)
      • Song and dance
  • Themes
    • Gender roles and sexual fidelity
    • Deception and self-deception
    • (Mistaken) identity
    • Nothing/Noting
    • Language and social grace
  • Major Passages
    • “They say the lady is fair. ‘Tis a truth, I can bear them witness. And virtuous—’tis so, I cannot reprove it. And wise, but for loving me. By my troth, it is no addition to her wit—nor no great argument of her folly, for I will be horribly in love with her.”

      -Act II, Scene 3, 204-208

    • “That what we have, we prize not to the worth
      Whiles we enjoy it, but, being lacked and lost,
      . . . then we find
      The virtue that possession would not show us Whiles it was ours.”

      -Act IV Scene 1, 217-221

    • “Dost thou not suspect my place? Dost thou not suspect my years? O that he were here to write me down an ass! But masters, remember that I am an ass. Though it be not written down, yet forget not that I am an ass. No, thou villain, thou art full of piety, as shall be proved upon thee by good witness. I am a wise fellow, and which is more, an officer, and which is more, a householder, and which is more, as pretty a piece of flesh as any is in Messina, and one that knows the law, go to . . . and one that hath two gowns, and everything handsome about him. Bring him away. O that I had been writ down an ass!”

      -Act IV, Scene 2, 67-78

  • Jumping-Off Points
    • Beatrice and Benedick appear to be largely Shakespeare’s inventions—they do not appear in his source material, and they seem to take over the play. (In some places, this play is called “Beatrice and Benedick”.) Analyze the contributions of these two characters to the play’s plot and themes.
    • On the surface, Much Ado About Nothing is a comedy, yet it has some very dark elements. In what ways is this play a tragedy?
    • A play is a work of art in which people pretend to be something they are not in order to tell a story that is not true. Add to that a story about deception and you’ve got a complicated show (or at least a headache). Examine the role of deception and theatricality in this play.
    • This play monkeys around with language more than any other Shakespeare play. How do the characters use words to wound and to heal? (Remember that even the title is a pun!)
    • Honor is huge in Much Ado About Nothing—sexual honor and reputation for the women, fidelity and courage for the men. Are these two kinds of honor of equal value? How durable are they? What kinds of insults can be shrugged off, and how must the others be answered?
    • Beatrice and Benedick can fire off an endless stream of wit in conversation, yet neither one can write a love poem to save his or her life. How do words (or the lack thereof) reveal character in this play?
  • The Secret of Understanding Shakespeare
    • Watch it performed (or on film if you can’t get to a theatrical production). All of Shakespeare makes more sense when it’s spoken by actors who have lived his words and know, bone-deep, what he’s talking about. Never underestimate the power of performance. Remember that this is how Shakespeare meant his work to be seen …

Much Ado About Nothing

Lecture Slides are screen-captured images of important points in the lecture. Students can download and print out these lecture slide images to do practice problems as well as take notes while watching the lecture.

  • Intro 0:00
  • First Things First 0:08
  • Lesson Overview 0:44
  • Background 1:18
  • Setting 2:44
  • Major Characters 3:32
    • Don Pedro
    • Benedick
    • Claudio
    • Don John
    • Borachio and Conrade
    • Leonato
  • Major Characters (Cont.) 5:30
    • Hero
    • Beatrice
    • Antonio
    • Ursula and Margaret
    • Friar Francis
    • Dogberry
  • Plot 6:58
    • Visitors on the way home from the wars
    • The guests arrive
    • The ball
    • A plot against the lovers
    • Eavesdropping in the garden
    • Beatrice and Benedick in love-ish
    • An accusation and promised proof
    • The polite watchmen
    • The wedding
    • An interrogation
    • Two challenges to a duel
    • The watchmen reveal all
    • Claudio's grief
    • Leonato's terms
    • The Bs attempt to flirt
    • The wedding day
  • Themes 19:36
  • Major Passages 22:32
    • Act II, scene 3, 204-208
    • Act IV, scene 1, 217-221
    • Act IV, scene 2, 67-78
  • Jumping-off Points 26:28
    • Beatrice and Benedick
    • Tragedy or Dark Comedy?
    • Deception
    • Language and puns
    • Honor
    • Words and wit
  • The Secret of Understanding Shakespeare 29:40