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Much Ado About Nothing

HEROGood Margaret, run thee to the parlor;
There shalt thou find my cousin Beatrice
Proposing with the prince and Claudio:
Whisper her ear and tell her, I and Ursula
Walk in the orchard and our whole discourse
Is all of her; say that thou overheard’st us;
And bid her steal into the pleached bower,
Where honeysuckles, ripen’d by the sun,
Forbid the sun to enter, like favourites,
Made proud by princes, that advance their pride 10
Against that power that bred it: there will she hide her,
To listen our purpose. This is thy office;
Bear thee well in it and leave us alone.
MARGARETI’ll make her come, I warrant you, presently.
HERONow, Ursula, when Beatrice doth come,
As we do trace this alley up and down,
Our talk must only be of Benedick.
When I do name him, let it be thy part
To praise him more than ever man did merit:
My talk to thee must be how Benedick 20
Is sick in love with Beatrice. Of this matter
Is little Cupid’s crafty arrow made,
That only wounds by hearsay.
Enter BEATRICE, behind, into the bower.
Now begin;
For look where Beatrice, like a lapwing, runs
Close by the ground, to hear our conference.
URSULAThe pleasant’st angling is to see the fish
Cut with her golden oars the silver stream,
And greedily devour the treacherous bait:
So angle we for Beatrice; who even now
Is couched in the woodbine coverture. 30
Fear you not my part of the dialogue.
HEROThen go we near her, that her ear lose nothing
Of the false sweet bait that we lay for it.
Approaching the bower.
No, truly, Ursula, she is too disdainful;
I know her spirits are as coy and wild
As haggerds of the rock.
URSULABut are you sure
That Benedick loves Beatrice so entirely?
HEROSo says the prince and my new-trothed lord.
URSULAAnd did they bid you tell her of it, madam? 40
HEROThey did entreat me to acquaint her of it;
But I persuaded them, if they loved Benedick,
To wish him wrestle with affection,
And never to let Beatrice know of it.
URSULAWhy did you so? Doth not the gentleman
Deserve as full as fortunate a bed
As ever Beatrice shall couch upon?
HEROO god of love! I know he doth deserve
As much as may be yielded to a man:
But Nature never framed a woman’s heart
Of prouder stuff than that of Beatrice; 50
Disdain and scorn ride sparkling in her eyes,
Misprising what they look on, and her wit
Values itself so highly that to her
All matter else seems weak: she cannot love,
Nor take no shape nor project of affection,
She is so self-endeared.
URSULASure, I think so;
And therefore certainly it were not good
She knew his love, lest she make sport at it.
HEROWhy, you speak truth. I never yet saw man,
How wise, how noble, young, how rarely featured, 60
But she would spell him backward: if fair-faced,
She would swear the gentleman should be her sister;
If black, why, Nature, drawing of an antique,
Made a foul blot; if tall, a lance ill-headed;
If low, an agate very vilely cut;
If speaking, why, a vane blown with all winds;
If silent, why, a block moved with none.
So turns she every man the wrong side out
And never gives to truth and virtue that
Which simpleness and merit purchaseth. 70
URSULASure, sure, such carping is not commendable.
HERONo, not to be so odd and from all fashions
As Beatrice is, cannot be commendable:
But who dare tell her so? If I should speak,
She would mock me into air; O, she would laugh me
Out of myself, press me to death with wit.
Therefore let Benedick, like cover’d fire,
Consume away in sighs, waste inwardly:
It were a better death than die with mocks,
Which is as bad as die with tickling. 80
URSULAYet tell her of it: hear what she will say.
HERONo; rather I will go to Benedick
And counsel him to fight against his passion.
And, truly, I’ll devise some honest slanders
To stain my cousin with: one doth not know
How much an ill word may empoison liking.
URSULAO, do not do your cousin such a wrong.
She cannot be so much without true judgment–
Having so swift and excellent a wit
As she is prized to have–as to refuse 90
So rare a gentleman as Signior Benedick.
HEROHe is the only man of Italy.
Always excepted my dear Claudio.
URSULAI pray you, be not angry with me, madam,
Speaking my fancy: Signior Benedick,
For shape, for bearing, argument and valour,
Goes foremost in report through Italy.
HEROIndeed, he hath an excellent good name.
URSULAHis excellence did earn it, ere he had it.
When are you married, madam? 100
HEROWhy, every day, to-morrow. Come, go in:
I’ll show thee some attires, and have thy counsel
Which is the best to furnish me to-morrow.
URSULAShe’s limed, I warrant you: we have caught her, madam.
HEROIf it proves so, then loving goes by haps:
Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps.
Exeunt HERO and URSULA.
BEATRICEComing forward. ]
What fire is in mine ears? Can this be true?
Stand I condemn’d for pride and scorn so much?
Contempt, farewell! and maiden pride, adieu!
No glory lives behind the back of such. 110
And, Benedick, love on; I will requite thee,
Taming my wild heart to thy loving hand:
If thou dost love, my kindness shall incite thee
To bind our loves up in a holy band;
For others say thou dost deserve, and I
Believe it better than reportingly.

Next: Much Ado About Nothing, Act 3, Scene 2


Explanatory Notes for Act 3, Scene 1

From Much Ado About Nothing. Ed. A. Wilson Verity. London: Rivingtons.

Proposing. ‘Talking.’ See line 12.

Whisper her earWhisper, says Abbott, p. 134, is frequently used without a preposition before a personal object; e.g. Henry VIII. i. I. 179, “He came to whisper Wolsey;” rarely, as here, before an impersonal noun.

9-10 Favourites … Made proud by princes. Compare Sonnet 25. 4, “Great princes’ favourites their fair leaves spread.”

10 Advance. Used technically of hoisting a standard. Cf. for a beautiful instance Romeo and Juliet, v. 3. 96, and, outside Shakespeare — “Unfurl’d
Th’ imperial ensign, which full high advanc’t
Shon like a meteor.” — Paradise Lost, i. 536.

12 Listen. Later Folios listen to; but cf. Lear, v. 3. 181, “List a brief tale.” Listen to makes the scansion clearer. With the folio reading the first two words (I think) form one foot. Abbott, however, takes differently, (p. 372.)

Purpose. So the Folios; the Quarto has propose = ‘conversation,’ the French propos. Whichever we read, the sense is the same, sincepurposes = ‘talk’ is quite common. Cf. Paradise Lost, iv. 337, “No gentle purpose, nor endearing smiles;” and “gentle purpose” in theFaerie Queene, iii. 8, 14.

16 Trace. ‘Walk.’

24 Like a lapwing. So Comedy of Errors, iv. 2. 27, “Far from her nest the lapwing cries away.” When this bird (better known as the peewit) is disturbed in its nest, it runs along the ground for some distance before it rises, to prevent, of course, the nest being found. InSir Gyles Goosecappe a character is described as being “fearfull as a Haire, and will lye like a Lapwing.” (Bullen’s Old Plays, vol. iii. p. 9.) Obviously, therefore, it symbolised cunning.

30 Woodbine. Woodbine seems to have been another name for honeysuckle. Cf., at any rate, line 8, and Midsummer Night’s Dream, iv. i. 47.

35 Coy. ‘Shy.’ Often the word signifies ‘contemptuous.’ So Cotgrave has “Mespriseresse: A coy, a squeamish, or scornful dame.” This (almost) is its meaning in Comus, 737, “List, lady; be not coy.” From quietus, through French coi.

36 Haggards of the rock. The meaning of haggard in Shakespeare is not quite certain. Probably it signifies any untamed, untrained hawk, without reference to the species. Cf. Othello, iii. 3. 260-63, and Twelfth Night, iii. I. 72. So Hortensia calls Bianca a “proud disdainful haggard,” Taming of the Shrew, iv. 2. 39. As to derivation, Skeat says, “O.F. hagard, wild; esp. used of a wild falcon, lit. hedge-falcon;” the first part of the word, hag, being akin to hedgehaw (as in haw-thorn = ‘hedge-thorn’). The editors show that more than one kind of hawk builds in rocks; so that the descriptive touch, “of the rock,” is not very close.

42 Wish him wrestle. The to omitted, as not infrequently. Cf. I Henry IV, i. 3. 159; Measure for Measure, iv. 3. 138.

45 Full, ‘Fully.’ Used adverbially. See Abbott, p. 17.

56 Self-endeared. ‘In love with herself.’ A curious idea that meets us in several places; e.g. in Venus and Adonis, 157, and the Sonnets (3 and 62).

60 How. ‘However.’

Featur’d. So Sonnet 29, “Featured like him.”

61 Spell him backward. Not so much ‘misconstrue him,’ as ‘make out everything in him to be bad;’ i.e. by exaggerating some peculiarities, and misrepresenting others. The editors see here (aut vidisse putant) an allusion to the idea that witches say their prayers backwards; the theory is rather far-fetched.

63 Black. ‘Dark-complexioned.’

Antic. ‘Buffoon.’ Falstaff jeered at “old father antic the law,” 1 Henry IV, i. 2. 57. The New English Dictionary derives from Italian antico, ‘a cavern containing quaint devices, figures, &c., on the walls;’ whence anything fantastic was called antic. Compare the parallel wordgrotesque, from grotta, ‘a grotto.’ Skeat, however, identifies with antique.

65 Low. ‘Short,’ as in i. i. 159, “Too low for a high praise.”

72 From. ‘Apart from;’ i.e. unconventional. Abbott (p. 105) quotes many similar passages; e.g. Julius Caesar, i. 3. 35, “Clean from the purpose.”

76 Press me to death. Referring to the punishment or torture known as the peine forte et dure, by which accused persons who refused to plead were pressed down under heavy weights until they either complied with what was required of them, or died altogether. Cf. Milton’s lines On the University Carrier, the second epitaph, 25-26.

77 Like cover’d fire. Not unlike Titus Andronicus, ii. 4. 36-37 —

“Sorrow concealed, like an oven stopp’d,
Doth burn the heart to cinders where it is.”
So Venus and Adonis, 331.

79 Than die. The first Folio has to die; but the omission of to with the infinitive after the phrases “It were best,” “It were better,” is common (see Abbott, p. 253), and the present case is an extension of the idiom. Usually such expressions as, “Best draw my sword” (Cymbeline, iii. 6. 25), “Better be with the dead” (Macbeth, iii. 2. 20), represent “an unconscious blending of two constructions, the infinitive and imperative.”

80 Tickling. Trisyllable, as though it were “tickeling,” this extra vowel-sound being common before liquids in dissyllables. Compare the frequent scansion of England as three syllables; e.g. Richard II. iv. I. 17; Richard III. iv. 4. 263. (Abbott, pp. 363-65.)

86 EmpoisonCoriolanus, v. 6. 11, “As with a man by his own alms empoison’d.”

102 Every day. Said to have been a colloquial phrase = ‘forthwith,’ which gives excellent sense; but a little more evidence in support of this view would have been welcome.

104 Limed. Like a bird caught with birdlime.

105 Loving goes by haps. The proverb said that “marrying and hanging go by destiny;” and Shakespeare knew the proverb (Merchant of Venice, ii. 9. 82-83).

107 What fire, &c. Alluding to the old superstition that a person’s ears burn when he is being spoken of. Steevens quotes a quaint piece of jingle —

“I doe credite giue
Vnto the saying old,
Which is, whenas the eares doe burne,
Some thing on thee is told.”

110 No glory lives, &c. Meaning apparently (but the line is curious) that contemptuous, scornful people are not praised behind their backs. Beatrice has been listening, and, with the proverbial fortune of listeners, has heard no good of herself.

112 Taming. As though she were a hawk.

116 We may just note that Beatrice’s soliloquy is written in rhyme, indeed in alternate rhyme. Shakespeare often employs it in passages of sententious moralising. For instance, in Othello, i. 3. 202-209, when the Duke gives judicious advice to Brabantio, he puts his platitudes into rhymed couplets. Also, rhyme is appropriate at the close of a scene, rounding off the work pleasantly, and leaving a genial flavour behind it.


How to cite the explanatory notes:

Shakespeare, William. Much Ado About Nothing. Ed. A. Wilson Verity. London: Rivingtons, 1890.