The title-page of the quarto states that Much Ado About Nothing
‘hath beene sundrie times publikely acted by the Right Honourable,
the Lord Chamberlaine his seruants’. The play may have been
first performed by the Lord
Chamberlain’s Men at the Theatre.
The only surviving records for early performances are the payments
made by the Lord Chamberlain to John Heminge in May 1613 for presenting
several plays, including Much Ado About Nothing, for Princess
Elizabeth (daughter of James I) and Frederick, Elector Palatine,
who were married that year. Shakespeare wrote the part of Dogberry
for the comic actor William
Publication in quarto and folio
Much Ado About Nothing appeared in three editions before
- First and only quarto, 1600. Probably printed from Shakespeare’s foul papers, in this case his last complete draft before transcribing the fair copy.
- First folio, 1623. Printed from the quarto edition, which was apparently cursorily annotated from the promptbook.
- Second folio, 1632. Printed from the first folio.
Much Ado About Nothing was among a number of plays entered in the Stationers’ Register on 4 August 1600 as ‘to be staied’. This entry has not been conclusively explained, one theory being that the Lord Chamberlain’s Men were laying claim to payment if the play should be printed. On 23 August 1600, the play was entered in the Stationers’ Register to Andrew Wise and William Aspley. The first, and only, quarto of Much Ado About Nothing was printed for them that year by Valentine Simmes.
British Library copies of Much Ado About Nothing contains detailed bibliographic descriptions of all the quarto copies of the play.
Shakespeare used a handful of sources for Much Ado About Nothing.
- Lodovico Ariosto, translated by Sir John Harington, Orlando Furioso (1591). Canto 5 of the poem provided Shakespeare with the marriage between Hero and Claudio and Don John’s plot to prevent it.
- Matteo Bandello, La Prima Parte de le Nouelle (1554). The 22nd of Bandello’s novellas gave Shakespeare the setting in Messina, as well as contributing to the marriage plot involving Hero, Claudio, and Don John.
- Matteo Bandello, translated by François de Belleforest, Le Troisiesme Tome des Histoires Tragiques Extraittes des Oeuvres Italiennes de Bandel (1569). Shakespeare could have used either Bandello’s Italian original or the translation and adaptation by Belleforest.
- Baldassare Castiglione, translated by Sir Thomas Hoby, The Courtier (1588). This work was perhaps Shakespeare’s source for the romance between Beatrice and Benedick.
Story of the play
Note: the links below will take you to the page in the quarto where
each act begins, according to standard modern editions. (The quartos
themselves have no act divisions.) The quarto shown for each play
is always the earliest in the Library's collection - unless it is
a 'bad' quarto in which case it is the earliest 'good' quarto.
Much Ado About Nothing is set in Messina, Sicily.
(Act 1) Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon, and his followers arrive
at the house of Leonato, Governor of Messina on their way home from
the wars. Claudio, one of Don Pedro’s men, is in love with
Leonato’s daughter Hero. Benedick, another of Don Pedro’s
men, rails against marriage. Don Pedro agrees to woo Hero on Claudio’s
behalf. Don John, the disaffected bastard half-brother of Don Pedro,
hears this and determines to prevent the match.
(Act 2) Beatrice, Leonato’s neice, disparages men and declares
herself against marriage. Don Pedro, Claudio, Benedick and others
enter in masks for an evening’s revels. Don Pedro takes Hero
aside. Beatrice and Benedick exchange sharp witticisms. Don Pedro
tells Claudio that Hero will marry him, and her father Leonato consents
to the match. Don John plots with his follower Borachio to thwart
the marriage. Benedick overhears Don Pedro, Claudio and others talking
about Beatrice’s love for him. Unaware that they are fooling
him, Benedick decides that he is in love with Beatrice.
(Act 3) Beatrice overhears Hero and her gentlewomen talking of
Benedick’s love for her. She does not realise they are tricking
her, and decides that she is in love with Benedick. Don John persuades
Don Pedro and Claudio that Hero has a lover. The men of the watch
overhear Borachio boasting of his part in the plot to discredit
Hero. They arrest him. The constable Dogberry tries to tell Leonato
of their discovery, but is asked to wait until after Hero’s
(Act 4) Claudio rejects Hero as the wedding ceremony is in progress.
She faints, as he, Don Pedro and the other guests leave. Leonato
agrees that news of Hero’s death should be published, in the
hope that Claudio will suffer remorse and her name be cleared. Beatrice
and Benedick confess their love for each other. Beatrice demands
that, to prove his love, Benedick should challenge Claudio to a
duel. Benedick agrees. Dogberry questions Borachio about the plot
against Hero and resolves to take the evidence to Leonato. Don John
has fled from Messina in secret.
(Act 5) Leonato accuses Don Pedro and Claudio of causing Hero’s
death. Benedick challenges Claudio. Before they can fight, Dogberry
arrives with Borachio who confesses the plot against Hero. Leonato
offers Claudio his neice, who is very like Hero, in marriage and
Claudio accepts. Benedick asks and receives Leonato’s permission
to marry Beatrice. Leonato’s neice arrives, masked. She reveals
that she is, in fact, Hero. Beatrice and Benedick learn of the trick
played on them, but agree to marry nevertheless. A messenger arrives
with news that Don John has been arrested, but the company continue
with celebrations for the forthcoming double marriage.