Much Ado About Nothing was first printed in 1600 in this small quarto edition, around two years after the play was written c. 1598. The title page announces that it has already been ‘publikely acted’ by London’s most prominent company of players, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.
The printer presents this edition as a record of the play in the form it had been acted, though in fact it was probably printed from Shakespeare’s ‘foul papers’ – an early, unpolished complete draft of the play. This quarto also formed the basis of the later version of Much Ado About Nothing included in Shakespeare’s First Folio (1623).
This particular copy was owned by King George III.
What’s special about this edition?
This quarto version is striking in its use of actors’ names alongside normal speech pre-fixes (showing which character should talk). These reveal that Shakespeare intended Dogberry to be played by Will Kemp, the famous Elizabethan stage clown, while Verges would be played by a man called Cowley. A confusing assortment of names – Keeper, Andrew, Kemp – is used to indicate Dogberry even in one very short section (sig. G3v–G4r; Act 4, Scenes 1–2). This confirms that Shakespeare must have wanted to stage the play before early 1599, when Kemp left the Chamberlain’s Men to morrisdance all the way from London to Norwich.
This edition is also thought-provoking in the fact that it includes a mother-figure for Hero, though only as a ‘ghost character’ – one who enters but is not referred to or given anything to say in the script. The entry directions for Act 1, Scene 1 (sig. A2r) mention 'Innogen [or Imogen] his wife', alongside Leonato. ‘His wife’ is again included at the start of Act 2, Scene 1 (sig. B3r). Some critics and directors argue that this silent female presence is important, while others simply edit her out.