Quarto of Much Ado About Nothing, 1600

Description

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.

Full title:
Much adoe about Nothing. As it hath been sundrie times publikely acted by the right honourable, the Lord Chamberlaine his servants. Written by W. Shakespeare.
Published:
1600, London
Format:
Book / Quarto
Language:
English
Creator:
William Shakespeare
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
Shelfmark:
C.12.g.29.

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Benedick and Beatrice: the 'merry war' of courtship

Article by:
Penny Gay
Themes:
Comedies, Gender, sexuality, courtship and marriage, Language, word play and text

Penny Gay sees Benedick and Beatrice as the witty stars of a Shakespearean rom-com. She explores both their modernity and their conformity to traditional gender roles and marriage.

Shakespeare's life

Article by:
Andrew Dickson
Theme:
Shakespeare’s life and world

From Stratford to London (and back again), from ‘upstart crow’ to 'wonder of our stage', Andrew Dickson recounts some of the details of William Shakespeare’s life.

Shakespeare's fools

Article by:
Eric Rasmussen, Ian DeJong
Theme:
Interpretations of ‘madness’

Eric Rasmussen and Ian DeJong consider the actors who first played Shakespeare's fools, and their influence on the way that, over the course of the playwright's career, his fools move from physical comedy to verbal humour and, finally, to melancholy and cynicism.

Related collection items

Related people

Related works

Much Ado About Nothing

Created by: William Shakespeare

Much Ado About Nothing opens at the end of a conflict in Italy: Don Pedro of Aragon has defeated his brother Don ...