Much Ado About Nothing

Literary sources include Ludovico Ariosto (1474-1533) from his “Orlando Furioso” (1516) of which the English translation by John Harington published in 1591 would have been a good source, and from Matteo Bandello, (1485-1561) in his “Novelle” (1554-73) it being the 22th story. As well as Edmund Spenser (c.1552-99) from “The Faerie Queene” (1590), and Francois de Belleforest (1530-83) who wrote; “Histories Tragiques” (1568) Book 3, as well as George Whetstone, who wrote; “The Roke of Regard” (1576) in particular, Clauido’s rejection of Hero at her own wedding and some reference to Baldassare Castiglione, (1478-1529) who wrote the Italian court manual “The Book of the Courtier” (1528). The American author, Charlton Ogburn suggests that a play performed at court in February, 1583 entitled “A Historie of Ariodante and Genevora” was an early version of this play which was originally written by Edward de Vere. This is a problem or riddle play with two intertwined narratives where a lover is deceived into thinking that his beloved is false and where in another instance mutual contempt can be revealed to constitute the basis of sexual attraction. These themes that embrace the relative virtue of strength and weakness, although combined in one play are found singularly in numerous folkloric tales and dramas from an earlier period. Of which Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queen or Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso (1516 and then translated into English by Sir John Harrington-1591) are just two prime examples which, in themselves drew much from Matteo Bandello’s 22nd tale “La Prima Parte de le Novelle”. His work was translated into French by Francois de Belleforest (Histoires Tragiques – 1559-82). On the 12th February 1583 the Queen attended a performance of Ariodante & Genevra enacted by the Merchant Taylor’s Boys directed by Richard Mulcaster which might have been the inspiration later for Much Ado About Nothing. A line from that play by Don Pedro was taken from Thomas Watson’s “Hecatompathia”, the “Passionate Century of Love”. This volume was dedicated to Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford in 1582. A year later the Earl acquired the sublease of the Blackfriar’s Theatre which he transferred to his secretary, John Lyly who was responsible for the merger of St. Paul’s Boys and the Chapel Royal boy players. Charlton Ogburn in the “Mystery of William Shakespeare” (Cardinal Press) suggests that the Earl might also have been a contributor to some of the poetry. Indeed, a decade later in 1593 Watson published a volume of poetry (Tears of Fancy) that included de Vere’s “Who taught thee first to sigh, alas my heart…” as well as some parts of a poem from A Hundreth Sundrie Floweres.

The Dragon’s Head & Dragon’s Tale

A Medieval illustration depicting St. George slaying the Dragon

The play opens with Leonato, the Governor of Messina, in Italy, awaiting the arrival at court of Don Pedro, the Prince of Aragon who has just defeated his usurping bastard brother Don Juan in a family vendetta. A masked ball and banquet are arranged where most of the action takes place. Despite their old dispute the brothers are now fully reconciled and they arrive there with Claudio, and his friend Benedict who has had a long-standing relationship with Leonato’s niece Beatrice. However, Claudio finds he too has a secret desire for the attentions of Hero, Leonato’s daughter and on discussing his suit with the Prince, Don Pedro, suggests that he go to the night’s celebrations disguised as Claudio and pledge his troth on his behalf. Before the banquet Leonato is mistakenly informed by Antonio that he overheard the Prince declaring his love for Hero. Another follower of the bastard Don Juan, Borachio reports that Don Pedro is secretly wooing Hero on the pretext of representing Claudio. Such scandalous news only serves to rile Don Juan against Claudio, hoping he will, without his direct intervention come to ruin and despair. Following the feast they all change into their respective costumes or masks and go to the ball. Beatrice runs down Benedict, dressed as a jester and after a few dances he tries to escape her attentions. Eventually, Don Juan and Borachio decide on a plan to forestall the marriage between Claudio and Hero. They enlist the help of a waiting maid, Margaret to stand in hero’s bedroom window and then for Borachio, to pay court to her thus confirming Hero’s inconstancy to Claudio. Another sub-plot is hatched to bring Beatrice and Benedict together, which is cunningly intended to be overheard by Claudio. Act III takes place in an orchard where Hero discusses with a gentlewoman Ursula, Benedict’s secret love for Beatrice. Nearby, Don Pedro, and Leonato make fun and sport of Claudio’s affections for Hero when Don Juan declares she can be seen in immoral liaison with Borachio at her window most nights. Claudio calls as hoped by the conspirators and apparently witnesses, a raucous yet amorous encounter between Borachio and his beloved Hero. However, the plot backfires and Borachio and Conrade are arrested by the watchmen Dogberry and Verges who take them before the Governor Leonato. He declares himself too busy with matters of the marriage of his daughter to care for the fates of these pranksters. At the marriage ceremony Claudio declares Hero as unfaithful to which suggestion she swoons in utter amazement. Leonato also denounces his daughter despite pleas from Beatrice and Benedict, who while praying for the fate of Hero in a nearby chapel finally declare their undying love for each other. In proof of this Benedict bids Beatrice to demand anything from him and she then decides that he should kill Claudio for his dishonourable deed. He reluctantly agrees, at least to upbraid for his denouncements. At this point however news arrives that Hero is now dead and Don Juan disappeared, to which Leonato challenges Claudio to a duel. When the watchmen Dogberry and Verges prove Hero’s innocence Claudio is full of remorse and Don Pedro asks forgiveness for his bastard brother’s intrigues. The final act features the arrangements for another joint wedding going ahead despite the earlier misunderstanding although Claudio and Don Pedro do not realise that the news of Hero’s death has been concocted and staged by Leonato. The Governor then stages a final denouement by lining up a row of masked ladies, one of which is Hero and inviting Claudio and Don Pedro to attend. Hero casts off her mask to reveal her identity and Claudio is naturally overjoyed. The couples dance once more before the final ceremony and news arrives that the scoundrel Don Juan has been captured while fleeing.

The links to my publications “Shakespeare’s Qaballah”, a Companion to Shakespeare Studies and my anthology of poetry, “Parthenogenesis” are as follows:


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The links to my publications 
“Shakespeare’s Qaballah”,
a Companion to Shakespeare Studies and my anthology of poetry,