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‘Much Ado About Nothing’ by William Shakespeare

Posted in Actors, English Literature, Literature, Shakespeare, Theatre on Friday, 29 April 2011

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Much Ado About Nothing is a comedy which received “sundry performances” before 1600, and was therefore most probably written around late 1598 or early 1599. It has several possible sources, including French translations of Italian tales concerning deceived lovers and confounded intentions, but the most obvious is Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, which had appeared in English translation as early as 1591.

Ellen Terry, picture, image, illustration

Miss Ellen Terry as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing

The play’s action is set in Messina, Sicily, at a time when the House of Aragon ruled that island kingdom; the place is the country estate of Leonato, Governor of Messina. Two sets of contrasting lovers provide the see-saw drama of the play, where on the one hand Beatrice and Benedick are embattled,sarcastic, witty sparring partners, and on the other Hero and Claudio are swooning lovers who live for each other’s every word, look and kiss. The Prince of Aragon, Don Pedro, has returned from the wars, and both he and his captains are ready for happy diversions, to which end there is to be a masked ball. It is his bastard brother, Don John, who puts the sting in this tale; he is a malcontent, that misanthropic type well-known to Elizabethan audiences, who delights in spreading vile rumour and sowing discord which reaps unhappiness, though happily he sows here but to reap his own. In this play he conspires to cast doubts on Hero’s fidelity, so that Claudio rejects her at the altar on their wedding day. The chaotic local watch and constabulary somehow uncover Don John’s plot, notwithstanding the ineffectual muddling by a simple-minded and comically malapropistic Constable called Dogberry, a fine example of the beautifully etched minor characters which people Shakespeare’s plays. Berlioz, a great Shakespearean, took the play as inspiration for his highly original opera Beatrice and Benedict.

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