Shakespeare Fans discussion

Group Readings > MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING Act 1

Comments Showing 1-38 of 38 (38 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2557 comments Mod
Let's talk about Act 1 here in this thread.

I'll be posting other threads for each Act.

message 2: by P.D.R. (new)

P.D.R. Lindsay (pdrlindsay) Much Ado was the play chosen most often by my students. They could easily understand the setting up of Bea and Ben!

Always loved the opening and the B and B speeches.

message 3: by Garfield (new)

Garfield Whyte (garfieldwhyte) | 2 comments I would like to be a part of you have a link to the script

message 4: by Phil (new)

Phil Jensen | 97 comments Here's a Folger edition, but without the footnotes:

Here's a No Fear edition:

message 5: by Phil (new)

Phil Jensen | 97 comments I have two questions that I'm trying to figure out.

1. I read in a user review that "nothing" was Elizabethan slang for "vagina," which gives the title of the play a sex-comedy vibe to it. Does that seem like a valid interpretation?

2. I need all the help I can get with this speech:
BEATRICE He set up his bills here in Messina and
challenged Cupid at the flight, and my uncle’s Fool,
reading the challenge, subscribed for Cupid and
challenged him at the bird-bolt.

What I've got so far is: Benedick hung up advertisements that he was a better archer than Cupid (is that a metaphor for flirting with lots of women?) and the Fool (I'm assuming that's Dogberry) challenged him back (Does that mean Dogberry flirted back with Benedick, or fell in love with him, or was trying to out flirt him with the women of Messina?)

message 6: by Martin (last edited May 20, 2017 05:49AM) (new)

Martin | 16 comments

I think you've almost got the joke anyway, Phil. Benedick announced that he was a better archer than Cupid, by which he meant that he knew how to get the women, but Leonato's Fool (Leonato is Beatrice's uncle) took him literally and challenged him to a contest of shooting bird bolts. Bird bolts were for clubbing the animals, and shot from an arblast (see picture) and hardly an activity for a gentleman like Benedick.

Perhaps Benedick didn't really post notices, and that is just Beatrice's fanciful way of telling the story.

(The Fool is some off-stage character who does not appear. Dogberry is clown rather than fool. A fool was a professional comedian kept by an aristocrat for entertainment, but Dogberry is just a natural born idiot.)

But I know nothing about "nothing"!

message 7: by Jim (new)

Jim | 38 comments Phil wrote: "I have two questions that I'm trying to figure out.

1. I read in a user review that "nothing" was Elizabethan slang for "vagina," which gives the title of the play a sex-comedy vibe to it. Does th..."

For "nothing", I've read that as well, I believe in notes to an edition read a few years ago. As in, gentlemen have a "thing" and ladies have "no thing".

The edition I'm reading now (Arden) refers to puns around "noting" (eavesdropping, relaying what's believed to be happening). Apparently the pronunciation of "nothing" and "noting" were similar back in the day, if I'm remembering that correctly.

message 8: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2557 comments Mod
Great start!

I'm looking forward to this read. I feel it's feeling so fresh.

I am going to guess that considering "nothing" to be an innuendo of vagina....I think that "thing" is an innuendo for it makes sense that a "no thing" would be not having a penis. A woman has a no thing.

So I don't think thats a stretch at all.

Smoop says it was an Elizabethan slang for vagina. Is that a reliable source?

I wonder if this might make the play a nice partner with "What You Will"?

I think there is a lot about "nothing" having the same pronunciation...therefore a pun on "noting". I think that will be relevant during this reading.

message 9: by P.D.R. (new)

P.D.R. Lindsay (pdrlindsay) Phil, Beatrice is giving Benedick a hard time. He has not posted any bills/notice, it's her way of saying he's not much of a man when it comes to attracting women. She's 'my lady tongue' as far as Benedick goes because she gives him hard time when they meet because of their earlier, pre the play's current action relationship.

Much ado about nothing is and was back then an expression meaning a great fuss over a small affair. It's Shakespeare's way of saying this is a light more comic play, and that the meat of the plot is a fuss about nothing. It is because the problem could have been solved by a few judicious questions.

I am unsure of this 'nothing' being Elizabethan sexual slang. And why would it be used in a title? A title usually says something about the contents of a book or a play. Much Ado is not a fuss about a vagina or a virgin. It is about honour, deception and deceit.

message 10: by Phil (new)

Phil Jensen | 97 comments Thanks, everybody. The trickiest bit for me was figuring out what the Fool had to do with any of it.

My next question:

The preface in my edition remarks that the Beatrice/Benedick relationship is much more popular than the Hero/Claudio relationship, and has been for a long time. In reading Act I, I'm surprised by what seems to be a lack of effort on Shakespeare's part. Hero has exactly one line in all of Act I, and here it is: "My cousin means Signior Benedick of Padua." That doesn't tell us much about her character.

Compared to, say, Romeo and Juliet or even Henry V and Katherine, this is a pretty weak buildup for a romantic relationship. Mostly, we just know what other characters say about her: she is small, "brown" (aka tan), looks like her father, and is considered "worthy."

Was Shakespeare even trying? The character who is supposed to be bad at talking (Claudio) talks more than his female lead!

message 11: by H.J. (new)

H.J. Moat (hjmoat) | 2 comments The Beatrice/Benedick relationship is utterly iconic - I think most people consider those two to be the lead characters in the play.
They are the original enemies-who-fight-because-they're-really-in-love, which is obviously a trope now, but if you look back at all the screwball comedies of the Thirties and Forties you can see the scale and quality of influence they've had (indirectly at least) on popular culture.
I think also their relationship is more attractive to contemporary audiences because it feels more modern - they are pitted as equals, worthy sparring partners. Benedick especially feels far more progressive than Claudio in his behaviour...although I won't go into that at this point!

message 12: by Gabriel (new)

Gabriel | 170 comments Bravo PDR (message 9). I get fed up with searching for supposedly hidden meanings when the main meaning is staring us in the face. 'Nothing' is used in numerous places by Shakespeare to mean exactly what it says, where vaginas etc would be absurd, eg Lear: Nothing shall come of nothing, or 'Surely my lord, your suspicions are but nothing' in the Winter's Tale. You can have an added overtone of sexuality here if you like but the 'nothing' about which there is much ado in this play is a false accusation.

message 13: by P.D.R. (new)

P.D.R. Lindsay (pdrlindsay) If you are new to the play perhaps watching a film might help. The one which captures the noise and verve and the nub of the plot - although it has other faults - is the Emma Thompson/Kenneth Branagh version which plays it as a merry romp with a dark heart.

And when reading it it really does help to remember that it was a play and acted so speaking the lines aloud and trying to be the differnt characters is fun and does help.

There's a very good examination of the play as one of the free courses though I think you'll have to wait a bit for the course to run again. FutureLearn do a lot of Shakespeare put together by the Shakespeare Trust and the Royal Shakespeare Company. You get to hear the actors and directors, the experts and professors and if you are not familiar with Shakespeare and his world they are marvellous and free introductions to the man and his plays.

message 14: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) P.D.R. wrote: "There's a very good examination of the play as one of the free courses though I think you'll have to wait a bit for the course to run again. FutureLearn do a lot of Shakespeare put together by the Shakespeare Trust and the Royal Shakespeare Company. You get to hear the actors and directors, the experts and professors and if you are not familiar with Shakespeare and his world they are marvellous and free introductions to the man and his plays...."

That's very interesting, and something I will watch out for. Thanks for that!

message 15: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) The introduction to the version I'm reading says that "nothing" is pronounced "noting" and means about the same thing. It also mentions that Beatrice & Benedick's relationship - even as confrontational as it is - has a much better chance than Hero and Claudio simply because they are communicating, and airing their thoughts, while Claudio and Hero are a much more traditional kind of match - impressed by beauty, money, position, etc.... all surface qualities that cannot be relied on to build a relationship.

message 16: by Garfield (new)

Garfield Whyte (garfieldwhyte) | 2 comments Phil wrote: "Here's a Folger edition, but without the footnotes:

Here's a No Fear edition:"

Thx a lot

message 17: by P.D.R. (new)

P.D.R. Lindsay (pdrlindsay) 'all surface qualities that cannot be relied on to build a relationship. '

Ah, but Hero and Claudio had met the year before, and formed their attachment then. Young love as opposed to B and B who had almost had a relationship but it had crashed and hurt poor Beatrice who used her tongue to punish Benedick.

And don't forget that Claudio is a portrayed as the young valiant soldier who is not a ladies' man but an honest bloke. He and Hero - do note the meaning of her name too - have a more traditional relationship and marriage.

message 18: by Jim (new)

Jim | 38 comments I wonder if the Hero and Claudio relationship, which seems a more routine story line, is a foil for the more tumultuous, unusual and nuanced relationship between Beatrice and Benedick. It's almost like high school where, sure, other people may be dating, but only my profound emotions are the REAL ones.

How feisty Beatrice is right out of the gate is also striking, which I think goes a long way to giving the relationship a more modern (and more real) feeling.

message 19: by H.J. (new)

H.J. Moat (hjmoat) | 2 comments Is it a given that Hero and Claudio are (even if not by much) younger than B & B? I certainly haven't ever seen a production where they weren't.

message 20: by Martin (new)

Martin | 16 comments It seems I never "reread" S. Whenever I read it, I seem to be reading it for the first time.

I am so hit by the historical connections . . . In The Winters Tale (and Comedy of Errors) Sicily is Greek, as it once was. Here it is a mix of Spaniards, Dons Pedro & John and their followers, the Italians, Claudio (Florence) and Benedick (Padua), way north in Lombardy, and the Sicilians themselves, Leonato, and all his family and servants. (Sicilians don't think of themselves as Italians: "Non siam' Italiani! Siam' Siciliani!" as a Sicilian farmer once told me.) Don Pedro is Prince of Aragon. Aragon took control of Sicily after the Sicilian Vespers, which was 1282, and it was effectively under the control of the Spanish, or their Bourbon offshoots, until the time of Garibaldi - 1860. Six hundred years of foreign oppression!

The action is in Messina. This is at the north-easternmost point of Sicily, the bridgehead to Europe, and of huge strategic importance. (It was bombarded heavily in WW2). Leonato is host to his Spanish overlords, who have recently completed a war to re-establish their dominance. The Italian guests were fighting on the Spanish side.

I realise it is a frothy comedy, but it is not impossible to see Beatrice's anger coming from an independence of political thought. At first she is witty enough, but her later remarks to Benedick are too acid to pass as wit:

"Scratching could not make it worse, an 'twere such a face as yours were."

And Hero is almost like a piece of war booty, claimed by Claudio from his Spanish patron.

In the long exchange where Benedick defends his celibacy, the imagery is remarkably violent and cruel,

"hang me in a bottle like a cat and shoot at me"

The image os of a cat hung up in a wicker basket while Elizabethans shoot arrows at it for "sport".

Sicily suffered much at the hands of the inquisition,

"Benedick: I will die in it at the stake.
Don Pedro: Thou wast ever an obstinate heretic in the despite of beauty."


"I look for an earthquake too, then."

There was an earthquake in Sicily in 1542.

Benedick's language seems to match the suffering of the island under colonial oppression. The wikipedia article on Sicily is a bit superficial (no mention of Mack Smith, M I Finley who wrote the best history, or of G M Trevelyan), but helpful, but the article on the Sicilian Vespers is worth looking at, and I think you get the feeling that behind the foreground fun of Much Ado is a history of Sicily that S really knew.

message 21: by P.D.R. (last edited May 22, 2017 02:55PM) (new)

P.D.R. Lindsay (pdrlindsay) Hero is referred to as Beatrice's young cousin. I rather fancy Shakespeare was hampered for a while with his boy actors,; he had a short one and a tall one and they were one just starting out and one nearly at the end of his use as a boy! Don't forget he wrote the plays for his actors and their particular gifts.

Also our sensibilities are not the same as the Elizabethans. These men have returned from war, from fighting face to face close up. What we see as rough and violent they did not. The average Elizabethan found life a tough old struggle.

Benedick is over the top in his expressions, to amuse his listeners surely. But listen to him when he says that Beatrice puts Hero in the shade as far as beauty!

'There's her cousin, an she were not possessed of a fury, exceeds her as much in beauty as the first of May doth the last of December.'

Once upon a time those two had shared a tendre but war got in the way as well as Benedick's fear of the married life!

message 22: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2557 comments Mod

Quick friendly reminder...

Spoiler reminders...some people are reading this play for the first time...or the first time in a long time.

We have threads for Act 2...Act 3...Act 4...Act 5 if you want to post thoughts or observances relevant to those Acts.

message 23: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer DuBose (jenndubose) | 16 comments P.D.R. wrote: "If you are new to the play perhaps watching a film might help. The one which captures the noise and verve and the nub of the plot - although it has other faults - is the Emma Thompson/Kenneth Brana..."

Thank you for this source! I could even use this in my own classroom.

message 24: by Liawèn (last edited May 25, 2017 05:30AM) (new)

Liawèn | 9 comments While the Branagh version is ok (for a Branagh movie^^), I found a link to the 2011 London stage production with David Tennant as Benedick and Catherine Tate as Beatrice. Their chemistry is unmatched.

message 25: by P.D.R. (new)

P.D.R. Lindsay (pdrlindsay) Sounds great. Where's the link? And the BBC TImelife series long ago did a good one of Much Ado. You need one which brings out the Hero Claudio relationship as well as the B and B one.

message 26: by Liawèn (new)

Liawèn | 9 comments I'll post it as soon as I'm home again and have access to my bookmarks 😊

message 27: by Liawèn (new)

Liawèn | 9 comments Here is the link. You can fast forward 29 minutes, the play starts there. Let me know what you think of it. I died laughing :-D
You could even read along because they use the original text

message 28: by Don (new)

Don (donbcivil) | 8 comments I kind of zoomed through reading the play and had recently watched the Branagh and Whedon movie versions. One thing that struck me is how many more lines Hero actually has in the text. In the movies there's not much to her but she's a more active participant in the Beatrice/Benedick matching in the play.

message 29: by Dawn (new)

Dawn (goodreadscomdawn_irena) | 24 comments Hi everyone ! I do miss your lively discussions! I could not sleep tonight so I took the opportunity to hop on line with y'all to see what fun you were having with one of my favorite plays !

Great laughter with you all about the Elizabethan terminology guess for " vagina" ! I can't help it ! Shakespeare is so much fun ! I wonder what he would have thought if we were trying to say that since men have penises that the word for women's female genatalia would be " no thing" because you can't see theirs inside!

I am so sorry to laugh so hard by myself but please know I am not making fun of you at all it is just that comment made my whole week worthwhile ! I think I must check in more often because I do so enjoy all of you . Thank you so much ! My parents are as well as can be and in bed around 11:00 so if I can stay awake I read until at least 4:00 AM and then sleep until 8:30 AM .
I have not been very nice about keeping up with y'all . I am definitely reading . I do agree with you , Martin , I do feel like I am reading a different play each time I read Shakespeare . I always find something new that I missed or I love more.
I am going on to read the sonnet for the next day because I would love to participate at least in talking about one of them . I loved his sonnets . The format was lovely and fun to fulfill when writing one yourself . I used to teach my Creative Writing students to write them . They were not nearly as hard as some other forms of poetry . I adore haiku !
I really hope to be peeking in more . I thank you again for reminding me why I read and share on Goodreads. It is my Devine joy in life !

message 30: by Martin (new)

Martin | 16 comments Greetings again Dawn! The sonnet section (which I run) is always worryingly short of readers, which is a pity because it does generate some very lively discussions. All posts there are welcome.

message 31: by P.D.R. (last edited May 26, 2017 01:59AM) (new)

P.D.R. Lindsay (pdrlindsay) Comment back from my online Shakespeare experts, the University of Warick professors, re nothing = vagina. NO. And they are scholars with respected publications to their names.

message 32: by Phil (new)

Phil Jensen | 97 comments Dawn wrote: "I wonder what he would have thought if we were trying to say that since men have penises that the word for women's female genatalia would be " no thing" because you can't see theirs inside! "

It seems like the vagina theory is debunked at this point, but I don't think Shakespeare would be offended by the discussion. After all, this is the same guy that wrote the pear/medlar scene in Romeo and Juliet.

Side story:
I took my students to see The Tempest a few weeks ago. There is a scene in which two characters (Caliban and Trinculo) climb under the same blanket in fear and confusion. It's intended to be humorous. The performers had the actors on top of each other, and there was a bit of "panicked" thrashing around that could be taken more than one way. Caliban delivered his lines by bellowing them directly into Trinculo's buttocks.

My students' reaction was a mixture of shock and hilarity. One of them said to me, "Do you think Shakespeare would have wanted it that way?" My answer was, "Well, he was no stranger to body humor."

message 33: by P.D.R. (last edited May 26, 2017 04:16PM) (new)

P.D.R. Lindsay (pdrlindsay) Not how Shakespeare wrote it though, Phil.

Remember the comment about fish? A strange fish? It would have been played as a mermaid - human top and the Caliban actor would have had some sort of muffling - maybe even the sailcloth they hid under - round his legs which could be confused as a tail.

There had been reports of a mermaid in Thames hadn't there? Elizabethans loved the idea of mermaids and it would have raised a laugh from the audience who had seen Caliban and would be laughing at the other actors' mistake.

message 34: by P.D.R. (new)

P.D.R. Lindsay (pdrlindsay) Oh and never mind pears and medlars, what about the opening scene of R and J the insults pre the servants' fight? And what about the many references to cod and roe in R and J and several of the plays?

Of course a bawdy joke was fun for everyone but it was subtle. After all the words used do have polite meanings and could be taken that way. Shakespeare was never crude and crass unless such a scene was vital to the plot.

message 35: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2557 comments Mod
Au where has the innuendo for "noting" or "no thing" been debunked. Almost everywhere I have researched confirms that the slang there ..."is no thing between their legs" is common for referring to a woman. And her vagina is the "no thing".

YES....we can have two or meanings at once. "much ado" means a big fuss. and nothing means nothing. So the title of the play is similar to the cliched adage...."making a mountain out of a mole hill."

AND we can have three meanings where "noting" is pronounced the same as nothing. So the title also means "making a big fuzz out of gossip" or "making a big fuzz out of observations (noting) rather than truth.

So the title makes a reference to our outer behavior may not indicate accurately our thoughts.

As for vagina and nothing is a reference

Johnathan Bate introduction to the Royal Shakespearean Company book. Page 257. ISBN 0-230-00350-8.

Another motif is the play on the words nothing and noting, which in Shakespeare's day were near-homophones.[16] Taken literally, the title implies that a great fuss ("much ado") is made of something which is insignificant ("nothing"), such as the unfounded claims of Hero's infidelity and the unfounded claims that Benedick and Beatrice are in love with one another. The title could also be understood as Much Ado About Noting. Much of the action is in interest in and critique of others, written messages, spying, and eavesdropping. This is mentioned several times, particularly concerning "seeming," "fashion," and outward impressions. Nothing is a double entendre; "an O-thing" (or "n othing" or "no thing") was Elizabethan slang for "vagina", evidently derived from the pun of a woman having "nothing" between her legs

message 36: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2557 comments Mod
It's not the origin, just a bit of double entendre. You still hear "thing" used in certain contexts to refer to a penis, so it's not too hard how "nothing", ie "no thing" comes to mean vagina.

As a title, Much Ado About Nothing fits neatly with those of Shakespeare’s other plays written around the same time: the titles seem whimsical and even flippant. Twelfth Night was alternatively titled What You Will, and As You Like It seems a much less informative title than, say, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Still, the capricious titles are actually as reflective of their content as any history or tragedy title. The plot of Much Ado About Nothing centers on a lot of hubbub over little misunderstandings; there’s a whole lot of fuss about stuff that ultimately isn’t that important.

For the bigger issues in the play, though, we turn to the fact that, in Shakespeare’s day, "nothing" was often pronounced the same way as "noting." The play is built around the process of "noting," which has myriad meanings. It can mean "to take notice of" something, to eavesdrop, to observe, or to write something down – but these notings aren’t necessarily accurate. A person can misunderstand a meaning, or mishear, or misreport something, in the process of noting too. The foibles that result from noting (and misnoting) are central to keeping the play spinning.

If that wasn’t interesting enough for you, you might want to note that "nothing" was also an Elizabethan slang term for the vagina. "Much Ado About Vagina" makes sense as a title, right? After all, the highs and lows of the play revolve around men and their relationships with, suspicion of, and lack of relationships with…women. Reading the title this way puts women in a central and powerful role in the play: while the men are the ones working, the women are what they’re working for.

message 37: by Candy (new)

Candy | 2557 comments Mod
I think nothing, my lord.

Translation: I'd rather not keep talking about this and I can't acknowledge your sexual innuendo because that would suggest that I, an unmarried maid, know a little too much about sex.

That's a fair thought to lie between maids' legs.

Translation: In Shakespeare's time, "nothing" was another slang word for female genitalia.


message 38: by P.D.R. (new)

P.D.R. Lindsay (pdrlindsay) Thank you for that. I'll take Jonathon Bate's words as accurate.

back to top