Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing

by William Shakespeare

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781729515730
Publisher: CreateSpace Publishing
Publication date: 10/28/2018
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Travis D. Williams is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of English at the University of Rhode Island.

Date of Death:

2018

Place of Birth:

Stratford-upon-Avon, United Kingdom

Place of Death:

Stratford-upon-Avon, United Kingdom

Read an Excerpt

Shakespeare's Life

Surviving documents that give us glimpses into the life of William Shakespeare show us a playwright, poet, and actor who grew up in the market town of Stratford-upon-Avon, spent his professional life in London, and returned to Stratford a wealthy landowner. He was born in April 1564, died in April 1616, and is buried inside the chancel of Holy Trinity Church in Stratford.

We wish we could know more about the life of the world's greatest dramatist. His plays and poems are testaments to his wide reading — especially to his knowledge of Virgil, Ovid, Plutarch, Holinshed's Chronicles, and the Bible — and to his mastery of the English language, but we can only speculate about his education. We know that the King's New School in Stratford-upon-Avon was considered excellent. The school was one of the English "grammar schools" established to educate young men, primarily in Latin grammar and literature. As in other schools of the time, students began their studies at the age of four or five in the attached "petty school," and there learned to read and write in English, studying primarily the catechism from the Book of Common Prayer. After two years in the petty school, students entered the lower form (grade) of the grammar school, where they began the serious study of Latin grammar and Latin texts that would occupy most of the remainder of their school days. (Several Latin texts that Shakespeare used repeatedly in writing his plays and poems were texts that schoolboys memorized and recited.) Latin comedies were introduced early in the lower form; in the upper form, which the boys entered at age ten or eleven, students wrotetheir own Latin orations and declamations, studied Latin historians and rhetoricians, and began the study of Greek using the Greek New Testament.

Since the records of the Stratford "grammar school" do not survive, we cannot prove that William Shakespeare attended the school; however, every indication (his father's position as an alderman and bailiff of Stratford, the playwright's own knowledge of the Latin classics, scenes in the plays that recall grammar-school experiences — for example, The Merry Wives of Windsor, 4.1) suggests that he did. We also lack generally accepted documentation about Shakespeare's life after his schooling ended and his professional life in London began. His marriage in 1582 (at age eighteen) to Anne Hathaway and the subsequent births of his daughter Susanna (1583) and the twins Judith and Hamnet (1585) are recorded, but how he supported himself and where he lived are not known. Nor do we know when and why he left Stratford for the London theatrical world, nor how he rose to be the important figure in that world that he had become by the early 1590s.

We do know that by 1592 he had achieved some prominence in London as both an actor and a playwright. In that year was published a book by the playwright Robert Greene attacking an actor who had the audacity to write blank-verse drama and who was "in his own conceit [i.e., opinion] the only Shake-scene in a country." Since Greene's attack includes a parody of a line from one of Shakespeare's early plays, there is little doubt that it is Shakespeare to whom he refers, a "Shake-scene" who had aroused Greene's fury by successfully competing with university-educated dramatists like Greene himself. It was in 1593 that Shakespeare became a published poet. In that year he published his long narrative poem Venus and Adonis; in 1594, he followed it with The Rape of Lucrece. Both poems were dedicated to the young earl of Southampton (Henry Wriothesley), who may have become Shakespeare's patron.

It seems no coincidence that Shakespeare wrote these narrative poems at a time when the theaters were closed because of the plague, a contagious epidemic disease that devastated the population of London. When the theaters reopened in 1594, Shakespeare apparently resumed his double career of actor and playwright and began his long (and seemingly profitable) service as an acting-company shareholder. Records for December of 1594 show him to be a leading member of the Lord Chamberlain's Men. It was this company of actors, later named the King's Men, for whom he would be a principal actor, dramatist, and shareholder for the rest of his career.

So far as we can tell, that career spanned about twenty years. In the 1590s, he wrote his plays on English history as well as several comedies and at least two tragedies (Titus Andronicus and Romeo and Juliet). These histories, comedies, and tragedies are the plays credited to him in 1598 in a work, Palladis Tamia, that in one chapter compares English writers with "Greek, Latin, and Italian Poets." There the author, Francis Meres, claims that Shakespeare is comparable to the Latin dramatists Seneca for tragedy and Plautus for comedy, and calls him "the most excellent in both kinds for the stage." He also names him "Mellifluous and honey-tongued Shakespeare": "I say," writes Meres, "that the Muses would speak with Shakespeare's fine filed phrase, if they would speak English." Since Meres also mentions Shakespeare's "sugared sonnets among his private friends," it is assumed that many of Shakespeare's sonnets (not published until 1609) were also written in the 1590s.

In 1599, Shakespeare's company built a theater for themselves across the river from London, naming it the Globe. The plays that are considered by many to be Shakespeare's major tragedies (Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth) were written while the company was resident in this theater, as were such comedies as Twelfth Night and Measure for Measure. Many of Shakespeare's plays were performed at court (both for Queen Elizabeth I and, after her death in 1603, for King James I), some were presented at the Inns of Court (the residences of London's legal societies), and some were doubtless performed in other towns, at the universities, and at great houses when the King's Men went on tour; otherwise, his plays from 1599 to 1608 were, so far as we know, performed only at the Globe. Between 1608 and 1612, Shakespeare wrote several plays — among them The Winter's Tale and The Tempest — presumably for the company's new indoor Blackfriars theater, though the plays seem to have been performed also at the Globe and at court. Surviving documents describe a performance of The Winter's Tale in 1611 at the Globe, for example, and performances of The Tempest in 1611 and 1613 at the royal palace of Whitehall.

Shakespeare wrote very little after 1612, the year in which he probably wrote King Henry VIII. (It was at a performance of Henry VIII in 1613 that the Globe caught fire and burned to the ground.) Sometime between 1610 and 1613 he seems to have returned to live in Stratford-upon-Avon, where he owned a large house and considerable property, and where his wife and his two daughters and their husbands lived. (His son Hamnet had died in 1596.) During his professional years in London, Shakespeare had presumably derived income from the acting company's profits as well as from his own career as an actor, from the sale of his play manuscripts to the acting company, and, after 1599, from his shares as an owner of the Globe. It was presumably that income, carefully invested in land and other property, which made him the wealthy man that surviving documents show him to have become. It is also assumed that William Shakespeare's growing wealth and reputation played some part in inclining the crown, in 1596, to grant John Shakespeare, William's father, the coat of arms that he had so long sought. William Shakespeare died in Stratford on April 23, 1616 (according to the epitaph carved under his bust in Holy Trinity Church) and was buried on April 25. Seven years after his death, his collected plays were published as Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies (the work now known as the First Folio).

The years in which Shakespeare wrote were among the most exciting in English history. Intellectually, the discovery, translation, and printing of Greek and Roman classics were making available a set of works and worldviews that interacted complexly with Christian texts and beliefs. The result was a questioning, a vital intellectual ferment, that provided energy for the period's amazing dramatic and literary output and that fed directly into Shakespeare's plays. The Ghost in Hamlet, for example, is wonderfully complicated in part because he is a figure from Roman tragedy — the spirit of the dead returning to seek revenge — who at the same time inhabits a Christian hell (or purgatory); Hamlet's description of humankind reflects at one moment the Neoplatonic wonderment at mankind ("What a piece of work is a man!") and, at the next, the Christian disparagement of human sinners ("And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?").

As intellectual horizons expanded, so also did geographical and cosmological horizons. New worlds — both North and South America — were explored, and in them were found human beings who lived and worshiped in ways radically different from those of Renaissance Europeans and Englishmen. The universe during these years also seemed to shift and expand. Copernicus had earlier theorized that the earth was not the center of the cosmos but revolved as a planet around the sun. Galileo's telescope, created in 1609, allowed scientists to see that Copernicus had been correct; the universe was not organized with the earth at the center, nor was it so nicely circumscribed as people had, until that time, thought. In terms of expanding horizons, the impact of these discoveries on people's beliefs — religious, scientific, and philosophical — cannot be overstated.

London, too, rapidly expanded and changed during the years (from the early 1590s to around 1610) that Shakespeare lived there. London — the center of England's government, its economy, its royal court, its overseas trade — was, during these years, becoming an exciting metropolis, drawing to it thousands of new citizens every year. Troubled by overcrowding, by poverty, by recurring epidemics of the plague, London was also a mecca for the wealthy and the aristocratic, and for those who sought advancement at court, or power in government or finance or trade. One hears in Shakespeare's plays the voices of London — the struggles for power, the fear of venereal disease, the language of buying and selling. One hears as well the voices of Stratford-upon-Avon — references to the nearby Forest of Arden, to sheepherding, to small-town gossip, to village fairs and markets. Part of the richness of Shakespeare's work is the influence felt there of the various worlds in which he lived: the world of metropolitan London, the world of small-town and rural England, the world of the theater, and the worlds of craftsmen and shepherds.

That Shakespeare inhabited such worlds we know from surviving London and Stratford documents, as well as from the evidence of the plays and poems themselves. From such records we can sketch the dramatist's life. We know from his works that he was a voracious reader. We know from legal and business documents that he was a multifaceted theater man who became a wealthy landowner. We know a bit about his family life and a fair amount about his legal and financial dealings. Most scholars today depend upon such evidence as they draw their picture of the world's greatest playwright. Such, however, has not always been the case. Until the late eighteenth century, the William Shakespeare who lived in most biographies was the creation of legend and tradition. This was the Shakespeare who was supposedly caught poaching deer at Charlecote, the estate of Sir Thomas Lucy close by Stratford; this was the Shakespeare who fled from Sir Thomas's vengeance and made his way in London by taking care of horses outside a playhouse; this was the Shakespeare who reportedly could barely read but whose natural gifts were extraordinary, whose father was a butcher who allowed his gifted son sometimes to help in the butcher shop, where William supposedly killed calves "in a high style," making a speech for the occasion. It was this legendary William Shakespeare whose Falstaff (in 1 and 2 Henry IV) so pleased Queen Elizabeth that she demanded a play about Falstaff in love, and demanded that it be written in fourteen days (hence the existence of The Merry Wives of Windsor). It was this legendary Shakespeare who reached the top of his acting career in the roles of the Ghost in Hamlet and old Adam in As You Like It — and who died of a fever contracted by drinking too hard at "a merry meeting" with the poets Michael Drayton and Ben Jonson. This legendary Shakespeare is a rambunctious, undisciplined man, as attractively "wild" as his plays were seen by earlier generations to be. Unfortunately, there is no trace of evidence to support these wonderful stories.

Perhaps in response to the disreputable Shakespeare of legend — or perhaps in response to the fragmentary and, for some, all-too-ordinary Shakespeare documented by surviving records — some people since the mid-nineteenth century have argued that William Shakespeare could not have written the plays that bear his name. These persons have put forward some dozen names as more likely authors, among them Queen Elizabeth, Sir Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere (earl of Oxford), and Christopher Marlowe. Such attempts to find what for these people is a more believable author of the plays is a tribute to the regard in which the plays are held. Unfortunately for their claims, the documents that exist that provide evidence for the facts of Shakespeare's life tie him inextricably to the body of plays and poems that bear his name. Unlikely as it seems to those who want the works to have been written by an aristocrat, a university graduate, or an "important" person, the plays and poems seem clearly to have been produced by a man from Stratford-upon-Avon with a very good "grammar-school" education and a life of experience in London and in the world of the London theater. How this particular man produced the works that dominate the cultures of much of the world almost four hundred years after his death is one of life's mysteries — and one that will continue to tease our imaginations as we continue to delight in his plays and poems.

Copyright © 2003 by The Folger Shakespeare Library

Table of Contents

List of illustrationsviii
Prefaceix
Abbreviations and conventionsxi
Introduction1
Sources1
The date of the play7
Stage history10
The criticism of the play29
A note on the text41
Postscript, March 198745
Recent stage, film and critical interpretations, by Angela Stock48
List of characters63
The Play65
Supplementary notes158
Textual analysis160
Appendixes160
1The time-scheme of Much Ado About Nothing166
2Lewis Carroll's letter to Ellen Terry169
3Benedick's song, 5.2.18-22171
Reading list171

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'Invigorating, radical and original … I look forward to using it at my desk and perhaps in my classroom over many years, enjoying Jonathan Bate's perceptive comments, trusting Eric Rasmussen's textual scholarship.' – Professor Peter Holland, Times Literary Supplement

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Much Ado about Nothing (Pelican Shakespeare Series) 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 54 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a really good version of Much Ado About Nothing. I got a .99 ¿ version and it had a lot of typos in it but this one is magnificent! I am only twelve but I love it immensley. I highly recommend this this thrilling shakespearian story to anyone who loves a good novel with lots of big words (i'm really glad that Nook has a built-in dictionary!) Happy reading!
multifaceted on LibraryThing 14 hours ago
Had this been written today, I can say it'd probably be one of those dime-a-dozen romance novels you can barely give away, or one of the run-of-the-mill romantic comedy movies. The basic plot of the play is ok (think of any romantic comedy, and you'll most likely think of something with an element similar to this), and it does have its entertaining bits, but really, only Shakespeare's wording and humor save it. Don't get me wrong--Shakespeare is very humorous, and I was laughing at some of his writing ever since I was a kid--but something about combining the humor with a love story just doesn't entertain me.Maybe I just look for more action and less lovey-dovey stuff in my reading...
the_awesome_opossum on LibraryThing 14 hours ago
Much Ado About Nothing is simply a fun play to read. Plenty of banter, wordplay, and just ridiculous situations - and it all reads in a very modern way, not dated or irrelevant at all. There are some more sobering bits about female sexuality and how the society treasures virginity with Hero's storyline, but really, the relationship between Beatrice and Benedick is what keeps this play afloat
Shuffy2 on LibraryThing 14 hours ago
This is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays! The worthy Claudio falls for the beautiful Hero, but will his love hold up when he thinks her unvirtuous? To me the real scene grabber is the word play between the quick witted Beatrice and the glory hound Benedick. Both swear they will never love; Benedick a sworn bachelor and Beatrice finds men, in particular Benedick, a 'stuffed man' equal to 'pestilence'. This book is fun and clever! Don't be afraid of Shakespeare's words- a must read!
choco12kitty on LibraryThing 14 hours ago
For the first time I can actually say that I liked a Shakespeare play! This translation helped me get through the text with it's side and end notes. Much Ado About Nothing was a book that I enjoyed reading.It had all the components I like: drama and romance, yet wasn't focused on just one area. The only thing I didn't like was the ending, I thought Benedick and Beatrice had actually changed, but really hadn't. This book deserves it's stars.
391 on LibraryThing 14 hours ago
Much Ado is definitely my favorite of Shakespeare's comedies. It's good on its own, and a good performance just makes it incredible.
briony on LibraryThing 5 days ago
I loved this play so much that I wrote my thesis on it (partially). If I had known of this play in high school I would not have hated Shakespeare as much as I did.
cinesnail88 on LibraryThing 3 months ago
Since I was a pretty young child, this has been my favorite Shakespeare play, and because of that I chose it for my Shakespeare research project. I am really looking forward to having a lot of fun with it, since I know it ridiculously well.
Mendoza on LibraryThing 3 months ago
My favourite Shakespeare. i am amazed that a comedy written 500 years ago is still relevant today - as in I still get the sly remarks and subtle humor.Branaughs production was extremely enjoyable.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Much Ado About Nothing is a great book. When I started reading this book it was for my Language Arts class so I thought, 'This is going to be another boring story that everyone will hate but the teacher.' I had never read Shakespeare before, so the Folger Library Edition helped me a ton by providing definitions to words and phrases every other page. When I was through the first act, I was so interested in the plot that I read the book for pleasure more than for my class. Anyone with a high reading level will enjoy Much Ado About Nothing because it has everything from comedy and marrige to evil plans and mischief. Much Ado About Nothing is rich in meaning and themes. You will have to ponder about the many themes that run throughout the story. Much Ado About Nothing should definently be read by anyone who wants a great read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is really entertaining. Although i have yet to completely finish the story. As the plot develps and the characters motives become clear to the reader, it turns into a really enjoyable read for all highschool and some special middle school students. Although the language of the Shakesperian time is difficult to comprehend and understand, the Floger Library Edition provides excellent and understandable plot synopsies and definitions for all the unclear words and ancient english language. This book is not only rich in text, but it is rich in meaning as well. Some may find it really interesting and entertaining that the friends of two absentminded lovers would get tehm to hook up. But then again, some might find pleasure in the destroying of the wedding that takes place at the beginning of the novel. This book was not only a joy to read, but it was also a joy to discuss and will keep you laughing for hours at Dogberry and the gang.
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