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MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.] IT is true, as Mr. Pope has observed, that somewhat resembling the story of this play is to be found in the fifth book of the Orlando Furioso. In Spenser's Fairy Queen, as remote an original may be traced.
A novel, however, of Belleforest, copied from another of Bandello, seems to have furnished Shakespeare with his fable, as it approaches nearer in all its particulars to the play before us, than any other performance known to be extant. I have seen so many versions from this once popular collection, that I entertain no doubt but that a great majority of the tales it comprehends have made their appearance in an English dress. Of that particular story which I have just mentioned, viz. the 18th history in the third volume, no translation has hitherto been met with.
This play was entered at Stationers' Hall, Aug. 23, 1600.
Ariosto is continually quoted for the fable of Much Ado about Nothing ; but I suspect our poet to have been satisfied with the Geneura of Turberville. “ The tale (says Harrington) is a pretie comical matter, and hath bin written in English verse some few years past, learnedly and with good grace, by M. George Turbervil.” Ariosto, fol. 1591, p. 39.
This play may be justly said to contain two of the most sprightly characters that Shakespeare ever drew. The wit, the humourist, the gentleman, and the soldier, are combined in Benedick. It is to be lamented, indeed, that the first and most splendid of these distinctions, is disgraced by unnecessary profaneness; for the goodness of
his heart is hardly sufficient to atone for the license of his tongue. The too sarcastic levity, which flashes out in the conversation of Beatrice, may be excused on account of the steadiness and friendship so apparent in her behaviour, when she urges her lover to risque his life by a challenge to Claudio. In the conduct of the fable, however, there is an imperfection similar to that which Dr. Johnson has pointed out in The Merry Wives of Windsor:—the second contrivance is less ingenious than the first :-or, to speak more plainly, the same incident has become stale by repetition. I wish some other method had been found to entrap Beatrice, than that very one which before had been successfully practised on Benedick.
Don Pedro, prince of Arragon.
followers of Don John,
two foolish officers. A Sexton. A Friar.
Hero, daughter to Leonato.
gentlewomen attending on Hero.
Messengers, Watch, and Attendants.