M

Much Ado About Nothing

The primary plot of Much Ado About Nothing turns on the courtship and scandal involving young Hero and her suitor, Claudio, but the witty war of words between Claudio’s friend Benedick and Hero’s cousin Beatrice often takes center stage.

Set in Messina, the play begins as Don Pedro's army returns after a victory. Benedick, a gentleman soldier, resumes a verbal duel with Beatrice, the niece of Messina's governor, Leonato. Count Claudio is smitten with Leonato's daughter, Hero. After Don Pedro woos her in disguise for Claudio, the two young lovers plan to marry in a week. To fill in the time until the wedding, Don Pedro and the others set about tricking Benedick and Beatrice into falling in love with each other. Meanwhile, Don Pedro's disgruntled brother, Don John, plots to ruin Hero and halt her wedding. Claudio believes Don John's deception, is convinced Hero has a lover, and, at the wedding, brutally rejects her.

With Hero in hiding and falsely reported dead, Beatrice persuades Benedick to fight Claudio. Tragedy is averted when the bumbling city watch, having discovered Don John's treachery, arrives and clears Hero's name. With Claudio forgiven, both couples are ready to get married.

Early printed texts

Much Ado About Nothing was first published in 1600 as a quarto (Q1) and then included in the 1623 First Folio (F1). There is little difference between the dialogue of the two texts, although Q1's stage directions and speech prefixes are often more confusing than those in F1. The Folger edition is based on Q1, with changes to the text indicated in half-brackets.

013639.jpg

View Image Assets
Item Title: 
[Much ado about nothing] Much adoe about nothing. As it hath been sundrie times publikely acted by the right honourable, the Lord Chamberlaine his seruants.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22304
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 
1600

033044.jpg

View Image Assets
Item Title: 
Works. 1623] Mr. William Shakespeares comedies, histories, & tragedies : published according to the true originall copies.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22273 Fo.1 no.68
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 
1623

057717.jpg

View Image Assets
Item Title: 
Mr. VVilliam Shakespeares comedies, histories, and tragedies. : Published according to the true originall copies.
Item Call Number: 
STC 22274 Fo.2 no.07
Item Creator: 
Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616.
Item Date: 
1632

Picturing Much Ado About Nothing

As part of an NEH-funded project, the Folger digitized thousands of 18th-, 19th-, and early 20th-century images representing Shakespeare’s plays. Some of these images show actors in character, while others show the plays as if they were real-life events—telling the difference isn't always easy. A selection of images related to Much Ado is shown below, with links to our digital image collection.

001187.jpg

View Image Assets
Beatrice overhears Hero and Ursula (Act 3, scene 1; 1904)

Beatrice overhears Hero and Ursula (Act 3, scene 1; 1904)

Item Title: 
[Much ado about nothing, III, 1] [graphic] / John E. Sutcliffe.
Item Call Number: 
ART Box S965 no.2
Item Creator: 
Sutcliffe, John E., 1876-1922 or 3, artist.
Item Date: 
1904

008952.jpg

View Image Assets
Ellen Terry as Beatrice (1882)

Ellen Terry as Beatrice (1882)

Item Title: 
Miss Ellen Terry as "Beatrice" [in Shakespeare's Much ado about nothing] [graphic].
Item Call Number: 
ART File T329 no.12 PHOTO
Item Date: 
London [England] : Window & Grove, [1882?]

007878.jpg

View Image Assets
Herbert Beerbohm Tree as Benedict (1905)

Herbert Beerbohm Tree as Benedict (1905)

Item Title: 
[Herbert Beerbohm Tree as Benedick in Much ado about nothing, II, 3, as played at His Majesty's Theatre] [graphic] / Chas. A. Buchel.
Item Call Number: 
ART Box B919 no.10
Item Creator: 
Buchel, Charles A., artist.
Item Date: 
1905

009051.jpg

View Image Assets
E.H. Sothern and Julia Marlowe as Benedick and Beatrice (1904)

E.H. Sothern and Julia Marlowe as Benedick and Beatrice (1904)

Item Title: 
[4 photographs of a production of] Much ado about nothing [starring E.H. Sothern and Julia Marlowe] [graphic] / Hall.
Item Call Number: 
ART File S717.5 no.23 PHOTO M
Item Creator: 
Hall's Studio, photographer.
Item Date: 
N[ew] Y[ork : s.n., 1904]

034352.jpg

View Image Assets
Claudio at the Hero's tomb (Act 5, scene 3; 19th century)

Claudio at the Hero's tomb (Act 5, scene 3; 19th century)

Item Title: 
[Much ado about nothing, V, 3, The penitent Claudio, Don Pedro, etc. at the supposed tomb of Hero] [graphic] / [Alexandre Bida].
Item Call Number: 
ART Box B584 no.11 (size S)
Item Creator: 
Bida, Alexandre, 1813-1895, artist.
Item Date: 
[19th century]

More images of Much Ado About Nothing can be seen in our digital image collection. (Because of how they were cataloged, some images from other plays might appear in the image searches linked here, so always check the sidebar to see if the image is described as part of a larger group.)