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Further Reading: Much Ado About Nothing

Berger, Harry, Jr. “Against the Sink-a-Pace: Sexual and Family Politics in Much Ado About Nothing.” Shakespeare Quarterly 33 (1982): 302–13.

Berger writes of Much Ado’s Hero, its men, and male solidarity. He examines “the premises of power, cost-avoidance, and fear of love and women” in what he calls “the Men’s Club of Messina.”

Branagh, Kenneth. Much Ado About Nothing. Samuel Goldwyn Co., 1993.

Branagh’s popular film features the director as Benedick with Emma Thompson opposite him as Beatrice. Denzel Washington’s Don Pedro, Keanu Reeves’s Don John, and Michael Keaton’s Dogberry support the principals in this lavish treatment, set in a sun-drenched Italian villa.

Cook, Carol. “ ‘The Sign and Semblance of Her Honor’: Reading Gender Difference in Much Ado About Nothing.” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 101 (1986): 186–202.

Cook begins by focusing on the play’s cuckold jokes as a signal of profound anxiety in both the male characters and in Beatrice, all of whom Cook reads as desiring phallic power. In contrast, the identity of the usually silent Hero is written and rewritten in the male interest. She is first a Diana figure, then a Venus figure, and, at the end when she is “resurrected,” again a Diana figure. But, according to Cook the end is problematic: “Hero remains dead in her resurrection, as she is reappropriated to the mode of perception that killed her.”

Dawson, Anthony B. “Much Ado About Signifying.” Studies in English Literature 22 (1982): 211–22.

For Dawson, Much Ado subjects to comic scrutiny the art of message-sending itself, as well as the subsequent art of interpretation or, more often, misinterpretation. In view of the indirect and mediated interplay through which the other characters relate to each other, the dangerous appeal to them of Don John is that he offers certainty.

Drakakis, John. “Trust and Transgression: The Discursive Practices of Much Ado About Nothing.” In Poststructuralist Readings of English Poetry, ed. Richard Machin and Christopher Norris. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

To the list of binary oppositions explored in Ado, Drakakis adds “trust and transgression.” Drakakis argues that the terms are derived differentially and thus “must be defined not positively, in terms of their content, but negatively, by contrast with other items in the same system.” The Platonic ideas of unity and harmony based upon “trust” are defined only in terms of their opposite, “transgression,” whose author is Don John, and whose image is variously the cuckold, the whore, and the bastard.

Evans, Bertrand. “Much Ado About Nothing.” In Shakespeare’s Comedies, pp. 66–87. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1960.

In his study of what he calls “discrepant awareness”—i.e., differing levels of “who knows what” at any given moment in a play—Evans establishes that the viewer of Much Ado holds an advantage over at least some participants during fourteen of the play’s seventeen scenes. Exploring the eight “practices” that impel the action, Evans focuses initially on Don John’s first “practice” on Claudio—one which, while averted, proves illustrative of a world in which later misunderstandings are possible. For Evans, that later misunderstanding throws especially harsh light upon Claudio, whose callousness throws into relief the “humane and noble sympathy” of Beatrice and Benedick’s love.

Garner, Shirley Nelson. “Male Bonding and the Myth of Women’s Deception in Shakespeare’s Plays.” In Shakespeare’s Personality, ed. Norman Holland, Sidney Homan, and Bernard J. Paris, pp. 135–50. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.

Garner argues that the pattern of a male character’s reaction to his beloved’s actual or imagined infidelity defines and satisfies male psychic needs (such as pent-up misogyny, or fear of women). The pattern eventually allows for his return, actually or imaginatively, to an exclusively male community.

Howard, Jean E. “Renaissance antitheatricality and the politics of gender and rank in Much Ado About Nothing.” In Shakespeare Reproduced: The text in history and ideology, ed. Jean E. Howard and Marion F. O’Connor, pp. 163–87. London: Methuen, 1987.

Howard examines Much Ado against a body of antitheatrical Elizabethan texts concerned with the “nature, control, and morality of theatrical power.” While one might expect Much Ado to be unequivocally positive in regard to theatricality, the play disciplines those who illegitimately aspire to control theatricality and ultimately returns control to the “better sort.” Howard pursues the ideological implications of a text that both limits theatricality and—in its material production—gives it untrammeled expression.

Leggatt, Alexander. “Much Ado About Nothing.” In Shakespeare’s Comedy of Love. London: Methuen, 1974.

Leggatt places Much Ado against other Shakespearean comedies and finds it an experimental attempt at retaining the range and fluidity of Merchant of Venice while producing the “harmony of disparate elements” that distinguishes A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Forgoing thematic analysis for a more directly theatrical approach, Leggatt discovers a complex interplay of formality and naturalism that complicates placing the pure convention of the Claudio-Hero plot against the easy naturalism of Beatrice-Benedick. Ultimately, Ado asserts “the idea of human reality at the heart of convention.”

Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Prince (1513), ed. Robert M. Adams, 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 1992.

Machiavelli, a former member of the Florentine government, offers many detailed narratives of political life in the sixteenth-century Italy that is the setting of Much Ado About Nothing.

McEachern, Claire. “Fathering Herself: A Source Study of Shakespeare’s Feminism.” Shakespeare Quarterly 39 (1988): 269–90.

McEachern explores Shakespeare’s treatment of sources “less as a transference of ingredients, with sources as sites of mere borrowings, than as a culturally determined reading.” Sources, then, are not simply stores of narrative material but contexts that Shakespeare found provocative, “or not provocative enough.” Through this approach, McEachern investigates Renaissance patriarchy through a study of fathers and daughters, using both Shakespeare’s literary fathers and those fathers and daughters he presents in his plays.

Neely, Carol Thomas. “Broken Nuptials in Shakespeare’s Comedies: Much Ado About Nothing.” In Broken Nuptials in Shakespeare’s Plays, pp. 24–57. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985.

After surveying Shakespeare’s comedies from a feminist perspective with its emphasis on power in courtship, this essay locates Much Ado at the “center of the comedies.” The play, in Neely’s analysis, looks backward to the so-called festive comedies like A Midsummer Night’s Dream and forward to the complex ethical issues of the so-called problem comedies like Measure for Measure.

Osborne, Laurie E. “Dramatic Play in Much Ado About Nothing: Wedding the Italian Novella and English Comedy.” Philological Quarterly 69 (1990): 167–88.

Pursuing Shakespeare’s reworking of the Italian novellas that are Much Ado’s source, Osborne suggests that Shakespeare’s principal interest lies in the powers of dramatic play: “staging scenes, acting roles, and creating spectacles.” In linking the two principal players—Don Pedro and Don John—Shakespeare reveals the difficulties of absorbing the noncomic, nondramatic materials of his source into comic conventions. For Osborne, the process of creating comedy from noncomic sources requires the manufacture of disasters and oppositions, a process that reveals contradictions at the heart of comedy.

Prouty, Charles Tyler. The Sources of “Much Ado About Nothing.” New Haven: Yale University Press, 1950.

Prouty’s emphasis is “upon the structure, characters, and thematic unity of the play rather than the background.” Thus Prouty records and interprets Shakespeare’s alterations to the Hero-Claudio plot as received from the sources. Prouty then shows how Shakespeare, having reduced the role of Hero and having recast Claudio, required a comic counterpart—the story of Beatrice and Benedick, apparently Shakespeare’s invention.

Roberts, Jeanne Addison. “Strategies of Delay in Shakespeare: What the Much Ado is Really About.” Renaissance Papers 1987 (1988), pp. 98–102.

Roberts explores techniques used to delay lovers’ unions in the comedies and romances. She discusses in particular how Benedick is restored to his full faculties before his marriage.

Rossiter, A. P. “Much Ado About Nothing.” In Angels with Horns, pp. 67–81. London: Longmans, Green, 1961. Reprinted in Shakespeare, The Comedies: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Kenneth Muir, pp. 47–57. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1965.

Rossiter distinguishes the sorts of humor in Much Ado About Nothing, tracing all to a cumulative effect of “impetuous exuberance,” a tone most manifest in quick and competitive manipulation of language. Yet Rossiter points out that equivocations are restricted to appearance and do not extend into ambivalence toward things themselves (love, for example). This quality leads Rossiter to place Much Ado within Shakespeare’s canon “just at the point” before the equilibrium between jest and fortune (“where fortune favors the laughers”) turns to cynicism.