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INTRODUCTION TO MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.
the list of twelve plays produced by Shakespeare before
1598, as enumerated in Meres's Palladis Tamia, the comedy of Much Ado About Nothing is not included. It was apparently written between 1598 and August 1600, when it was published, as it had been sundry times acted by the Right Honourable the Lord Chamberlain's servants. From this quarto copy the editors of the folio of 1623 reprinted the play, making a few trivial omissions and alterations.
The poet derived his plot or framework from two sources— from the story of Ariodante and Genevra in Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, and from a tale by the Italian novelist Bandello. Of the former there were several translations, literal and paraphrastic. The tragical and pleasing history of Ariodante and Genevra' had been rendered in metre by Peter Beverley in 1565–1566; it was also versified, as we learn from Sir John Harrington, by George Tuberville, one of the minor Elizabethan poets and translators ; and a dramatic representation of the same popular story was performed before the queen by the children of St. Paul's on the night of Shrove Tuesday, 1582—1583. Spenser, in 1590, gave a variation of it in the second canto of the Fairy Queen, and in 1591 a complete translation of the Orlando Furioso was put forth by Sir John Harrington. With this fable of Ariodante and Genevra, Shakespeare must, therefore, have been familiar. The particular incident of Margaret personating her mistress Hero is traceable directly to this source. But the chief quarry in which the poet sought and found materials for his drama was the novel by Bandello, of which a French version had been given in Belleforest's Cent Histoires Tragiques, 1583, and which probably had also appeared in an English dress, though no such early copy has been met with. In the novel, as in the play, we have the scene laid in Messina, and among the characters we have a Leonati and Piero d'Aragona, who become in the play Leonato and Pedro of Arragon. We have the heroine, Fenicia, slandered under the same circumstances as Shakespeare's 'Hero,' and her lover, Timbreo, deceived like Claudio by the scene of a simulated meeting and conference in the lady's chamber. Then follows the accusation of disloyalty, with the pretended death and obsequies of Fenicia, and the grief and remorse of her lover on discovering that he had been made the dupe of a villain, by means of which the innocent Fenicia had, as he believed, been done to death by slanderous tongues. He is ultimately forgiven by the injured family, and as an expiatory sacrifice he consents to marry a lady nominated by them, but whose face he is not permitted to see until they are united at the altar. The sequel is the same in the novel as in the drama the lost Fenicia is restored, and instead of a new and unknown bride, Timbreo receives the fair object of his early affection. Such is the Franco-Italian plot, which is romantic enough
"And dallies with the innocence of love,
Like the old age.' Shakespeare's deviations are curious, and, perhaps, as some of his critics have hinted, they cannot all be pronounced improvements. Bandello makes the treacherous villain a disappointed lover, acting from jealousy and revenge. Shakespeare's. Don John has no perceptible motive for his baseness and cruelty. He is an inferior Iago, one whose spirits toil in frame of villanies, and we see little of him except this one black deed, in the commission of which he strangely finds an associate also without personal inducement. The window scene, too, appears improbable. Claudio, overhearing the dialogue between Borachio and Margaret, should have been able to distinguish between the waiting-woman and the mistress. To one so deeply interested,
INTRODUCTION TO MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. 3
the voice, the gesture, should have proclaimed the imposture. But in this incident it is likely the poet only followed, as was his wont, the old play or tale before him. He was careless as to such accessories, and the regions of romance were not then bounded by strict lines of probability.
The charm of the comedy consists in the characters of Benedick and Beatrice. The gentle purity and sufferings of Hero excite sympathy and deep interest, but it is to the two “rebels of love,' vanquished at last, that we turn with admiration and delight. To maintain such a succession of wit-combats and raillery without degenerating into bombast or buffoonery is a wonderful effort of genius, and the plot by which two such sworn foes to matrimony are reconciled and united is the perfection of dramatic skill. The wit, scorn, and levity of Beatrice would be intolerable
at least harshly unfeminine--if we did not see that through all this there shines a soul of genuine goodness and kindliness. She loves her cousin because of her gentleness and virtue, and she marries Benedick because she seeks to reward and return his secret affection. Her contempt and maiden pride are only a sort of intellectual panoply that does not shut out true sympathy and tenderness. When Hero is assailed and belied, her spirit rises with a serious and noble energy. In this moral aspect, Beatrice presents a fine contrast to the witty ladies of our later dramatists. With all their brilliancy-and more-she has not a taint of their heartlessness. As the art of the poet is so strikingly eyinced in these love-scenes and delineations of character, the manner in which he brings the villainy of Don John to light is no less admirable for comic humour. The wise Dogberry and Verges it would be idle to praise ; they are unique in their simplicity and blunders, and their exquisite fooling' is all made subservient to the main business of the drama. Coleridge thought that “less ingeniously absurd watchmen and nightconstables would have answered the mere necessities of the action. It might have been so, but the rich amusement is so much additional gain, and it serves to heighten the effect of the subsequent grave scenes, when at last all masks drop off, and