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MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.
The only edition of this comedy known before the folio 1623, is a quarto printed in 1600, entitled :-“Much adoe about Nothing, as it hath been sundrie times publikely acted by the right honourable the Lord Chamberlaine his seruants. Written by William Shakespeare. London Printed by V. S. for Andrew Wise and William Aspley, 1600.” It is supposed originally to have been acted under the title of “Benedick and Beatrix," and, from being unnoticed by Meres, to have been written not earlier than 1598.
The serious incidents of his plot, some writers conjecture, Shakespeare derived from the story of Ariodante and Geneura, in Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, which, in 1582-3, was made the subject of dramatic representation, and played before Queen Elizabeth by « Mulcaster's children," that is, the children of St. Paul's school, and of which an English translation by Sir John Harrington, Elizabeth's “merry poet," and godson, was published in 1591. Others, with more probability, believe the source from whence he took them was some now extinct version of Bandello's twenty-second novel, “ Como il S. T'imbreo di Cardona, essendo col Re Piero d'Aragona in Messina, s'innamora, di Fenicia Leonata : e i varüi fortunevoli accidenti, che avvennero prima che per moglie la prendesse.” In Bandello's story the scene, like that of the comedy, is laid at Messina; the name of the slandered lady's father is the same, Lionato, or Leonato ; and the friend of her lover is Don Piero, or Pedro. These coincidences alone are sufficient to establish some near or remote connexion between the novel and the play, but a brief sketch of the romance will place their affinity almost beyond doubt. Don Piero of Arragon returns from a victorious campaign, and, with the gallant cavalier Timbreo di Cardona, is at Messina. Timbreo falls in love with Fenicia, the daughter of Lionato di Leonati, a gentleman of Messina, and, like Claudio in the play, courts her by proxy. He is successful in his suit, and the lovers are betrothed: but the course of true love is impeded by one Girondo, a disappointed admirer of the lady, who determines to prevent the marriage. In pursuance of this object, he insinuates to Timbreo that Fenicia is false, and offers to show him a stranger scaling her chamber window. The unhappy lover consents to watch ; and at the appointed hour, Girondo and a servant in the plot, pass him disguised, and the latter is seen to ascend a ladder and enter the house of Lionato. In an agony of rage and jealousy, Timbreo in the morning accuses the lady of disloyalty, and rejects the alliance. Fenicia falls into a swoon ; a dangerous illness supervenes ; and the father, to stifle
all rumours hurtful to her fame, removes her to a retired house of his brother, proclaims her death, and solemnly performs her funeral obsequies. Girondo is now struck with remorse at having “ slandered to death" a creature so innocent and beautiful. He confesses his treachery to Timbreo, and both determine to restore the reputation of the lost one, and undergo any penance her family may impose. Lionato is merciful, and requires only from Timbreo, that he shall wed a lady whom he recommends, and whose face shall be concealed till the marriage ceremony is
The dénouement is obvious. Timbreo espouses the mysterious fair one, and finds in her his injured, loving, and beloved Fenicia.
The comic portion of " Much Ado about Nothing," involving the pleasant stratagems by which the principal characters are decoyed into matrimony with each other, is Shakespeare's own design, and the amalgamation of the two plots is managed with so much felicity, that no one, perhaps, who read the comedy for entertainment only, ever thought them separable.
(*) Old text, Peter. a Enter Leonato, &c.) The stage-direction in the old copies is, "Enter Leonato governour of Messina, Innogen his wife, Hero his daughter, and Beatrice his Neece, with a Messenger.” As the
wife of Leonato takes no part in the action, and neither speaks nor is spoken to throughout the play, she was probably no more than a character the poet had designed in his first sketch of the plot, and which he found reason to omit afterwards.