From Much Ado About Nothing. Ed. A. Wilson Verity. London: Rivingtons.
1 What the good-year, 'A plague on't.' [i.e. an expletive.] Corrupted from
the French goujere and then, I expect, by the familiar process
of popular etymology, supposed to mean literally 'good year,'
just as we say, "Good day." This explanation would account
for some uses of the expression. Here, however, as in the Merry
Wives, I. 4. 129, and Lear, v. 3. 24, Shakespeare is thinking of
the original sense of the word.
12 Saturn. The malign planet; hence saturnine. [The superstition held that if a person was born under the influence of Saturn they would have a morose disposition.]
11-19 A complete summary of the "whole duty" of the
13 What I am. So Sonnet 121. 9, "No, I am that I am;"
and contrast Iago's bitter "I am not what I am." (Othello, i. i. 65.)
15 Tend on. 'Wait on;' hence 'trouble about.'
16 Claw, 'Flatter,' 'humour.' Cotgrave renders galloner, "To stroke, cherish, claw, or clap on the back." Probably
Shakespeare plays on the secondary meaning of claw in Love's
Labour's Lost, iv. 2. 64-66. Clawback was a synonym to the
Elizabethan lexicographers for adulator.
25 A canker in a hedge. Canker in Shakespeare has three meanings: (1) 'a worm that eats the blossom of a tree;' (2) 'a
corroding evil' (cf. Timon of Athens, iv. 3. 49, "The canker
gnaw thy heart"); (3) 'the woolly blight so common on the wild
rose;' and hence a 'wild rose,' or, as we generally say, 'dog-rose.' This last is the sense it bears in the present passage. For
the same antithesis, canker and rose, compare i Henry IV, i. 3.
176. In Sonnet 54. 5 the wild-rose is called a "canker-bloom;" but "canker-blossom" in Midsummer Night's Dream, iii. 2. 282,
means 'a flower partly eaten by the worm.'
27 Fashion a carriage. 'So suit my conduct as to win love.'
43 What is he for a fool. 'What kind of fool is he?' The
editors compare Ben Jonson, Silent Women, iii. I, "What is he
for a vicar?" So Peele's Edward I, "What, have we a fellow
dropt out of the element? What's he for a man?" (Dyce's
Greene and Peele, p. 383.) It is exactly the German was fur ein,
Shakespeare does not use the idiom — rather a clumsy one — elsewhere.
52 March chick. A chicken hatched in March would have a
good start; hence it might fairly be described as "very forward"
— scarcely less precocious, in fact, than the lapwing in Hamlet,
V. 2. 193.
55 Smoking a musty room. The room was fumigated either
because it had not been used for some time, or (as Steevens
phrases it) because "the neglect of cleanliness among our
ancestors rendered such precautions too often necessary."
Comes me. A vague dative, very frequent in the English of
the time; cf. the Two Gentlemen, iv. 4. 9, "He steps me to her
trencher." See Abbott's Shakespearian Grammar, p. 147.
57 Behind the arras. ... The arras was the tapestry work hung on the walls of rooms.
Polonius conveyed himself behind the arras only too successfully.
(Hamlet, iii. 3. 28.) Derived from Arras, the name of the town
in North of France at which it was made. For similar derivations cf. cambric, from Cambray; calico, from Calicut; fustian,
from Fustat, an Arabic name of Cairo; and (probably) cypress,
Twelfth Night, iii. i, 132, from Cyprus; not to mention many
62 Cross. 'Spite.'
63 Sure. 'To be relied on.' Compare Macbeth's "Assurance
double sure." (Macbeth, iv. i. 83.)
How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. Much Ado About Nothing. Ed. A. Wilson Verity. London: Rivingtons, 1890. Shakespeare Online. 20 Feb. 2010. (date when you accessed the information) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/much_1_3.html >.