From Much Ado About Nothing. Ed. A. Wilson Verity. London: Rivingtons.
9 Like my lady's eldest son. Some popular allusion, perhaps, the key to which has been lost. As the words stand they are
17 Shrewd, 'Sharp,' 'bitter.' Cf. shrewish. The original
meaning of the word was 'malicious;' thence came the idea
'bad,' 'evil.' So "Shrewd days and nights" in As You Like It,
V, 4. 179 = 'times of ill-fortune.'...
18 Curst, 'Ill-tempered,' like an animal.
24 If he send me, &c. Quibbling on horns as the symbol
of the husband whose wife is unfaithful.
27 In the woollen. 'In woollen blankets without the sheets.' So usually explained, but I believe Mr. Marshall is right in his
suggestion that "to lie in the woollen" = 'to be dead,' since the
practice of burying persons in woollen stuffs was very general,
and even enjoined by Act of Parliament temp. Charles II.
36 Bear-herd. 'Bear-leader.' Spelled berrord in Quarto and
first and second Folios. The word occurs elsewhere [e.g.
Taming of the Shrew, Induction, 2. 21; 2 Henry IV, i. 2. 192); never, however, in the form bearward, which many editors
venture to print. Rolfe remarks, "The apes rode on the bear led about by the bear-herd;" but Shakespeare appears to be
referring to some popular custom of which we have no account.
Lead his apes in hell. Alluding to an old superstition not
complimentary to unmarried ladies. Says a character in an old song printed in Bullen's Lyrics from Elizabethan Song Books,
p. 44 —
"I marriage would forswear,
But that I hear men tell
That she that dies a maid
Must lead an ape in hell."
Katherine, in the Taming of the Shrew, ii. i. 34, thought that
it would be her fate to "lead apes in hell." [*Although the origin of the saying is unknown, it might be a reference to the popularity of small monkeys as pets during Shakespeare's day; elderly ladies being fond of pets to keep them company.]
42 For the heavens! It seems best to place the stop after Saint Peter, taking for the heavens' with what follows, and
treating it as a vague oath. Cf. Merchant of Venice, ii. 2. 13.
The Globe Edition prints and away to Saint Peter for the heavens, with which reading the words must bear, I suppose, their natural sense, 'bound for the heavens.' Perhaps, however, a quibble on the double meaning of the phrase is intended.
55 Marl, A rich kind of earth. Wayward, because crumbly.
61 Important, 'Importunate,' as in Lear, iv. 4. 26, "Mourning and important tears," where the Folios, however, read importun'd.
67 Measure, 'A dance'; properly 'a slow and stately dance,' as we see from what follows. Jaques, in As You Like It, V. 4. 199, is "for other than for dancing measures." For the pun on measure in line 62, cf. Richard II. iii. 4. 6-9 —
"Lady. Madam, we'll dance.
"The Queen. My legs can keep no measure in delight,
When my poor heart no measure keeps in grief."
68 Cinque-pace. Corrupted by Sir Toby into sink-a-pace,
Twelfth Night, i. 3. 139. Old-fashioned folk complained that people would dance galliards, lavoltas, and suchlike new-fangled
measures, while "he which hath no more but the plaine sinque-pace is no better accompted then a verie bungler." (Barnabe
Riche in his Farewell to the Militarie Profession.)
75 Friend. 'Lover.' "If you have a friend here, convey him," Merry Wives, iii. 3. 124.
82 Favour. 'Face.' The case of course, is the visor or
mask which Don Pedro wears.
84-86 The lines form a couplet of the old fourteen-syllable
metre frequent in popular ballad verse, and Dyce was probably
right in his suggestion that really they are a quotation from
some forgotten poem, and should be printed as such. The
reference, of course, is to the classical story of Baucis and Philemon. (Ovid, Metamorphoses, viii.) Shakespeare may have
come across the tale in Golding's translation, though I believe
myself that the poet was a good enough scholar to read Ovid in
the original. However, this touches on the well-worn "little |
Latin and less Greek" question, on which Farmer in the last
century, and Professor Baynes in this, have said all that there is
85 Iove. So the Quarto; the Folios read love, an obvious slip.
98 Answer, clerk; viz., "Amen." Cf. Sonnet 85, "And like unlettered clerk still cry, 'Amen.'"
102 At a word. 'Briefly.' German kurz und gut. Cf. Merry Wives, i. I. 109.
103 Waggling. Cotgrave has, "Triballer: to wagle, or dangle
up and downe." Of course, only a frequentative form of wag.
105 So ill-well. 'Well, because the likeness is so close; ill,
because you cut such a sorry figure.'
106 Dry hand. Supposed to be the sign of a cold disposition, not prone to love. So Twelfth Night, i. 3. 77, and Othello,
iii. 4. 36-38, for the opposite sign.
116 "Hundred Merry Tales." A popular jest-book, of which
a perfect copy (dated 1526) is still extant in the University
Library at Gottingen. The Tales have been reprinted as a
literary curiosity .... Possibly they were written by John Heywood, author of the Epigrams and some dreary Interludes of which
"The Four Ps" is occasionally readable.
124 Impossible. 'Extravagant.'
128 In the fleet. 'One of the guests present.' The metaphor
is carried on in boarded me.
129 Boarded. 'Accosted.' So Twelfth Night, i. 3. 60, and
Merry Wives, ii. I. 92. French aborder, 'approach.'
132 Break. So "break a jest," in act v. i. 89. Cf. too ii. 3. 245.
146-47 Near ... in his love. So Richard II, iii. i. 17,
"Near to the king in blood, and near in love." Near (with or
without a preposition) frequently implies 'attached to,' whether
by relationship or affection.
147 Enamoured on. Compare "enamoured upon," in I
Henry IV, v. 2. 70-71. ...
163 Faith melteth into blood. Faithblood = 'passion,' as often.
164 An accident of hourly proof. 'Something which you may
verify any day.'
165 Which I mistrusted not. Only two feet. Lines with two
redundant syllables after the third or fourth foot are not uncommon ...
170 Willow. Typical of unhappy love, and unhappiness generally. Chosen possibly in refrence to Psalm cxxxvii. 2. So
Dyer, Folk-lore of Shakespeare, p. 105. Dido stood "with a
willow in her hand," Merchant of Venice, v. 10; and "Willow, willow," is the burden of Desdemona's song, Othello, iv. 3.
Indeed, this refrain meets us in many places, always with the same associations; e.g. in the Two Noble Kinsmen, iv. I. 79-80 --
"Then she sung
Nothing but 'Willow, willow, willow;'"
and Massinger's Maid of Honour, v. i —
"You may cry 'Willow, willow' for your brother."
Claudio is to wear a willow garland as a sign
that he has lost his love, Hero.
172 Usurer's chain. Referring, says Mr. Marshall, to "the gold chains worn by the more wealthy merchants of that day,
many of whom were bankers, and lent out money at interest."
182 If it will not be. 'If you will not leave me.'
188 Though bitter. So Quarto and Folios; but Johnson's "the bitter" is tempting. Though bitter seems to be thrown in
as a qualification of base; with what sense I cannot see.
189 That puts, &c. 'That claims to express the general
opinion of the world about me.'
194 A lodge in a warren. The lodge in which the keeper of
a rabbit warren lived would naturally be a dismal place. Cf. use of "grange" for any desolate, lonely house; e.g. in Othello,
i. I. 106, "My house is not a grange." And of course in
Tennyson's Moated Grange.
196 This. Hero. As she is not present, this has been
changed by some editors to the.
214 Quarrel to you. To = 'motion against.' (Abbott, p. 123.) Cf. Coriolanus iv. 5. 133, "Had we no quarrel else to
Rome." So Twelfth Night, iii. 4. 248.
217 Misus'd. 'Abused.' So As You Like It, iv. I. 205.
218 Block. As we say, "blockhead." So iii. i. 67.
223 Impossible conveyance. 'Extraordinary sharpness.' I can
see no great difficulty in the expression. Impossible here, as in
line 143, has a vaguely intensitive sense, merely heightening the
idea suggested by the word with which it is combined; and
conveyance implies 'cuteness,' 'trickery.' Polite people never
steal; they "convey." (Merry Wives, i. 3. 32.) Beatrice
passed jest after jest upon Benedick with all the dexterity of a
230 Have turned. Probably the past infinitive is used through
attraction to previous have. So Abbott, p. 260. We may
compare such an expression as "I hoped to have seen him;" now a solecism, but in Elizabethan English a not uncommon
turn of phrase.
232 Ate. 'As the goddess of Discord.'
233 Some scholar. That is, someone who could speak Latin,
the proper tongue in which to exorcise spirits and uncanny
folk. When the ghost first appears in Hamlet, Marcellus says,
"Thou art a scholar; speak to it, Horatio." (i. i. 42.)
234-237 Very vaguely expressed, but meaning apparently
that life in hell and life in a sanctuary are much the same, if
Beatrice be present. Benedick and Beatrice try to be so desperately clever and sharp that at times their repartee overreaches
itself, and becomes nearly unintelligible.
236 Thither; viz., to hell, so as to be [rid] of Beatrice.
243 Prester John. Prester, or Presbyter, John was one of
the great mediaeval myths — a fabulous monarch who ruled in
the uttermost parts of Asia, professed Christianity, corresponded with the Pope, and maintained a magnificent Court. The old
travellers of the Mandeville, Howell, and William Sanday type, are great on the subject of this Eastern potentate and his glories;
in particular is there a very circumstantial account of his palace in the travels of Mr. Edward Webbe, reprinted by Professor
Arber. Allusions similar to the present one occur constantly in the literature of the time; but how the story arose, or what
element of truth there is in them, no one can say.
244 The great Cham, 'The Khan of Tartary.'
245 The Pigmies. The somewhat legendary nation of dwarfs,
the whereabouts of whose land I cannot fix. Different writers
have assigned them to different countries — India, Ethiopia, and
so on; but all agree that the Pigmies were attacked each year
in the spring-time by flocks of cranes. Milton refers to them in
Paradise Lost i. 575-6, as
"That small infantry
Warr'd on by cranes."
And in the same book, line 781, he places their territory
"beyond the Indian mount;" i.e. mount Imaus.
254 Use. 'Interest.' Cf. Sonnet 6, "That use is not forbidden usury;" and usance in the Merchant of Venice, i. 3. 46.
267 Civil as an orange. A quibble on civil and Seville. The
editors quote Cotgrave: "Aigre — Douce: A civile orange, or
orange that is betweene sweet and sower." Beatrice therefore means that Claudio has a touch of bitterness in his character,
polite though he seems.
268 That jealous complexion; viz., yellow, which symbolised
jealousy. Cf. the Winter's Tale, ii. 3. 106-7 —
"'Mongst all colours
No yellow in't, lest she suspect."
And the Merry Wives, i. 3. 113. In the Merchant of Venice,
iii. 2. 110, and the very difficult passage in Othello, iii. 3. 116,
jealousy is "the green-ey'd monster;" and stage-tradition assigns a dress partly green, partly yellow, to the suspicious
husband Ford in the Merry Wives.
269 Blazon. 'Description;' viz., of Claudio. Blazon is a
term taken from heraldry, and properly the verb meant 'to
describe a shield,' from which came the general sense of
'depicting,' 'describing.' Cf. Sonnet 106, "The blazon of
sweet beauty's best."
278 Cue. Cue is generally derived from queue, 'a tail;' i.e. 'the last word of the previous speaker's part.' It has been
suggested, however, that the word got its theatrical sense from a confusion with the capital letter Q, short for quando, which
was marked on the acting version of a play given to each actor,
thus showing him when he had to begin to speak. For its use
in Shakespeare cf. Othello, i. 2. 83, "Were it my cue to fight,"
and Midsummer Night's Dream, v. I. 185. "Turn" is the
closest alternative that I can think of.
283 Stop his mouth. Compare v. 4. 92.
287 The windy side. That is, 'the safe side.' Sir Andrew, in
Twelfth Night, iii. 4. 181, kept "o' the windy side of the law." The metaphor is either from shooting or from seamanship.
290 Good Lord, for alliance. 'Heaven send me a marriage;' i.e. 'an anticipation of heigh-ho for a husband.' This seems to
me the most natural interpretation.
Goes ... to the world. 'Gets married.' Cf. All's Well, i. 3. 20-21, and "A woman of the world" in As You Like It,
v. 3. 5.
291 Sunburned. 'Without attractions.' Used thus in Trolius and Cressida, i. 3. 282, "The Grecian dames are sunburnt."
We have already seen (i. 160) that a fair complexion was the Elizabethan ideal of beauty.
312 Pleasant-spirited. 'Witty.' Cf. "pleasant," i. I. 34,
326 Time goes on crutches. We may remember Rosalind's
account of times, "Divers paces with divers persons," As You
Like It, iii. 2. 331-335.
329 Just. 'Exact.' Now used only as adverb in this sense.
Cf. Merchant of Venice, iv. I. 327, "A just pound." See
Abbott, p. 26.
332 Breathing. 'Delay.' So Lucrece, 1720. Cf. I Henry
IV. v. 4. 15, "We breathe too long" = 'tarry.'
351 Queasy. 'Squeamish.' A Scandinavian word. In Antony and Cleopatra, iii. 2. 20, queasy = 'disgusted with,'
"Queasy with his insolence."
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_2_1.html >.