From Much Ado About Nothing. Ed. A. Wilson Verity. London: Rivingtons.
13 The drum and the fife. When Othello bids farewell to his
soldier life he does not forget "the spirit-stirring drum, the
ear-piercing fife." (iii. 3. 352.)
15 Armour; i.e. 'suit of armour.' So used by Cotgrave: "Enfondrer un hamois: to make a great dint in an armour."
18 And a soldier. "I speak to thee plain soldier," Henry V. V. 2. 156.
19 Orthography. Abstract for concrete. There is no need to
change to orthographer, as do some editors.
20 Banquet. Properly 'the dessert after a feast,' not the feast
itself. Used in its strict sense in As You Like It, ii. 5. 65.
29 Cheapen. 'Make a bid for.' So Pericles, iv. 6. 30,
"Cheapen a kiss of her."
30-31 Noble ... angel. Quibbling on the names of the
coins noble (worth 6s. 8d.) and angel (10s.). The puns were too
obvious not to occur often. Cf. Merry Wives, i. 3. 60-61.
32 Of what colour it please God. Though the fashionable
shade was golden, the Queen having light, rather reddish hair.
Benedick means that the lady who "comes in his grace" need not trouble to dye her hair, a common practice at that time. False hair, too, was much worn, as we see from several passages; e.g. Timon of Athens, iv. 3. 144; Merchant of Venice, iii. 2.
92-96; and Love's Labour's Lost, iv. 3. 259. Cf. too Sonnet 68 —
"Before the golden tresses of the dead,
The right of sepulchres, were shorn away,
To live a second life on second head."
Coryat, in his Crudities, tells us that the Venetian ladies used to
wash their hair with certain drugs and oils, and then bleach it
in the sun (vol. ii. pp. 37-38); and perhaps it was from Italy that
the habit passed into England, Italian influence being dominant
at the time, as French influence was later on in the century.
36-37 Compare Merchant of Venice, v. 56-57 —
"Soft stillness and the night
Become the touches of sweet harmony."
40 We'll fit the kid-fox. So Quarto and Folios, but the text
is strange. Kid-fox = 'a young fox' (Schmidt) sounds desperately unsportsmanlike, and, as applied to the mature Benedick,
is not very pointed. An obvious emendation is hid fox, an allusion to the game of "hide and seek," mentioned in Hamlet,
iv. 2. 32, "Hide fox, and all after," and Love's Labour's Lost, iv. 3. 78. Obviously hid fox would exactly fit in with Don
Pedro's question, "See you where Benedick hath hid himself?"
I have not ventured, however, to adopt the correction.
45 Put a strange face on. 'Appear to be unconscious of.'
To "look strange" at a person was to 'cut him' as we say. Cf.
Comedy of Errors, ii. 2. 112; Sonnet 49. 5. Malvolio was
"strange" = 'distant,' 'reserved,' Twelfth Night, ii. 5. 184.
46 Woo. 'Entreat.'
53 Noting. A quibble, of course, on nothing, which seems
to have been pronounced "noting."
57 Hale souls. Compare Twelfth Night, ii. 3. 61, "A catch
[song] that will draw three souls out of one weaver" — weavers,
as we know from I Henry IV. ii. 4. 147, having been men of
melody. For the most part they were Calvinist refugees from
the Netherlands; hence their love of hymns, psalms, &c.
66 Hey nonny, nonny. A jingling refrain often found, with
slight variations. There is a quaint old song in Bullen's Elizabethan Lyrics (p. 118), of which one couplet runs —
"For where shall now the wedding be?
For and hey-nonny-no in an old ivy tree."
Miles Coverdale, in the Preface to his Goastly Psalmes (1538),
wishes that the countrywomen, as they sat at work, would sing
serious tunes; "they should be better occupied than with 'Hey,
nonny, nonny,' and suchlike fantasies." (Chappell's Popular
Music, p. 54.) We may remember, of course, Ophelia's song,
Hamlet, iv. 5. 165; Edgar's nonsense in Lear, iii. 4. 102; and the beautiful "It was a lover and his lass," in As You Like It, V. 3. 17-30.
68 Dumps. 'Dismal subjects;' generally 'low spirits' ("In the dumps," as we say).
79 The night raven. Alluding to the superstition that the
raven would fly about any house where there was sickness.
Compare Othello, iv. i. 21, "As doth the raven o'er the infectious house." The croak of the bird was the worst of omens.
Marlowe speaks of —
"The sad presaging raven, that tolls
The sick man's passport in her hollow beak."
So Peele — Jew of Malta, ii. i.
"Like as the fatal raven, that in his voice
Carries the dreadful summons of our death."
— Dyce's Greene and Peele, p. 469.
Other passages to the same effect might be given.
90 Stalk on. Referring to the stalking-horse (the painted
figure of a real one) under cover of which sportsmen approached
their game. Cf. As You Like It, v. 4. 111, "He uses his folly
like a stalking-horse." On Scotch moors, I believe, it is not unusual for keepers late in the season, when the grouse are very
wild, to use a cart and pony for the same purpose.
95 Sits the wind? 'Is that how matters lie? ' So 1 Henry IV, iii. 3. 102, "Is the wind in that door, i' faith?"
98 Past the infinite of thought. 'Beyond all conception.'
101 Never counterfeit, &c. 'Her feeling (passion) is far too
genuine to be simulated.' Passion = 'emotion' generally.
110 Would have thought. 'Be ready to think;' not, as one
might think, instead of should, Abbott (p. 233) compares
Antony and Cleopatra, ii. 2. 144.
114 Gull. 'Trick.' Usually = 'a fool,' 'dupe.'
117 Hold it up. 'Keep the joke going.'
127 Smock. Poor Desdemona was "pale as [her] smock,"
Othello, V. 2. 273; but audiences at the beginning of this century
were too nice and squeamish to tolerate smock so sometimes the
actors toned the text down to "pale as thy sheets," (Gomme's
Gentleman's Magazine Library, Dialect Section, p. 5.)
132 Halfpence. 'Small bits;' i.e. 'tiny as a halfpenny.'
148 An alms. 'An act of charity.'
158 Daffed. 'Put on one side.' Same as doff = 'do off.' Cf. don = 'do on.' Compare act v. i. 78, where the sense is 'put
off.' So Othello, iv. 2. 176, "Every day thou daffest me with
some device, Iago."
166 Crossness. 'Perverseness,' 'habit of contradicting.'
169 Contemptible. 'Scornful.' See Abbott, p. 19.
171 A good outward happiness. 'A pleasing appearance, exterior.' An inversion almost of adjective and noun. So in Sonnet 51, "Swift extremity" = 'extreme swiftness.'
172 'Fore God. A severe statute was passed in the reign of James I. "to restrain the abuses of players." It began with the
preambule, "For the preventing and avoiding of the great abuse of the holy name of God in stage-plays, enterludes," &c.; and
to comply with this enactment, "fore God" was generally
altered to "fore me." Compare All's Well, ii. 3. 31, "Fore
me, I speak in respect;" Othello, iv. I. 150 ("before me");
Romeo and Juliet, iii. 4. 34 ("afore me"). In some cases the
text of the Quartos is softened down in the Folio; e.g. in
Merchant of Venice, where "I pray God grant" becomes "I
wish." This, probably, was Shakespeare's reason for using
such absurd oaths as "by Janus," Othello, i. 2. 33.
187 Wear it out. 'Get over her love' (to employ a somewhat
194 Unworthy. That is 'to have,' which words indeed the
Folios insert; but the Quarto reading is satisfactory enough.
201 Another's dotage. Another = 'each other'; dotage = 'fondness;' Benedick believing Beatrice to be in love with him,
and vice versa.
207 Have their full bent. 'Are strained to the utmost.' A metaphor from archery. "In the full bent," Hamlet, ii. 2. 30.
208 Censured. 'Judged.'
212 Detractions. That is, 'the faults which their detractors
find in them.'
215 And wise. Benedick's description of Beatrice recalls
Lorenzo's comment on Jessica:
"For she is wise . . .
And fair she is . . .
And true she is . . ."
So Shakespeare, speaking of his friend, says (Sonnet 105),
"'Fair, kind and true' is all my argument."
Reprove. 'Disprove.' "Reprove my allegation, if you can," 2 Henry VI, iii. i. 40.
218 Quirks. 'Jests.'
222 Quips. 'Smart sayings.' "Quips and cranks, and
wanton wiles," L'Allegro 27. Pistol in the Merry Wives, ii. i.
43, makes an unkindly quip about Falstaff's amplitude of person
— a delicate point. Quip is cognate with Welsh chwip = 'a quick turn.' (Skeat.) Cf. quibble.
Sentences. 'Maxims' (sententiae), "Let me speak like yourself, and lay a sentence," Othello, i. 3. 199.
223 From the career of his humour. 'From following the
bent of his inclination.' Career, French carriere is a term
borrowed from horsemanship. Cf. v. i, "Meet your wit in the
career." Shakespeare has the word several times; e.g. Henry
V. ii. I. 133, a very difficult phrase, "passes careers;" and
Merry Wives, i. I. 184.
244 I am a Jew. So 1 Henry IV, ii. 4. 198, "They were
bound, every man of them; or I am a Jew else, an Ebrew Jew."
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_3.html >.