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Much Ado About Nothing

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ACT I SCENE III The same. 
CONRADE What the good-year, my lord! why are you thus out 
 of measure sad? 
DON JOHN There is no measure in the occasion that breeds; 
 therefore the sadness is without limit.
CONRADE You should hear reason. 
DON JOHN And when I have heard it, what blessing brings it? 
CONRADE If not a present remedy, at least a patient 
DON JOHN I wonder that thou, being, as thou sayest thou art, 10
 born under Saturn, goest about to apply a moral 
 medicine to a mortifying mischief. I cannot hide 
 what I am: I must be sad when I have cause and smile 
 at no man's jests, eat when I have stomach and wait 
 for no man's leisure, sleep when I am drowsy and
 tend on no man's business, laugh when I am merry and 
 claw no man in his humour. 
CONRADE Yea, but you must not make the full show of this 
 till you may do it without controlment. You have of 
 late stood out against your brother, and he hath 20
 ta'en you newly into his grace; where it is 
 impossible you should take true root but by the 
 fair weather that you make yourself: it is needful 
 that you frame the season for your own harvest. 
DON JOHN I had rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in
 his grace, and it better fits my blood to be 
 disdained of all than to fashion a carriage to rob 
 love from any: in this, though I cannot be said to 
 be a flattering honest man, it must not be denied 
 but I am a plain-dealing villain. I am trusted with
 a muzzle and enfranchised with a clog; therefore I 
 have decreed not to sing in my cage. If I had my 
 mouth, I would bite; if I had my liberty, I would do 
 my liking: in the meantime let me be that I am and 
 seek not to alter me.
CONRADE Can you make no use of your discontent? 35 
DON JOHN I make all use of it, for I use it only. 
 Who comes here? 
 What news, Borachio? 
BORACHIO I came yonder from a great supper: the prince your
 brother is royally entertained by Leonato: and I 
 can give you intelligence of an intended marriage. 
DON JOHN Will it serve for any model to build mischief on? 
 What is he for a fool that betroths himself to 
BORACHIO Marry, it is your brother's right hand. 45 
DON JOHN Who? the most exquisite Claudio? 
BORACHIO Even he. 
DON JOHN A proper squire! And who, and who? which way looks 
BORACHIO Marry, on Hero, the daughter and heir of Leonato. 
DON JOHN A very forward March-chick! How came you to this? 
BORACHIO Being entertained for a perfumer, as I was smoking a 
 musty room, comes me the prince and Claudio, hand 
 in hand in sad conference: I whipt me behind the
 arras; and there heard it agreed upon that the 
 prince should woo Hero for himself, and having 
 obtained her, give her to Count Claudio. 59 
DON JOHN Come, come, let us thither: this may prove food to 
 my displeasure. That young start-up hath all the
 glory of my overthrow: if I can cross him any way, I 
 bless myself every way. You are both sure, and will assist me? 
CONRADE To the death, my lord. 65 
DON JOHN Let us to the great supper: their cheer is the 
 greater that I am subdued. Would the cook were of
 my mind! Shall we go prove what's to be done? 
BORACHIO We'll wait upon your lordship. 

Next: Much Ado About Nothing, Act 2, Scene 1


Explanatory Notes for Act 1, Scene 3

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 selfish man.

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 others.

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) < >.


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