Much Ado About Nothing

About the Book

Set in a courtly world of masked revels and dances, this play turns on the archetypal story of a lady falsely accused of unfaithfulness, spurned by her bridegroom, and finally vindicated and reunited with him. Villainy, schemes, and deceits threaten to darken the brilliant humor and sparkling wordplay–but the hilarious counterplot of a warring couple, Beatrice and Benedick, steals the scene as the two are finally tricked into admitting their love for each other in Shakespeare’s superb comedy of manners.

Each Edition Includes:
• Comprehensive explanatory notes
• Vivid introductions and the most up-to-date scholarship
• Clear, modernized spelling and punctuation, enabling contemporary readers to understand the Elizabethan English
• Completely updated, detailed bibliographies and performance histories
• An interpretive essay on film adaptations of the play, along with an extensive filmography
Read more

Praise for Much Ado About Nothing

Praise for William Shakespeare: Complete Works:“A feast of literary and historical information.” —The Wall Street Journal
Read more

Much Ado About Nothing

Chapter One

List of Parts

DON PEDRO, Prince of Aragon

BENEDICK, a lord from Padua companions to Don Pedro

CLAUDIO, a lord from Florence

BALTHASAR, a singer, attendant upon Don Pedro

A BOY, servant to Benedick

DON JOHN, illegitimate brother of Don Pedro

BORACHIO followers of


LEONATO, governor of Messina

innogen, his silent wife

HERO, his daughter

BEATRICE, his niece, an orphan

ANTONIO, an old man, brother of Leonato

MARGARET gentlewomen

URSULA attendant upon Hero


DOGBERRY, Constable in charge of the Watch

VERGES, Headborough accompanying Dogberry



Attendants and Messengers

Act 1 Scene 1 running scene 1

Enter Leonato Governor of Messina, Innogen his wife, Hero his daughter and Beatrice his niece, with a Messenger

LEONATO I learn in this letter that Don Peter of Aragon comes this night to Messina. Shows a letter

MESSENGER He is very near by this: he was not three leagues off when I left him.

LEONATO How many gentlemen have you lost in this action?

MESSENGER But few of any sort, and none of name.

LEONATO A victory is twice itself when the achiever brings home full numbers. I find here that Don Peter hath bestowed much honour on a young Florentine called Claudio.

MESSENGER Much deserved on his part and equally remem-bered by Don Pedro. He hath borne himself beyond the promise of his age, doing in the figure of a lamb the feats of a lion. He hath indeed better bettered expectation than you must expect of me to tell you how.

LEONATO He hath an uncle here in Messina will be very much glad of it.

MESSENGER I have already delivered him letters, and there appears much joy in him, even so much that joy could not show itself modest enough without a badge of bitterness.

LEONATO Did he break out into tears?

MESSENGER In great measure.

LEONATO A kind overflow of kindness. There are no faces truer than those that are so washed. How much better is it to weep at joy than to joy at weeping!

BEATRICE I pray you, is Signior Mountanto returned from the wars or no?

MESSENGER I know none of that name, lady: there was none such in the army of any sort.

LEONATO What is he that you ask for, niece?

HERO My cousin means Signior Benedick of Padua.

MESSENGER O, he’s returned, and as pleasant as ever he was.

BEATRICE He set up his bills here in Messina and challenged Cupid at the flight: and my uncle’s fool, reading the challenge, subscribed for Cupid and challenged him at the bird-bolt. I pray you, how many hath he killed and eaten in these wars? But how many hath he killed? For indeed I promised to eat all of his killing.

LEONATO Faith, niece, you tax Signior Benedick too much, but he’ll be meet with you, I doubt it not.

MESSENGER He hath done good service, lady, in these wars.

BEATRICE You had musty victual and he hath holp to eat it: he’s a very valiant trencherman, he hath an excellent stomach.

MESSENGER And a good soldier too, lady.

BEATRICE And a good soldier to a lady. But what is he to a lord?

MESSENGER A lord to a lord, a man to a man, stuffed with all honourable virtues.

BEATRICE It is so indeed, he is no less than a stuffed man. But for the stuffing — well, we are all mortal.

LEONATO You must not, sir, mistake my niece. There is a kind of merry war betwixt Signior Benedick and her: they never meet but there’s a skirmish of wit between them.

BEATRICE Alas, he gets nothing by that. In our last conflict four of his five wits went halting off, and now is the whole man governed with one: so that if he have wit enough to keep himself warm, let him bear it for a difference between himself and his horse, for it is all the wealth that he hath left to be known a reasonable creature. Who is his companion now? He hath every month a new sworn brother.

MESSENGER Is’t possible?

BEATRICE Very easily possible: he wears his faith but as the fashion of his hat — it ever changes with the next block.

MESSENGER I see, lady, the gentleman is not in your books.

BEATRICE No. An he were, I would burn my study. But I pray you, who is his companion? Is there no young squarer now that will make a voyage with him to the devil?

MESSENGER He is most in the company of the right noble Claudio.

BEATRICE O lord, he will hang upon him like a disease: he is sooner caught than the pestilence, and the taker runs presently mad. God help the noble Claudio. If he have caught the Benedick, it will cost him a thousand pound ere he be cured.

MESSENGER I will hold friends with you, lady.

BEATRICE Do, good friend.

LEONATO You’ll ne’er run mad, niece.

BEATRICE No, not till a hot January.

MESSENGER Don Pedro is approached.

Enter Don Pedro, Claudio, Benedick, Balthasar and John the bastard

DON PEDRO Good Signior Leonato, are you come to meet your trouble? The fashion of the world is to avoid cost, and you encounter it.

LEONATO Never came trouble to my house in the likeness of your grace, for trouble being gone, comfort should remain. But when you depart from me, sorrow abides and happiness takes his leave.

DON PEDRO You embrace your charge too willingly. I think this is your daughter.

LEONATO Her mother hath many times told me so.

BENEDICK Were you in doubt, sir, that you asked her?

LEONATO Signior Benedick, no, for then were you a child.

DON PEDRO You have it full, Benedick. We may guess by this what you are, being a man. Truly the lady fathers herself. Be happy lady, for you are like an honourable father.

BENEDICK If Signior Leonato be her father, she would not have his head on her shoulders for all Messina, as like him as she is. Don Pedro and Leonato talk aside

BEATRICE I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior Benedick: nobody marks you.

BENEDICK What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living?

BEATRICE Is it possible disdain should die while she hath such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick? Courtesy itself must convert to disdain, if you come in her presence.

BENEDICK Then is courtesy a turncoat. But it is certain I am loved of all ladies, only you excepted: and I would I could find in my heart that I had not a hard heart, for truly I love none.

BEATRICE A dear happiness to women: they would else have been troubled with a pernicious suitor. I thank God and my cold blood, I am of your humour for that. I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.

BENEDICK God keep your ladyship still in that mind, so some gentleman or other shall scape a predestinate scratched face.

BEATRICE Scratching could not make it worse an ’twere such a face as yours were.

BENEDICK Well, you are a rare parrot-teacher.

BEATRICE A bird of my tongue is better than a beast of yours.

BENEDICK I would my horse had the speed of your tongue, and so good a continuer. But keep your way, a God’s name, I have done.

BEATRICE You always end with a jade’s trick. I know you of old.

DON PEDRO That is the sum of all, Leonato.— To the others

Signior Claudio and Signior Benedick, my dear friend Leonato hath invited you all. I tell him we shall stay here at the least a month, and he heartily prays some occasion may detain us longer. I dare swear he is no hypocrite, but prays from his heart.

LEONATO If you swear, my lord, you shall To Don John

not be forsworn.— Let me bid you welcome, my lord. Being reconciled to the prince your brother, I owe you all duty.

DON JOHN I thank you. I am not of many words, but I thank you.

LEONATO Please it your grace lead on?

DON PEDRO Your hand, Leonato. We will go together.

Exeunt all but Benedick and Claudio

CLAUDIO Benedick, didst thou note the daughter of Signior Leonato?

BENEDICK I noted her not, but I looked on her.

CLAUDIO Is she not a modest young lady?

BENEDICK Do you question me as an honest man should do, for my simple true judgement? Or would you have me speak after my custom, as being a professed tyrant to their sex?

CLAUDIO No, I pray thee speak in sober judgement.

BENEDICK Why, i’faith, methinks she’s too low for a high praise, too brown for a fair praise, and too little for a great praise. Only this commendation I can afford her, that were she other than she is, she were unhandsome, and being no other but as she is, I do not like her.

CLAUDIO Thou think’st I am in sport. I pray thee tell me truly how thou lik’st her.

BENEDICK Would you buy her, that you inquire after her?

CLAUDIO Can the world buy such a jewel?

BENEDICK Yea, and a case to put it into. But speak you this with a sad brow? Or do you play the flouting jack, to tell us Cupid is a good hare-finder and Vulcan a rare carpenter? Come, in what key shall a man take you to go in the song?

CLAUDIO In mine eye, she is the sweetest lady that ever I looked on.

BENEDICK I can see yet without spectacles and I see no such matter. There’s her cousin, an she were not possessed with a fury, exceeds her as much in beauty as the first of May doth the last of December. But I hope you have no intent to turn husband, have you?

CLAUDIO I would scarce trust myself, though I had sworn the contrary, if Hero would be my wife.

BENEDICK Is’t come to this? In faith, hath not the world one man but he will wear his cap with suspicion? Shall I never see a bachelor of threescore again? Go to, i’faith, an thou wilt needs thrust thy neck into a yoke, wear the print of it and sigh away Sundays. Look, Don Pedro is returned to seek you.

Modern Library Classics Series

The Collected Essays of Ralph Ellison
The Voyage Out
The Southern Woman
The Squatter and the Don
The Mysterious Affair at Styles
The Dark Interval
The Greek Plays
A Place in the Country
The Metamorphosis
Madame Bovary
View more

About the Author

William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare (1564–1616) was a poet, playwright, and actor who is widely regarded as one of the most influential writers in the history of the English language. Often referred to as the Bard of Avon, Shakespeare's vast body of work includes comedic, tragic, and historical plays; poems; and 154 sonnets. His dramatic works have been translated into every major language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright. More by William Shakespeare
Decorative Carat

About the Author

Jonathan Bate
SIR JONATHAN BATE is an academic, broadcaster, critic, novelist, and prize-winning author of biographies of Wordsworth, Keats, and John Clare. He is the Foundation Professor of Environmental Humanities at Arizona State University, as well as a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Oxford, where he holds the title of Professor of English Literature. Until September 2019 he was Provost of Worcester College, Oxford. He was knighted in 2015 for services to literary scholarship and higher education. More by Jonathan Bate
Decorative Carat

About the Author

Eric Rasmussen
Eric Rasmussen, a professor of English at the University of Nevada, is one of today's leading textual experts on Shakespeare. More by Eric Rasmussen
Decorative Carat