Much Ado About Nothing

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Much Ado About Nothing Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of William Shakespeare
Shakespeare's father was a glove-maker, and Shakespeare received no more than a grammar school education. He married Anne Hathaway in 1582, but left his family behind around 1590 and moved to London, where he became an actor and playwright. He was an immediate success: Shakespeare soon became the most popular playwright of the day as well as a part-owner of the Globe Theater. His theater troupe was adopted by King James as the King's Men in 1603. Shakespeare retired as a rich and prominent man to Stratford-upon-Avon in 1613, and died three years later.
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Historical Context of Much Ado About Nothing
Much Ado About Nothing likely takes place during the 16th Century Italian Wars (1494-1559), a conflict which involved France, the Holy Roman Empire, the Spanish Kingdom of Aragon, England, Scotland, the Ottomans, the Swiss and various Italian states. For some periods during these wars, Naples and Sicily (where Messina is located) were under the control of Aragon. These wars explain the diverse origins of the characters in the play: Don Pedro and Don John are from Aragon, Benedick is from Padua, and Claudio is from Florence.
Other Books Related to Much Ado About Nothing
Scholars believe that there are two likely sources for part of the action in Much Ado About Nothing. The first is Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso (1532) and the second is an untitled novella by the Italian writer Mateo Bandello (1573), whose works also provided source material for some of Shakespeare’s other plays as well. Both of these works contain elements of the Claudio subplot: an unfairly disgraced bride, a father who pretends she has died, and an eventual reunion.
Key Facts about Much Ado About Nothing
  • Full Title: Much Ado About Nothing
  • When Written: 1598-1599
  • Where Written: England
  • When Published: 1623
  • Literary Period: Elizabethan
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Setting: Messina, Italy in the 16th Century
  • Climax: At the altar, Claudio publicly accuses Hero of unfaithfulness, sending her into a swoon.
  • Antagonist: Don John
Extra Credit for Much Ado About Nothing

Masks and Recognition. Masked balls and disguises are common in Shakespeare. During such balls, characters sometimes have trouble recognizing even their closest friends and relatives. Critics who believe in verisimilitude—the idea that a fictional story should be believable—have sometimes criticized Shakespeare because of this. The famous Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, for instance, found it completely ridiculous that characters in Shakespeare fail to recognize even each other’s voices when in disguise.

Bastards. In the Renaissance, children born out of wedlock were often considered to be naturally evil. Sir John Fortescue wrote that “If a bastard be good, that commeth to him by chance… but if hee bee evill, that commethe to hym by nature.” The evil bastard is a common character in Shakespeare and Renaissance Drama in general, and Don John is only one example—Edmund, in Shakespeare’s King Lear, is another.