Much Ado About Nothing

by

William Shakespeare

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Much Ado About Nothing can help.

Much Ado About Nothing: Allusions 9 key examples

Read our modern English translation.
Definition of Allusion
In literature, an allusion is an unexplained reference to someone or something outside of the text. Writers commonly allude to other literary works, famous individuals, historical events, or philosophical ideas... read full definition
In literature, an allusion is an unexplained reference to someone or something outside of the text. Writers commonly allude to other literary works, famous individuals... read full definition
In literature, an allusion is an unexplained reference to someone or something outside of the text. Writers commonly allude to... read full definition
Act 1, Scene 1
Explanation and Analysis—Blind Cupid:

Allusions to Cupid abound in Much Ado About Nothing. As a god of love from classical mythology who is blind and armed with arrows, Cupid embodies the fickleness of love. 

When Don Pedro declares in Act 1, Scene 1 that he will one day see Benedick "look pale with love", Benedick insists: 

With anger, with sickness, or with hunger, my lord, not with love. Prove that ever I lose more blood with love than I will get again with drinking, pick out mine eyes with a ballad-maker’s pen and hang me up at the door of a brothel house for the sign of blind Cupid.

The suggestion that Benedick will be able to substitute for "blind Cupid" if he ever falls in love contrary to his stated beliefs implicitly highlights Benedick's own "blindness" to the fact that he will later fall in love with Beatrice. The allusion also establishes a parallel between Cupid shooting his arrows without seeing his target and love striking Benedick, Beatrice, Claudio, and Hero where they least expect it. Indeed, when Hero prepares to hold a staged conversation in Act 3, Scene 1 that will convince Beatrice that Benedick is in love with her, she declares:

Of this matter
Is little Cupid’s crafty arrow made,  
That only wounds by hearsay.

Since Cupid is blind, he can only use what he hears—"hearsay"—as a guide when shooting his arrows. Likewise, Hero, Beatrice, and Benedick all fall in love without the use of sight: Hero falls in love with Claudio while both are masked at the ball, and Benedick and Beatrice fall in love by eavesdropping on their friends. Cupid is therefore a suitable figure to encapsulate both the unpredictability of love and the use of rumors and eavesdropping to spark romance in the play.

Explanation and Analysis—A Merry War:

Through the motif of war, Shakespeare compares and contrasts courtship with battle. Benedick, Claudio, and the Prince make frequent references to war due to their recent arrival from the battlefield. In Messina, however, they find themselves in a completely different context. In Act 1, Scene 1, Claudio describes his newfound love of Hero as a shift in his perception: he stops using the eyes of a soldier and starts using those of a lover.

O, my lord,
When you went onward on this ended action,
I looked upon her with a soldier’s eye,
That liked, but had a rougher task in hand
Than to drive liking to the name of love.
But now I am returned and that war thoughts
Have left their places vacant, in their rooms
Come thronging soft and delicate desires,
All prompting me how fair young Hero is,
Saying I liked her ere I went to wars.

Using the metaphor of a house, Claudio suggests that thoughts of love have now replaced thoughts of war in his mind. This illustrates how greatly his mindset has changed after his return from the battlefield.

However, although the romance plots that entangle the men in Messina seem trivial by comparison to the military matters to which the men are accustomed, the challenges of courtship often resemble those of war. Indeed, Leonato explicitly describes the hostility between Beatrice and Benedick as a "merry war" or "skirmish of wit" in Act 1, Scene 1. The numerous allusions to Cupid, the god of love armed with arrows, also encapsulate this relationship between courtship and war. In Act 3, Scene 2, for instance, Hero notes, "Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps." Love, then, can be just as violent as war. 

Unlock with LitCharts A+
Act 2, Scene 1
Explanation and Analysis—Three Phases of Marriage:

In Act 2, Scene 1, Beatrice uses a simile to express her cynicism about marriage to Hero: 

The fault will be in the music, cousin, if you be not wooed in good time. If the Prince be too important, tell him there is measure in everything, and so dance out the answer. For hear me, Hero, wooing, wedding, and repenting is as a Scotch jig, a measure, and a cinquepace. The first suit is hot and hasty like a Scotch jig, and full as fantastical; the wedding, mannerly modest as a measure, full of state and ancientry; and then comes repentance, and with his bad legs falls into the cinquepace faster and faster till he sink into his grave.

Here, Beatrice suggests that a marriage proceeds in three phases, each of which can be compared to a dance. The "wooing" phase of a relationship resembles a "Scotch jig," a fast-paced folk dance, because of the whirlwind excitement of falling in love. The "wedding" is a dignified ritual like a "measure," a term that refers to a variety of ceremonial dances in 16th- and 17th-century Britain. Finally, Beatrice jokes that "repenting" is the final phase of a marriage because, in her view, all those who marry come to regret it. This phase of marriage resembles the "cinquepace," a 16th-century French dance, suggesting that marriage traps a couple into going through the same motions until death. Through this simile, Beatrice reveals her perception of marriage as an absurd ritual that dooms both parties to dissatisfaction. 

Unlock with LitCharts A+
Explanation and Analysis:

In Act 2, Scene 1, Benedick uses hyperbole to emphasize how intensely he dislikes Beatrice. When the Prince notes that Beatrice is approaching, Benedick asks: 

Will your Grace command me any service to the world’s end? I will go on the slightest errand now to the Antipodes that you can devise to send me on. I will fetch you a toothpicker now from the furthest inch of Asia, bring you the length of Prester John’s foot, fetch you a hair off the great Cham’s beard, do you any embassage to the Pygmies, rather than hold three words’ conference with this harpy. You have no employment for me?

By alluding to formidable figures from legend, including "Prester John" (a legendary Eastern king), "Cham" (the ruler of the Mongols), and "the Pygmies" (a mythical race from Greek mythology), Benedick declares that he would rather attempt impossible tasks than interact with Beatrice. His language here is a hyperbolic expression of his intense aversion to Beatrice. His use of hyperbole not only contributes to the comic tone of the play, but also makes the prospect of his falling in love with Beatrice seem even more unlikely. This increases the audience's anticipation for their ultimate marriage. 

Unlock with LitCharts A+
Explanation and Analysis—Hercules :

Throughout the play, Benedick and Beatrice's allusions to Hercules, a hero in classical mythology known for his strength, track the shift in their relationship. In particular, these allusions to Hercules reveal the gradual change in Benedick's feelings toward Beatrice. 

In Act 2, Scene 1, Benedick suggests that he does not want to be like Hercules because Beatrice would tyrannize him despite his strength: "She would have made Hercules have turned spit, yea, and have cleft his club to make the fire, too," he says, suggesting that Hercules would, in this scenario, cook for Beatrice.

In Act 3, Scene 3, after the two have fallen in love, Beatrice positions Hercules as the ideal man and challenges Benedick to rise to his example, lamenting that "he is now as valiant as Hercules that only tells a lie and swears it." In other words, a man of genuine Herculean caliber would prove the love he swears to have for Beatrice by killing Claudio to avenge her cousin. Now smitten with Beatrice, Benedick agrees to kill his friend—and thus rises to the challenge of becoming like Hercules to prove his love. In doing so, he ironically proves his earlier statement true: he's now willing to do anything for her, it seems, just as Hercules would be willing to cook for her instead of going about his normal activities as a buff hero.

Unlock with LitCharts A+
Explanation and Analysis—Adam's Sons:

Through the use of allusions to the biblical Adam, Beatrice and Benedick affirm their opposition to marriage. When Leonato expresses his desire to see Beatrice marry in Act 2, Scene 1, Beatrice replies:

Not till God make men of some other metal than earth. Would it not grieve a woman to be overmastered with a piece of valiant dust? To make an account of her life to a clod of wayward marl? No, uncle, I’ll none. Adam’s sons are my brethren, and truly I hold it a sin to match in my kindred.

Later in the same scene, Benedick declares to the Prince that he would not marry Beatrice "though she were endowed with all that Adam had left him before he transgressed"—that is, the Garden of Eden. It is ironic that, despite the pair's outward hostility toward each other, they are prone to using the same allusions. In fact, Beatrice's comment that she would not marry a man because all men are "Adam's sons" (making them her relatives) further implies that she and Benedick are alike. Beatrice and Benedick's shared allusion to Adam thus foreshadows the fact that they are well-matched romantically despite their fraught relationship. 

Unlock with LitCharts A+
Act 3, Scene 1
Explanation and Analysis—Blind Cupid:

Allusions to Cupid abound in Much Ado About Nothing. As a god of love from classical mythology who is blind and armed with arrows, Cupid embodies the fickleness of love. 

When Don Pedro declares in Act 1, Scene 1 that he will one day see Benedick "look pale with love", Benedick insists: 

With anger, with sickness, or with hunger, my lord, not with love. Prove that ever I lose more blood with love than I will get again with drinking, pick out mine eyes with a ballad-maker’s pen and hang me up at the door of a brothel house for the sign of blind Cupid.

The suggestion that Benedick will be able to substitute for "blind Cupid" if he ever falls in love contrary to his stated beliefs implicitly highlights Benedick's own "blindness" to the fact that he will later fall in love with Beatrice. The allusion also establishes a parallel between Cupid shooting his arrows without seeing his target and love striking Benedick, Beatrice, Claudio, and Hero where they least expect it. Indeed, when Hero prepares to hold a staged conversation in Act 3, Scene 1 that will convince Beatrice that Benedick is in love with her, she declares:

Of this matter
Is little Cupid’s crafty arrow made,  
That only wounds by hearsay.

Since Cupid is blind, he can only use what he hears—"hearsay"—as a guide when shooting his arrows. Likewise, Hero, Beatrice, and Benedick all fall in love without the use of sight: Hero falls in love with Claudio while both are masked at the ball, and Benedick and Beatrice fall in love by eavesdropping on their friends. Cupid is therefore a suitable figure to encapsulate both the unpredictability of love and the use of rumors and eavesdropping to spark romance in the play.

Unlock with LitCharts A+
Explanation and Analysis—A Merry War:

Through the motif of war, Shakespeare compares and contrasts courtship with battle. Benedick, Claudio, and the Prince make frequent references to war due to their recent arrival from the battlefield. In Messina, however, they find themselves in a completely different context. In Act 1, Scene 1, Claudio describes his newfound love of Hero as a shift in his perception: he stops using the eyes of a soldier and starts using those of a lover.

O, my lord,
When you went onward on this ended action,
I looked upon her with a soldier’s eye,
That liked, but had a rougher task in hand
Than to drive liking to the name of love.
But now I am returned and that war thoughts
Have left their places vacant, in their rooms
Come thronging soft and delicate desires,
All prompting me how fair young Hero is,
Saying I liked her ere I went to wars.

Using the metaphor of a house, Claudio suggests that thoughts of love have now replaced thoughts of war in his mind. This illustrates how greatly his mindset has changed after his return from the battlefield.

However, although the romance plots that entangle the men in Messina seem trivial by comparison to the military matters to which the men are accustomed, the challenges of courtship often resemble those of war. Indeed, Leonato explicitly describes the hostility between Beatrice and Benedick as a "merry war" or "skirmish of wit" in Act 1, Scene 1. The numerous allusions to Cupid, the god of love armed with arrows, also encapsulate this relationship between courtship and war. In Act 3, Scene 2, for instance, Hero notes, "Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps." Love, then, can be just as violent as war. 

Unlock with LitCharts A+
Act 4, Scene 1
Explanation and Analysis—Dian and Venus:

Claudio's use of allusions to Roman goddesses highlights what he perceives as the contradictory nature of women. While berating Hero for her purported infidelity in Act 4, Scene 1, he tells her: 

You seem to me as Dian in her orb,
As chaste as is the bud ere it be blown.
But you are more intemperate in your blood
Than Venus, or those pampered animals
That rage in savage sensuality. 

"Dian in her orb" refers to Diana, the virgin goddess of the hunt and the moon (her "orb") in Roman mythology. Venus, meanwhile, is the Roman goddess of love, beauty, and desire. Claudio's simile compares Hero's outward appearance to the chaste Diana, but he states that she is, in reality, promiscuous like Venus. This allusion to the Roman goddesses highlights the distinction between appearances and reality that plagues the characters throughout the play, particularly with regard to women's sexuality. The fact that a woman's apparent loyalty cannot be trusted plagues the male characters throughout the play because it leaves them at risk of being betrayed and thus turned into "cuckolds." By making allusions to two different Roman goddesses, Claudio illustrates the seeming duality of women that the male characters so fear. 

Unlock with LitCharts A+
Explanation and Analysis—Hercules :

Throughout the play, Benedick and Beatrice's allusions to Hercules, a hero in classical mythology known for his strength, track the shift in their relationship. In particular, these allusions to Hercules reveal the gradual change in Benedick's feelings toward Beatrice. 

In Act 2, Scene 1, Benedick suggests that he does not want to be like Hercules because Beatrice would tyrannize him despite his strength: "She would have made Hercules have turned spit, yea, and have cleft his club to make the fire, too," he says, suggesting that Hercules would, in this scenario, cook for Beatrice.

In Act 3, Scene 3, after the two have fallen in love, Beatrice positions Hercules as the ideal man and challenges Benedick to rise to his example, lamenting that "he is now as valiant as Hercules that only tells a lie and swears it." In other words, a man of genuine Herculean caliber would prove the love he swears to have for Beatrice by killing Claudio to avenge her cousin. Now smitten with Beatrice, Benedick agrees to kill his friend—and thus rises to the challenge of becoming like Hercules to prove his love. In doing so, he ironically proves his earlier statement true: he's now willing to do anything for her, it seems, just as Hercules would be willing to cook for her instead of going about his normal activities as a buff hero.

Unlock with LitCharts A+
Act 5, Scene 2
Explanation and Analysis—Leander and Troilus:

In a soliloquy in Act 5, Scene 2, Benedick uses allusions to lovers from legend to affirm the intensity of his love for Beatrice. He declares:

But in loving, Leander the good swimmer, Troilus the first employer of panders, and a whole book full of these quondam carpetmongers, whose names yet run smoothly in the even road of a blank verse, why, they were never so truly turned over and over as my poor self in love.

Leander is a figure from Greek mythology who swam across the Hellespont every night to be with Hero, a priestess with whom he fell in love. Meanwhile, Troilus is a Trojan prince from Greek mythology who fell in love with Cressida despite his earlier contempt for romance, after which Cressida betrayed him by falling in love with another man. Benedick declares that he is more in love with Beatrice than Leander, Troilus, or any other epic heroes; in fact,  compared to him, they are mere "quondam carpetmongers," or people who are overly fond of pleasure. 

The allusion to Leander is particularly significant because he loved a woman named Hero in the original Greek myth. Benedick, then, subtly suggests that his love for Beatrice exceeds that of Claudio for the Hero of this play. The timing of these allusions is also notable: Benedick gives this soliloquy right before he agrees to kill Claudio for Beatrice. Therefore, by affirming the intensity of Benedick's love for Beatrice and showing how much he has changed since the beginning of the play, these allusions help justify his subsequent decision to turn on his friend. 

Unlock with LitCharts A+
Act 5, Scene 4
Explanation and Analysis—Europa and Jove:

Through allusions to Greek mythology (and specifically the figures Europa and Jove), the play illustrates the change in Benedick's attitude toward marriage. In Act 5, Scene 4, before the weddings take place between Claudio and Hero and between Benedick and Beatrice, the Prince asks Benedick why he looks so nervous. Claudio replies:

I think he thinks upon the savage bull. 
Tush, fear not, man. We’ll tip thy horns with gold, 
And all Europa shall rejoice at thee, 
As once Europa did at lusty Jove 
When he would play the noble beast in love.

Claudio suggests that Benedick is anxious about the possibility of Beatrice's infidelity, which would lead him to don the cuckold's horns and become "the savage bull." However, Claudio transforms this imagery into something positive through his allusion to Europa and Jove. In the original Greek myth, Jove wooed Europa by transforming himself into a bull. Claudio suggests that, like Jove, he should embrace marriage with its accompanying risk of cuckoldry, as embodied by the image of the horns tipped with gold.  

At the very end of the scene, Benedick embraces this optimistic vision of marriage by declaring, "There is no staff more reverend than one tipped with horn." Benedick's use of this metaphor shows that he has overcome his earlier opposition to marriage and decided to accept it, even if it comes with risks. The allusion to Europa and Jove thus demonstrates that Benedick has come to terms with the prospect of marriage. 

Unlock with LitCharts A+