Gary Taylor, John Jowett, Terri Bourus, and Gabriel Egan (eds), The New Oxford Shakespeare: Critical Reference Edition, Vol. 1

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Modernized text and commentary:

Modern 1441–1505

Date and authorship:

Companion 524

Reception history:

Modern 12, 53, 1437–40

Much adoe about Nothing (STC 22304, BEPD 168) was printed in 1600, in quarto, by Valentine Simmes for Andrew Wise and William Aspley. The quarto is seventy-two pages, signed A-I4 (see Fig.1). The quarto serves as the copy text for this and nearly every major modern edition of the play. Much Ado is one of several 'lightly annotated' Folio texts, that is, plays that the compositors of the 1623 Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies set from a quarto that had been 'lightly' annotated by reference to a manuscript with some independent authority. Our edition uses new design elements to manage the editorial decisions associated with all such lightly annotated texts, both in this Critical Reference Edition and in Modern. For a full introduction to the policies, see Richard II, 'Textual Introduction'.

Antecedent Texts

The main plot of Much Ado focuses on the false slander of Hero, daughter of Leonato, by Claudio, her betrothed, who (believing her unfaithful) publicly shames and repudiates her only to beg forgiveness when her innocence is revealed. The storyline in which a virtuous maiden in love with a noble knight is sexually slandered and abandoned by the knight, usually at the behest of a romantic rival, was well-worn territory by the time Shakespeare was composing this play. Potential sources for the story include Joanot Martorell's Tirant lo Blanch (composed in 1560–8, completed by Martí Joan de Galba, first printed 1490, Valencia), Matteo Bandello's La Prima Parte de le Nouelle (Lucca, 1554) (translated into French by François de Belleforest, Le Troisiesme Tome Des Histoires Tragiques Extraittes des Oeuvres Italiennes de Bandel, in 1569, Lyon), Luigi Pasaqualigo's Il Fedele (Venezia, 1576), George Whetstone's Rock of Regard (STC 25348, London, 1576), and Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene (STC 23080, London, 1590). However, scholars agree that Shakespeare's two primary sources were Matteo Bandello's twenty-second novella in La Prima Parte de le Nouelle and canto 5 of Ludovico Ariosto's Orlando Furioso (first published in Ferrara, 1516, translated into English verse by Sir John Harrington in 1591, STC 746). Though it is not clear which language or edition Shakespeare read, he clearly borrowed certain narrative details from the Ariosto version (for instance, the rival lover using the maiden's handmaiden dressed in her mistress's clothes to fool the noble knight). The Bandello story contributes the idea of the slandered maiden falling ill from the pain of the false accusations during the chaos of local celebrations, followed by her family spreading rumours of her death and then hosting a funeral to give the knight the opportunity to apologize and repent for his role in the slander. The Bandello version of the story also contributes some of the names of the characters in the play: Messer Lionato de' Lionati of Messina and King Piero are particularly familiar. See zitner pp. 6–13 for a detailed analysis of the antecedent texts for Much Ado.

Wiggins lists William Lily's Latin Grammar (1549, STC 15610.10), Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy (1592, STC 15086), and the anonymous play King Lear and His Three Daughters (printed 1605, STC 15343) as possible verbal sources for various elements of the play.

pg 1000The antecedent texts for this play have had a tremendous effect on the scholarly, critical, and performance history of the play, but a less obvious effect on editing. Perhaps the most salient contribution from the antecedent texts is that the Bandello text includes the figure of the maiden's mother, who may have served as Shakespeare's inspiration for Innogen, the ghost figure named as Hero's mother in the stage directions of 1.1 and 2.1 before disappearing from the play entirely.

Theatrical History

The title-page of the quarto (referred to here as simmes) identifies the play as having been acted 'sundrie times' by the Lord Chamberlain's Men. At absolute bare minimum (assuming only two actors for the Watch), twelve adult actors (one of whom needed to be a competent singer) and four boy actors are required for the staging of the play. Dogberry and Verges were likely written for Will Kemp and Richard Crowley respectively, though Kemp left the Lord Chamberlain's Men in 1599, so either he only briefly held the role or the play was written and performed some time before it was published. On the other hand, the play is not mentioned by Francis Meres in Palladis Tamia (1598), so late 1598 is sometimes used as an earliest possible date. Due to the date range, the play could have first been performed at the Theatre, the Curtain, or even possibly at the Globe.

There are two other references to early performances of the play. As Katherine Duncan-Jones has argued, Robert Armin, the clown who replaced Kemp, makes anecdotal reference to playing the role of Dogberry in A Nest of Ninnies (1608, STC 772.7) at performances in Oxford and Cambridge: 'In Oxford, [Armin] says, he "was admitted" both to Christ Church and All Souls "and might have Commenst like an Asse I was"—alluding to the passage at the end of Act 4 Scene 2' (29). In 1613, John Heminges received payment from the Lord Chamberlain for a court performance of the play as part of the celebrations surrounding the wedding of Princess Elizabeth (James I's daughter) and Frederick Elector Palatine. This event may have also been the impetus for the removal of several lines from jaggard that make light of continental fashions (see 3.2.26.D1–D3).


Much Ado was first listed in the Stationers' Register on 4 August 1600 with As You Like It, Henry V, and Every Man in His Humour. The entry is for 'a booke The Comedie of muche A doo about nothinge', accompanied by a note in the margin reading 'a book to be staied'. Scholars are still unsure exactly what this unusual phrase may have meant, but the leading theory is that it was meant to prevent unauthorized publication of the play. By 1600, Shakespeare was regularly appearing on the title-page for his plays (as he does on the title-page of simmes), and it is possible that the demand for printed Shakespeare plays outpaced the supply. There are other examples in the period of potentially pirated scenes or plays (for instance, see the Textual Introductions to Arden of Faversham and Richard II).

The second mention of the play in the Stationers' Register was nineteen days after the first, on 23 August 1600, along with 2 Henry IV. The record names Andrew Wise and William Aspley 'for their copies under the hands of the wardens. Twoo books. the one called: Muche a Doo about nothinge'. The entry concludes with a note that both plays were 'Wrytten by mr Shakespere', making it the first time that Shakespeare's name appeared in the Register.

Five of Shakespeare's plays (Henry V, 2 Henry IV, Much Ado, Midsummer Night's Dream, and Merchant of Venice) appeared in authorized printed editions for the first time in 1600. One theory about this exceptional burst of publishing (endorsed by the 1986–7 Oxford University Press's Complete Works) is that the Lord Chamberlain's Men may have sold their publishing rights for these plays in order to acquire the capital needed for a move to the Globe while also building publicity for its opening, a view furthered by Peter Blayney's findings. Alternatively, Lukas Erne argues that Shakespeare wanted his works to be in print, supporting this argument with studies that suggest that the book trade and theatre enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship. The sheer pg 1001number and popularity of quartos printed for Andrew Wise has inspired some scholars to consider a potential partnership between the Lord Chamberlain's Men and Wise (see Massai; Erne, Book Trade, 161–4). For a further discussion of this topic, see the Textual Introduction to Richard II in this volume and the general introductions by Jowett and Taylor.


simmes is a well-printed text, with very few obvious textual errors. Previous investigators found that the play was set entirely by Simmes's Compositor A. Alan Craven, who has studied the habits of Simmes's Compositor A in detail, finds his work mostly reliable, and hinman observes that Simmes's Compositor A's work is 'not obviously corrupt, even when it does not follow its original' (xvii). Much Ado could have been set by formes or seriatim. John Hazel Smith argues for formes on the basis that other, similar publications that used formes shared the need for cheap printing that could happen fast. Smith tracks the substitution of a roman letter 'B' in speech prefixes and stage directions (where one would normally see an italic 'B') to propose an order of printing consistent with printing by formes, and also identifies instances of compression and stretching of space to support the theory. Also, the especially crowded page G1r (thirty-nine lines instead of thirty-seven) may be due to a casting-off error. Conversely, hinman argues that the play was set seriatim. He supports this argument with evidence of recurring types, noting that the play was mostly in prose (and thus would have been more difficult to cast off). hinman also suggests that certain distinctive types recur in consecutive sheets (more likely in consecutive/seriatim setting). hinman reasons that the other errors in simmes may have to do with the difficulty of the copy text and not the casting-off process.

There are seventeen extant copies of simmes that include a variety of corrections. hinman provides a full list of press variants, which has since been supplemented by Werstine's work. The list below was collated from Hinman and Werstine (who investigated the Rosenbach copy (Bodmer Library), but did not find any new variants). Corrections were made during the print-run in the outer forme of three sheets (E, F, and G). There is also an upside down 'g' corrected at the end of the heading for 'Song' (2.3.51; sig. D1r), but as nothing else in outer forme D is variant, Hinman suggests that the letter was turned accidentally during the press run and thus the variant is not printed here. The press variants do not include any major corrections. For the most part, they are minor changes to punctuation with correction of a handful of typesetting errors (see Table 1).

Table 1. Press variants in simmes

State a

State b

E Outer: Sig. E1r


one I wil

on I will

E Outer: Sig. E2v





brother, I thinke, . . . heart,

brother (I thinke, . . . heart)





for . . . talking,

(for . . . talking of)







pg 1002

E Outer: Sig. E3r




E Outer: Sig. D4v





yeere a . . . down . . . remember his| name

yeere, a . . . .downe . . . I remember| his name

F Outer: Sig. F1r
















F Outer: Sig. F2v




F Outer: Sig. F3r





troth, he is

troth he is,

F Outer: Sig. F4v










G Outer: Sig. G1r





Lady . . . night.

Lady, . . . night?

Despite the relatively clean printing of the text, Much Ado is riddled with confusion when it comes to entrances, exits, and other stage directions, as well as speech prefixes. Paul Werstine's study of extant playbooks in the period confirms that while they represent a range of inconsistency with regard to speech prefixes and exits, entrances are usually regularized and generally attended to more carefully. As a result, it is unlikely that simmes was set from a licensed playbook and is instead considered as being printed from authorial papers.

pg 1003Line of Transmission to the Folio

jaggard is a reprint of simmes, but the exemplar of the quarto used by jaggard's compositors must have been marked up with a small number of manuscript annotations to stage directions and speech prefixes; those annotations seem to have resulted from consultation of a manuscript with some kind of authority. jaggard provides many necessary entrances and moves existing entrances to more advantageous places. The stage direction for Iacke Wilson at in jaggard helps establish that the manuscript was used in the theatre, as Wilson was a musician and singing actor who, scholars believe, may have occasionally written music for plays and performed as a singer in his youth (Grove et al., 529–30; for a detailed introduction to the music in the play, see 1008–17). Previous investigators found that the text was set by Folio Compositor A, who apparently had the odd habit of using no periods after unabbreviated speech prefixes. There is one major error in casting off at 2.3.37–8: two lines are printed both at the foot of I6r and the top of I6v. There are also errors on the final jaggard page that may be blamed on lack of space: verse is set as prose, speech prefixes are shortened, and entire words are dropped from the lines. Other than these two sections of the text, jaggard does not have any major errors.

jaggard adds the division of acts but not scenes (with the usual exception of the very first scene). The stage directions in jaggard provide missing exits and entrances, as well as more convenient entrances for certain characters that likely represent early staging practices. There are also a few erroneous changes to stage directions in jaggard, such as the relocation of a stage direction in simmes up or down by a few lines in such a way that would not make sense for staging purposes (see Benedick's and Ursula's entrances in Act 5).

As is to be expected in the transmission of any text, there are minor additions, replacements, and omissions of words. The differences that are most easily explained as printing errors are listed without comment as Rejected Folio variants. This includes three omissions of lines (1.1.234–5, 4.1.15, and 5.4.33). The first two are eye-skip errors while the final line is likely the result of a casting-off error in the crowded final page of jaggard.

There are also two longer passages omitted in jaggard that are potential examples of censorship. 3.2.26.D1–D3 may have been removed because the lines insult Germans and Spaniards, and may have been felt to be offensive for the performance of the play at the wedding of Princess Elizabeth to a German prince (and during which King James was also trying to negotiate a marriage between his son and a Spanish princess). 4.2.14.D1–D3 contains many references to God and belief in God, and must have been expurgated due to a joke about God in violation of the '1606 Acte to restraine Abuses of Players'. The two instances of censorship are marked as Deleted Text using our textual design elements (explained in detail in the Textual Introduction to Richard II).

Editorial Practices

The main considerations in editing Much Ado are deciding how to handle the inconsistent and sometimes baffling stage directions and speech prefixes (or absence of directions and prefixes) in simmes. For example, the Watch, which appears for the first time in 3.3, is comprised of an uncertain number of men whose speeches tend to appear with the undistinguishing speech prefix of Watch. wells became one of the first modern editors to reject the premise that the Watch was only two men (arguing instead that there was a group of at least three men), and refused to assign lines to individual members of the Watch. Wells wrote of his editorial decision, 'at least it represents the truth of the situation—that Shakespeare had not fully worked out the assignment of the speeches—and avoids the other unsatisfactoriness of implying that only two of the watchmen speak' (Wells, 'Editorial Treatment', 12). Most subsequent editors continue to divide up the lines, but this edition retains the ambiguity surrounding the speech prefixes of the Watch in both Reference and Modern editions. The Textual Notes in the Reference edition explain common editorial approaches to the division of lines, and the Performance Notes in the Modern edition explain common approaches to the lines in performance.

pg 1004While it is not the goal of this edition to conclusively identify and consider the underlying copy text of each of these plays, it is important to consider the composition process of Much Ado because most scholars agree that the inconsistencies in the text are authorial in origin. It is hard to explain them as compositorial or scribal errors. Much of Much Ado was likely written currente calamo—literally, 'with running pen'. In this mode of writing, inconsistencies may arise because the author 'has simply not made up his mind about what he wants. . . he has visualized the action imperfectly, or changed his intentions mid-scene' (Wells, 'Editorial Treatment', 2). Since the practice of most editions is to regularize and clarify it, editors are forced to treat the inconsistencies in Shakespeare's text as errors and emend them accordingly. This Reference edition departs from that tradition by retaining many authorial irregularities in simmes in the hope of making the various layers of the text visible to readers and scholars. Common editorial approaches to particular inconsistencies and contradictions are discussed in the Textual Notes.

In keeping with the policies for the Modern edition, these irregularities are treated differently there: every character is provided with an entrance and an exit, located according to the editor's discretion, and square-bracketed to indicate the editorial intervention. We also square-bracket any additional Folio stage directions adopted in Modern (which are placed in the margin in Reference). In cases where there is an option for a variant staging, Modern provides a performance note, explaining the range of potential solutions, and, if applicable, some of the ramifications of the various choices. When the regularization requirements in Modern alter or supplement stage directions in simmes (and therefore the stage directions in this Reference text), a Textual Note identifies and explains the difference between Reference and Modern.

Editions Cited


Much adoe about Nothing, printed by Valentine Simmes for Andrew Wise and William Aspley (London, 1600).


Much Ado About Nothing, ed. David Bevington, Bantam Classics (New York, 1988).


Much Ado About Nothing, ed. F. S. Boas, Select Plays of Shakespeare (Oxford, 1916).


Much Ado About Nothing, ed. R. A. Foakes, New Penguin Shakespeare (New York, 1968).


Much Ado About Nothing, ed. Horace Howard Furness, A New Variorum Edition (1899; repr. New York, 1964).


Much Ado About Nothing, ed. Charlton Hinman, Shakespeare Quarto Facsimiles (Oxford, 1971).


Much Ado About Nothing, ed. A. R. Humphreys, Arden2 (London, 1981).


Much Ado About Nothing, ed. F. H. Mares, New Cambridge Shakespeare (Cambridge, 1988).


Much Ado About Nothing, ed. Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine, New Folger (New York, 1995).


Much Ado About Nothing, ed. A. G. Newcomer, Parallel Passage Edition (Redwood City, CA, 1929).


Much Ado About Nothing, ed. J. C. Smith, Heath's English Classics (Boston, 1902).


Much Ado About Nothing, ed. David L. Stevenson, Signet Classics (New York, 1964).


Much Ado About Nothing, ed. Grace Trenery, Arden Shakespeare (London, 1924).

tucker brooke

Much Ado About Nothing, ed. C. F. Tucker Brooke, Yale Shakespeare (New Haven, CT, 1917).

pg 1005


Much Ado about Nothing, ed. Stanley Wells, in wells–taylor.


Much Ado About Nothing, ed. J. Dover Wilson, New Shakespeare (Cambridge, 1923).


Much Ado About Nothing, ed. Sheldon P. Zitner, Oxford Shakespeare (Oxford, 1993).

Other Works Cited

Blayney, Peter W. M., 'Introduction', in Charlton Hinman, ed., The Norton Facsimile: The First Folio of Shakespeare, with New Introduction by Peter W. M. Blayney (New York, 1996).

Clegg, Cyndia Susan, '"By the choise and inuitation of al the realme": Richard II and Elizabethan Press Censorship', SQ 48:4 (Winter 1997), 432–48.

Craven, Alan E., 'Compositor Analysis to Edited Text: Some Suggested Readings in Richard II and Much Ado about Nothing', PBSA 17 (1982), 43–62.

Duncan-Jones, Katherine, 'The Life, Death and Afterlife of Richard Tarlton', RES 65 (2014), 18–32.

Dyce, Alexander, Strictures on Mr. Collier's New Edition of Shakespeare, 1858 (London, 1859).

Grove, Sir George, Fuller-Maitland, John Alexander, Pratt, Waldo Selden, and Boyd, Charles Newell, Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians (New York, 1910).

McEachern, Claire, 'Fathering Herself: A Source Study of Shakespeare's Feminism', SQ 39 (1988), 269–90.

Mueller, Martin, 'Shakespeare's Sleeping Beauties: The Sources of Much Ado About Nothing and the Play of Their Repetitions', Modern Philology 1:3 (1994), 288–311.

Myers, Jeffrey Rayner, 'An Emended Much Ado About Nothing Act V Scene 3', PBSA 84:4 (1990), 413–18.

Scott, Mary Augusta, 'The Book of the Courtyer: A Possible Source of Benedick and Beatrice', PMLA 16 (1901), 476.

Sexton, Joyce Hengerer, 'The Theme of Slander in Much Ado About Nothing and Garter's Susannah', PQ 54 (1975), 491–33.

Smith, John Hazel, 'The Composition of the Quarto of Much Ado About Nothing', Studies in Bibliography 16 (1963), 9–26.

Wells, Stanley, 'A Crux in Much Ado About Nothing', SQ 31 (1985), 85–6.

Wells, Stanley, 'Editorial Treatment of Foul-paper Texts: Much Ado About Nothing as Test Case', RES 31 (1980), 1–16.

Werstine, Paul, 'The Bodmer Copy of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing Q1', N&Q 30 (1983), 123–4.

Wiles, David, Shakespeare's Clown: Actor and Text in the Elizabethan Playhouse (Cambridge, 1987).

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