A fuss about a trifle? I don’t think so. Marjorie Garber in Shakespeare After All lists some of the possible ways of looking at the word nothing. She points out that a zero is something of a paradox. It’s also a full circle or in other words, everything. And she informs us that “nothing” was Elizabethan slang for the female sexual organs, the penis being presumably “something.” The female genitalia are more subtle, they’re hidden. There’s a lot of ado in this play about things that are hidden.
The characters hide behind language and truth is obfuscated by words. Beatrice and Benedick try to hide their attraction to each other by insults, sarcasm and apparent hate. Though Dogberry knows the truth of the plot against Hero and Claudio, his mangling of the language almost loses his case. Because Hero and Claudio need others to speak for them, their own agency is hidden, putting them at the mercy of what other people say.
The most obvious big ado is about whether or not Hero is a virgin on her wedding day. The ado is about “nothing” because it involves Hero’s genitalia and it’s about nothing because nothing has happened except that a lot of men started talking about her. I’ll add one more gratuitous nothing: Nothing is so over-rated as virginity.
It’s amazing how fast everyone believes the accusation and the “proof” that Hero and Borachio (Borachio!) have been having it on the night before the wedding. Even Hero’s own father. I want to shake him and scream, “Have you even met your daughter?” She is so shy she can’t bear to refer to her own wedding night.
It’s like all the men are idiots except for Benedick. He is in love with Beatrice and her opinion sways him; but it’s to his credit that he’s in love with such a fiery, engaging, witty, impudent grown-up. I should mention the priest. Priests need a good word when it’s warranted. He believes Hero and Beatrice. He shows some Solomon-like wisdom is proposing to put it about that Hero has died in order to see what hidden facts that flushes out.
The truth of the framing of Hero is hidden in Dogberry’s mind but between his malapropisms and his anxiety to be “writ down an ass,” it almost doesn’t get revealed.
I have always liked this play. The fun of it will always be the sparring and the love between Beatrice and Benedick.
*Beatrice: I wonder that you will still be talking, Signoir Benedick: Nobody marks you.
Benedick: What! My dear Lady Disdain, are you yet living? (I, i)
*Benedick, the married man. (I, i)
*As merry as the day is long (II, i)
*It keeps on the windy side of care (II, i)
*He that hath a beard is more than a youth; and he that hath no beard is less than a man; and he that is no more than a youth is not for me; and he that is less than a man, I am not for him. (II, i)
*There was a star danced and under that was I born. (II, i)
*I will tell you my drift. (II, i)
*Bait the hook well, this fish will bite (II, iii)
*When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live til I were married. (II, iii)
*He hath a heart as sound as a bell and his tongue is the clapper; for what his heart thinks his tongue speaks. (III, ii)
*Thou wilt be condemned to everlasting redemption for this (IV, ii)
*O that he were here to write me down an ass! (IV, ii)
*For there was never yet philosophers that could endure the toothache patiently (V, i)
*I was not born under a rhyming planet (V, ii)