Much Ado About … Fashion

Yesterday, we started to talk about the large number of references to clothing and apparel in Much Ado About Nothing, and I alluded to a couple of things that I didn’t discuss in detail before calling it a night. So when we left off, I had just mentioned that the word “fashion” is used more in Much Ado than in any other play in the Canon.

So how many more?

Henry V has the most among the histories with 6 uses in 5 speeches; among the tragedies, it’s Hamlet that takes the fore with 7 uses in as many speeches. The tragicomedies/romances have only 3 total uses in the four plays, and the problem plays are pretty scarce in terms of fashion as well, with Troilus and Cressida having the most with 6 uses in 5 speeches. The comedies show a little more fashion, as might be expected: 7 in both Love’s Labor’s Lost and The Taming of the Shrew, and 6 in As You Like It, and 5 in The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

In 19 speeches, there are 23 uses of “fashion” in Much Ado About Nothing.

That’s quite the fashion gap between Much Ado and all the other plays in the Canon.

The word can be used as both a noun and a verb. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2014. Web. 15 October 2014.) there are a number of meanings at use during Shakespeare’s day.

1. The action or process of making.
a. Make, build, shape.
b. Spoken of as an attribute; form as opposed to matter.
c. Face, features.
a. A particular make, shape, style, or pattern.
b. esp. with reference to attire: a particular ‘cut’ or style.
c. A device, material or immaterial.
4. Kind, sort. Now rare. Also in fashion to: of a kind to.
a. Manner, mode, way
c. A method of doing anything.
a. Mode of action, bearing, behaviour, demeanour, ‘air’
b. pl. Actions, gestures, ‘ways’.
7. Outward action or ceremony; a mere form, pretence.
a. A prevailing custom, a current usage.
b. In pl. often = ‘Manners and customs’ (of nations), ‘ways’ (of men);
c. spec. with regard to apparel or personal adornment.
10. the fashion:
a. The mode of dress, etc., adopted in society for the time being.
12. (man, woman) of fashion : Of high quality or breeding.

a. trans. To give fashion or shape to; to form, mould, shape
c. To make good-looking; to beautify.
a. To form, frame, make. rare.
b. To contrive, manage. Obs.
a. To give a specified shape to
a. To change the fashion of; to modify, transform.
b. To counterfeit, pervert. Obs.
a. To give (a person) a fashion or form suitable to or to do (something)
b. To present the form of; to represent.

Let’s try to align the uses with the meanings:

Usage Meaning
he wears his faith but as the fashion of his hat; it ever changes with the next block
 n. 10a
It’s the current usage or fad; Benedick will change soon enough.
Don Pedro
the fashion of the world is to avoid cost, and you encounter it.
 n. 8a
It’s the prevailing custom, the way of the world.
Don John
it better fits my blood to be disdained of all than to fashion a carriage to rob love from any
 v. 1c
He doesn’t want to fit in; he will not beautify his actions.
What fashion will you wear the garland of?
 n. 3b
“What style?” is the question, with current fads playing little or no part in the decision.
Don Pedro
I would fain have it a match, and I doubt not but to fashion it, if you three will but minister such assistance as I shall give you direction.
 v. 2a (and b)
Pedro will frame this match, but it may take some contriving.
in the meantime I will so fashion the matter that Hero shall be absent
 v. 2b
Definitely contriving.
I have known when he would have walked ten mile a-foot to see a good armor; and now will he lie ten nights awake, carving the fashion of a new doublet.
 n. 3b and 10a
Definitely a discussion of style; the only point of contention is whether it’s the current fad or not.
No, not to be so odd and from all fashions
As Beatrice is, cannot be commendable:
 n. 6a
Beatrice’s behavior and bearing (“carping” at men) is critique-worthy.
And here is where we find the scene most saturated with “fashion”: the pre-arrest conversation between Don John’s men, Borachio and Conrad…
Thou knowest that the fashion of a doublet, or a hat, or a cloak, is nothing to a man.
 n. 3b or 10a
As with Benedick two entries earlier, this definitely is a discussion of style; the only point of contention is whether it’s the current fad or not.
I mean, the fashion.
 n. 7
When Conrad equates fashion with style (as of apparel), Borachio tries (albeit ambiguously–and going off on a tangent) to clarify his meaning of “the mere form (or) pretense.”
Yes, the fashion is the fashion.
 n. 3b then 10a
Conrad tries to refer to style, both in general and within the context of the current vogue.
Tush! I may as well say the fool’s the fool. But seest thou not what a deformed thief this fashion is?
 n. 10a
“This” fashion is the Conrad had just discussed, style.
Seest thou not, I say, what a deformed thief this fashion is? how giddily a’ turns about all the hot bloods between fourteen and five-and-thirty? sometimes fashioning them like Pharaoh’s soldiers in the reeky painting, sometime like god Bel’s priests in the old church-window, sometime like the shaven Hercules in the smirched worm-eaten tapestry, where his codpiece seems as massy as his club?
 n. 10a, v. 4a
Again, “this” fashion, the faddish style that young men (between the ages of 14 and 35) care about. And “this” fashion “counterfeits (or) perverts” these young men.
All this I see; and I see that the fashion wears out more apparel than the man. But art not thou thyself giddy with the fashion too, that thou hast shifted out of thy tale into telling me of the fashion?
 n. 8a, 7, 5c
The current custom (of conforming to fads) wears out both men and clothes. But Conrade claims Borachio himself obsesses over style and pretense, as well, since he has been sidetracked by this talk of fads.
and your gown’s a most rare fashion, i’ faith. I saw the Duchess of Milan’s gown that they praise so.
 n. 3b
Hero’s gown is in a specialized cut or style.
But for a fine, quaint, graceful and excellent fashion, yours is worth ten on ‘t.
 n. 3b
After describing, in detail, the intricacies of the gown, Margaret again praises its style.
Friar Francis
Let this be so, and doubt not but success
Will fashion the event in better shape
Than I can lay it down in likelihood.
 v. 1a (plus c)
The success of the friar’s plan (to fake Hero’s death) will shape the event of Claudio’s repentance better than the friar can describe it.
Scrambling, out-facing, fashion-monging boys,
That lie and cog and flout, deprave and slander,
 n. 10a, but more importantly 7
Antonio accuses the prince and Claudio of peddling the latest fad in dress, while also insulting them as not authentic, but mere pretense.
And I’ll be sworn upon’t that he loves her;
For here’s a paper written in his hand,
A halting sonnet of his own pure brain,
Fashion’d to Beatrice.
 v. 3a
Because the poem is a sonnet, Benedick has had to give it a specified shape or form.


That’s quite a bit of “fashion” in Much Ado. In those definitions, there’s a great deal of false behavior, mere pretense, and contriving. In other words, there’s a lot of “nothing” that’s attempting to cover up what’s genuine and authentic.

So in a sense, Much Ado About Nothing is a great deal of “fuss (or) trouble” (“ado, n.; 2 and 3” OED Online) about false behavior, mere pretense, and contriving.


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