Much Ado About… the Title



In the histories and tragedies, they’re pretty simple: Who is the play about? Who ends up in a body bag at the end? Sure, it’s an over-simplification, but when character names are in the title, it’s pretty straightforward.

[of course, the words are barely on the page before re-evaluation begins… next month’s play, Julius Caesar, takes that little proposition and does a little jig on it. still, you get what I mean…]

In the comedies, dark comedies (the so-called problem plays) and tragicomedies (romances), titles can get a little dicey. There are some straightforward ones: The Tempest, The Taming of the Shrew, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and The Merry Wives of Windsor. Then there are the ones that seem more like tone-setters: The Comedy of Errors, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, even Love’s Labor’s Lost.

And then there are the “whaaaa? titles. You know, the ones that are on par with Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35,” Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog,” and the Who’s “Baba O’Riley”: All’s Well that Ends Well, Twelfth Night, and

Much Ado About Nothing.

Now, we’ve spent much (pun, get it?) of the last week or so breaking down words that tie in with the title.

Nothing, and its homophone (at least contemporarily), noting.

So the title means…

A great deal of fuss or trouble about

  • (in regards to noting): listening or paying attention
  • (in regards to nothing): sex
  •  (in regards to nothing): something of no importance

If it’s the first one, then the title is either ironic or a misnomer; it’s really much ado about not paying attention or listening (because if the characters were more observant, then much of the plot would be moot).

If it’s the middle argument–sex–then this play is reduced to hinging on the sexual act. But this isn’t the case. The only sex in the play, between Borachio and Margaret, happens off-stage.

So then we find ourselves at the end.

A great fuss over something of little importance. And it does make sense:

  • Does the Beatrice/Benedick romance have any great consequence? Not really.
  • While Much Ado may have more references to “fashion” than any other play, in the world of the play, what is commonly seen as fashion–style–is looked upon with relative dismissiveness.
  • Even the war that precedes the action of the play doesn’t seem to have much consequence; none of any name (value) have been lost, and even the losers are reconciled with the victors (rather than being imprisoned or executed).

And yet…

There are life-and-death stakes involved, stemming from the out-sized reaction of the prince and Claudio to what they believe is Hero’s pre-nuptial nooky.

Life and death. That would be great fuss or trouble. But the nooky? We had ruled that earlier. So am I ready to amend my thinking about sweet nothings? No.

I know this is a purely twentieth century viewpoint (look, I’m old, but certainly not as old-school as the Elizabethan worldview), however, maybe what’s of no importance is the obsession on female chastity. It’s the root of so much hand-wringing and obsession in the play. The worst wedding ever. The horns-on-the-brain fixation by the male characters on becoming a cuckold. Even the women are reduced seeing pre-marital sex as bad (remember Margaret’s “heavier” commentary before the wedding).

I’m not saying all women should be or are promiscuous. But maybe what’s good for the gander is good for the goose. There doesn’t seem to be an issue with the male characters making use of prostitutes in the world of this play (and others), so male sexuality seems to be just fine, thank you very much.

It’s female sexuality that’s scary.

So maybe it is nothing. Not the sex, mind you, but the naught, the zero, the hole, that’s of no importance, even if it is the cause of all this fuss.

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