Much Ado About Nothing: Act 1, Scene 1

           Enter LEONATO, governor of Messina,
           HERO his daughter, and BEATRICE
           his niece, with a Messenger.

  1   I learn in this letter that Don Pedro of Arragon
  2   comes this night to Messina.

3-4. by this: by this time. not three leagues off: less than three leagues away. —Three leagues equal 9 miles or 14.4 kilometers. "League" originally meant the distance a person could walk in an hour.
  3   He is very near by this: he was not three leagues
  4   off when I left him.

  5   How many gentlemen have you lost in this
6. action: military campaign.
  6   action?

7. But few of any sort, and none of name: few of any rank, and none of great reputation.
  7   But few of any sort, and none of name.

  8   A victory is twice itself when the achiever brings
  9   home full numbers. I find here that Don Pedro
 10   hath bestowed much honor on a young
 11   Florentine called Claudio.

12. equally remembered: honored as he deserved.
13-15. he hath borne ... a lion: i.e., he has achieved things that would not be expected of such a young man by accomplishing the feats of the lion while appearing to be a lamb. 15. bett'red: surpassed
 12   Much deserved on his part and equally remembered
 13   by Don Pedro: he hath borne himself beyond the
 14   promise of his age, doing, in the figure of a lamb,
 15   the feats of a lion: he hath indeed better bett'red
 16   expectation than you must expect of me to tell
 17   you how.

18. an uncle here in Messina: —Claudio's uncle is never again mentioned.  will: who will.
 18   He hath an uncle here in Messina will be very
 19   much glad of it.

 20   I have already delivered him letters, and there
 21   appears much joy in him; even so much that joy
22. modest: natural.
23. badge of bitterness: sign of sorrow; i.e., tears. —Although tears are the "badge of bitterness," Claudio's uncle probably cried tears of joy for the dangers that Claudio had escaped.
 22   could not show itself modest enough without a
 23   badge of bitterness.

 24   Did he break out into tears?

 25   In great measure.

26. kind: natural.  kindness: natural feeling (for a kinsman).
 26   A kind overflow of kindness: there are no faces
 27   truer than those that are so washed. How much
 28   better is it to weep at joy than to joy at
 29   weeping!

30. Signior Mountanto: —"Mountanto" is probably derived from the Italian word montanto, a fencing term meaning an upward thrust. Beatrice is being sarcastic, and her "Signior Mountanto" can be roughly translated as "Mr. Fancy Fighter."
 30   I pray you, is Signior Mountanto returned from
 31   the wars or no?

 32   I know none of that name, lady: there was none
 33   such in the army of any sort.

 34   What is he that you ask for, niece?

 35   My cousin means Signior Benedick of
 36   Padua.

37. pleasant: witty, jocular.
 37   O, he's returned; and as pleasant as ever
 38   he was.

39. bills: public notices, pasted on walls.
40. challeng'd Cupid at the flight: challenged Cupid to an archery contest. ...more 41. fool: jester. subscrib'd for Cupid: signed up to compete on behalf of Cupid. 42. burbolt: bird-bolt, a blunt-headed arrow used for shooting birds. ...more
44-45. I promis'd to eat all of his killing: —This is Beatrice's outrageous way of saying that Benedick isn't enough a soldier to kill anyone.
 39   He set up his bills here in Messina and
 40   challeng'd Cupid at the flight; and my uncle's
 41   fool, reading the challenge, subscrib'd for Cupid,
 42   and challenged him at the burbolt. I pray you,
 43   how many hath he killed and eaten in these wars?
 44   But how many hath he killed? for indeed I promis'd
 45   to eat all of his killing.

46. tax: criticize.
47. be meet with you: i.e., give as good as he gets. —As Leonato says later, there is a "kind of merry war" between Benedick and Beatrice; Leonato is predicting that Benedick will have as many witty things to say about Beatrice as she has to say about him.
 46   Faith, niece, you tax Signior Benedick too much;
 47   but he'll be meet with you, I doubt it not.

 48   He hath done good service, lady, in these
 49   wars.

50. musty: stale. holp: helped.
51. trencherman: good eater.
52. stomach: appetite. —Beatrice is punning. To "have a stomach" was to be proud and courageous, qualities appropriate to a soldier; Beatrice's point is that Benedick's stomach is only good for digesting food.
 50   You had musty victual, and he hath holp to eat it:
 51   he is a very valiant trencherman; he hath an
 52   excellent stomach.

 53   And a good soldier too, lady.

54. to: in comparison with.
 54   And a good soldier to a lady: but what is
 55   he to a lord?

 56   A lord to a lord, a man to a man; stuff'd with all
 57   honorable virtues.

58-59. stuff'd man: i.e., a dummy, not a real man.
59-60. but for the stuffing,— well, we are all mortal: as for his character—well, we all have our faults.
 58   It is so, indeed; he is no less than a stuff'd
 59   man: but for the stuffing,—well, we are all
 60   mortal.

 61   You must not, sir, mistake my niece. There is a
 62   kind of merry war betwixt Signior Benedick and her:
 63   they never meet but there's a skirmish of wit
 64   between them.

 65   Alas! he gets nothing by that. In our last
66. five wits: —Usually listed as memory, fantasy, judgment, imagination, and common wit. halting: limping.

71. to be known: i.e., in order that he may be recognized as.
72-73. sworn brother: brother in arms; friend with whom he has exchanged vows of lifelong fidelity.
 66   conflict four of his five wits went halting off, and
 67   now is the whole man governed with one: so that if
 68   he have wit enough to keep himself warm, let him
 69   bear it for a difference between himself and his
 70   horse; for it is all the wealth that he hath left,
 71   to be known a reasonable creature. Who is his
 72   companion now? He hath every month a new sworn
 73   brother.

 74   Is't possible?

75. faith: fidelity, loyalty.

77. block: wooden mold for shaping hats.

79. books: i.e., good books, favor.

80. an: if.  study: i.e., the room where one keeps books.
82. squarer: quarreller.
 75   Very easily possible: he wears his faith but as
 76   the fashion of his hat; it ever changes with the
 77   next block.

 78   I see, lady, the gentleman is not in your
 79   books.

 80   No; an he were, I would burn my study. But, I pray
 81   you, who is his companion? Is there no young
 82   squarer now that will make a voyage with
 83   him to the devil?

 84   He is most in the company of the right
 85   noble Claudio.

 86   O Lord, he will hang upon him like a disease: he
 87   is sooner caught than the pestilence, and the taker
88. presently: immediately.

90. 'a: he.

91. hold friends: keep on friendly terms. —The messenger is showing his appreciation of Beatrice's wit by saying that he'll keep himself on her good side so that he won't become her target.
 88   runs presently mad. God help the noble Claudio!
 89   if he have caught the Benedick, it will cost him a
 90   thousand pound ere 'a be cur'd.

 91   I will hold friends with you, lady.

 92   Do, good friend.

93. run mad: (1) go crazy. (2) i.e., catch the disease known as "the Benedick." — See above (line 88), "runs presently mad."
 93   You will never run mad, niece.

 94   No, not till a hot January.

 95   Don Pedro is approached.

           BALTHASAR, and [DON] JOHN the Bastard.

 96   Good Signior Leonato, you are come to meet
97. your trouble: i.e., the expense of entertaining me and my followers. 98. cost: expense.  you encounter it: you welcome it.

99. trouble: —Now Leonato is using the word "trouble" in the sense that is more familiar today (C.E. 2015).
 97   your trouble: the fashion of the world is to
 98   avoid cost, and you encounter it.

 99   Never came trouble to my house in the likeness of
100   your grace: for trouble being gone, comfort should
101   remain; but when you depart from me, sorrow abides
102   and happiness takes his leave.

103-104. embrace your charge: welcome your burden. I think this is your daughter: —Don Pedro is referring to Hero.

105. Her mother hath many times told me so: This is a guy joke, based on the idea that a wife will always be unfaithful, but always lie about it and assure her husband that the children are really his.
103   You embrace your charge too willingly. I think this
104   is your daughter.

105   Her mother hath many times told me so.

106   Were you in doubt, sir, that you asked her?

107. Signior Benedick, no; for then were you a child.: —This is another guy joke. ...more
Signior Benedick, no; for then were you
108   a child.

109. You have it full: You are well answered; have got back as good as you gave. ...more
111-112. fathers herself: shows who her father is (by her resemblance to him).  are like: resemble; have the same character as.

113-114. she would not have his head on her shoulders: i.e., she wouldn't want to look like an old man, even her father.  —Benedick's joke is pretty feeble, and no one is paying attention except Beatrice.

116. still: always.
117. nobody marks you: nobody is paying attention to you.

118-119. What, my dear Lady Disdain! are you yet living?: —Benedick's joke is that he would have expected Beatrice, "Lady Disdain," to die from the sheer boredom of looking down upon all of her inferiors.

121. meet: appropriate.
122. convert: change.
You have it full, Benedick: we may
110   guess by this what you are, being a man. Truly,
111   the lady fathers herself. Be happy, lady; for you are
112   like an honorable father.

113   If Signior Leonato be her father, she would not
114   have his head on her shoulders for all Messina, as
115   like him as she is.

116   I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior
117   Benedick: nobody marks you.

118   What, my dear Lady Disdain! are you yet
119   living?

120   Is it possible disdain should die while she hath
121   such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick?
122   Courtesy itself must convert to disdain, if you
123   come in her presence.

124   Then is courtesy a turncoat. But it is certain
125   I am loved of all ladies, only you excepted:
126   and I would I could find in my heart that I
127   had not a hard heart; for, truly, I love none.

128. dear happiness: great stroke of good fortune.
128   A dear happiness to women: they would else
129   have been troubled with a pernicious suitor. I
130-131. I am of your humor for that: I am of the same disposition in that matter; i.e., I, too, love no one.
130   thank God and my cold blood, I am of your
131   humor for that: I had rather hear my dog bark
132   at a crow than a man swear he loves me.

133   God keep your ladyship still in that mind!
134. 'scape: escape.
135. predestinate: inevitable (for anyone who marries Beatrice).
134   so some gentleman or other shall 'scape a
135   predestinate scratched face.

136   Scratching could not make it worse, an
137   'twere such a face as yours were.

138. rare: outstanding, excellent. parrot-teacher: i.e., one who would teach a parrot well because she says the same things over and over.
139-140. A bird of my tongue is better than a beast of yours: i.e., a bird taught to speak like me would be better than an beast taught to speak like you. —Beatrice's joke is that the bird says something, but the beast can't say anything at all.

142. so good a continuer: so able to go on and on.
138   Well, you are a rare parrot-teacher.

139   A bird of my tongue is better than a beast
140   of yours.

141   I would my horse had the speed of your tongue,
142   and so good a continuer. But keep your way,
143   i' God's name; I have done.

144. jade's trick: —A jade is a slacker horse, one which will drop out of a race before it is over.

146. That is the sum of all: —While Benedick and Beatrice have been exchanging insults, Don Pedro and Leonato have been talking; apparently Don Pedro has just finished explaining what he has been doing since Leonato has last seen him.
144   You always end with a jade's trick: I know
145   you of old.

146   That is the sum of all, Leonato. Signior
147   Claudio and Signior Benedick, my dear
148   friend Leonato hath invited you all. I tell
149   him we shall stay here at the least a month;
150   and he heartily prays some occasion may
151   detain us longer. I dare swear he is no hypocrite,
152   but prays from his heart.

153   If you swear, my lord, you shall not be forsworn.

           To DON JOHN.

154   Let me bid you welcome, my lord:
155-156. being: since you are. reconciled to the prince your brother: —In the "action" mentioned at the beginning of the scene, Don John fought against Don Pedro.
155   being reconciled to the prince your
156   brother, I owe you all duty.

      DON JOHN
157   I thank you: I am not of many words,
158   but I thank you.

159   Please it your grace lead on?

160   Your hand, Leonato; we will go
161   together.

[stage direction] Exeunt. Manent BENEDICK and CLAUDIO: All exit. Benedick and Claudio stay.
        Exeunt. Manent BENEDICK
        and CLAUDIO.

162   Benedick, didst thou note the daughter of
163   Signior Leonato?

164. I noted her not; but I looked on her: i.e., I saw her, but didn't see anything special.

165. modest: attractively well-behaved.
164   I noted her not; but I looked on her.

165   Is she not a modest young lady?

166   Do you question me, as an honest man
167   should do, for my simple true judgment;
168   or would you have me speak after my custom,
169. a professed tyrant to their sex: i.e., one who is known to criticize women at every opportunity.
169   as being a professed tyrant to their sex?

170   No; I pray thee speak in sober judgment.

171. low: short. —Benedick is punning; a "low" person is a rascal.
171   Why, i' faith, methinks she's too low for a high
172   praise, too brown for a fair praise and too little
173   for a great praise: only this commendation I can
174   afford her, that were she other than she is, she
175   were unhandsome; and being no other but as she
176   is, I do not like her.

177   Thou thinkest I am in sport: I pray thee tell me
178   truly how thou likest her.

179   Would you buy her, that you inquire after
180   her?

181   Can the world buy such a jewel?

182. case: (1) a jewel case (2) suit of clothes.
183. sad: serious. flouting Jack: mocking rascal.
184-185. to tell us ... carpenter: i.e., are you saying obviously stupid things, such as that Cupid (who is blindfolded) can spot rabbits, or that Vulcan (who was the blacksmith of the gods) is an excellent carpenter? 186. go in the song: sing in harmony with you.
182   Yea, and a case to put it into. But speak you this
183   with a sad brow? or do you play the flouting Jack,
184   to tell us Cupid is a good hare-finder and Vulcan a
185   rare carpenter? Come, in what key shall a man take
186   you, to go in the song?

187   In mine eye she is the sweetest lady that ever I
188   looked on.

189   I can see yet without spectacles and I see no such
190. her cousin: i.e., Beatrice.  an: if
190   matter: there's her cousin, an she were not
191   possessed with a fury, exceeds her as much in beauty
192   as the first of May doth the last of December. But I
193   hope you have no intent to turn husband,
194   have you?

195   I would scarce trust myself, though I had sworn the
196   contrary, if Hero would be my wife.

197-198. hath  . . .  suspicion?: i.e., is there no man in the world who will not stay unmarried? ...more
199. bachelor of three-score: sixty-year old bachelor.
200-202. Go ... Sundays: i.e., you've got to be kidding, really, if you will insist upon thrusting your neck into the yoke of marriage, wearing the imprint of that yoke, and sighing away Sundays. 202. Sundays: —On a Sunday it's very hard for a man to find an excuse to get out of the house and get away from his wife.
197   Is't come to this? In faith, hath not the world
198   one man but he will wear his cap with suspicion?
199   Shall I never see a bachelor of three-score again?
200   Go to, i' faith; an thou wilt needs thrust thy neck
201   into a yoke, wear the print of it, and sigh away
202   Sundays. Look, Don Pedro is returned to
203   seek you.

           Enter DON PEDRO.

204   What secret hath held you here, that you followed
205   not to Leonato's?

206   I would your grace would constrain me to
207   tell.

208   I charge thee on thy allegiance.

209-210. I can be secret as a dumb man: I can keep a secret as well as a man who is a mute.

212-213. that is your grace's part: i.e., that is for you to ask him.
Mark how short his answer is: i.e., Notice that there is a clue in his very short (= silent) answer. 214. short daughter: The part of Hero was played by a short boy, who ...more
209   You hear, Count Claudio: I can be secret as a
210   dumb man; I would have you think so; but, on
211   my allegiance, mark you this, on my allegiance.
212   He is in love. With who? now that is your grace's
213   part. Mark how short his answer is;—With Hero,
214   Leonato's short daughter.

215. If this were so, so were it utt'red: i.e., if I really were in love, and if I really were asked who I loved, my answer would indeed be very short.
216. old tale: In the English fairy tale known as "Mr. Fox," a murderous wooer, ...more
215   If this were so, so were it uttered.

216   Like the old tale, my lord: 'it is not so, nor
217   'twas not so, but, indeed, God forbid it should
218   be so'.

219. shortly: —Notice that as Claudio begins to break down and confesses his love for Hero, he also picks up on Benedick's joke about Hero being short.
219   If my passion change not shortly, God forbid it
220   should be otherwise.

221   Amen, if you love her; for the lady is
222   very well worthy.

223. fetch me in: take me in, get me to confess.
223   You speak this to fetch me in, my lord.

224   By my troth, I speak my thought.

225   And, in faith, my lord, I spoke mine.

226   And, by my two faiths and troths, my
227   lord, I spoke mine.

228   That I love her, I feel.

229   That she is worthy, I know.

230   That I neither feel how she should be loved
231   nor know how she should be worthy, is the
232   opinion that fire cannot melt out of me: I will
233   die in it at the stake.

234-235. Thou wast ever an obstinate heretic in the despite of beauty: you have always been an obstinate heretic (in the religion of love) by your despising of beauty.

236-237. And never could maintain his part but in the force of his will: and never could hold up his end of the argument except by mere wilfulness.

240-241. that I will  . . .  forehead: i.e., that I should wear a cuckold's horns. ...more 241. baldrick: a holster strap. ...more 242. shall pardon me: must excuse me from.
234   Thou wast ever an obstinate heretic in
235   the despite of beauty.

236   And never could maintain his part but in the
237   force of his will.

238   That a woman conceived me, I thank her; that
239   she brought me up, I likewise give her most
240   humble thanks: but that I will have a recheat
241   winded in my forehead, or hang my bugle in
242   an invisible baldrick, all women shall pardon me.
243   Because I will not do them the wrong to mistrust
244   any, I will do myself the right to trust none; and
245. fine: conclusion. go the finer: —As a bachelor, Benedick will have more to spend on fine clothes.
245   the fine is, for the which I may go the finer, I will
246   live a bachelor.

247   I shall see thee, ere I die, look pale with
248   love.

249   With anger, with sickness, or with hunger, my lord,
250-251. prove: i.e., if you can show. I lose  . . .  drinking: It was a common belief that sighing (characteristic of lovers) consumed the blood, but that wine generated fresh blood. 252. a ballad-maker's pen: i.e., a pen that would be used to write love ballads. 253. sign: —Inns, shops, etc. were identified by painted signs. An image of Cupid would be appropriate for a sign hung in front of a brothel.

256. notable argument: i.e., a well-known example in discussions of the topic of marriage.

257. bottle: wicker case. Sometimes a cat was suspended in such a container as a target for archers.
259. Adam: Perhaps an allusion to Adam Bell, an archer outlaw celebrated in ballads for his skill.

260-261. try: test, show. In time the savage bull doth bear the yoke: —In an earlier play, Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy, Lorenzo tries to reassure Balthazar that a woman's heart can be won over by saying "In time the savage Bull sustains the yoke." 262.  sensible: rational.

264. vilely: wretchedly.
250   not with love: prove that ever I lose more blood
251   with love than I will get again with drinking, pick
252   out mine eyes with a ballad-maker's pen and hang
253   me up at the door of a brothel-house for the sign of
254   blind Cupid.

255   Well, if ever thou dost fall from this faith, thou
256   wilt prove a notable argument.

257   If I do, hang me in a bottle like a cat and shoot
258   at me; and he that hits me, let him be clapped on
259   the shoulder, and called Adam.

260   Well, as time shall try: 'In time the savage bull
261   doth bear the yoke'.

262   The savage bull may; but if ever the sensible
263   Benedick bear it, pluck off the bull's horns and set
264   them in my forehead: and let me be vilely painted,
265   and in such great letters as they write 'Here is
266   good horse to hire', let them signify under my sign
267   'Here you may see Benedick the
268   married man'.

269   If this should ever happen, thou wouldst
270. horn-mad: i.e., a cuckold who is as crazy as a raging bull.
270   be horn-mad.

271-272. if ... in Venice: if Cupid hasn't shot all of his arrows in Venice. —Venice was home to the world's most alluring courtesans, and so a natural playground for Cupid. quake: i.e., quake with awe at the power of love, and quake with the chills and fever of a sexually transmitted disease. 273. earthquake: i.e., a once-in-a-thousand years event.
271   Nay, if Cupid have not spent all his quiver in
272   Venice, thou wilt quake for this shortly.

273   I look for an earthquake too, then.

274. you temporize with the hours: i.e., you are wasting time by trying to put off the moment when you become a married man.
274   Well, you temporize with the hours. In the
275   meantime, good Signior Benedick, repair to
276   Leonato's: commend me to him and tell him I will
277   not fail him at supper; for indeed he hath made
278   great preparation.

279. matter: substance; i.e., wit, intelligence.
280. and so I commit you: — "I commit you to the tuition of God" was a stock expression of farewell, like "goodbye" (short for "God be with ye"). Claudio and Don Pedro mock Benedick by extending it, as though it were the closing of a letter. 281. tuition: guidance, protection.
279   I have almost matter enough in me for such an
280   embassage; and so I commit you—

281   To the tuition of God: From my house,
282   if I had it,—

283   The sixth of July: Your loving friend,
284   Benedick.

285-289. The body of your ... conscience: — Benedick warns Don Pedro and Claudio against thinking that they are wits. ...more
288. flout: mock, jeer at. old ends: (1) old remnants of cloth: (2) old-fashioned, conventional closings [of speeches or letters].
285   Nay, mock not, mock not. The body of your
286   discourse is sometime guarded with fragments,
287   and the guards are but slightly basted on neither:
288   ere you flout old ends any further, examine your
289   conscience: and so I leave you.


290   My liege, your highness now may do me good.

291. My love is thine to teach: i.e., my love for you is eager to learn (how to do you good).
291   My love is thine to teach: teach it but how,
292   And thou shalt see how apt it is to learn
293   Any hard lesson that may do thee good.

294   Hath Leonato any son, my lord?

295   No child but Hero; she's his only heir.
296. affect: love.
296   Dost thou affect her, Claudio?

296                                                   O, my lord,
297. ended action: military campaign now ended.

301. now I: now that I.
297   When you went onward on this ended action,
298   I look'd upon her with a soldier's eye,
299   That liked, but had a rougher task in hand
300   Than to drive liking to the name of love:
301   But now I am return'd and that war-thoughts
302   Have left their places vacant, in their rooms
303   Come thronging soft and delicate desires,
304   All prompting me how fair young Hero is,
305   Saying, I liked her ere I went to wars.

306. presently: any moment now.
307. book of words: i.e., whole book of lovers' speeches.

309. break with: broach the subject to.

311. twist: spin, draw out the thread of.
306   Thou wilt be like a lover presently
307   And tire the hearer with a book of words.
308   If thou dost love fair Hero, cherish it,
309   And I will break with her and with her father,
310   And thou shalt have her. Was't not to this end
311   That thou began'st to twist so fine a story?

312   How sweetly you do minister to love,
313. his complexion: its outward appearance. —Claudio is grateful that Don Pedro can see that he is in love just by looking at him, so he doesn't have to do too much explaining.  315. salv'd it: i.e., put a better face on it.   treatise: explanation, justification.

316. What  . . .  flood?: what need is there for a bridge to be longer than the stream is wide? ...more 317. The fairest grant is the necessity: the best gift is the one that is urgently needed. ...more  318. Look, what: whatever. 'tis once: i.e., in short, it's enough that.

323. in her bosom I'll unclasp my heart: to her private hearing I'll open the book of my heart.

328. In practise let us put it presently: let's put this plan into action immediately.
313   That know love's grief by his complexion!
314   But lest my liking might too sudden seem,
315   I would have salv'd it with a longer treatise.

316   What need the bridge much broader than the flood?
317   The fairest grant is the necessity.
318   Look what will serve is fit: 'tis once, thou lovest,
319   And I will fit thee with the remedy.
320   I know we shall have revelling tonight:
321   I will assume thy part in some disguise
322   And tell fair Hero I am Claudio,
323   And in her bosom I'll unclasp my heart
324   And take her hearing prisoner with the force
325   And strong encounter of my amorous tale:
326   Then after to her father will I break;
327   And the conclusion is, she shall be thine.
328   In practise let us put it presently.