Much Ado About Nothing


by William Shakespeare
The Shakespearean comedy, " Much Ado About Nothing", though
a light-hearted romp, is not without more complex
dimension. In a brief teasing exchange among the women,
Margaret's sassy comment to Beatrice (IV.i.79-92), though a
seemingly trivial passage, contains in a nutshell one of
the play's central themes. Throughout the different
scenarios, there is an extended play on words having to do
with the image of food and eating. 

Words are likened to food, "[Claudio's] words are a very
fantastical banquet, just so many strange dishes."
(II.iii.20-21) Words become the characters' sustenance and
those that lack it, like the silent Hero, "die". In order
to bring Hero back to life, words must be eaten, the very
same words that condemned her, by those who accused her.
This pattern of the throwing out words then later eating
them become essential to resolving conflict within the
play. Margaret's short speech is a response to Beatrice's
demand of an explanation of the former's broad hints about
Benedick. In answering, Margaret is purposely ironic, that
is, she says exactly the opposite of what she means. "You
may think perchance that I think you are in love. Nay, by'r
lady, I am not such a fool to think what I list, nor I list
not to think what I can, nor indeed I cannot think, if I
would think my heart out of thinking, that you are in love,
or that you will be in love, or that you can be in love."
(IV.i.80-86) Although this is deliberate coyness on
Margaret's part, the oppositeness of implicit meaning and
explicit words is reminiscent of Dogberry's similar,
albeit, unconscious habit and in keeping with the prevalent
tone of sarcasm generated by the bickering of Beatrice and

These small instances of antilogy are telling of the one of
a much grander scale. Every character in the play either
consciously or unconsciously lies. Beatrice and Benedick
both lie unconsciously when they each vow never to get
married. Claudio, Don Pedro, and even her own father, for a
moment, unknowingly ally themselves with the conscious lie
about Hero perpetuated by Don John and Borachio. Hero,
Leonato and Antonio all willingly participate in the
Friar's deceitful scheme of pretending Hero is dead. If
Claudio's words of love and romance are compared by
Benedick to a banquet (II.iii.20-21), these lies are
"poison" (II.ii.21) which turn such idealized figures as
lovers and maids into "oysters" (II.iii.24) and
"contaminated stale" (II.ii.25) Once more apparent are the
food images. Finding out the truth is tantamount to eating
one's words. 

Indeed, with the playwright's numerous puns on food (the
civil orange), references to appetite (Benedick's queasy
stomach), and occasional direct phrase, ("Will you not eat
your word?") it is not entirely unexpected. Margaret
plainly says this as she predicts the outcome of Beatrice
and Benedick's merry, romantic subplot. "Yet Benedick was
such another, and now is he become a man. He swore he would
never marry, and yet now in despite of his heart he eats
his meat without grudging; and how you may be converted I
know not, for methinks you look with your eyes as other
women do." (IV.i.86-92) The metaphor of "eating his meat
without grudging" is glaringly conspicuous. In Elizabethan
English, the phrase meant "has an appetite like any other
man", and is a large enough hint if interpreted this way.
But the pun of the line is even more obvious to the modern
reader given its common contemporary usage. 

In Shakespeare's farcical play, Much Ado About Nothing,
there is clearly a considerable ado over the mundane ritual
of eating. The playwright pointedly invests a special
import in food, whose role as a basic necessity almost
always renders it an integral but invisible component in
stories about people. Despite appearances, this frothy
comedy the Bard serves up certainly offers some food for


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