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The story is from Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, B.v.
It is true, as Mr. Pope has observed, that something resembling the story of this play is to be found in the fifth book of the Orlando Furioso. In Spenser's Fairy Queen, as remote an original may be traced. A novel, however, of Belleforest, copied from another of Bandello, seems to have furnished Shakspeare with his fable, as it approaches nearer in all its circumstances to the play before us, than any other performance known to be extant. I have seen so many translations from this once popular collection, that I entertain no doubt but that the great majority of them have made their appearance in an English dress. Of that particular story which I have just mentioned, viz. the 18th history in the third volume, I have hitherto met with none.
This play may be fairly said to contain two of the
most sprightly characters that Shakspeare ever drew. The wit, the humourist, the gentleman, and the soldier, are combined in Benedick. It is to be lamented, indeed, that the first and most splendid of these distinctions, is disgraced by unnecessary profaneness; for the goodness of his heart is hardly sufficient to atone for the licence of his tongue. The innocent levity which flashes out in the conversation of Beatrice, receives a sanction from that steadiness and spirit of friendship to her cousin, so apparent in her behaviour, when she urges her lover to risk his own life by a challenge to Claudio. In the conduct of the fable, there is an imperfection similar to that which Dr. Johnson has pointed out in The Merry Wives of Windsor :- the second contrivance is less ingenious than the first ;—or, to speak more plainly, the same incident is become stale by repetition. I wish some other method had been found to entrap Beatrice, than that very stratagem which before had been successfully practised on Benedick.
STEEVENS. Mrs. Lenox, like Pope and the generality of critics, attributes the plot of this play to Ariosto. But I rather think with Steevens this is a mistake. Perhaps, as Dr. Farmer says, Shakspeare might have gone no further for it than the Geneura of Turberville.
Don Pedro, Prince of Arragon.
by Don Pedro.
DOGBERRY, } two foolish officers.
Hero, daughter to Leonato.
gentlewomen attending on Hero. URSULA,
Messengers, Watch, and Attendants.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING'.
ACT 1. SCENE I.
Before Leonato's House. Enter LEONATO, Hero, BEATRICE, and Others,
with a Messenger. Leon. I LEARN in this letter, that Don Pedro of Arragon comes this night to Messina.
Mess. He is very near by this; he was not three leagues off when I left him. · Leon. How many gentlemen have you lost in this action?
Mess. But few of any sort, and none of name.
Leon. A victory is twice itself, when the atchiever brings home full numbers. I find here, that Don Pedro hath bestowed much honour on a young Florentine, called Claudio.
Aless. Much deserved on his part, and equally remember'd by Don Pedro: He hath borne himself beyond the promise of his age; doing, in the figure of a lamb, the feats of a lion : he hath, indeed, better better'd expectation, than you must expect of me to tell you how.