Nothing and noting in Much Ado About Nothing

Shakespeare writing a script with a wink on his face.

The title of this play refers to one of its main themes. 'Nothing' implies that the concerns of the play are trivial.

The word 'nothing' in Shakespearean times was pronounced 'noting' and so the title itself is a pun. There are many instances of 'noting' throughout the play: Claudio notes Hero's beauty, both Benedick and Beatrice note the words of their friends that lead them to love, Claudio and Don Pedro note Don John's trick to make them believe Hero is unfaithful. 'Noting' implies that the play deals with characters paying attention to each other and listening to what each other has to say.

'Nothing' was also a euphemism in Elizabethan times, referring to the female genitalia. The theme also refers to sexual desire and the quest for love.

How is 'noting'/'nothing' shown in the play?

In Much Ado About Nothing, William Shakespeare shows the theme of nothing and noting through:

  • the title
  • Claudio's noting of Hero
  • Beatrice and Benedick's eavesdropping
How does Shakespeare show this?EvidenceAnalysis
The titleThe theme of the play is clear from the title, which can imply that the events of the play are ultimately trivial.The play opens with light-hearted banter between Beatrice and Benedick. This comedic opening seems to support the trivial nature of what will follow.
Claudio's noting of HeroClaudio falls instantly in love with Hero and asks Benedick whether he too has noted her."Benedick, didst thou note the daughter of Signior Leonato?" (Act 1 Scene 1) The theme of 'noting' is made clear from the start when Claudio seeks approval from his friend.
Beatrice and Benedick's eavesdroppingWhen Benedick is deceived and Beatrice is tricked, both 'note' the words of their friends."Why, these are very crotchets that he speaks; / Note, notes, forsooth, and nothing." (Act 2 Scene 3) Don Pedro plays on the word 'note' before Balthasar sings in the orchard. He knows that Benedick is hiding and will 'note' everything that Don Pedro and the others have to say.

Analysing the evidence

Question

How does Shakespeare use the theme of nothing and noting in Much Ado About Nothing?

  • To create comedy, highlighting the trivial nature of the action.
  • To show how foolish men can be in their pursuit of love.
  • To explore how 'noting' can cause problems.