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Allusion in Much Ado About Nothing

In Much Ado About Nothing Shakespeare uses allusions to Greek and Roman mythology, especially in the witty interactions between Beatrice and Benedick. There are also allusions to the Bible, which are used to characterize the personalities, values, and motives of different characters.

Allusion Examples in Much Ado About Nothing:

Act I - Scene I

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"clapped on the shoulder and called Adam..."   (Act I - Scene I)

This is a reference to Adam Bell, a character in the poem Of Sir Thomas Norrey by William Dunbar. Adam Bell is a legendary English outlaw and archer who lives in Carlisle, Cumbria. He has an altruistic nature much like that of Robin Hood.

"Cupid..."   (Act I - Scene I)

In Roman mythology, Cupid is the god of love and affection. He is known in Greek mythology as Eros. Cupid is depicted as being blind and carrying a bow and arrow.

"Vulcan..."   (Act I - Scene I)

Vulcan is the Roman god of fire, especially the fire from volcanoes. He is known in Greek mythology as Hephaestus. Vulcan is often depicted with a blacksmith’s hammer to show his expertise in the field.

"play the flouting Jack..."   (Act I - Scene I)

Here, the verb “to flout” means to quote or recite with a sarcastic purpose. Benedick asks if Claudio is trying to convince them of something they know not to be true. He refers to Cupid’s (usually blind) being able to see, and Vulcan’s (the famous blacksmith) being a great carpenter. Benedick wants to be sure that Claudio’s feelings about Hero are true.

"He hath borne himself beyond the promise of his age, doing in the figure of a lamb the feats of a lion...."   (Act I - Scene I)

The lion and the lamb are important mythological symbols, both commonly found in the Bible. The lamb represents meekness and docility, while the lion represents boldness and violence. The messenger’s metaphor suggests that Don Pedro’s frail exterior belies his forcefulness.

"with a ballad-maker's pen ..."   (Act I - Scene I)

This is most likely a tongue-in-cheek reference to Shakespeare himself, a poet as well as a playwright.

"Prester Don John's..."   (Act II - Scene I)

Prester John was thought to be the son of one of the Magi who visited Jesus at his birth.  He was believed to rule a Christian kingdom somewhere in Asia or Africa.

"the part of Lady Fame..."   (Act II - Scene I)

A reference to the Roman deity Fama (Rumor) who spreads news.

"that I had my good wit out of the Hundred Merry Tales..."   (Act II - Scene I)

Beatrice refers to an old and standard collection of tales and jokes, and Benedick has accused her of getting all her wittiness from this book.

"night raven..."   (Act II - Scene III)

In Renaissance and Elizabethan folklore, the night raven is an omen of disaster—in this case, Benedick mentions the plague.

" Is little Cupid'..."   (Act III - Scene I)

By the Renaissance and Elizabethan periods, Cupid, the god of love, is described as an infant-angel, no longer the crafty god of the Greeks and Romans.

"shaven Hercules..."   (Act III - Scene III)

This reference has not been identified.  In Greek mythology, there is no image or story involving a shaven Hercules.  It is possible that Shakespeare refers to Samson (whose strength was the result of his long hair, which was shaven on the orders of Delilah) of the story of Samson and Delilah, but that is a stretch.

"Troilus..."   (Act V - Scene II)

Troilus is a warrior in the Trojan War depicted in Roman mythology. In medieval literature, Troilus was written into a tragic love story with a woman Cressida. The couple is separated shortly after they fall in love when Cressida is traded to the Greeks for a Trojan soldier and taken as a paramour by a Grecian officer.

"Leander ..."   (Act V - Scene II)

Leander is a character from Greek mythology who swims across a narrow channel to his lover Hero every night. One night, a terrible storm blows out the lantern Hero places in her tower window to guide Leander’s journey. Lost in the channel without this light, Leander drowns.

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