Vocabulary in Much Ado About Nothing
Vocabulary Examples in Much Ado About Nothing:
Act I - Scene I
"temporize..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
The verb “to temporize” means to adapt oneself to the time and circumstances. It also means to let time pass. Don Pedro uses both meanings of the word here, implying that as time passes for Benedick, his love for Hero will either pass or diminish.
"play the flouting Jack..." See in text (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.
"jade's trick..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
Although the noun “jade” usually refers to the gemstone, Beatrice uses a different meaning here: a “jade” is a playful name for a contemptuous or inferior horse. Beatrice calls Benedick a jade to insinuate that he dropped out of their battle of wits because of his inferiority.
"birdbolt..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
A “birdbolt” is a kind of blunt-headed arrow used for shooting birds, often used in beginner’s level archery. Beatrice mocks Benedick here, suggesting that he can’t do serious damage in love or war because of his novice status.
"but that I will have a recheate winded in my forehead,..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
The word “recheate” is an archaic term for the call hunters issue to summon their hounds to retreat. Benedick’s idea here is that, having left the womb of his mother, he does not wish to be summoned back to the world of women by way of marriage.
"Is there no young squarer now that will make a voyage with him to the devil..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
A “squarer” is an archaic word that means “quarreler.” Shakespeare may have invented this definition of the word, as Beatrice’s line of dialogue is the oldest known record of its use.
"You had musty victual, and he hath holp to eat it. He is a very valiant trencherman;..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
Beatrice’s comments about Benedick introduce their relationship, defined by mutual teasing. Here Beatrice is calling Benedick gluttonous. The word “victual” is an archaic synonym for “food,” and “trencherman” refers to a big eater.
"Alas! He gets nothing by that. In our last conflict four of his five wits went halting off, and now is the(55) whole man governed with one..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
Leonato’s niece Beatrice hears the news that Don Pedro and his company are visiting. Included in the group is Benedick—Beatrice’s “sworn enemy.” Every time the two meet, they continue their battle of wits. In this passage, Beatrice proclaims her victory from their last encounter and how Benedick is now left with only one wit. Beatrice’s statement implies that Benedick is even less intelligent and witty than a half-wit, or fool.
"What, my dear Lady Disdain! are you yet living?..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
Beatrice and Benedick have some of the wittiest dialogue in this romantic comedy. Here, Beatrice starts this round of insults by asking Benedick why he continues to speak if no one is listening to him. She knows how much he loves the attention he gets from others, and so this insult is meant to deflate his ego. His response includes the first of many playful nicknames that Benedick continues to use throughout the play. He calls her “Lady Disdain” to accuse her of disliking everything and to show that her insult did no harm. She responds with just as witty a retort, saying that he provides so much disdain for her to feed on that she'll never die.
Act II - Scene I
"lead his apes into hell...." See in text (Act II - Scene I)
The meaning of the phrase “leading apes into hell” is highly contested. Many agree that it is a proverbial punishment for being an “old maid,” a term synonymous with “spinster,” or an unmarried woman without children. This expression represents the threat of the fate that awaits such women. The “bear-ward” is someone who keeps bears, and sometimes apes, and leads them out for public exhibition. Here, Beatrice doesn’t think the old-maid punishment applies to her, and she says she will gladly take money to lead the bear-ward’s ape into hell.
"that I stood like a man at a mark, with a whole army shooting at me...." See in text (Act II - Scene I)
“Poniards” are small, slim daggers. The fact that Benedick is so hurt by Beatrice’s pointed criticisms indicates that he cares very much about her opinion of him. Note again the imagery of weapons and battle in these lines, further emphasizing the theme of love and courtship as warfare. In a more general sense, Benedick and Beatrice’s constant verbal sparring also resembles a war of sorts.
"like an usurer's chain?..." See in text (Act II - Scene I)
A “usurer” is a person who lends money with interest. The term is usually used to connote someone who specifically lends money with very high rates of interest. During Elizabethan times, merchants were the main usurers, and gold chains were a fashion amongst them.
"Scotch jig..." See in text (Act II - Scene I)
A “Scotch jig,” or “Scottish Jig,” is a type of fast-paced and lively folk dance. Here, Beatrice compares love and courtship to a dance. She divides love into various stages: it begins swiftly and excitedly, but it slows significantly after marriage before eventually meeting its end. Shakespeare thus shows the theme of love as a kind of masquerade or game. Courtship is a series of whimsical, but fleeting stages and social procedures, rather than a unique and lasting connection between individuals.
"Would it not grieve a woman to be overmastered with a piece of valiant dust? ..." See in text (Act II - Scene I)
Once again, the readers witness Beatrice’s sharp tongue at work and her wittiness, which is specifically used to mock the idea of falling in love or getting married in this context. She believes that it will “grieve,” or be miserable for, a woman to be “overmaster’d” or committed to a man, who she calls a “piece of valiant dust,” or, in other words, a handful of dust. This metaphor implies that men are unreliable, and as a result, Beatrice despises the idea that women must be subservient to men.
Act II - Scene III
"Yea, just so much as you may take upon a knife's point,(230) and choke a daw withal...." See in text (Act II - Scene III)
A “daw” or “jackdaw” is a type of bird. When Beatrice says that it did not pain her to bring Benedick the message that dinner was served, he asks hopefully if she instead took pleasure in it. But Beatrice replies that it pleasures her as much as “[one] may take upon a knife's point, and choke a daw withal.” As jackdaws eat very small amounts of grain, her witty reply means that she took little pleasure in delivering her message to him.
"kid-fox..." See in text (Act II - Scene III)
A “kid fox” is a young fox, but here it means something like “crafty young man.” Claudio means that the group will give Benedick—now in hiding—more than he has bargained for.
"I will not be sworn but love may transform me to an oyster; but I'll take my oath on it, till he have made an oyster of me he shall never make me such a fool...." See in text (Act II - Scene III)
Oysters are thought to be aphrodisiacs and are thus often used as a symbol for attraction and love. When Benedick says that he “will not be sworn but love may transform [him] to an oyster,” he means that true love may eventually affect him in the way that it does Claudio. However, Benedick stresses that until he has found a true love who possesses all of the qualities that he desires, he will not be made a fool by romance.
"Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,(60) Men were deceivers ever, One foot in sea and one on shore, To one thing constant never:..." See in text (Act II - Scene III)
“Sigh no more” could be interpreted as do not cry or feel sad anymore. Its repetition along with the following line reflect a tone of acceptance. “One foot in sea and one on shore” suggests unfaithfulness and unwillingness to commit to a relationship. “To one thing constant never” can be interpreted in a more general context; it is essentially saying that men can never be “constant” or devoted to anything.
Act III - Scene I
"woodbine coverture...." See in text (Act III - Scene I)
Ursula is referring to the arbour—previously called the “pleached”—with another pair of uncommon words. “Woodbine” refers to any crawling plant or vine, one which “binds” to “wood.” A coverture refers to any covering or canopy.
"Now begin, For look where Beatrice like a lapwing runs, Close by the ground, to hear our conference...." See in text (Act III - Scene I)
A lapwing is a kind of bird, a variety of crested plover known for being particularly swift on foot. It is not clear whether this metaphor is intended to mock Beatrice, or simply to point out her rushed state.
" the pleached bower..." See in text (Act III - Scene I)
The word “pleached” means “interlaced.” Given that a “bower” is an arbour, the setting is a shady tree-lined area covered by interlacing branches: an ideal place for eavesdropping.
Act III - Scene II
"clapper..." See in text (Act III - Scene II)
A “clapper” is the tongue of a bell, which strikes it and causes it to sound. Claudio says that Benedick’s heart is the bell and his tongue is the clapper, suggesting he speaks everything that his heart thinks.
"civet..." See in text (Act III - Scene II)
“Civet” is a strong, musky perfume. Benedick’s appearance and attitude have changed drastically now that he has fallen for Beatrice. Don Pedro and Claudio are teasing Benedick for falling in love here, something that Benedick has mocked them for ceaselessly. Note that Benedick’s transformation also underscores the theme of love as masquerade. Whether intentionally or not, love causes the lover to wear a different mask.
Act III - Scene III
"pitch..." See in text (Act III - Scene III)
“Pitch” is a sticky, dark substance, that is retrieved as residue from the distillation of wood tar. Dogberry says that those who stick their hands in pitch inevitably get their hands dirty. In other words, if you try to catch a criminal you will be worse off than if you just let him be on his way.
Act III - Scene IV
"Ye, ‘Light o’ love' with your heels! then, if your husband have stables enough, you'll see he shall lack no barns...." See in text (Act III - Scene IV)
Beatrice is essentially saying that Margaret is “light o’ love,” as in “frivolous in love.” Beatrice suggests that if Margaret were to get married to a man of wealth, she would let him lie with her often, because their children would be provided for.
"‘Light o’ love.'..." See in text (Act III - Scene IV)
“Light o’ love” is the name of an old dance tune. During Shakespeare’s time, “Light o’ love” was also used as an expression for the inconstant nature of love, or specifically as a noun to describe a woman who was fickle with love.
Act III - Scene V
"excommunication..." See in text (Act III - Scene V)
“Excommunication,” the exclusion of an offending member from any religious community, is a malapropism for “communication,” a noun that means the exchanging of information.
"non-come..." See in text (Act III - Scene V)
“Non-come,” a noun that signifies a state of bewilderment or insanity, is a malapropism for “nonplus,” a noun that means a state of perplexity or standstill.
"examination..." See in text (Act III - Scene V)
Dogberry uses the noun “examination” rather than the verb “examine” because he is repeating Leonato’s earlier command to “take their examination.” This suggests that Dogberry does not actually know the meaning of this word.
"suffigance..." See in text (Act III - Scene V)
“Suffigance,” a made up word, is a malapropism for “sufficient,” an adjective meaning of a quantity, extent, or scope adequate to a certain purpose.
"aspicious..." See in text (Act III - Scene V)
“Aspicious,” a made up word, is a malapropism for either “suspicious,” an adjective meaning of questionable character, or “auspicious,” an adjective meaning ominous.
"comprehended..." See in text (Act III - Scene V)
“Comprehended,” to understand, is a malapropism for “apprehended,” a verb meaning to arrest in the name of the law. Because these malapropisms are close in sound but not meaning, they could signify that Dogberry is illiterate: he is simply repeating what he has heard.
"exclamation..." See in text (Act III - Scene V)
“Exclamation,” meaning the action of crying out in pain, anger, surprise, etc., is a malapropism for “acclamation,” an expression of praise or enthusiastic approval. Shakespeare includes these malapropisms to make Dogberry a comedic character at whom the audience can laugh. However, they are also moments that can mock members of the audience: if you do not catch the malapropism, then you are as ignorant and laughable as Dogberry.
"if I were as tedious as a king..." See in text (Act III - Scene V)
Dogberry misinterprets the meaning of the word “tedious,” which means long and tiresome, as wealthy. Because he misinterprets the word, he also misses Leonato’s insult. This demonstrates an educational disconnect between the rich and the poor, which Shakespeare uses to create humor.
"Palabras..." See in text (Act III - Scene V)
The noun “Palabras” refers to words words, especially ones spoken in an unnecessary, profuse, or idle nature. Ironically, Dogberry uses this to chide Verges for his idle comparisons during a conversation in which he uses such language with Leonato.
"odorous..." See in text (Act III - Scene V)
“Odorous,” an adjective that means having a smell, is a malapropism for “odious,” an adjective that describes regarding with hatred.
"decerns..." See in text (Act III - Scene V)
Throughout the scene, Dogberry says multiple malapropisms, or the mispronunciation or mistaken use of a word in place of the right word. These mistakes show that he is of the uneducated lower class. They give Leonato a reason to dismiss his concerns and the audience a reason to laugh at him.
Act IV - Scene I
"Her blush is guiltiness, not modesty...." See in text (Act IV - Scene I)
Virgins were thought to be very modest and easily embarrassed by even the mention of sex. Claudio indignantly says that Hero’s blushing indicates her “guiltiness,” not her virginity. Rather than simply cancelling the wedding in private for her supposed adultery, Claudio humiliates Hero in front of the entire wedding ceremony. Claudio’s extreme reaction and awful allegations here indicate his fear of being shamed and made a cuckold.
"wanton..." See in text (Act IV - Scene I)
The noun and adjective “wanton” has several different definitions, so understanding meaning is based on context. In this selection, a “wanton” means a sexually unchaste and promiscuous woman. Claudio believes Don John’s trick, and accuses Hero of infidelity.
Act IV - Scene II
"piety..." See in text (Act IV - Scene II)
“Piety,” a noun meaning mercy or compassion, is a malapropism for impiety, a noun meaning unrighteousness or wickedness.
"burglary..." See in text (Act IV - Scene II)
This is a double malapropism. Dogberry uses the noun “burglary,” meaning to rob or take, instead of the word perjury. Perjury is the act of swearing something is true before a legal court that one knows to be false. Dogberry says perjury because he thinks this word means the act of intentionally spreading false information about someone in order to defame their character. The word he is actually looking for is “slander.”
"coxcomb...." See in text (Act IV - Scene II)
A “coxcomb” is a hat worn by a fool, generally with a ludicrous style. Conrade uses this as an insult for Verges when he tries to put handcuffs on him. Dogberry means to say that Conrade called the prince’s officer a “coxcomb,” but he misspeaks and actually calls Verges a coxcomb himself.
"redemption..." See in text (Act IV - Scene II)
“Redemption,” a noun meaning the act of setting one free, is a malapropism that signifies the exact opposite of what Dogberry means: “damnation,” a noun signifying the act of condemning or punishing.
"suspect..." See in text (Act IV - Scene II)
Here, Dogberry mistakes “suspect,” a verb meaning to regard someone with suspicion or distrust, with “respect,” a verb meaning to value or esteem. Notice that throughout the scene, Dogberry’s malapropisms tend to convey the opposite meaning of what he intends. They make him not only look like a fool, but they also make him sound culpable in the crimes he is prosecuting. If anyone were taking him seriously, these malapropisms could have dire consequences.
"eftest..." See in text (Act IV - Scene II)
“Eftest” is an adjective that means best or most convenient. Dogberry gives up “questioning” these rogues when he discovers that there is a more convenient way to accuse them. This should cause the audience to laugh because the constable does not know the procedure after arresting criminals.
"Marry, that am I and my partner...." See in text (Act IV - Scene II)
Dogberry mistakes “malefactors” for “accusers.” Notice that in this mistake, the constable confesses to the crime. His lack of education is comical here; however, if he were a character in a tragic play it could cause his downfall.
"malefactors..." See in text (Act IV - Scene II)
“Malefactors” means evil doers. The sexton asks the constables to bring forward the men that they have arrested.
"dissembly..." See in text (Act IV - Scene II)
“Dissembly,” a made up word, is a malapropism for “assembly,” a noun meaning a gathering of people.
Act V - Scene I
"My soul doth tell me Hero is belied;..." See in text (Act V - Scene I)
By saying that “Hero is belied,” Leonato here reveals that he believes that Hero has been wrongly accused of being unfaithful. His emphasis on what his “soul” tells him illustrates a rare moment in the play in which a character trust’s their feelings over the words and perceptions of others.
"beshrew..." See in text (Act V - Scene I)
“Beshrew” is an archaic term for “curse.” Claudio says that he was not going for his sword because he would never threaten a man Leonato’s age.
Act V - Scene II
"rheum..." See in text (Act V - Scene II)
“Rheum” means tears and snot. Benedick claims that a widow will only mourn and produce rheum for an hour before she forgets about her diseased lover. He uses this hyperbole in order to justify his boastful nature.
"noisome..." See in text (Act V - Scene II)
“Noisome” means harmful or injurious. In this context she means that his breath is ill-smelling because of the words that he has spoken.
"festival terms...." See in text (Act V - Scene II)
Writing in “festival terms” means writing with elevated language suitable for festive occasions. Benedick states that he cannot use flowery language to describe his love though it is more real than the “great lovers” from literature and history.
"you must put in the pikes with a vice, and they are dangerous weapons for maids...." See in text (Act V - Scene II)
This is a double entendre that picks up on Beatrice’s bawdy joke. The line literally means that a buckler is dangerous because it can be decorated with pikes. However, it also means that a woman’s sexuality is a dangerous weapon.
"I give thee the bucklers...." See in text (Act V - Scene II)
This is a saying that comes from fencing, meaning “I give up” or “I yield.” Bucklers were small round shields used for protection against a fencing sword.
Act V - Scene III
"Done to death by slanderous tongues Was the Hero that here lies...." See in text (Act V - Scene III)
Claudio and everyone else, except the Friar, believe Hero to be dead, and Claudio makes this speech at what he believes to be her tomb. "Slanderous" means false and malicious, which here has double meaning: Claudio and Hero's father both viciously denounced her for unfaithfulness, causing her to fall into a dead faint. However, Claudio was duped into believing this, and so the perpetrators of the lie could also be considered "slanderous tongues."
Act V - Scene IV
"Nothing certainer. One Hero died defiled; but I do live,(65) And surely as I live, I am a maid...." See in text (Act V - Scene IV)
“Maid” in this context means virgin. In order to rid herself of slander, Hero died a metaphorical death. This marriage to Claudio marks her rebirth as a chaste wife to a nobleman.