Analysis Pages

Vocabulary in Much Ado About Nothing

Vocabulary Examples in Much Ado About Nothing:

Act I - Scene I

🔒 15

"temporize..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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,..."   (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?..."   (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;..."   (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..."   (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?..."   (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.

"horn-mad...."   (Act I - Scene I)

The phrase "horn-mad" means stark crazy. It implied that the horns are maddening because they are the horns of a cuckold or betrayed husband.

"obstinate heretic..."   (Act I - Scene I)

An "obstinate heretic" is one who goes against accepted truths, as in religious beliefs.

"Signior Mountanto..."   (Act I - Scene I)

Beatrice refers here to Benedick, using most likely a fencing term for a thrust from lower to higher (montanto). In boxing, it would be like an undercut to the jaw.

"How much better is it to weep at joy than to joy at weeping!..."   (Act I - Scene I)

In other words, it is better to weep for joy than to be joyful because someone else is sad.

"brings home full numbers..."   (Act I - Scene I)

In other words, a victory is sweeter when there are few losses on the victor's side.

"and none of name..."   (Act I - Scene I)

"None of name" means no one of the upper class or royalty.  In this society, commoners are generally not worth mentioning. 

"arras..."   (Act I - Scene III)

The word "arras" refers to the curtain or perhaps a tapestry used to separate parts of a room.

"lead his apes into hell...."   (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...."   (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?..."   (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..."   (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? ..."   (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.

"Yea, just so much as you may take upon a knife's point,(230) and choke a daw withal...."   (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..."   (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...."   (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:..."   (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.

"woodbine coverture...."   (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...."   (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..."   (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.

"Misprizing what they look on..."   (Act III - Scene I)

That is, Beatrice undervalues or underestimates the value of what she sees.  Her "disdain" makes her blind to love.

"the pleached bower..."   (Act III - Scene I)

This is likely the same arbor that Benedick hid in.  An arbor and bower are both an enclosed space in a garden with a roof of vines intertwined to enclose the space.

"clapper..."   (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..."   (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.

"pitch..."   (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.

"a scab ..."   (Act III - Scene III)

The word "scab" means scoundrel, villain, or someone with scurvy (a tropical disease).

"Ye, ‘Light o’ love' with your heels! then, if your husband have stables enough, you'll see he shall lack no barns...."   (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.'..."   (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.

"rebato..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

rebato is a stiff collar that usually supports a wide ruffled collar.

"excommunication..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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.

"Her blush is guiltiness, not modesty...."   (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..."   (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.

"piety..."   (Act IV - Scene II)

“Piety,” a noun meaning mercy or compassion, is a malapropism for impiety, a noun meaning unrighteousness or wickedness.

"burglary..."   (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...."   (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..."   (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..."   (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..."   (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...."   (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..."   (Act IV - Scene II)

“Malefactors” means evil doers. The sexton asks the constables to bring forward the men that they have arrested.

"dissembly..."   (Act IV - Scene II)

“Dissembly,” a made up word, is a malapropism for “assembly,” a noun meaning a gathering of people.

"My soul doth tell me Hero is belied;..."   (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..."   (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.

"Scambling, outfacing..."   (Act V - Scene I)

The word "scambling" means "quarrelsome, argumentative.  The word "outfacing" means "intimidating, defiant."

"rheum..."   (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..."   (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...."   (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...."   (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...."   (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.

"die in thy lap..."   (Act V - Scene II)

This phrase has a sexual connotation—die, in Shakespeare's time, also meant to have an orgasm.  Considering the amount of verbal banter between Beatrice and Benedick, this *double-entendre *(double-meaning) is likely.

"wise..."   (Act V - Scene II)

In this sense, wise means too aware of each other's strengths and weaknesses.

"In so high a style, Margaret, that no man living shall(5) come over it..."   (Act V - Scene II)

Benedick is punning on the word *style.  *A stile, a thing every Elizabethan would know well (because this was still a largely agricultural society), is a barricade to keep cattle and sheep from crossing from one pasture to another.  A "high style," then, means both elevated speech and a high barricade—the language is so exuberant that no man can better it, and the stile is so high that no man can climb over it.


"Done to death by slanderous tongues Was the Hero that here lies...."   (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."

"Nothing certainer. One Hero died defiled; but I do live,(65) And surely as I live, I am a maid...."   (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.

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