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Wordplay in Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing is filled with puns and double entendres (words that have multiple meanings or interpretations). Once again, we see many hilarious instances of wordplay in Beatrice and Benedick’s dialogue.

Wordplay Examples in Much Ado About Nothing:

Act I - Scene I

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"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.

"Yea, and a case to put it into...."   (Act I - Scene I)

Benedick’s wordplay is another example of the type of banter common in Much Ado About Nothing. He twists Claudio’s image of the jewel into the new image of a case. The case is at once related—jewels go into cases—yet in aid of an opposite perspective.

"MESSENGER: A lord to a lord, a man to a man; stuffed with all honourable virtues. BEATRICE: It is so indeed. He is no less than a stuffed man; but for the stuffing—well, we are all mortal...."   (Act I - Scene I)

This banter between the messenger and Beatrice is an example of the centrality of wordplay in Much Ado About Nothing. Throughout the play, characters build upon each other’s language, repurposing language to produce new puns. For example, here the messenger states that Benedick is “stuffed with all honourable virtues.” Beatrice turns the image around, calling Benedick “a stuffed man”—a doll, or dummy.

"Hath the fellow any wit that told you this..."   (Act I - Scene II)

The title of the play—Much Ado About Nothing—represents a pun. In Elizabethan times, the word “nothing” would have been pronounced as “noting,” which has the additional meaning of “eavesdropping.” This pun thus prepares the audience for moments such as this exchange between Leonato and Antonio. These characters are making much of “noting”—Antonio’s eavesdropping—as well as “nothing,” for it is all a misunderstanding.

"The pleasant'st angling is to see the fish Cut with her golden oars the silver stream. And greedily devour the treacherous bait...."   (Act III - Scene I)

Ursula employs a clever pun here. “The pleasant’st angling” takes on two meanings. On one level, “angling” refers to fishing, which Ursula expands on with the image of the fish “greedily devour[ing] the treacherous bait.” On another level, “to angle” means to place an object at a new angle or direction. It can be said that Hero, Ursula, and Margaret are “angling” Beatrice towards Benedick.

"To bind our loves up in a holy band;..."   (Act III - Scene I)

A play on words—Beatrice refers to both the marriage ceremony and the ring that symbolizes marriage.

"and in despite of all, dies for him. ..."   (Act III - Scene II)

Don Pedro and Claudio are speculating that Beatrice will "die" for Benedick, which has a literal and a figurative meaning in Elizabethan language.  Die can be literal, that is, to cease to exist, and it can be figurative, referring to the act of love making.

"distilled Carduus Benedictus..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

Margaret takes this opportunity to make another play on words: Carduus Benedictus, a medicinal herb, is also known as holy thistle, but she also refers to Benedict as the cure for Beatrice's ailment.

"For the letter that begins them all, H...."   (Act III - Scene IV)

A play on the pronunciation of H, which is aitch but Beatrice pretends that it is ache.

"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.

"we have bucklers of our own...."   (Act V - Scene II)

A buckler was a small fencing shield that consisted of a round piece of wood with a small raised circle of iron. It was meant to catch the tip of one’s opponent’s sword. Beatrice uses this reference to make a bawdy joke that refers to female genitalia.

"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.

"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.


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