Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the British Council's online course, Exploring English: Shakespeare. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 8 seconds So what makes Much Ado About Nothing a comedy? Well, there are jokes and word play, especially when Beatrice and Benedick insult each other in funny ways. For example, Beatrice tells Benedick that because he talks rubbish, he probably also has bad, smelly breath. She says, “Foul words is but foul wind, and foul wind is but foul breath, and foul breath is noisome. “Noisome” is an old word meaning disgusting. Another element of Shakespeare’s comedy is mistaken identity. In other words, when the characters don’t know who the other people actually are. This happens several times in Much Ado About Nothing. For example, when Claudio is in the garden and thinks he’s seeing his girlfriend, Hero, in the bedroom with another man.

Skip to 1 minute and 3 seconds But in fact, it isn’t Hero at all. Shakespearean comedies also often feature plot twists. This is when something happens that either the audience don’t expect or that a character doesn’t expect. In Much Ado About Nothing, Claudio believes that his girlfriend, Hero, is dead, so he certainly doesn’t expect her to turn up at his wedding as his bride. Also, several of the characters are lied to and believe these lies. For example, Beatrice is told by her friends that Benedick loves her, and Benedick is told by his friends that Beatrice loves him. They both get very excited about this news, but really, they’re getting excited about nothing. Because their friends have lied to them. So it’s “much ado about nothing.”

Much Ado About Nothing as a comedy

Anthony talks about some of the elements of Shakespearean comedy in Much Ado About Nothing.

Jokes and wordplay

Shakespearean audiences would have loved the verbal battling between the characters. Even the title of the play, Much Ado About Nothing can be read as a pun. In Shakespeare’s time ‘nothing’ and ‘noting’ were homophones with ‘noting’ meaning ‘taking notice of’. In the play, people take note of things but often mishear or misunderstand and that leads to comedy.

Read more about jokes and wordplay in Much Ado About Nothing here.

Mistaken identity

Some of the misunderstanding comes from mistaken identity - when people confuse who other people are. Sometimes this is done for fun, like Beatrice and Benedick at the masked ball, and other times it can be done to hurt people, like when Claudio thinks he has seen his future wife with another man.

Read more about mistaken identity here.

Plot twists

The plot of Much Ado About Nothing takes unexpected twists and turns so that you don’t know what to expect. These twists often follow one of the misunderstandings.

What do you think?

  • How much do you think the ingredients of good comedy are unchanged since Shakespeare’s time?
  • What other things would you add to the list of what makes a good comedy?
  • Can you think of any modern examples of films, books, plays or TV programmes that use the same comedy elements?

Share your thoughts below.

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Exploring English: Shakespeare

British Council