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What the Critics Said: Much Ado About Nothing

Paraphrase the dialogue of Much Ado in mere utilitarian prose, and you will find speech after speech awkward, superfluous, dragged in by the ears, and consequently irritating and tedious, fatal to the crispness of the action. The characters lose their glamor: one sees that the creator of the merry lady with her barmaidenly repartees and the facetious bachelor with his boarding-house funny man’s table talk, was no Oscar Wilde. […] The subtler strokes of character are wasted because they could be made amusing and intelligible only by the method of comedy; and Shakespeare, great at “drama,” farce, and fair extravaganza, had no idea of comedy.

G. B. Shaw (1898)

Much Ado About Nothing is not one of Shakespeare’s best plays, but Benedick and Beatrice are the most lovable, amusing, and good people—the best of combinations—he ever created. They are the characters of Shakespeare we’d most like to sit next to at dinner.

W.H. Auden (1946)

Much Ado About Nothing is a work in which great energy has gone into prose. This, of all Shakespeare’s comedies, is the one that best prefigures the comedies of the Restoration. The most impressive moment in the play is the scene when Beatrice commands her lover to kill Claudio; there is a certain relief involved, for they converse for a moment rather more like persons who have momentarily forgotten their reputations.

Frank Kermode (2000)

This play, with its gaily self-deprecating title, seems virtually to inaugurate a genre. Its urbane pair of lovers, Beatrice and Benedick, anticipate the glib and genteel barbs of the disillusioned pairs who populate stage and screen, waiting, like their Shakespearean forerunners, to be offered a chance to be, for once, unashamedly romantic.

Marjorie Garber (2004)

Only Beatrice and Benedick, among all the couples of Shakespeare’s principal comedies, seem to hold out the possibility of a sustained intimacy, and then only if the audience discounts their many insults, forgets that they have been tricked into wooing, and assumes, against their own mutual assertions, that they genuinely love each other. […] It is worth pausing and trying to get it all in focus: in the great succession of comedies that Shakespeare wrote in the latter half of the 1590s, romantic masterpieces with their marvelous depictions of desire and their cheerfully relentless drive toward marriage, there is scarcely a single pair of lovers who seem deeply, inwardly suited for one another. There is no end of longing, flirtation, and pursuit, but strikingly little long-term promise of mutual understanding.

Stephen Greenblatt (2004)

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