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 bestplays, but Benedickand Beatrice are themost lovable, amusing,and good people—thebest of combinations—he ever created. Theyare the characters of Shakespeare we’d mostlike to sit next to at dinner. W.H. Auden (1946)
Much Ado About Nothing is a work inwhich great energy hasgone into prose. This,of all Shakespeare’scomedies, is the onethat best prefiguresthe comedies of theRestoration. The mostimpressive moment in the play is the scenewhen Beatrice commands her lover to killClaudio; there is a certain relief involved, forthey converse for a moment rather more likepersons who have momentarily forgottentheir 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)