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Analysis

What’s Up With the Title?

As a title, Much Ado About Nothing fits neatly with those of Shakespeare’s other plays written around the same time: the titles seem whimsical and even flippant. Twelfth Night was alternatively titled What You Will, and As You Like It seems a much less informative title than, say, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Still, the capricious titles are actually as reflective of their content as any history or tragedy title. The plot of Much Ado About Nothing centers on a lot of hubbub over little misunderstandings; there’s a whole lot of fuss about stuff that ultimately isn’t that important.

For the bigger issues in the play, though, we turn to the fact that, in Shakespeare’s day, "nothing" was often pronounced the same way as "noting." The play is built around the process of "noting," which has myriad meanings. It can mean "to take notice of" something, to eavesdrop, to observe, or to write something down – but these notings aren’t necessarily accurate. A person can misunderstand a meaning, or mishear, or misreport something, in the process of noting too. The foibles that result from noting (and misnoting) are central to keeping the play spinning.

If that wasn’t interesting enough for you, you might want to note that "nothing" was also an Elizabethan slang term for the vagina. "Much Ado About Vagina" makes sense as a title, right? After all, the highs and lows of the play revolve around men and their relationships with, suspicion of, and lack of relationships with…women. Reading the title this way puts women in a central and powerful role in the play: while the men are the ones working, the women are what they’re working for.

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