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IN the Register of the Stationers' Company, Liber C. (Arber's Transcript, vol. iii., p. 37), among the occasional notes at the beginning of the volume, appears the following entry :
to be staied The commedie of much A doo about nothing'a
booke/ The delay in publication was, however, a short one. The year of this item is not given but it is fixed by two subsequent entries.
On August 14 under the running head-line '42 Regin[a]e' (i.e. 1600), Every man in his humour is entered and The historye of HENRY the Vth with the battell of Agencourt (Arber's Transcript, vol. iii., p. 169); and on August 23 of the same year we find against the names of Andrewe Wyse and William Aspley :
Entred for their copies vnder the handes of the wardens Two bookes. the one called Muche a Doo about nothinge. Thother the second parte of the history of kinge HENRY the iiijth with the humours of Sir John FFALLSTAFF: Wrytten by master SHAKESPERE.
xija This last entry, besides giving us the exact date of the publication of Much Ado About Nothing, is also noteworthy because, as Mr. Arber points out, it is "the first time our great poet's name appears on these Registers ” (Transcript, vol. iii., p. 170),
We cannot be certain why Much Ado About Nothing and the other three plays were stayed, or why, in every case but one, the prohibition was so soon withdrawn. The reasons hitherto advanced mostly reflect on the integrity of some person or persons concerned-the printers, or the Lord
Chamberlain's men, to whom the plays belonged, or the publishers, to whom they were eventually sold, or even Shakespeare himself. Mr. Pollard, in his Shakespeare's Fight with the Pirates, a book of absorbing interest in this connection, takes a more cheerful view of the situation. He shows clearly that the dramatists of the time had less to fear from dishonest publishers and printers than has been supposed. Even the much mistrusted James Roberts, whose name appears on the Register (with, to Mr. Furness, such sinister significance) in the entry immediately preceding that of August 4, 1600, is cleared of reproach, and shown to be a reputable printer and probably a trusted agent of the Lord Chamberlain's Company. ? At the same time piracy did exist and was a source of real anxiety both to players and playwrights. The importance of this fact Mr. Pollard does not attempt to minimise, but he makes it clear that the Chamberlain's men as a rule knew how to protect their own interests and knew, too, when to sell the manuscripts of their plays to the best advantage. Their methods are well illustrated by the transactions concerning Much Ado About Nothing. In June, 1600, the Puritan attacks on the drama had resulted in an Order in Council, by which the number of theatres in London was restricted to two, and the number of performances in each house to two a week. This Order, Mr. Pollard suggests, would incline the Company to sell more readily than usual as their income would be seriously reduced. For the same and, probably, some other reason—their fears at this time were well grounded-they would be more on their guard against loss by piracy. “They therefore themselves, on August 4, 'stayed' As You Like It, Henry V., and Much Ado About Nothing, only to find that Henry V. had already been pirated by Thomas Millington and John Busby. As You Like It they prevented from being printed at all, but they sold Much Ado to Andrew Wise and William Aspley, and with it The second part of Henry IV." 3 This gives the best and, I think, an entirely satisfactory explanation of the puzzling double entry in the Stationers' Register.
The title-page of the Quarto,* as published by Aspley and Wise, reads as follows:
Much Ado About Nothing, New Variorum Edition, Preface, pp. ix-xi.
4 Facsimile by Praetorius, 1886.
Much adoe about
Chamberlain his seruants.
1600. V. S. is Valentine Sims, who also printed the second part of Henry IV., and his work was well done.
How long before 1600 the play was written cannot be exactly determined. The words on the title-page · As it hath been sundrie times publikely acted' merely establish the fact that the play was composed some little time before its publication. There is the negative evidence that it is not mentioned by Meres in his Palladis Tamia, issued in 1598. There is also the internal evidence of metre, style and general methods of workmanship; all of these suggest the 'middle period’of Shakespeare's dramatic production. The accepted metrical tests, though they cannot be taken as definitive-less so than usual in Much Ado About Nothing where about two-thirds of the play are in prose-show the gradually increasing tendency to use enjambement and double endings characteristic of the great comedies and of the English history plays. There is the controlled energy of style, the balance between thought and expression and the masterly handling of materials which also distinguish the plays of this period. Much Ado About Nothing was probably written between the composition of Henry V. and As You Like It, in the latter part of the year, 1599
No other edition of the play appeared until the Folio of 1623, and in this case Heminge and Condell had reason to congratulate themselves on the excellence of the Quarto version which was their only authority. That the manuscript originally sold by the Chamberlain's men to Messrs. Aspley and Wise was their theatrical prompt copy may be accepted as an established fact. The substitution in iv. ii. of the actors'
1 Brae's conjecture that the Loue labours wonne of Meres is Much Ado About Nothing (Collier, Coleridge, and Shakespeare, 1860) needs only passing mention. With as much probability the former has also been identified with All's Well that Ends Well, The Tempest, and The Taming of the Shrew.
names for those of the characters they were to impersonate (Kemp and Cowley for Dogberry and Verges) is conclusive evidence. The Folio version was set up from a Quarto copy, and that the latter had meanwhile been used in the theatre as a prompt book is again indisputable. The insertion in the Folio of the name of Jack Wilson, the actor who was to sing Balthasar's song in II. iii., is a clear indication of the prompter's hand, as Furness and several later editors have pointed out. What is not yet fully proved, though every reader is anxious to have his last doubt dispelled, is the supposition that the original copy, which Shakespeare sold to his company, was in his own handwriting. The arguments put forward by Mr. Pollard in support of this theory are : first 1 (of playwrights in general), that the employment of a scrivener to copy out his plays would mean both expense and increased risk of piracy to the dramatist; second ? (of Shakespeare in particular), that the often quoted words : addressed by the editors of the Folio to “the great Variety of Readers ” must, if they mean anything at all, refer to the autograph manuscripts of Shakespeare's plays as they were first written down in the moment of composition.” If this theory could be established beyond question, and Mr. Pollard makes out a strong case, then we should hold the Quarto version of Much Ado About Nothing (and of some half-dozen other plays) in still greater reverence, and the alterations and emendations of later editors in rather less respect.
Heminge and Condell at any rate recognized the virtues of this sixpenny playhouse copy. They made indeed few changes. Nearly all the alterations are for the worse and the majority may be set down unhesitatingly as printer's errors. Only three can be looked upon as improvements and the first two are trifling: us of for of us (II. iii, 132); medicine for medcine (v. i. 24); dumb for dead (v. iii. 10). Two omissions found in the Folio at III. ii. 30 and at iv. ii. 16 were probably made during the intervening years before 1623. (See notes ad locc.) The only help given in the Folio is the division into acts. Except for this it has no advantages : its stage directions are nearly as scanty as those of the old copy; it echoes obvious mistakes, and to them it adds many of its own, chiefly sins of omission. The substitution of literary for collo
1 Shakespeare's Fight with the Pirates, pp. 55-56. 2 Ibid., pp. 59-63.
3« His mind and hand went together : And what he thought, he vttered with that easinesse, that we haue scarse receiued from him blot on his papers.”