1. The Ghost in the quill
The opening stage directions in the 1600 Quarto and the 1623 Folio of Much Ado About Nothing reads:
Enter Leonato Gouernour of Messina, Innogen his wife, Hero his daughter, and Beatrice his Neece, with a messenger.
Anyone, with even the most basic knowledge of the play will easily win the game of “one of these things is not like the other.” For anyone familiar with the play surely knows that Innogen has no place in Much Ado About Nothing. She is not Leonato’s wife, and she won’t appear for another eight or so years as Imogen, the hapless lover and heroine of Cymbeline. So who exactly is this mystery in the stage directions? A quick search will reveal several essays on Shakespeare’s “ghost” characters, of which Innogen is one. These are not Shakespeare’s Ghosts, such as the Ghost of Hamlet, Banquo, or Caesar — but rather several characters throughout different editions of the plays that appear in stage directions but have no lines, are never referred to, and are removed in most modern editions. Innogen is such a character. The fact that Innogen appears as Leonato’s wife in the stage directions is not a shocking revelation, and it is easily explained. Shakespeare intended to include a wife for Leonato, but gave up on the idea. At least this is the common explanation, for of course, anything following “Shakespeare intended” becomes highly suspect and rarely worth reading. Yet, the greatest piece of evidence to support this particular claim is that Innogen only appears in the stage directions for the first two acts. Following that, she is no longer affixed to Leonato’s entrances. Now, if I really wanted to stretch my imagination, I could offer up, with supporting details, an essay on how Innogen appears on stage with Leonato while all is well. As soon as people are accused of being unfaithful (the central conceit of this play) Innogen disappears. Thus, Leonato’s wife is the representation of lost innocence in the face of mistrust: even when all is forgiven in the happy ending, she can never be redeemed. Great, I’ve just turned Innogen into Mamillius from The Winter’s Tale - enough of this.
I have no interest in why this ghost character lingered on the page past any initial notes and into official print copies of the text. But rather, I wish to explore why she was conceived of and then dropped. I’m not speculating on any intents, but rather using the ghost of Leonato’s wife (and therefore Hero’s mother) to explore elements of the play, and how these elements would have fallen apart if Innogen were allowed to remain in the play.
2. Are you My Mother?
What might have Innogen represented in the world of Much Ado About Nothing? For this, we should look to Shakespeare’s other mothers. There are not that many and this has been the subject of many scholarly works that you can seek out. Off the top of my head I counted nineteen mothers, but keep in mind that this total includes characters like Lady Macduff (Macbeth), Emilia (Comedy of Errors), and Cleopatra (Antony and Cleopatra), and several other characters whose motherly traits are either insignificant or incidental to the plot. Innogen could have been one of these, but I don’t think so because the relation between Hero and her father plays such a large part. Also, there would be little else for Innogen to do.
The most common type of mother, and the best ones, are controlling mothers: Lady Capulet (Romeo and Juliet),, Tamora (Titus Andronicus), Constance (King John), and Volumnia (Coriolanus) just to name a few. These mothers act, or firmly believe they act, in the best interest of their children. Whether good or evil, or somewhere in between, these mothers will undermine or manipulate others if their children are in danger. When dealing with their children, they are either firm (Lady Capulet) in order to get obedience, or manipulative (the Queen from Cymbeline) in order to get what they really want.
Let’s narrow it down further. Not only are there few mothers in Shakespeare, but there are even fewer mother-father pairs. Of them, the most prominent has to be the Capulets. They are also the closest to Leonato and Innogen in regards to time, place, and status. Both families are wealthy, 16th century Italians. So, in the world of far too many hypothetical scenarios, I feel comfortable in saying that if Shakespeare had written Innogen into the play, she would have most closely resembled Lady Capulet, written a few years earlier.
If we accept this, then the Juliet-Hero comparisons go deeper. Their circumstances are completely different: unlike Juliet, Hero has no other suitor and the man she is in love with is appealing to her father. It would be as though Juliet was madly in love with Paris instead of Romeo. However, as soon as the daughter disobeys (Juliet refuses to marry Paris and Hero is supposedly unchaste) and brings about shame to the family, the father casts her out
And from Old Capulet:, one of my favourite speeches:
Graze where you will, you shall not house with me.
Hero has no mother to speak out against her father’s death threat. She only has Beatrice, and in this particular scene, Benedick is the only one who acknowledges anything Beatrice says (I’ll get back to this). But Juliet has a mother, and so when Old Capulet threatens her life surely her mother steps in to help her.
All right. But Juliet also has a surrogate mother, the Nurse, who
If we are using Romeo and Juliet as the model, I think we can say that even if Innogen were present in Act IV, scene i, when Hero is accused and threatened by her father, Innogen would have either chosen to stay out of the matter, or have been powerless to help. But would this matter have come to pass at all if Innogen was around?
3. War and Peace and war again
Like most of the comedies, Much Ado About Nothing takes place within a confined space (in and around Leonato’s house) and deals with the plots, schemes, and relationships of a bunch of people living in this house. Much Ado About Nothing can probably be defined - to an audience not familiar with Shakespeare - as a 90’s sitcom with a splash of Big Brother. At its core, Much Ado About Nothing is a lighthearted silly comedy, where the hero is Dogberry, a precursor to Tobias Funke.
Malapropisms — funny. That being said, there are reasons why I tend to be on the side of liking Dogberry as opposed to a large number who find him annoying.
As well as the inept cop trope, this play begins like all good comedies, with an old-fashioned war. Sort of.
The play opens:
When the Messenger refers to Claudio’s acts in this “war” he says:
he hath borne himself beyond the
Again transforming any acts of violence to the language of athletic endeavours. Indeed, the first one to refer to “this action” as a war is Beatrice.
After this, the Messenger adopts her speech and refers to Benedick’s “good service […] in these wars.”
We then learn that
There is a
So what does it all mean?
There are several instances in Shakespeare where war exists solely in the background of the plays, or is such an insignificant part of the play. Richard III famously opens:
Grim-visaged war hath smooth'd his wrinkled front;
And everything that happens in the play exists in the shadow of the War of the Roses.
Othello begins as a war play, Othello being called to fight against the Turks in Cyprus. But a storm takes care of the war and the play becomes a domestic tragedy.
All’s Well That Ends Well takes place during a war between the French and Tuscans, a war we are not meant to care about at all.
Much Ado About Nothing follows the same path. Sort of. We know that Don Pedro is successful in his action - his war - but what is the war? Who was he warring against? It is not clear from the conversation with Leonato and the Messenger. There are a few hints when Don Pedro’s half-brother - Don John comes onto the stage.
And later we learn from one of Don John’s men:
From these instances, can we conclude that the war Don Pedro fought was against his half brother Don John? There is little else to go on. So, if it was a brother-on-brother war, there were no armies involved, but small bands, and thus when the messenger says that few were lost, he really means it. The major players on either side of the conflict remain unharmed, and probably had no more than minor skirmishes.
Therefore, Much Ado About Nothing introduces us to a group of characters prepared for war without having that war. They return to Leonato’s house - a place of peace - without reason for peace. Richard III is honest with us about his inability to survive in peacetime the way he does in war, and in Much Ado About Nothing, Don John is Richard’s closest relation. But I believe that all who come to Leonato’s are ill-suited for peace, and so bring their military tactics to what ought to be a silly lighthearted comedy. If Don Pedro cannot prove himself a worthy general in war, he will prove himself a leader in peace. He did not vanquish his enemy, even if he was victorious, so he will vanquish the barriers to love.
When Claudio tells Don Pedro he is in love with Hero, Don Pedro responds:
I will fit thee with the remedy.
Why go through this whole charade to bring two people together who have no impediments to their love? Some dismiss this entire section of the play as just another zany plot that exists for comedy rather than plot (an accusation you can lay on this play as a whole), but it may speak to the overly masculine nature of this play.
Don John tells his men
though I cannot be said to
If we are forced to accept that Don John is a villain because he is a villain, than why can’t his brother be a fixer and a leader because he is a fixer and a leader. For not only does Don Pedro scheme to bring Claudio and Hero together, which he does with little hindrance, but then then he decides to:
undertake one of
And of course Leonato and Claudio both go along with this plan. For Don Pedro is the general, and love is the goal, and he will fight with whatever is at his disposal to destroy all enemies to love.
4. The merry war
Meanwhile, what about the part of the play people actually enjoy, Beatrice and Benedick? We learn in the first few lines that there is a merry war between them, and we see this almost as soon as they are on stage together.
A lovely back and forth sparring. Although it must be said that if you remove this exchange from the scene it alters the scene in no way. Like the removal of Innogen from this play, we see evidence of further altering and Frankensteining as different plot points are shoved together, sometimes held by loose threads.
Just as Don Pedro wars against the enemies of love, so do Benedick and Beatrice war with each other, trying to get the other to back down first and admit that one loves the other, until the very end, at which point the Doctor marries Donna (there's a wonderful production with Tenant and Tate).
In between the first volley and this final one before they are begrudgingly forced together, there are other warlike tactics. There is espionage. During the masquerade that exists for the purpose of having a masquerade, Benedick comes to Beatrice in disguise and tells her that someone called her disdainful. When she accurately guesses it was Benedick who said this, the disguised Benedick coaxes her to tell him about Benedick, which she does. It is not explicit whether Beatrice knew the disguised figure was Benedick, but I don’t believe she did. Successful espionage. Here too, what we are meant to see as lovers courting in a dance is tainted with talk of war.
Benedick will play the good soldier, whereas Beatrice proves that she is more self-serving. Who would fare better in war?
There is also the dissemination of false information in the famous scenes in which Don Pedro, Leonato, and Claudio speak loudly while they know Benedick is hiding nearby about Beatrice told Hero that she is in love with Benedick. Then, like a certain children’s television show, Shakespeare repeats the same gag a scene later, in which Hero, Margaret, and Ursula talk about how Benedick is in love with Beatrice while she is hiding nearby. Because the two will not come to each other naturally, deception is needed, traps are sprung, and the lovers are snared. These scenes sometimes work on stage, but often come out as tedious. Also, they have little to do with Innogen (remember Innogen?) except for the fact that Innogen would probably disapprove of this trickery.
Beatrice is a far more interesting character, and it may be possible to see some elements of Innogen’s disappearance in her.
5. Who is Beatrice
Either way, the part of Much Ado About Nothing in which Claudio falls in love with Hero, wins her with Don Pedro’s help, and is set up by Don John to believe that Hero was visited by a strange man in the middle of the night — all this is taken from one of the previous sources mentioned above. But nowhere in Ariosto, Spenser, or Bandello do you find Benedick, Beatrice, or Dogberry. These are, to the best of common knowledge, Shakespeare originals, haphazardly woven together into the existing story.
We have textual evidence, and it is obvious, that Dogberry was played by William Kempe, Shakespeare’s go-to fool for the first part of his career. Kempe probably played Launce, Launcelot, Bottom, Dogberry, and (maybe) Falstaff. We can be more certain about Dogberry because in certain versions of the earlier texts, Dogberry is referred to as Kempe in the stage directions. Kempe had a very specific style, and if you look at this list of characters he played, he sometimes existed in a world of his own on stage. Dogberry’s plotline follows this pattern. He and his men are in a world of their own. The only reason they get thrown into the larger story is because Shakespeare did not maintain the ending from the source materials (in which the Don John character repents.) But Dogberry’s presence is more style than substance. Kempe’s roles in the earlier plays were usually to perform a comic interlude, full of either slapstick comedy or malapropisms, as in Dogberry’s case. Essentially, Dogberry performs the same role as the musical numbers that we see begin in Much Ado About Nothing, and flourish in As You Like It, and Twelfth Night.
Benedick has a bit less precedent in Shakespeare, but we can still find some. What defines Benedick is his malicious wit which can only be subdued by love. He is also a bit of a “bro,” known for latching on to other men and forcing them to have fun with him.
His first line in the play is a cheap joke that remains in vogue in today’s sitcoms.
Sick burn, man.
So where else do we see Benedick in Shakespeare? Mercutio is not without his malicious wit, particularly towards women. Falstaff as well is both cruel and hilarious, and tricked into love, at which point he loses his wit and cruelty. Much Ado About Nothing straddles Romeo and Juliet and the three Falstaff plays, just as Benedick straddles these two characters.
And then there is Beatrice. Who is Beatrice? She tends to be one of the most beloved Shakespeare characters, and the reason many overlook the glaring flaws in this play. True, she is not the only strong female character in Shakespeare, but she may be the most unique female character.
Her origin story is a mystery. We know that Beatrice is Leonato's niece, and therefore Hero’s cousin. We also know that for the past year, Beatrice had been Hero’s bedfellow. This last fact has produced some disturbing fanfic.
We get the most insight into Beatrice in Act II, scene I, in her exchange with Don Pedro
Beatrice does not want Don Pedro to get her another Claudio, she prefers older men. From this and other sections, we can conclude that Beatrice is older than Hero. Hero is probably Juliet’s age — 14 — and Beatrice might be in her late teens or early twenties (she is often played older than this.) We also learn that Beatrice would not want to marry Don Pedro for he is too “costly.” Most of the characters in this play, other than the watchmen, are wealthy. Don Pedro is a prince, Leonato a governor, Claudio a Count, and Benedick a wealthy Bachelor. As the niece to Leonato, we might assume that Beatrice is wealthy, but she is also an orphan and thus might have no inheritance. Is she related to Leonato through her mother or father? Leonato speaks of a brother other than the one who appears on stage (who is not Beatrice’s father) — is this mysterious brother Beatrice’s father? We know that her mother cried and a star danced on her birth: is this an allusion to her mother dying in childbirth? We later learn that Beatrice only shows her sadness in her sleep, and wakes up laughing to cover it up.
It is odd to receive so many unexplained hints for a character that is not based on another source. But what we are left with is an older woman who does not, like Hero, have to worry about the ladylike things like marriage. She is proper as far as her speech goes (in contrast to the lower class Dogberry and his men) but does not have to watch her tongue like a proper lady. We learn that “she mocks all her wooers out of suit” (II.i), which may put her in the same category as Katherine from Taming of the Shrew. But she is more than Kate.
In terms of situation, Beatrice more closely resembles Rosalind from As You Like It, who was (reluctantly) adopted by her uncle when her father was exiled, in order to be her cousin’s bedfellow. Beatrice’s father was probably not exiled, but was she also adopted to look after Hero? Why then, had she been Hero’s bedfellow for only one year? But like Rosalind, Beatrice is capable of taking matters into her own hands, and having power over those around her. At the end of the masquerade she admits that she would not be a good soldier, and not follow her leader into danger. She rejects marriage, even refusing a prince. Just as Rosalind relinquishes all her autonomy, and has Hyman give her over in a traditional way to Orlando, so Beatrice seems to submit to Benedick.
And yet, after Hero is accused and fakes her own death, she commands Benedick to kill Claudio.
It happens often in Shakespeare, and Renaissance drama, that women (and Petrucchio) will lay traps to test their love’s faithfulness. Beatrice does not appear to be doing this. Her intense anger at Claudio for falsely accusing Hero, and the clipped line that alters Beatrice and Benedick’s previous confession of love all stress the severity of her words. This is no trick. If not for the revelation brought on by Dogberry, Benedick would have fought Claudio and Beatrice would have been fine with it.
Beatrice suppresses her sadness, allowing it to spill out only in her dreams. The slander of her cousin is enough to break through Beatrice’s tough façade. No longer is she “all mirth and no matter” (II.i): now she is more villainous than Don John.
But would Beatrice be Beatrice if Innogen were present? I noted earlier that if Innogen were present during the wedding scene, she would have sided with her husband and turned her back on Hero. But what if Innogen adopted Beatrice’s attitude. After all, following the death of Tybalt, Lady Capulet was the first to cry for vengeance. Would Innogen disrupt the natural course of things, force her husband to act, and irreparably tear Leonato from Don Pedro and Claudio? Innogen might leave Beatrice no reason to force Benedick to kill Claudio. Indeed, if Innogen were more of a mother to Beatrice, Beatrice might not have such repressed sadness and anger.
Beatrice is unique because not only is she the strongest female character in this play, she is the strongest character. Throw Lady Capulet in the play, and Beatrice is relegated to the role of the Nurse: all mirth and no matter.
In a play stitched together to create a comedy that doesn’t really have a moral or a truly satisfying resolution, whether Leonato has a wife or not is fairly insignificant. In the source materials for the Claudio-Hero plot, Hero does not have a mother, so why add one? Maybe, initially, Hero needed coaxing to marry Claudio the same way Juliet needed coaxing to “look to liking” Paris, a forceful hand from a forceful mother. But this would disrupt Don Pedro’s plots, and furthermore, it would rob Beatrice as her role of Hero’s bedfellow. While Beatrice and Hero don’t have too much action in the play together, their bond is strong, and so when Hero is attacked, Beatrice must feel it. Hero’s mother would only weaken that bond. In respect to the larger plot, perhaps Don Pedro would have been humbled to play the proper guest when in a Lady’s house, instead of conscripting all around him into his war on Cupid.
Would Don John be so bold if Innogen were around? Leonato is fooled easily enough, would Lady Capulet fall for the same trick?
Much Ado About Nothing is a masculine comedy, in the way Love’s Labour’s Lost is. Even Beatrice displays more traditionally masculine tendencies than most of the other characters. It is a play of traps, plots, and a warlike attitude towards romance on everyone’s part. There is no place for a strong matriarch to keep order in a chaotic world. Things must go awry, only to be put together by an incompetent police officer.