For what it’s worth (possibly very little), here is my retelling in contemporary English of part of a comic scene (3.4) in Much Ado About Nothing. In this scene, Hero, a woman who is engaged to Claudio, is getting dressed for her wedding, assisted by her servant Margaret. Hero’s friend Beatrice also comes to help her. Beatrice has a past history with a man named Benedick, and when they meet they usually comically insult each other. Their friends have conspired to make each think that the other is in love with him or her; their friends hope that love between Beatrice and Benedick will become a reality.
Hero said, “Good morning, Beatrice.”
“Good morning, sweet Hero.”
“How are you feeling?” Hero said. “You sound as if you were out of tune.”
“The only tune I am in is ill,” Beatrice said. “I am sick.”
“If you want a tune that is not ill, I recommend ‘Light of Love,’” Margaret said. “That is a light, not heavy, tune, and it has no part for a man. It begins with clapping. If you will sing the song, I will dance it.”
“‘Light of love’ means wanton,” Beatrice said. “If you dance to that tune, you will have light heels — feet that are raised high in the air and wide apart. If your husband has lots of stables, he will also have lots of barns and because you and he will roll in the hay the result will be lots of bairns.”
“That is an illegitimate argument,” Margaret said. “I have no husband, and so I kick your argument away with my light heels.”
“It is almost five o’clock, Hero,” Beatrice said. “It is time you were ready. But truly, I am exceedingly ill!” She sighed, “Ho-hum.”
“Are you sighing because you want a hawk, a horse, or a husband?” Margaret asked.
“If the word ‘ache’ began with and sounded like the letter that begins ‘hawk,’ ‘horse,’ and ‘husband,’ I would be sighing because I have an aitch,” Beatrice said.
“Well, unless you have completely renounced your old views, there will be no more sailing by the North Star,” Margaret said.
Beatrice was mystified: “What does the fool mean, I wonder.”
Margaret thought, I think that Beatrice is sighing because of a different reason than illness. I think that she is sighing because she is in love with and wants to marry Benedick. Unless she has renounced her view that she wants never to be married, then there is no more trusting in signs of love such as sighs — or in anything we used to believe in, such as that the Pole Star, aka the North Star, indicates where the North lies.
“What means the fool?” Margaret said. “I mean nothing, but I hope that God sends all people their heart’s desire!”
Hero knew that Margaret was talking — not explicitly — about Beatrice’s being in love, so she decided to change the subject lest Beatrice grow suspicious: “These are the gloves that Claudio sent me; they have been excellently perfumed.”
Beatrice said, “I am stuffed up, Hero. I cannot smell.”
Margaret knew that Beatrice meant that her nose was stuffed up, but she made a joke out of “stuffed”: “You are supposed to be a virgin, and yet you are stuffed. Has a man stuffed your womb with a baby? Something good can come from catching a cold!”
“God help me!” Beatrice said. “God help me! For how long have you made being a wit your profession?”
“Ever since you stopped using your wit,” Margaret said, thinking, You still don’t know that we have tricked you into thinking that Benedick loves you.
Margaret added, “Don’t you think that my wit becomes me rarely?”
Beatrice knew that Margaret meant ‘rarely’ to mean ‘splendidly,’ but she decided to joke that ‘rarely’ meant ‘seldomly’: “Your wit is not seen enough; you should wear it in your cap so that everyone can see it. After all, fools wear coxcombs on their heads.”
She added, “Truly, I am sick.”
Margaret said, “Get some of this distilled Carduus Benedictus, and apply it over your heart: It is the only thing that will help you to get over a sudden nausea.”
Carduus Benedictus was a medicine composed of Holy Thistle. Thistles have prickles, and Hero punned, “Margaret, you are pricking her with a thistle.”
Margaret thought, Wholly thistle is nothing but pricks, and I am thinking a lot about pricks today although not the ones on thistles. I have also been thinking about holes.
Beatrice, of course, had been thinking about Benedick quite a lot recently, and she was suspicious because of the mention of Carduus Benedictus: “Benedictus! Why did you mention Benedictus? Does your mention of this Benedictus have some hidden meaning?”
“Some hidden meaning? No, there is no hidden meaning. All I meant is plain Holy Thistle,” Margaret lied. “You may think perhaps that I think you are in love. No, I am not such a fool as to think what I wish, nor am I such a fool as to wish not to think what I can, nor indeed I cannot think, if I would think my heart out of thinking, that you are in love or that you will be in love or that you can be in love. Yet Benedick was just like you in his opinion of marriage, and yet he has become a man who is like other men: He swore he would never marry, and yet now, despite what he swore, he metaphorically eats his meat without complaining. I do not know how you are changing and being converted the way that he was converted to a new way of thinking, but I think that you are beginning to look with your eyes as other women do. You are becoming like other women.”
Margaret thought, Benedick swore that he would never marry, and yet he has fallen in love. The same is becoming true of Beatrice.
The title Much Ado About Nothing contains wordplay. A thing is what a man has between his legs. A woman has no thing between her legs, so the title can be interpreted as Much Ado About Pu**y. Given that this play is a romantic comedy, that title is correct.
In addition, in Elizabethan England “nothing” and “noting” were pronounced the same way. In the play, a lot of noting occurs — people note what other people say and do. Frequently, they misinterpret what they note, and this leads to complications in the play.
David Bruce’s William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing: A Retelling in Prose is available at all leading online eBook retailers.