Much Ado About Nothing

Love, villainy, friendship, parent-child relationships, society, and customs – Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing touches on all of these themes. This teacher's guide presents strategies and activities to use in presenting the play to your students.
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Teaching Strategies:
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Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing

After reading the play, conduct follow up activities extending students' learning and enriching their understanding of the play and its themes.

Show a complete film version of Much Ado About Nothing. In five groups, have the students discuss how each act of the film differs from the same act of the play.

Use writing response assignments to get students to deepen their understanding. Organize writing response groups to provide an audience and feedback for rough drafts and sharing of finished pieces. Suggest the following topics:

a. Now that you have read the play, how do you judge it as a comedy? Mood is the feeling of a piece of literature. Is the mood of this play light and humorous or serious and weighty? First freewrite about your reaction to these questions and then look back to the play for quotes and scenes used to establish the dominant mood. *

b. Draw a diagram of the play showing the movement of the mood (mood shifts) occurring during the action. Write an explanation of your diagram.

c. Write a comic scene modeled on Much Ado About Nothing. Think about an episode that could happen at school between a boy and girl. What things might lead to complications? Create a dialogue and some stage action. Try out the scene with several other students and then revise your scene according to their directions.

d. A lot of the humor involving Dogberry and Verges arises from their fractured sense of word meanings. Examine several of their speeches and write some of your own malapropisms.

e. Compare one section of the film version of Much Ado to the text of one act of the play. What did the screenplay leave out or change? What is the effect of such changes? Review the act you have chosen. Describe what changes or adaptations you might make in your film version of this act.

f. Who would you rather be - Beatrice or Hero; Claudio or Benedick? Compare and contrast the two female or male characters. Why do you think Shakespeare created the pairs of characters?

g. Study a map of Italy. Pinpoint the places mentioned in the play. Do some research about the historical situation in Italy in the sixteenth century. Explain historically the wars which Don Pedro and his men have been fighting. *

h. Select one character and write a letter describing the events in Leonato's house from that character's point of view.

i. Write a dramatic monologue patterned after the monologues of Robert Browning (for example, "My Last Duchess" in Selected Poems of Robert Browning, edited by Daniel Karlin, Penguin Poetry Library, 1990), which you will recite orally to your group. *

j. Choose a passage in the play which best represents one of the themes. Explain what the passage means and what it reveals about the theme.

Many students will enjoy and benefit from more physical responses to the play.

a. Directors often make changes in a play to express a particular point of view, interpretation of character, or illustration of theme. Small groups of students can work together on a scene or part of a scene. Decide who will be the director, assistant director, and actors. Plan your interpretation of the scene, rehearse your scene, and act it out for the class. Be ready to explain your interpretation of the scene.

b. Critics make a distinction between low comedy and high comedy. Low comedy is the boisterous, rowdy play of characters who often come from lower social classes; the language of these social classes often includes dialect, lots of bawdy language, innuendo, and word play. High comedy is more sophisticated and involves the characters of the upper class. High comedy is more intellectual and arises from the pleasure of seeing complications resolved. Brainstorm high and low comedy you have seen on television, video, or film. Pick a situation between a boy and a girl that might occur at school. Write the scene as high or low comedy. Present it to the class and ask them to identify the type of comedy you have presented.

Or, choose a high comedy and a low comedy scene in Much Ado About Nothing. Act out each scene including as much action as possible. Discuss how each type of comedy affects the viewer and how we derive pleasure from viewing comedy.*

c. Practice a key speech that helps develop the character who is speaking. Recite the speech to a small group and describe why you chose it.

d. Select one or several pieces of music (or compose one) that you think reflects the mood of a scene or several scenes. In a small group, practice reading the scene(s) with the music as a background. Record your reading on an audio recorder.

e. Select a scene. Design the set for the scene. Be sure to include both scenery and props.

f. Select a character. Go through the play and draw designs for costumes for that character.

The Introduction and Commentaries in the Signet Classic edition can be explored profitably by students after their own reading of Much Ado. The Introduction is especially helpful in comparing the relationship of Claudio and Hero with that of Benedick and Beatrice. The various essays in the Commentaries section can give students an historical sense of changing responses to the play. In addition, the essay by Carol Thomas Neely gives insight into the various gender-related issues raised in the play. One use of these essays would be to have students first freewrite about their personal views, read an appropriate essay, and then compare their view to that of the essay's author. *

With a small group or as a class, read Keeping Christina by Sue Ellen Bridgers (Harper, 1993). In the book, the teenage students debate whether or not Shakespeare was actually the author of the plays. Discuss the points raised by the teenagers in Bridgers' book. Research the controversy over the authorship of the plays and hold a class debate.


Other Literature Dealing with the Themes of Much Ado About Nothing


Bridgers, Sue Ellen. All Together Now. Knopf, 1979.
Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Signet Classic, 1960.
Bronte, Emily. Wuthering Heights. Signet Classic, 1959.
Dumas, Alexandre. The Count of Monte Cristo. Signet Classic, 1988.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. Tender is the Night. Scribner's, 1962.
Gingher, Marianne. Teen Angel And Other Stories of Young Love. Macmillan, 1988.
Greene, Bette. Summer of My German Soldier. Dial, 1973.
Hemingway, Ernest. A Farewell to Arms. Scribner Classics Series, 1987.
Hunt, Irene. Up a Road Slowly. Follett, 1966.
Leroux, Gaston. The Phantom of the Opera. Signet Classic, 1987.
Rosenthal, Lucy. Great American Love Stories. Little, 1988.
Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. Signet Classic, 1964.

Appearance versus Reality

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Signet Classic, 1950.
Hamilton, Virginia. M. C. Higgins, the Great. Macmillan, 1974.
Hamilton, Virginia. Zeely. Macmillan, 1967.
Melville, Herman. Billy Budd, Sailor. Signet Classic, 1961.
Wharton, Edith. The Age of Innocence. Collier, 1993.
Williams, Tennessee. The Glass Menagerie. Signet, 1987.

Gender Roles

Cooney, Caroline. I'm Not Your Other Half. Pacer, 1984.
Greene, Bette. Philip Hall Like Me. I Reckon Maybe. Dial, 1974.
Levitin, Sonia. Smile Like a Plastic Daisy. Atheneum, 1984.

Suggested Titles
PENGUIN USA's Signet Classic Shakespeare series never grows old. We offer the best of everything-unforgettable works edited by eminent Shakespeare scholars, comprehensive notes on the text, an essay on Shakespeare's life and times, source material, critical commentaries, extensive bibliographies, and footnotes. And there's more...


• To grow with the times by including both historical and thoroughly contemporary critical commentary on such issues as feminist, political, and theatrical interpretations of the plays-with recent full-length essays by such respected scholars as Frank Kermode, Carolyn Heilbrun, Michael Goldman, Linda Bamber, and many others.
• To provide more bibliographic listings and more up-to-date and relevant listings of pertinent books and articles in the Suggested Reference Section than the competition offers.
• To feature essays on the Performance or Stage History of each play, written by Sylvan Barnet.


HENRY IV, PART I - Edited by Maynard Mack
HENRY IV, PART II - Edited by Norman Holland
HENRY V - Edited by John Russell Brown
HENRY VI, PARTS I, II, & III - Edited by Lawrence V. Ryan, Arthur Freeman, and Milton Crane respectively
KING JOHN and HENRY VIII - Edited by William Matchett and Samuel Schoenbaum respectively
RICHARD II - Edited by Kenneth Muir
RICHARD III - Edited by Mark Eccles


ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA - Edited by Barbara Everett
CORIOLANUS - Edited by Reuben Brower
FOUR GREAT TRAGEDIES (Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, Othello)
HAMLET - Edited by Edward Hubler
JULIUS CAESAR - Edited by William and Barbara Rosen
KING LEAR - Edited by Russell Fraser
MACBETH - Edited by Sylvan Barnet
THE MERCHANT OF VENICE - Edited by Kenneth O. Myrick
OTHELLO - Edited by Alvin Kernan
ROMEO AND JULIET - Edited by Joseph Bryant
TITUS ANDRONICUS and TIMON OF ATHENS - Edited by Sylvan Barnet and Maurice Charney respectively
TROILUS AND CRESSIDA - Edited by Daniel Seltzer


ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL - Edited by Sylvan Barnet
AS YOU LIKE IT - Edited by Albert Gilman
THE COMEDY OF ERRORS - Edited by Harry Levin
FOUR GREAT COMEDIES (The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Twelfth Night, The Tempest)
LOVE'S LABOR'S LOST - Edited by John Arthos
LOVE'S LABOR'S LOST, TWO GENTLEMAN OF VERONA, and THE MERRY WIVES OF WINSDOR - Edited by John Arthos, Bertrand Evans, and William Green respectively
MEASURE FOR MEASURE - Edited by S. Nagarajan
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM - Edited by Wolfgang Clemen
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING - Edited by David Stevenson
PERICLES, CYMBELINE, and THE TWO NOBLE KINSMEN - Edited by Ernest Schanzer, Richard Hosley, and Clifford Leach respectively
THE TAMING OF THE SHREW - Edited by Robert Heilman
THE TEMPEST - Edited by Robert Langbaum
TWELFTH NIGHT - Edited by Herschel Clay Baker
THE WINTER'S TALE - Edited by Frank Kermode


THE SONNETS - Edited by William Burto
THE SONNETS AND NARRATIVE POEMS The Complete Non-Dramatic Poetry - Edited by William Burto and William Empson
STORIES FROM SHAKESPEARE - Marchette Chute (Meridian)
TALES FROM SHAKESPEARE - Charles Lamb and Mary Lamb
A DICTIONARY OF QUOTATIONS FROM SHAKESPEARE - Edited by Margaret Miner and Hugh Rawson (Signet)
SHAKESPEARE His Life, His Language, His Theater - S. Schoenbaum


HAMLET - Patti McWhorter
MACBETH - Linda N. Underwood
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING - Jeanne M. McGlinn, Ph.D. and James E. McGlinn, Ed.D
ROMEO AND JULIET - Arthea J. S. Reed, Ph.D.
TAMING OF THE SHREW - Carol J. Luttner and Lauren McCammon


Jeanne M. McGlinn, Lecturer in the Department of Education at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, has a Ph.D. in Literature from the University of Kansas, where she taught courses in composition and literature. Currently she is director of the Reading and Critical Thinking Center at UNC-A and teaches Children's Literature and Humanities. Her research interests include multicultural literature, gender issues in children's literature, and writing instruction.

James E. McGlinn, Associate Professor of Education at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, has a B.A. and an M.A. in English and an Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Kansas. He has taught high school English and has directed developmental reading programs at Ottawa University in Ottawa, Kansas, and at UNC-A. He currently is teaching methods of teaching courses for grades 6-12 at UNC-A. His research interests include multicultural education, telecomputing, and cooperative learning.


W. Geiger (Guy) Ellis, Professor Emeritus at the University of Georgia, Department of Language Education, received his A.B. and M.Ed. degrees from the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) and his Ed.D. from the University of Virginia. For over 15 years, Guy has been active in teaching adolescent literature in the classroom and in training future teachers in its use, lecturing and writing extensively on the subject. He developed and edited The ALAN Review from 1978 to 1984, changing its focus from a newsletter to a fully referred journal with an emphasis on articles with research and instructional significance. His research has had heavy emphasis on the content of literature instruction.

Currently Professor and Chairperson of Education at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, Arthea (Charlie) J. S. Reed has taught for 20 years on both the high school and college level. She received her A.B. (Bethany College) and her M.S. (Southern Connecticut State University) in English and her Ph.D. (Florida State University) in Teacher Education. In addition to teaching, Charlie was The ALAN Review (NCTE) editor from 1984 to 1990 and served as Co-Director of the Mountain Area Writing Project (a part of the National Writing Project) from 1982 to 1988. She is also the author of Reaching Adolescents: Young Adult Books and the Schools (Holt, 1985), Comics to Classics: A Guide to Books for Teens and Preteens (Penguin, 1994), and Point-Counterpoint: An Introduction to Education (Dushkin, 1991).

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