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Tales From Shakespeare
Charles and Mary Lamb
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Much Ado About Nothing
There lived in the palace at Messina two ladies, whose names were Hero and Beatrice.
Hero was the daughter, and Beatrice the niece, of Leonato, the governor of Messina.
Beatrice was of a lively temper and loved to divert her cousin Hero, who was of a more
serious disposition, with her sprightly sallies. Whatever was going forward was sure to
make matter of mirth for the light-hearted Beatrice.
At the time the history of these ladies commences some young men of high rank in the
army, as they were passing through Messina on their return from a war that was just
ended, in which they bad distinguished themselves by their great bravery, came to visit
Leonato. Among these were Don Pedro, the Prince of Arragon, and his friend Claudio,
who was a lord of Florence; and with them came the wild and witty Benedick, and he was
a lord of Padua.
These strangers had been at Messina before, and the hospitable governor introduced them
to his daughter and his niece as their old friends and acquaintance.
Benedick, the moment he entered the room, began a lively conversation with Leonato and
the prince. Beatrice, who liked not to be left out of any discourse, interrupted Benedick
"I wonder that you will still be talking, Signor Benedick. Nobody marks you."
Benedick was just such another rattlebrain as Beatrice, yet he was not pleased at this free
salutation; he thought it did not become a well-bred lady to be so flippant with her
tongue; and he remembered, when he was last at Messina, that Beatrice used to select
him to make her merry jests upon. And as there is no one who so little likes to be made a
jest of as those who are apt to take the same liberty themselves, so it was with Benedick
and Beatrice; these two sharp wits never met in former times but a perfect war of raillery
was kept up between them, and they always parted mutually displeased with each other.
Therefore, when Beatrice stopped him in the middle of his discourse with telling him
nobody marked what he was saying, Benedick, affecting not to have observed before that
she was present, said:
"What, my dear Lady Disdain, are you yet living?" And now war broke out afresh
between them, and a long jangling argument ensued, during which Beatrice, although she
knew be had so well approved his valor in the late war, said that she would eat all he had
killed there; and observing the prince take delight in Benedick's conversation, she called
him "the prince's jester." This sarcasm sank deeper into the mind of Benedick than all
Beatrice had said before. The hint she gave him that he was a coward, by saying she
would eat all he bad killed, he did not regard, knowing himself to be a brave man; but
there is nothing that great wits so much dread as the imputation of buffoonery, because