One theme that appears throughout the early comedies of Shakespeare is the self-love of characters preoccupied with their own needs and desires and oblivious to the needs and desires of others. Male characters, in particular, are subject to such egoism. We think of Proteus in Two Gentlemen of Verona, any of the men in Love's Labor's Lost, and Demetrius and Lysander in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Bianca in The Taming of the Shrew is an example of a female character devoted to her own pleasures. In Shakespeare's later comedies this theme comes to the fore, as many characters must escape self-absorption before they can find happiness in the love of others.
In Much Ado About Nothing, such vanity is complicated by a spirit of deception, for almost all characters involve themselves in plots in which they attempt to carry out one trick but end up victims of another. The title word "Nothing" may be taken as a pun on "noting," or overhearing, and much of the action involves eavesdropping and the partial discernment of truth. One overall motif, therefore, is that of characters too preoccupied with themselves to appreciate what happens around them.
The sources for the play's two main plot lines are unclear. Shakespeare may have come across the Claudio-Hero story in the tale of Ginevora and Ariodante, which was dramatized by Ariosto in his epic Orlando Furioso ( 1516), as well as in Matteo Bandello's tale of Sir Timbreo and Fenicia in a collection titled Novelliere ( 1554). The Beatrice-Benedick plot seems to have been Shakespeare's own, inspired by passages in Baldassar Castiglione Il Libro del Cortegiano (The Book of the Courtier), which was translated into English in 1561.
The play begins with the news that Don Pedro and Claudio, fresh from triumph in war, are headed to Messina (I, i, 12-17). The first comment that strikes us is Beatrice's question about whether Benedick, too, is returning. When she learns that he is, she rushes to mock his manhood:
In our last conflict four of his five wits went halting off, and now is the whole man govern'd with one; so that