Much Ado About Nothing: Save Innogen, and Banish the Sentimentalists’ Claudio!

Par Cedric Watts
Publication en ligne le 13 décembre 2018


Although Shakespeare included Innogen, Hero's mother, in Much Ado About Nothing, editors (mostly male editors) have usually excluded her from the text. She says nothing; but silent characters can still be eloquent (as was Vivien Leigh's dumb Lavinia in Titus Andronicus at Stratford upon Avon in 1955). By excluding Innogen, editors have unwittingly extended and verified the revelation of male chauvinism in Much Ado About Nothing. Male editors have also intended to make Claudio conventionally sympathetic, thus contravening Shakespeare's intention to make him unconventionally unsympathetic.

Alors que Shakespeare a inclus Innogen, la mère de Hero, dans Much Ado About Nothing, les responsables de publication (des hommes pour la plupart) l’ont fréquemment exclue du texte. Elle ne dit rien, mais les personnages silencieux peuvent néanmoins être éloquents (telle la Lavina interprétée par Vivien Leigh dans Titus Andronicus, Stratford-upon-Avon, 1955). En excluant Innogen, les éditeurs ont augmenté et confirmé inconsciemment l’impact du chauvinisme dans Much Ado. Ils ont aussi cherché à faire de Claudio un personnage compatissant selon les conventions, allant à l’encontre de l’intention de Shakespeare d’en faire un personnage indifférent, contrairement aux conventions.


Texte intégral

1Should we save Innogen in Much Ado About Nothing? For centuries, editors have answered that question with a ruthless “No”. I say “Yes”, and argue here that she should be restored to the play to which she belongs. The main puzzle is: why was she ever suppressed? This is not a trivial matter. You will soon see that it has big implications for editors, directors, and theatre-goers.

2Everyone knows about the character called “Imogen”, who has an important rôle in Cymbeline, and whose name should be ‘Innogen’, according (for example) to Roger Warren.1 Although “Innogen” probably derived from the Gaelic “Inghean”, meaning “maiden” or “daughter”, to modern readers it looks like a portmanteau-word suggesting “innocent from birth”. Apparently the name was misprinted in Cymbeline, perhaps because the written version was unclear; and from that play “Imogen” has been transmitted to posterity, so that it is now a familiar first name for females: Imogen Thomas, the television personality, Imogen Ryall, the Brighton jazz singer, and Imogen Stubbs, the star of stage and screen, come to mind.

3Hardly anyone, however, has heard of Innogen in Much Ado about Nothing. She is the wife of Leonato and mother of Hero, and she is supposed to appear in at least two scenes. Nevertheless, for centuries, editors (and they always seem to be male editors) have excised her: they’ve killed the unfortunate woman! You will not find her in such standard editions of the Complete Works as Peter Alexander’s, or the Riverside, or the Norton, or the Wells and Taylor volume for Oxford. A. R. Humphreys’ Arden edition of the play excludes her, and so do the editions by David Stevenson (Signet), Sheldon P. Zitner (Oxford), and John F. Cox (Cambridge). And the list could be extended for many lines. It looks like the perfect crime: no body can be found.

4What makes this habitual exclusion so strange is that Innogen is clearly specified in the earliest texts from which all subsequent texts derive. They are the First Quarto and the First Folio. In the First Quarto (Q1), the stage-direction for the opening of the play says: “Enter Leonato gouernour of Messina, Innogen his wife, Hero his daughter, and Beatrice his neece, with a messenger.’ In the First Folio (F1) the stage-direction is almost identical, again specifying ‘Innogen his wife”. At the opening of Act II, in F1, and at the equivalent location in Q1, the entry of Innogen is yet again specified: “Leonato, his brother, his wife...”.

5So why do editors delete her? One reason is that she does not say anything. Various editors therefore believe that although Shakespeare introduced her with the intention of giving her a speaking rôle, he found no use for her. Therefore, these editors presume, they are helping Shakespeare by doing what he should have done: they are tidying the text (and perhaps reducing the wage-bill) by removing a redundant character. They think they know better than Heminge and Condell, Shakespeare’s colleagues, who prepared the First Folio, who must have seen how the play worked in the theatre, and who retained Innogen.

6What the censorious male editors fail to see is a glaring irony. Much Ado About Nothing is a bitter-sweet comedy which strikingly displays the operations of male chauvinism. It shows that women may be treated as adjuncts to the men, to be variously used, abused, manipulated, slandered, discredited or marginalised. By their ruthless dispatch of Innogen, these male editors emulate the cruelty of Claudio. He, totally misled, denounces his fiancée at the altar, so that she, instead of joining him in holy wedlock, is proclaimed a whore, swoons away, and is left by him for dead. When Claudio realises his error, he is (to make amends) quite willing to accept from Leonato a bride – supposedly Leonato’s niece – whom, he believes, he has never met! Meanwhile, Beatrice, who has displayed plenty of independent spirit in her bouts of wit with Benedick, eventually agrees to marry her sparring-partner; but will her independence survive years of marriage and, presumably, motherhood?

7Part of the answer is provided by the silence of Innogen. In an ironic master-stroke, Shakespeare has, from the very start of the play, established that in this male-dominated world, a wife and mother may be a mute witness of events; a person ignored, not consulted; a person whose later absence from the action expresses eloquently the ways in which some women may be utterly marginalised. She, bearing that name redolent of innocence, is an appropriately passive mother to the much-manipulated and much-demeaned Hero.

8In Act I, scene 1, when Don Pedro says to Leonato, about Hero, “I think this is your daughter”, Leonato replies: “Her mother hath many times told me so.”2 This proves that Shakespeare regards this mother as a continuing living presence, for Leonato says “hath...told”, not “told”. What is more, if she is on stage, as the directions specify, we may imagine her expression (perhaps good-humoured, or resigned, or disgusted) as she hears that ironic exchange of dialogue and its bawdy continuation. The continuation jocularly implies that if Benedick had been older, he might well have copulated with Innogen, thus casting subsequent doubt on Hero’s legitimacy. “Were you in doubt, sir, that you asked her?” enquires Benedick; and Leonato coarsely responds: “Signor Benedick, no, for then you were a child.” Grossly embarrassing material for the listening mother.

9By erasing Innogen from Much Ado About Nothing, the male editors of the work have both weakened it and verified it. They have weakened the play by removing a telling example of the subordinated female; but they have verified it unwittingly by extending into the real world the play’s thematic concern with the ruthless manipulation of women by men. (Silent male characters in the plays are customarily allowed to remain.)

10When I had the opportunity to edit Much Ado About Nothing, I therefore took great pleasure in restoring Innogen to the text. Just as the apparently dead Hero is eventually resurrected in the play, the silent Innogen (her long-suffering mother) has been deliberately resurrected for this edition. “The empty vessel makes the greatest sound” (IV.4.63-64), says the intelligent Boy in Henry V3, and, conversely, good acting can accord a character’s silence the most eloquent expressiveness. Still waters run deep. I have never forgotten Vivien Leigh’s poignant performance as the tongueless Lavinia in Peter Brook’s Titus Andronicus at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1955. Her eyes, gestures and postures silently uttered resounding eloquence. The stillness was sometimes hieratic; the poignancy offset the horror.

11An obvious conclusion to part one follows. Let us bring back to the light of day not only Innogen but all the rest of the editorially-buried humanity in Shakespeare!

12Part one showed that editors have succumbed to an egoistic vice. They have deleted or altered Shakespearean material that they dislike in order to create new effects which (naturally) they regard as superior. In Part two of this essay, I provide another example of this procedure.

13In what is customarily designated scene 3 of Act V, the setting is a monumental tomb in a churchyard. What takes place here is a ritual of mourning for the apparently dead Hero; and, according to numerous modern texts of the play, the penitent Claudio is central to that ritual. In the greatly-respected Arden text edited by A. R. Humphreys, for example, we find that the people who enter are Claudio, Don Pedro, three or four men with tapers, Balthasar and a group of musicians. Claudio reads from a scroll the following poem of lamentation for Hero:

‘Done to death by slanderous tongues

Was the Hero that here lies:

Death, in guerdon of her wrongs,

Gives her fame which never dies:

So the life that died with shame

Lives in death with glorious fame.’

[Hangs up the scroll.]

Hang thou there upon the tomb,

Praising her when I am dumb. (V, 3, 3-10)4

14He calls for music; Balthasar then sings the song ‘Pardon, goddess of the night’ (V,3,12-21) and Claudio rounds it off by saying: “Now unto thy bones good night! / Yearly will I do this rite.” (V,3,23-24) Bidding farewell to each other, the men then go their separate ways.

15Morally, all this seems very satisfactory: the penitent Claudio is mourning Hero as he should. Numerous other editors arrange the speeches so that Claudio similarly dominates the proceedings. For instance, such acclaimed editions as Peter Alexander’s (1951), the Riverside Shakespeare (1974), the Oxford Complete Works (1986 and 1988) and the commodious Norton Shakespeare (1997) let Claudio read that poem and invoke the song (now sung not by Balthasar but by ‘three or four with tapers’). In various productions for stage and screen, Claudio’s voice is tremulous with grief, and he wipes away his tears. A 1993 staging at Edinburgh even allowed Hero to eavesdrop on his penitence, so that the eventual reconciliation would seem more credible5.

16If, however, we go back to Shakespeare, we discover a very different scene. The most authoritative version of Much Ado About Nothing is the Quarto of 1600, the earliest printed text of the play. That text appears to derive from Shakespeare’s “foul papers”: in other words, from an untidy manuscript by the playwright. In that 1600 Quarto, we find that the stage-directions and speech-headings do not specify Balthasar and the musicians, who featured in that 1981 Arden text. Furthermore, and crucially, the person who reads the “Done to death” poem is not Claudio at all. That poem is read by an anonymous “Lord”. Then follows the song, evidently rendered by the “three or foure” taper-bearers mentioned in the stage-directions. Immediately after the song, we find the words “Now vnto thy bones good night, yeerely will I doe this right.” These words are allocated, however, not to Claudio but to “Lo.”, in other words, a Lord. A sceptic might say, “But that is only the Quarto text. What about the First Folio, 1623?” Well, the First Folio has very small variants in spelling and punctuation, but otherwise is the same. The speeches are allocated to the same people. Just as in the Quarto, Claudio has little to say: not thirteen lines (as in those modern texts) but just five lines in the whole scene.

17Numerous editors have evidently been replacing Shakespearean material that they do not like by editorial material that they prefer. The standard editorial adaptation, in giving the poem and its ensuing couplet to Claudio, makes him more prominent and modifies his character. He now is an eloquently penitent mourner for the supposedly dead Hero. Editors thus push the characterisation and the play’s morality firmly towards conventionality of a sentimental kind. So here is an obvious puzzle. If you are editing this play, should you support this academic custom, or should you seek to preserve the authentic script?

18From that tendentious phrasing (“academic” versus “authentic”? – no contest!) you can infer my answer. When I edited Much Ado About Nothing for Wordsworth Classics, I rebelled against the sentimental tradition. What was good enough for Shakespeare was good enough for me. I respected the original speech-allocations of the scene. Such fidelity, while preserving the elegiac qualities, seemed to heighten the ritual’s strangeness. And you can see that a new feature emerged. Out went the traditional soft and sentimental version of Claudio in this scene, while the original cooler and more reticent Claudio reappeared; and this character is consistent with the rather callous and calculating character seen previously. He had wooed Hero by proxy: Don Pedro had won her over for him at the dance in Act I. Now, in Act V, Claudio, with ironic consistency, mourns her by proxy. An anonymous lord must lament the “slanderous tongues” which have supposedly killed her. The worst of those tongues was Claudio’s.

19The authentic scene of lamentation now fits the pattern of Claudio’s characterisation: though he was quick to denounce Hero, the play repeatedly depicts him as strangely detached. When we had seen Claudio previously, after the supposed death of Hero, instead of expressing remorse at his part in her decease, he had joined Don Pedro in jesting that Benedick would soon be married to an adulterous wife. There we saw levity rather than penitence. Some time afterwards, Hero’s innocence having been established, Claudio will swiftly agree to make amends – by marrying speedily a woman whom he has never seen (Leonato’s “niece”) and does not know. Thus, having been ruthless in wrongly denouncing Hero as a whore, he is now unflinchingly willing to undertake a bizarrely loveless marriage. The original scene at the monument, with its reticent Claudio, fits this sequence far better than the sentimentalised version of that scene.

20Editors have tried to make Claudio better than he really is. In doing so, they have thwarted the intentions of Shakespeare who clearly designed a play which, for all its comic levity, repeatedly offers bitter-sweet, harsh and jarring effects. In Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare is already moving into the genre of the “Problem Comedy”. In that genre, he depicts markedly unheroic heroes, unlikeable male protagonists. Much Ado’s Claudio partly resembles his namesake, the changeably callow Claudio of Measure for Measure. Strikingly, moreover, the Claudio of Much Ado resembles the haughtily cruel and fickle Bertram of All’s Well That Ends Well: another young man who is prepared not only to slander and spurn the woman who loves him, but also, after her supposed death, to accept in marriage an unknown female. Here Shakespeare is giving tips to Ibsen, Shaw and Brecht. “Alienation effects”? Shakespeare revelled in them. Indeed, if we look into Bertolt Brecht’s Messingkauf Dialogues, we find that repeatedly he advocates a return to distinctively unsettling features of staging and characterisation which he found in the Elizabethan drama.

21In short the tradition of “softening” the Claudio of Much Ado’s Act V, scene 3, displays sentimentality and fails to understand Shakespeare’s evolving intentions. Too often, conventional editorial notions of comedy have displaced Shakespeare’s interest in the problematic and disturbing. In future, let us trust the Quarto: the Bard knows best!


1  Roger Warren, “Appendix A” in William Shakespeare, Cymbeline, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1998, p. 265-268. Although the First Folio calls the heroine of Cymbeline ‘Imogen’, this may result from a misreading of Shakespeare’s writing. Simon Forman’s eye-witness account of the play calls her ‘Innogen’: that is how he heard it. Furthermore, Holinshed’s Chronicles (so often consulted by Shakespeare) specify ‘Innogen’ as the name of the first Queen of Britain. In Cymbeline, Innogen is linked to a character called ‘Leonatus’; in Much Ado, she is linked to Leonato. It all fits!

2  Shakespeare there recycles a joke he had used in The Taming of the Shrew, Act V, scene 1, lines 28-29 in my edition, Wordsworth Classics, Ware, Wordsworth Editions Ltd, (1993), new edition 2003.

3  William Shakespeare, Henry V, ed. Cedric Watts, Ware, Wordsworth, 2000.

4  William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, ed. A.R. Humphreys, The Arden Shakespeare, London, Routledge, (1981), 1994.

5  Much Ado About Nothing, Lost Theatre, Edinburgh Festival 1993, see review Shakespeare Quarterly, 45, 1994, p. 349.

Pour citer ce document

Par Cedric Watts, «Much Ado About Nothing: Save Innogen, and Banish the Sentimentalists’ Claudio!», Shakespeare en devenir [En ligne], N°13 - 2018, Shakespeare en devenir, mis à jour le : 28/12/2019, URL :

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Cedric Watts is Emeritus Professor of English at Sussex University. He has edited many Shakespeare plays for Wordsworth Editions. He has also written a novel, Final Exam under the pseudonym of “Peter Green”, 2013 (praised by Ian McEwan), poems, tales, and books on Conrad, Graham Greene, Cunninghame Graham and Thomas Hardy.