Pun & Malapropisms in Much Ado About Nothing

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will examine William Shakespeare's use of puns and malapropisms in William Shakespeare's ''Much Ado About Nothing'' as comedic elements to this light-hearted love story.


When the shoe store caught on fire, hundreds of soles were lost. Get it? This hilarious joke is just one example of a pun. A pun is a play on words that takes advantage of a word's multiple meanings or of words that sound alike, but have different meanings. Another humorous technique that is used by William Shakespeare in Much Ado About Nothing is malapropism. Malapropism is the accidental use of a word with a similar sound instead of the correct word. Let's look at some examples of puns and malapropisms from this comedy about love and miscommunication.


While Beatrice and Benedick eventually fall in love, you wouldn't guess from the way they treat each other at the beginning of the play that this is what is in store for them. A lot of the humor from this play comes from Beatrice's biting wit. When the messenger tells Beatrice that Benedick is 'a good soldier too, lady,' she responds by saying, 'And a good soldier to a lady, but what is he to a lord?' She changes the adverb 'too,' which means 'also' with the preposition 'to' in order to undermine Benedick's accomplishments.

The other couple, Claudio and Hero, are more conventional, but really bad at communication. After Don Pedro, Claudio's commanding officer, dances with Hero, Claudio is jealous, but is trying to hide his feelings. Beatrice says, 'The Count is neither sad, nor sick, nor merry, nor well, but civil count, civil as an orange, and something of that jealous complexion.' This play on words connects 'civil' to 'Seville,' which is where bitter oranges are grown.

Don Pedro tries to convince Balthasar to sing for him, Balthasar initially protests, but Don Pedro is unrelenting. Before he begins, Balthasar says, 'Note this before my notes: there's not a note of mine that's worth the noting.' This play on words uses two meanings of the word 'note.' It means to pay attention to something and it refers to musical note.

A character that is included purely for comic relief is Dogberry. Dogberry, the head constable, directs his men on crime-fighting. It is apparent that he is not terribly effective as he seems to not want to get his hands dirty. He advises, 'The most peaceable way for you, if you do take a thief, is to let him show himself what he is and steal out of your company.' Dogberry's pun conflates the two meanings of the word 'steal.' One describes taking something that belongs to someone else like a thief would do; the other is sidling away.

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