1. When was the play first performed?
A single edition of the play appeared in1600; it was performed one or two years earlier.
2. Where was the play first performed?
First at James Burbage’s outdoor playhouse, The Theatre, north of the city wall, then at the newly-constructed Globe.
3. How does this play fit into Shakespeare’s career?
It comes roughly in the middle of his career, and scholars group it as a “mature comedy” with The Merchant of Venice (coming soon to the Blackfriars Playhouse), As You Like It, and Twelfth Night (also coming soon in a new, abbreviated version to the Blackfriars Playhouse).
4. How is this play like Shakespeare’s other plays?
In terms of gender relationships, the play seems to be a reworking of Shakespeare’s theme (Two Gentlemen of Verona, Love’s Labour’s Lost, Julius Caesar) that guys who hang out together are generally idiots and largely undeserving of the women they claim to love.
5. How is this play unlike Shakespeare’s other plays?
Shakespeare’s works famously don’t take sides on the political and social issues they raise, but the ferocity of Beatrice’s attack on male chauvinism (see #4 above) and Benedick’s conversion leave no doubt on the play’s viewpoint.
6. What do scholars think about this play?
They admire it. Though, oddly, they have less to say about it than they do about the comedies they group with it. This relative quiet may be a subconscious response to the play’s message that much of what we have to say is nonsense, a message neatly summed up in the play’s title.
7. Is there any controversy surrounding the work?
8. What characters should I especially look for?
Beatrice and Benedick, one of the great couples in literature, are among Shakespeare’s wittiest creations, and Beatrice is among his wisest. People who love words cannot resist the two of them nor the play’s hilarious foil to witty language, Dogberry, whose words are a very fantastical banquet.
9. What scenes should I especially look for?
For laughs: Act Two, scene three, called “the Gulling Scene,” is theatrical magic in which Benedick’s friends trick him into realizing he’s in love with Beatrice. For not laughs: The sudden descent into darkness of Act Four, scene one, has few parallels in comedy, and the duet at the end of the scene may be the stage’s most important exchange about romantic love.
10. What is the language like?
This play has more prose in it than all but one of Shakespeare’s plays (Merry Wives), and, rich and intricate as it is, that prose contributes to the sense that the play is so contemporary.