The Fortunes of Fame in <i>Much Ado About Nothing</i>
When in Much Ado About Nothing Benedick says that he has ‘played the part of Lady Fame’, he names a figure of the literary topos of fama not yet properly identified in the scholarship. This essay focuses on that topos as it lives on in the play and is transformed by it, arguing that while criticism has emphasized fame’s destructive side in Much Ado, it is also life-giving. A first section recalls Shakespeare’s familiarity with the tradition, and reviews its classical roots. Section two then traces the ramifications of a late-medieval and early-Renaissance personification of Fame, sourcing it in the play to Chaucer rather than Vergil: a Fame akin to Fortune, and one suitable for the play’s courtly milieu. The third section investigates Shakespeare’s use of this broader, less-sinister and Fortune-like conception of fame as it contributes to the construction of character and to the play’s celebrated realism. The concluding section argues that out of this realism grows the romance of the play’s final scenes, where Shakespeare expands the register of fame to equate it with new life and transformed identity in the restoration of Hero.
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