The familiarity of the phrase 'much ado about nothing’ belies its complexity. In Shakespeare’s day 'nothing’ was pronounced the same as 'noting’, and the play contains numerous punning references to 'noting’, both in the sense of observation and in the sense of 'notes’ or messages. A third meaning of 'noting’ – musical notation – is also played upon (eg in Balthazar’s speech 'Note this before my notes/There’s not a note of mine that’s worth the noting.’) However it is a fourth use of the homonym – this time as 'nothing’ – that is the most controversial element of the title. 'Nothing’ was Elizabethan slang for the vagina (a vacancy, 'no-thing’ or 'O thing’). Virginity – a state of potentiality rather than actuality – is also much discussed in the play, and it is these twin absences – the vagina and virginity – that lead, in plot terms, to the 'much ado’ of the title.This was not something that came up in my high school or college course discussions. More info at the TodayILearned subreddit, where the example of an "innuendo-laden" dialogue between Hamlet and Ophelia is cited -
- where the word "country" also offers a obvious salacious innuendo.Hamlet: Lady, shall I lie in your lap?Ophelia: No, my lord.Hamlet: I mean, my head upon your lap?Ophelia: Ay, my lord.Hamlet: Do you think I meant country matters?Ophelia: I think nothing, my lord.Hamlet: That's a fair thought to lie between maids' legs.Ophelia: What is, my lord?Hamlet: Nothing.
More discussion at the link, with other Shakespearean citations. Perhaps I should rewrite the title of my 2010 post Proving that "pussy" jokes are nothing new.