Much Ado’s early editorial and performance history laid the foundations of a critical tradition that prioritised the Beatrice-Benedick plot. Charles Gildon, writing a commentary to Rowe’s edition of 1709, disliked the generic instability of the play, arguing that although it must be called a comedy it contained improbable “incidents” of ‘a tragic strain’ that would never ‘have come off in nature’ without a full tragic conclusion. The gulling of Don Pedro and Claudio was ‘lame’ and the plot was only effective because ‘the character of Don John the Bastard is admirably distinguished’, meaning consistently defined in terms of ‘a sour, melancholy, saturnine, envious, selfish, malicious temper-manners necessary to produce these villainous events’ (quoted in Bloom and Cornelius, 2010, 52). Claudio’s accusation of Hero on such ‘weak grounds without farther examination’ made it ‘highly contrary to the very nature of love’ and so unconvincing as well as being unnatural in its effect: ‘too shocking for either Tragedy or Comedy’. The tragic strain was only redeemed, in Gildon’s view, by Leonato’s passion. The play’s tragicomic cocktail of effects did not attract critical appreciation until the 20th century. To sensibilities at the dawn of the enlightenment, it was the integrity and distinction of characters ‘perfectly maintain’d’ which allowed readers and audiences to ‘lose the absurdities of conduct in the excellence of the manners, sentiments, diction’.
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