Much Ado About Nothing is a play (and also, at this point, an opera, and a TV show, and a movie, and the source of many additional songs and shows and movies) with a very good title. It’s a little bit ironic, a little bit knowing, a little bit whimsical—but also, with its efficient quartet of words, suggestive of some of the primary themes of Shakespeare’s iconic comedy: gossip, the ceremonies of social drama, the wooziness of love. The title suggests more than that, though. In Elizabethan English, the word “nothing” was pronounced as “no-ting,” and it suggested our modern sense of “noting” as “noticing” (and even as spying)—so, yep, yet another theme in the play.
But! There’s another pun, too. Wordplay-happy Elizabethans often used “nothing”/“no-ting” as a euphemism for ... “vagina.” (There’s no thing there, get it?) Which means that the title Much Ado About Nothing, on top of everything else, also suggests Much Ado About … yeah.
So: Four little words, with three layers of meaning. A pun parfait, in the title of the play! Today, the fashionable reaction to a pun is to roll one’s eyes and/or groan—except, of course, when the pun in question is used in the service of what we have deemed to be Poetry, in which case it is treated as a tool of literary “ambiguity.” Some of the credit/blame for that belongs to Shakespeare—who, despite and because of being perhaps the greatest poet ever to wield the English language, was also an inveterate punster. The bard of Avon took advantage of rhymes and doubled-up (and occasionally tripled-up) meanings to turn his plays and poems into interactive riddles.