“Much a doe about nothing”

John Florio, Queen Anna’s New World of Words, 1611

John Florio, in his works First Fruits (1578), Second Fruits (1591) and Giardino di Ricreatione (1591) wrote proverbs that today are erroneously attributed to Shakespeare but were originally written by John Florio. Clara Longworth de Chambrun, Shakespeare’s scholar, in her book, Shakespeare, Actor-Poet1 reported the similarities between the two writers concerning proverbs:

Florio: Fast bind fast find (Second Fruits, Folio 31).

ShakespeareFast bind fast find, a proverb never stale in thrifty mind (Merchant of Venice, Act II, sc. 5)

FlorioAll that glistreth is not gold (SF, Folio 32)

ShakespeareAll that glitters is not gold, golden tombs do dust enfold (Merchant of Venice, Act II, sc. 5)

Florio: It is good to strike the yron when it is hot (FF, Folio 30)

Shakespeare: Strike now, or else the iron cools (Henry VI, Part III)

FlorioMore water flows by the mill than the miller knows (SF, Folio 34)

ShakespeareMore water glideth by the mill than wots the miller of (Titus Andronicus, Act II, sc. i)

FlorioWhen the cat is abroade the mise play (SF, Folio 33)

ShakespearePlaying the mouse in absence of the cat (Henry IV, Act I, sc. 2)

FlorioHe that maketh not marreth not (SF, Folio 27)

ShakespeareWhat make you nothing? what mar you then? (As You Like It, Act I, sc. i)

FlorioAn ill weed groweth apace (SF, Folio 31)

ShakespeareSmall herbs have grace, great weeds do grow apace (Richard III, Act II, sc. 4)

john florio shakespeare proverbs

John Florio’s Garden of Recreation (1591) is a collection of six thousand proverbs, fine sayings, witty comments and short quotations from Florio’s favourite Italian authors. John Florio loved proverbs and used them extensively both in his works and in life. Image Source.

JOHN FLORIO, SHAKESPEARE AND PROVERBS: Two books that explain Shakespeare’s love for proverbs and the extensive use of proverbial language in his plays.

FlorioMake of necessity virtue (SF, Folio 13)

ShakespeareMake a virtue of necessity (Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act IV, sc. 2)

Florio: Give losers leave to speak (SF, Folio 33).

ShakespeareBut I can give the loser leave to chide, and well such losers may have leave to speak (Henry VI, Part II, Act III, sc. i).

john florio shakespeare proverbs

FlorioIt is Labour lost to speak of love (Second Fruits, Folio 71)

Shakespeare takes as a title ‘‘Love’s Labour’s Lost.”

FlorioMuch a doe about nothing (Queen Anna’s New World of words, 1611)

Shakespeare takes as a title “Much Ado About Nothing

FlorioTutto è bene, che riesce bene (Giardino di Ricreatione, 1591)

Shakespeare takes as a title “All’s Well That Ends Well

FlorioNecessity hath no law (Second Fruits, Folio 31).

ShakespeareNature must obey necessity (Julius Cesar, Act III, sc. 3).

FlorioLombardy is the garden of the world (Second Fruits)

ShakespeareI am arrived for fruitful Lombardy, The pleasant garden of great Italy. (The Taming of the Shrew, 1.1.3–4)

Florio: A gallant death doth honour a whole life (SF, Folio 34)

Shakespeare: Nothing in life became him like the leaving of it (Macbeth, Act I, sc, i)

FlorioThe end maketh all men equal (SF, Folios 33)

ShakespeareOne touch of nature makes the whole world kin. (Troilus and Cressida, Act III, sc. 3)

FlorioThat is quickly done that is done well.

ShakespeareIf it were done when ’tis done, then ‘twere well. It were done quickly (Macbeth, Act I, sc 7)

FlorioVenitia, chi non ti vede non ti pretia ma chi ti vede bene gli costa. (Second Frutes)

Florio: Venice, he who seeth thee not praiseth thee not, but he who seeth thee it costs him dear  (First Fruits, Folio 34)

Shakespeare: I may say of thee as the traveller doth of Venice: Venetia Venetia, chi non ti vede non ti pretia. Old Mantuan, who understandeth thee not, loves thee not. (Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act IV, sc 2)

Besides these examples, Shakespeare refers some thirty times to proverbs in such phrases as these:

Thereof comes the proverb: Blessings on your heart, you brew good ale (Two Gentlemen of Verona)

While the Grass grows —The proverb is somewhat musty (Hamlet)

Like the poor cat in the adage (Macbeth)

I am proverb’d with a grandsire phrase (Romeo and Juliet)


There is also, in Henry V, what Shakespeare calls “rapid venew of wit,” which is difficult to understand without Florio’s explanation that ”Four is the Devil’s company” (Compagnia di quattro, compagnia di Diavolo)

The disputants in Shakespeare are four in number:

“l will never did well,” says one.

“I’ll cap that proverb with ‘there’s flattery in friendship,” replies the second.

“And I will take up with: ‘Give the Devil his due,” retorts the third.

“Well placed, there stands your friend for the devils,” and the mysterious reference is explained.

By these parallels, it is obvious that both Shakespeare and Florio used the same conversation techniques, the same method of using proverbs in colloquial speech, the same witty sayings, syllogisms, philosophical reasonings, and they even had the same opinion on various subjects.


  1. Clara Longworth De Chambrun, Shakespeare, Actor-Poet, D. Appleton, 1927.