Joe has taught college English courses for several years, has a Bachelor's degree in Russian Studies and a Master's degree in English literature.
Dogberry in the Play
Dogberry is a constable who watches over the city of Messina in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. He sees this as an enormous responsibility. Any failure on their part to fulfill their duties could have grave repercussions, yet he ''cannot see how sleeping should offend.'' Apparently, sleeping on the job is acceptable.
Shakespeare further ridicules the police force as Dogberry explains the best way to apprehend a thief. He indicates the ''most peaceful way for you...is to let him show himself what he is and steal out of your company.'' In other words, the police should keep their distance and allow the thief to steal from them. Throughout the play, Dogberry appears casual about how the police carry out their duties.
Rather than investigate the character of his men, Dogberry just asks them, ''are you good men and true?'' This is how he makes sure they're trustworthy and will uphold the office. When asked what do to if a man will not heed their commands, Dogberry answers that they should ''let him go...and thank God you are rid of a knave.''
Despite the appearance that the role of a constable is more for show than action, Dogberry does show some competence. He says that ''any man that knows his statutes, he may stay (the Prince).'' He demonstrates a thorough knowledge of the constable's duties and responsibilities, but it's hard for him to make an effort to enforce these statutes.
Dogberry leaves the men and heads for home, but mentions that if ''there be any matter of weight chances, call up me.'' He makes himself available if his men wind up in trouble. As it happens, his men learn of Borachio's involvement in a plot to ruin Hero's reputation and wedding.
Dogberry to Leonato, the governor of Messina, to inform him that ''our watch…have indeed comprehended two auspicious persons.'' He then asks permission to ''have them this morning examin'd before your worship.'' Dogberry's continual misuse of particular words confounds Leonato. To appease Dogberry, Leonato grants him permission to conduct the interrogation in his absence.
Leonato has additional obligations towards his daughter's wedding, so he's unable to observe the questioning of the supposed criminals. Dogberry asks for a man to ''bring his pen and inkhorn to the jail. We are now to examination these men.''
Since Leonato will not be present during the interrogation, they will have written record of the entire conversation. This would preserve the conversation in the event any problem arose later regarding the answers given by the accused. Throughout this process, Dogberry confuses matters by focusing on unimportant things. This lack of attention almost causes the police to overlook their real crime.
While Dogberry eventually learns that Borachio and Conrade actually did something wrong, he takes pride in uncovering the plot. Dogberry attempts to act like a pro even though he's reminded that he ''must call forth the watch that are their accusers,'' before he questions the villains. It's Dogberry's men who reveal that Borachio and Conrade called ''Don John, the Prince's brother…a villain.'' Dogberry exclaims that ''this is flat perjury,' and tells the accused that he does 'not like (their) look.'' Even though Dogberry did nothing, he'll take all the credit for this discovery.
After Dogberry asks for the accused to ''be opinion'd'' rather than cuffed, or pinioned, one of the accused calls Dogberry an ass. This lack of respect infuriates Dogberry. He asks, ''dost thou not suspect my place? Dost thou not suspect my years?''
Dogberry asserts that he's ''a wise fellow, and which is more, and officer.'' He takes great pride in the work he does, and for the number of years he's had this position. He states further that he ''knows the law.'' When he presents the case to Leonato, he requests that his being called an ass ''be rememb'red in (their) punishment.'' Dogberry considers the disrespect an affront to his character, which only adds to his display of incompetence.
There is more to Dogberry's character than the serious demeanor he displays. Quite often he adds levity, or light-hearted humor, to the play. Since Much Ado About Nothing is a comedy, quite a bit of the humor comes from word-play. Dogberry frequently uses an incorrect word, which makes his utterance absurd, thereby creating comedic effect.
For example, as he takes leave of Leonato, Dogberry wishes him well and ''if a merry meeting may be wish'd, God prohibit it.'' Obviously this isn't what Dogberry wanted to say. Rather than prevent a merry meeting, it should be allowed!
Earlier, Dogberry tells Borachio and Conrade that they ''wilt be condemn'd into everlasting redemption for'' their crimes. Dogberry means to say ''damnation,'' since everlasting redemption would be a positive outcome.
Dogberry frequently uses an incorrect word that distorts his meaning, which makes him look a bit silly, but adds to the humor of the play. However, his listeners take all this in stride, granting Dogberry the respect and honor a man of his position deserves. All of these examples are elements that make Dogberry the comedic relief of Much Ado About Nothing, meaning he's a character that provides the audience with ways to laugh in usually serious situations.
All right, let's take a moment or two to review. In this lesson, we learned about the lead constable who oversees the security of the city of Messina, in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, Dogberry. We learned that he believes his police force provides exemplary service. Unfortunately, he demonstrates that they do anything but act professionally. They sleep on the job and refrain from approaching criminals.
When Dogberry displays a moment of competency, he shows the pride he has in the job, and himself. He also takes great umbrage when someone disrespects his person. Such outrage over such a minor insult adds to the humor of the play.
Perhaps Dogberry's greatest contribution to the humor of the play is his constant misuse of words. Not only does this provide levity (or light-hearted humor) and emphasizes Dogberry's role as comedic relief (or a character that provides the audience with ways to laugh in usually serious situations), but it adds some flair to Dogberry's character. These moments of hilarity give the audience further reason to care about this self-proclaimed fastidious old man.
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