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Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing: Character Analysis & Purpose

Instructor: Joseph Altnether

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.

The constable Dogberry in Shakespeare's 'Much Ado About Nothing' is a caricature of the police force during the Renaissance. In this lesson, we'll analyze his character and discover his purpose and then you'll test your knowledge with a quiz.

Protector of Messina

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.

An artistic depiction of Dogberry
A depiction of Dogberry

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.

Fortunate Ones

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.

A sketch of Dogberry and his men
Dogberry and his men

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.

Heroes

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.

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