Much Ado About Nothing | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Much Ado About Nothing | Act 3, Scene 3 | Summary

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Summary

The setting shifts from inside Leonato's property to a deserted street in the middle of the night. Four members of the neighborhood watch are on duty. Dogberry, the local constable, and his second-in-command, Verges, arrive to give the watchmen—two are named Hugh Oatcake and George Seacoal—their instructions. These are more than a little confusing, as Dogberry is forever mixing up words. He tells the watch to "comprehend all vagrom men" (meaning "apprehend all vagrant men") and make sure the local drunks get home to bed. Dogberry suggests if they encounter a thief, it's better to just "let him show himself what he is and steal out of your company." Before he leaves, Dogberry reminds the men to keep a close eye on Leonato's house since the wedding is the next day.

Dogberry and Verges leave, the members of the watch remain to hide in the shadows, and Conrad and Borachio enter. Borachio begins to tell Conrade how he earned a thousand ducats from Don John, but their conversation veers off in a tangent about fashion. Borachio finally gets back on track and tells Conrade how he wooed Margaret in Hero's bedroom while Don John, Claudio, and Don Pedro watched from the orchard. He says Claudio and Don Pedro thought Margaret was Hero, but Don John knew the truth. Borachio overheard Claudio say he would shame Hero in the church the next morning "and send her home again without a husband."

The watchmen jump out of the shadows and arrest Conrade and Borachio. Someone sends for Dogberry, who tells Don John's henchmen, "Masters, never speak, we charge you, let us obey [he means "order"] you to go with us." Conrade and Borachio are taken to jail.

Analysis

Like many of the characters in the play, Dogberry's use of language provides an insight into his character. He thinks a lot of himself and his position of constable, and he tries to make his speech match the importance of his position. He uses multisyllabic words to make himself sound smarter, but he has no idea what they mean. The resulting malapropisms—humorous misuses of words in place of similar-sounding words—make him seem like a complete idiot while simultaneously endearing him to the audience. If Beatrice's and Benedick's war of words is the highbrow comedy of Much Ado About Nothing, Dogberry's verbal buffoonery is the slapstick.

Dogberry's misuse of language also highlights his ineptitude for law enforcement. His focus is not on preventing crime, per se, but on keeping the peace. Those are two very different things. He insists the watchmen remain quiet and agrees it's a good idea if they just fall asleep. If the drunks don't want to go home, it's best to wait until they're sober. In his own wacky way, Dogberry's method of policing supports one of the overarching ideas of the play: protect your own reputation at all costs. To him it is far worse for a man's reputation to be tarnished by standing in close proximity to a thief than allowing the thief to steal all he wants. Dogberry is a terrible policeman, but he's quite in tune with the values of Elizabethan England.

Conrade and Borachio are also wiser than they appear. Their short digression about fashion is usually cut from stage productions of Much Ado About Nothing as it doesn't further the plot or provide any comedic relief. It's important, though, because it comments on how the nobility use clothing to mold their image. All of the "hot bloods," or noblemen who sport fancy attire, dress not only for protection from the elements, but to impart something about their personality. Perhaps they dress "like Pharaoh's soldiers" to show their bravery, or "like god Bel's priests," who dressed in expensive finery, to show their wealth. Some men even wear enormous codpieces to boast about the size of their literal manhood. Conrade thinks dressing with more clothing than needed for comfort is unnecessary, and he accuses Borachio of falling prey to the trappings of nobility. He's essentially saying Borachio is starting to think himself more important than he really is. The same thing could be said of Claudio and Don Pedro, who dress and speak like nobles but often act below their class.

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