Much Ado About Nothing | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 4, Scene 2

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 4, Scene 2 of William Shakespeare's play Much Ado About Nothing.

Much Ado About Nothing | Act 4, Scene 2 | Summary

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Summary

Dogberry, Verges, the men of the watch, Conrade, and Borachio are gathered in the courthouse or another official building. The sexton, who oversees church property, is also in attendance. He is serving as the official note taker during the examination of the criminals. It becomes apparent Dogberry has no idea what he's doing, so the sexton instructs him to have the watch give their account of the previous night's events.

The first watchman says they overheard Borachio say Don John paid him for "accusing the Lady Hero wrongfully." He goes on to describe what Borachio told Conrade, including the part about Claudio intending to shame Hero at the wedding. The sexton finds this extremely interesting since Don John fled Messina that very morning, and Claudio did indeed shame Hero, which resulted in her death. He instructs Dogberry to bring Borachio and Conrade to Leonato's home. The sexton leaves the examination to present the evidence to Leonato before Dogberry arrives.

Dogberry tries to physically remove Conrade from the room. Conrade tries to shake him off, yelling, "Away! You are an ass, you are an ass!" Dogberry is deeply offended and wishes the sexton were still around so he could record what Conrade said about him. He insists everyone remember he is an ass.

Analysis

Shakespeare is known for injecting his tragedies with comedic relief at crucial moments. Though Much Ado About Nothing is technically a comedy, the role of Dogberry is meant to lighten the darkness creeping in around the edges of the play. His appearance after the emotionally draining scene in the church is no accident. A few verbal blunders, an incompetent examination of the prisoners, and an affirmation he is indeed an ass all lift the mood of the fourth act. This assures the audience that most of the characters will get their happy ending after all.

Though his repetition of "I am an ass" is funny, Dogberry is truly hurt by Conrade's condescending attitude. Conrade, who introduces himself as a "gentleman," clearly looks down upon the verbally incompetent constable. Dogberry is so affronted he defends himself with boasts about his intelligence, his occupation, his home ownership, and even his physical person. This very human reaction to Conrade's insults, combined with his assertion he isn't an idiot, is what makes Dogberry such a great comedic character.

Don John, who proclaims himself to be a "plain-dealing villain," turns out to be a pretty lackluster bad guy. He manages to ruin Claudio's life for a short amount of time, but then what? Don John clearly knows the truth will come out in the end, which is why he hightails it out of Messina immediately after the wedding. Perhaps he knew Borachio would squeal, or maybe he figured someone would try to defend Hero's honor. In either case his decision to leave is a tacit—and blatant—admission of his guilt. Shakespeare doesn't spend a lot of time developing Don John's character because the villain himself isn't particularly important to the progression of the plot. Claudio's doubts about his impending nuptials are far more important to the story's plot and themes than Don John's motivations for ruining the wedding.

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