Act IV - Scene II

[A Prison]

Enter the constables [Dogberry, Verges], Borachio [the Sexton, and the Watch, with Conrade.]

DOGBERRY:
Is our whole dissembly appeared?
VERGES:
O, a stool and a cushion for the sexton.
SEXTON:
Which be the malefactors?
DOGBERRY:
Marry, that am I and my partner.
VERGES:
Nay, that's certain. We have the exhibition to examine.(5)
SEXTON:
But which are the offenders that are to be examined? Let
them come before master constable.
DOGBERRY:
Yea, marry, let them come before me. What is your
name, friend?
BORACHIO:
Borachio.(10)
DOGBERRY:
Pray write down Borachio. Yours, sirrah?
CONRADE:
I am a gentleman, sir, and my name is Conrade.
DOGBERRY:
Write down master gentleman Conrade. Masters, do
you serve God?
BOTH:
Yea, sir, we hope.(15)
DOGBERRY:
Write down that they hope they serve God; and
write God first, for God defend but God should go before
such villains! Masters, it is proved already that you are little
better than false knaves, and it will go near to be
thought so shortly. How answer you for yourselves?(20)
CONRADE:
Marry, sir, we say we are none.
DOGBERRY:
A marvellous witty fellow, I assure you; but I will
go about with him. Come you hither, sirrah. A word in
your ear. Sir, I say to you, it is thought you are false
knaves.(25)
BORACHIO:
Sir, I say to you we are none.
DOGBERRY:
Well, stand aside. Fore God, they are both in a
tale. Have you writ down that they are none?
SEXTON:
Master Constable, you go not the way to examine.
You must call forth the watch that are their accusers.(30)
DOGBERRY:
Yea, marry, that's the eftest way. Let the watch
come forth. Masters, I charge you in the prince's name
accuse these men.
FIRST WATCHMAN:
This man said, sir, that Don John the
prince's brother, was a villain.(35)
DOGBERRY:
Write down Prince Don John a villain. Why, this is
flat perjury, to call a prince's brother villain.
BORACHIO:
Master constable—
DOGBERRY:
Pray thee, fellow, peace. I do not like thy look, I
promise thee.(40)
SEXTON:
What heard you him say else?
SECOND WATCHMAN:
Marry, that he had received a thousand
ducats of Don John for accusing the Lady Hero
wrongfully.
DOGBERRY:
Flat burglary as ever was committed.(45)
VERGES:
Yea, by the mass, that it is.
SEXTON:
What else, fellow?
FIRST WATCHMAN:
And that Count Claudio did mean, upon
his words, to disgrace Hero before the whole assembly,
and not marry her.(50)
DOGBERRY:
O villain! thou wilt be condemned into everlasting
redemption for this.
SEXTON:
What else?
WATCHMEN:
This is all.
SEXTON:
And this is more, masters, than you can deny. Prince(55)
Don John is this morning secretly stolen away. Hero was
in this manner accused, in this manner refused, and upon
the grief of this suddenly died. Master constable, let these
men be bound and brought to Leonato's. I will go before and
show him their examination.(60)

[Exit.]

DOGBERRY:
Come, let them be opinioned.
VERGES:
Let them be in the hands—
CONRADE:
Off, coxcomb!
DOGBERRY:
God's my life, where's the sexton? Let him write down
the prince's officer coxcomb. Come, bind them—Thou(65)
naughty varlet!
CONRADE:
Away! you are an ass, you are an ass.
DOGBERRY:
Dost thou not suspect my place? Dost thou not suspect
my years? O that he were here to write me down an ass!
But, masters, remember that I am an ass. Though it be not(70)
written down, yet forget not that I am an ass. No, thou villain,
thou art full of piety, as shall be proved upon thee by
good witness. I am a wise fellow; and which is more, an officer;
and which is more, a householder; and which is more,
as pretty a piece of flesh as any is in Messina, and one that(75)
knows the law, go to! and a rich fellow enough, go to! and a
fellow that hath had losses; and one that hath two gowns
and everything handsome about him. Bring him away. O that
I had been writ down an ass!

[Exeunt.]

Footnotes

  1. The comedy in this speech comes from Dogberry repeatedly calling himself an “ass.” By “O that I had been writ down an ass,” he means that he wishes the Sexton had been around to write down that Conrade called him an “ass” so that Conrade would be punished for this offense. However, the syntax of this second statement make it sound like Dogberry wants to be called an ass.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. “Piety,” a noun meaning mercy or compassion, is a malapropism for impiety, a noun meaning unrighteousness or wickedness.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. This is a double malapropism. Dogberry uses the noun “burglary,” meaning to rob or take, instead of the word perjury. Perjury is the act of swearing something is true before a legal court that one knows to be false. Dogberry says perjury because he thinks this word means the act of intentionally spreading false information about someone in order to defame their character. The word he is actually looking for is “slander.”

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. A “coxcomb” is a hat worn by a fool, generally with a ludicrous style. Conrade uses this as an insult for Verges when he tries to put handcuffs on him. Dogberry means to say that Conrade called the prince’s officer a “coxcomb,” but he misspeaks and actually calls Verges a coxcomb himself.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. “Redemption,” a noun meaning the act of setting one free, is a malapropism that signifies the exact opposite of what Dogberry means: “damnation,” a noun signifying the act of condemning or punishing.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. Here, Dogberry mistakes “suspect,” a verb meaning to regard someone with suspicion or distrust, with “respect,” a verb meaning to value or esteem. Notice that throughout the scene, Dogberry’s malapropisms tend to convey the opposite meaning of what he intends. They make him not only look like a fool, but they also make him sound culpable in the crimes he is prosecuting. If anyone were taking him seriously, these malapropisms could have dire consequences.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. Notice that Dogberry asks the Sexton to write down that the prince is a villain before he realizes what has been said. This makes Dogberry into a type of puppet who is performing his role as constable.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. “Eftest” is an adjective that means best or most convenient. Dogberry gives up “questioning” these rogues when he discovers that there is a more convenient way to accuse them. This should cause the audience to laugh because the constable does not know the procedure after arresting criminals.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. Notice that Dogberry’s questions take the form of accusations. He is not “examining them” and therefore he does not learn any details about their crime. This demonstrates that Dogberry is an inept constable.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. Dogberry again wastes everyone’s time by attempting to adhere to the proper order of things. He is inefficient and foolish because he cares more about these formalities than he does about getting to the bottom of the case. In this way, Shakespeare mocks bureaucracy and the police.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. Notice that Dogberry tells the Sexton to write down everything that happens in this scene. He micromanages the Sexton and therefore does a poor job with his own duties. His dictation to the sexton could also suggest that he cannot write himself.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. Dogberry mistakes “malefactors” for “accusers.” Notice that in this mistake, the constable confesses to the crime. His lack of education is comical here; however, if he were a character in a tragic play it could cause his downfall.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. “Malefactors” means evil doers. The sexton asks the constables to bring forward the men that they have arrested.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  14. “Dissembly,” a made up word, is a malapropism for “assembly,” a noun meaning a gathering of people.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  15. By this, Dogberry most likely means that he has two gowns for official wear, something like a formal uniform for a constable.

    — Stephen Holliday
  16. Dogberry believes he is due some respect because he has suffered at some time in the past.

    — Stephen Holliday
  17. Dogberry wishes that the Sexton were there to record the fact that Conrade called him an ass so that Conrade is punished for such an offense.

    — Stephen Holliday
  18. Dogberry has either forgotten the real problem here--that Don John's men have accused Hero wrongfully--and thinks a thousand ducats is too much to pay for such deeds or he mistakes *burglary *for slander.

    — Stephen Holliday
  19. Dogberry, always confused, doesn't seem to understand that Don John's own men have called him a villain, which undoubtedly means that Don John is a villain.

    — Stephen Holliday
  20. Now that Dogberry knows Conrade is a gentleman, he is deliberately insulting him by using the term sirrah.

    — Stephen Holliday
  21. When Dogberry says *about, *he means a bout, as in a bout in a boxing match.

    — Stephen Holliday
  22. As usual, Dogberry has things backward--usually, charges are brought on the basis of suspicion ("to be thought so shortly") and then the charges are proved.

    — Stephen Holliday
  23. In Shakespeare's time (and into the 19thC.), a gentleman is a person in the middle class or upper middle class, just below nobility.

    — Stephen Holliday
  24. Sirrah is a contemptuous form of sir, always used for social inferiors.

    — Stephen Holliday