In Shakespearean times, Elizabethan audiences enjoyed play’s in which involved a character that denoted ‘slapstick’ comedy into the play. In the play Much Ado about Nothing, this character is Dogberry and his close companions Verges and the Watch. Comedy is excellent as a dramatic device as it involves opportunities for misunderstandings and comical episodes.
Throughout the play it is apparent that the characters contribute a great deal too dramatic interest of the play.
Dogberry and his companions enter the play at a moment of high drama: the time is not just in the very middle of the play itself, when the dramatic tension is at its greatest, but it is just after Don John’s plot, turn’s Claudio against Hero, the woman whom Claudio is to marry the following day.
Without these characters in the play, it would surely be lacking in the broad humour of working class men , and be exclusively about courtiers whose wit is different from broad humour, and no substitute for it. The audience laughs openly at Dogberry and the townsmen whereas we do not laugh outright at the people of the court, except in the case of Beatrice and Benedick and the way they are deceived and deceive themselves.
The character of Dogberry denotes the comedy of the play. Hi along with his companion and sidekick Verges, seem always to enter the play when the drama is facing seriousness and dramatic events. They enter the play at moments of high drama, mainly to add visual and ‘slapstick’ comedy. The play in this sense has dark and un-expectant seriousness. It seems evident that Dogberry and his companions enter the play to break up the serious plots and to keep the play comic and light hearted.
Dogberry plays the redeemer, although he does nothing in his role even though he makes ‘Much Ado’ about it. He is a lazy about his job due to his unawareness and general unknowingness of his role.
Although Dogberry often confuses his words by a slip of the tongue, his choice of language usually offers a parody version of correct usage. He opens the final scene with the words
“Is our whole disassembly appeared?”
This is a clear misunderstanding to the audience and comical in the way he makes a clear mistake.
It is arguable to the audience that Dogberry and his supporters add interest to the play to the underlying dramatic theme of the play as a whole.
When Boracchio makes his confession he is right to call them “shallow fools” because despite the villainy they have accidentally bought to the light, they deceive themselves completely. Despite what Conrade calls him
“You are an ass, you are an ass”
Dogberry never for a single moment considers that this may be true. He persists to the end in believing that the insult, which hurts him so much and weighs so heavily on his mind, is entirely unjust.
The great flaw in his character is his self-importance. He believes himself to be superior to the Watch and townsmen and having carried out the selection of the special watch for the visiting prince, he characteristically leaves the others to carry out the actual task for themselves: and verges think they are too high in status to become involved any further. In, the play the function of the Watch is to police the island and provide a safe haven for its residents. This is ironic due to the way they perform there tasks so badly.
The language used throughout the play by Dogberry and the other’s help to add to the dramatic interest of the play. The audience laughs at Dogberry and Verges because they feel the need to copy the style of the court, and do it very badly in a way which humours the audience. They are long-winded, and they misuse word so much that in places they use one which is the opposite of what they intended to say e.g. “plaintiff” when they meant defendant.
Dogberry’s character, a minor role in the play, is authoritarian even though he lacks the ability to make himself understood. From the beginning he is prone to the kind of digression that expresses its own sense of self-importance, and he has occasionally to be promoted by his colleague Verges, who is invariably far more direct than he is.
“Well, give them their charge, neighbour, Dogberry” III.3.8.
And yet it is in the hands of the constable and his Watch that the safety of the inhabitants of Messina rest. If Leanoto’s capacity for being de3cieved gives tha audience little confidence in the rational process of Law in Messina, then, surely, we have even greater qualms when we consider the responsibility and the limited ability of the Watch.
It is ironic that Dogberry is the only one that knows about the plot when he is the most unintelligent character in the play.
Dogberry’s overweening self-esteem contrives to prevent him from revealing all to Leanoto in Act iii, Scene 5. When Verges speaks directly to the Governor, he is patronisingly dismissed by Dogberry as worthy but but inferior. Again, this is ironic because the case is opposite.
“A good old man sir….one must ride behind” III.5.32-36
Leanoto however, believing that Dogberry does not have anything important to tell him asks him to examine the prisoners himself, thereby ensuring the protraction of the proceedings, and hastening the downfall of his own daughter.
It is understandable that deception is a comic possibility. However, regarding, Dogberry, Verges and The Watch it is arguable that this is the case, as the comic used through the characters of Dogberry, Verges and The Watch is comical ‘slapstick stupidity’ The Watch appear to mock Dogberry and Verges through everything he says. They speak about him behind his back and agree to carry out silly tasks that Dogberry has set due to his foolish tongue.
The audience’s interest in characters such as Dogberry in the play is generated specifically in order to divert our attention from the potential seriousness of other issues. Shakespeare’s minor characters ‘show follies’ act as a contrast tom the majors. Moreover, although the Watch appears only four times between Acts III and V. Shakespeare manages to in his creation of Dogberry to provide a psychological fullness for him which makes his every action seems natural. The misunderstanding by Don Pedro at the end of the play has a justification from within the character.
“This learned Constable is too cunning to be understood”
but it is he and his colleagues whose shallowness defeats the wisdom of the other characters in the play; to this extent Borachio’s observation is correct.
“I have deceived even your very eyes: what your wisdoms could not discover, these shallow fools have brought to light” V.I.220-2.
Dogberry indulges in the kind of witless banter he describes and so ends up patronising himself. Despite sometimes getting things particularly right he tends to set up, unwittingly, the possibilities for alternative realings. He tries to explain the Watch’s duties to them…
Dogberry “you are thought here…stand in the prince’s name”
2nd Watchman “How if a will not stand?”
Dogberry “Why, then, take no note of him.. Thank God to be rid of a knave.”
In Dogberry’s speech he misuses the word stand. In familiar Elizabethan slang a stand is slang for a male errection , so Dogberry is UN intentilly telling the watch to go around telling men to have errection’s and that it was the governors policy. He is also offering a comic variation on the plays title: Sex, may be Much Ado about Nothing. If a man fails to stand as there will be nothing to note. What makes this funny is the fact it is Dogberry, householder of the community, who provides the audience with his opportunity for coarse laughter. Most of What Dogberry, asks, says or does is to be taken down, fails in to the category of utterly useless information.
In conclusion to the play and its most comic characters, Dogberry is the main, ‘slapstick’ comic of the play. His foolishness and stupidity leads the other’s into misfortune. The play, as a whole, really is much ado about nothing.