Sample Questions

1. What is the role of Dogberry and Verges?

The inept constable Dogberry and his side-kick Verges occupy a paradoxical position in Much Ado About Nothing. They provide an element of slap-stick comedy far- removed from the intelligent wit of Benedick and Beatrice; Shakespeare may have included this in order to make his play more universally appealing. However, understanding their humour makes an intellectual demand of an audience. Dogberry is funny because he consistently uses language wrongly, and often inappropriately:

"You are thought here to be the most senseless and fit man for the constable of the watch" (3.3.21-22)

[To Leonato] "I humbly give you leave to depart, and if a merry meeting may be wished, God prohibit it." (5.1.315-17)

Like that of other "low" characters in Shakespeare, such as Elbow in Measure for Measure or Paroles in All's Well that Ends Well, Dogberry's discourse spins a web of linguistic error. In modern productions this is generally played down, with the slap-stick potential of his scenes being emphasised instead. This is an easier form of humour for an audience to digest, but one which overlooks the point which Shakespeare is making about language and its instability. This is expanded in All's Well.

Dogberry and Verges are portrayed as ridiculous time-wasters, but they are also crucial in the exposure of Don John. The watchmen overhear Borachio boasting to Conrade about his conquest of Margaret and arrest both men. They then take them to their master, Dogberry, who in his turn reports them to a higher authority, Leonato. This is a microcosmic reflection of the hierarchy in the primary group of characters, and possibly an ironic comment on it. Interestingly, when Dogberry reports the watch's activities to Leonato in 3.5, Leonato does not listen to him, dismissing him as inept and irritating, just as we are tempted to do. Had Leonato taken Borachio and Conrade's examination there and then, all the ado about nothing which follows in the wedding scene and its aftermath would not have happened. Instead he abdicates responsibility, telling Dogberry to "take their examination yourself and bring it to me" (46). Leonato clearly thinks that whatever the matter is, it cannot be more important than his daughter's wedding and so he leaves it in Dogberry's hands without pressing him for more information about it; the result, of course, is that his daughter's wedding is ruined. We are not meant to blame Leonato for his negligence, but to realise that the plot of Much Ado About Nothing hangs on something as trivial as the Governer not having time to examine two petty criminals.

Law and order in Messina are in the hands of a bungling constable and his servile side-kick: this can be interpreted in two different ways. Either we can use Dogberry and Verges to support a reading of Much Ado About Nothing as light comedy: if all it takes to expose a plot is a judicial system as comically inept as this, then nothing can go very far wrong. This reading promotes a view of Shakespeare's comic world as hermetically sealed and safe within its own small parameters. Alternatively, we can see Dogberry and Verges as evidence of a darker vision at work in the play: should it worry us that Messina is so poorly administrated? What does this say about Leonato's government? Furthermore, there are grounds for saying that Dogberry and Verges are not inept at all. It certainly should not escape our notice that these two "low" characters have achieved what Don Pedro, Claudio and Leonato have failed to do: to see things as they really are. Dogberry and Verges have, after all, done their job. Borachio points this out when he confesses his guilt in act 5 scene 1:

What your wisdoms could not discover, these shallow fools have brought to light. (225-27)

What looks at first like simple comedy, then, expands into something deeper when it is analysed. This is a very typical Shakespearian device: to conceal something meaningful behind a facade of triviality. The minor characters in Shakespeare are always part of an underlying schema and are never merely light relief or plot contrivances.

2. What is the significance of the songs in the play?

There are two songs in Much Ado About Nothing; they both occur at crucial points in the action and perform very specific functions. The first song is in act 2 scene 3 and immediately precedes Don Pedro,

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