From Much Ado About Nothing. Ed. A. Wilson Verity. London: Rivingtons.
I feel sure that in writing these Dogberry and Verges scenes Shakespeare had in his mind's eye one of Lyly's comedies; viz., Endimion. (iv. 2.) Lyly's work is crude and incomplete; but I believe that he furnished the prototypes of the immortal constables. It would be easy to show from other places how familiar Shakespeare was with the works of his contemporary. For a single example take the beautiful "Hark, hark! the lark at heaven's gate sings." (Cymbeline, ii. 3. 21; and Sonnet 29); it was "conveyed" from Campaspe, v. i. I have not thought it necessary to note the magnificent Malapropisms scattered up and down the scene. Who runs may read.
Dogberry and Verges. "Dogberry occurs as a surname in a charter of the time of Richard II, and Verges as that of a usurer in MS. Ashmol, 38, where this epitaph is given: 'Here lyes father Verges, who died to save charges.'" (Halliwell, quoted by Mr. Marshall.) Verges is a vulgarism for verjuice. Dogberry appears to be the name of a shrub. The order of seniority is — Dogberry, Verges (Headborough, to give him his official title), and Seacole, appointed (pro hac vice) "constable of the watch" for the night. The stage-directions in the scenes where they appear are rather confused, an unimportant matter for us.
10 George Seacole. Halliwell thinks that we should read Francis, identifying the watchman here with the Seacole in scene 5, who was to bring "his pen and inkhorn to the gaol." Perhaps, however, the Seacole family was numerous and fertile of dignified and accomplished officials.
13 Well-favour'd. 'Good-looking.'
40 Bills. "A kind of pike or halbert ... the usual weapon of watchmen." (Nares.)
50 Meddle or make. So Troilus and Cressida, i. I. 14, "I'll not meddle nor make."
55 They that touch. An old saying, found in Ecclesiasticus xiii. I, "He that toucheth pitch, shall be defiled with it." Shakespeare refers to the proverb in i Henry IV, ii. 4. 455, and Love's Labour's Lost, iv. 3. 3.
74 Statues. An intentional blunder, which the later Folios needlessly correct to statutes.
84 Till two. When they would go off duty.
88 Coil. 'Fuss,' 'bother.' A Celtic word.
98 Pent-house. 'A shed, sloping out from the main building.'
99 Like a true drunkard. A quibble on his own name, which seems to have meant 'drunkard.'
104 Any villany. Some editors change to villain; needlessly, I think.
109 Unconfirm'd. 'Inexperienced.'
112 Apparel. Which "oft proclaims the man," Hamlet, i. 3. 72.
121 Vane. Rain has been suggested, quite needlessly.
125 Pharaoh's soldiers. As they crossed the Red Sea. Reechy. 'Smoke-stained,' 'grimy.' So Coriolanus, ii. I. 225.
Scotchmen speak of Edinburgh as "Auld Reekie."
126 God Bel. Alluding to the story of Bel and the Dragon. Mr. Marshall quotes the Scornful Lady, iv. I, "You look like one of Ball's priests in a hanging."
127 Shaven Hercules. Why shaven? The editors have no explanation. Generally the subjects depicted in these tapestry hangings (or "painted cloths," as they are often called; e.g. in As You Like It, iii. 2. 290; Troilus and Cressida, v. 10. 47; Lucrece, 245, &c.) were Biblical. Thus the story of the prodigal was a great favourite (2 Henry IV, ii. i. 156, and Merry Wives, iv. 5. 9), and Lazarus was not forgotten. (1 Henry IV, iv. 2. 24.)
144 Possess'd. 'Influenced.'
158 A' wears a lock. It was considered modish to wear a long lock of hair, tied with ribbons, and fastened in some mysterious manner under the left ear. Allusions to these "love-locks" are frequent.
163 Never speak. Assigned to Conrade in the Quarto and Folios; wrongly, as Theobald first pointed out.
165 A goodly commodity. 'A valuable bargain.' Commodity, "that smooth-faced gentleman," is a vague word, equivalent, perhaps, to 'interest, 'profit,' as in King John, ii. i. 573-87. In the Merchant of Venice, iii. 3. 27, the sense seems to be 'traffic.'
166 Being taken up, &c. To take up, besides its obvious meaning, 'to arrest,' also signified 'to get goods on credit,' and bills in commerce were bonds for payment; so that the speech is all a piece of word-quibbling. For "take up" cf. 2 Henry VI, iv. 7. 135; and for much the same sort of pun on "bills" see As You Like It, i. 2. 131.
167 In question. 'Under judicial enquiry.' So 2 Henry IV, i. 2. 68-69, "He that was in question for the robbery." Conrade means, that having been arrested they will have to stand their trial.
How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. Much Ado About Nothing. Ed. A. Wilson Verity. London: Rivingtons, 1890. Shakespeare Online. 20 Feb. 2010. (date when you accessed the information) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/much_3_3.html >.