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Much Ado About Nothing

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[Enter DOGBERRY and VERGES with the Watch]
DOGBERRYAre you good men and true?
VERGESYea, or else it were pity but they should suffer
salvation, body and soul.
DOGBERRYNay, that were a punishment too good for them, if
they should have any allegiance in them, being
chosen for the prince's watch.
VERGESWell, give them their charge, neighbour Dogberry.
DOGBERRYFirst, who think you the most desertless man to be
First WatchmanHugh Otecake, sir, or George Seacole; for they can
write and read.11
DOGBERRYCome hither, neighbour Seacole. God hath blessed
you with a good name: to be a well-favoured man is
the gift of fortune; but to write and read comes by nature.
Second WatchmanBoth which, master constable,--
DOGBERRYYou have: I knew it would be your answer. Well,
for your favour, sir, why, give God thanks, and make
no boast of it; and for your writing and reading,
let that appear when there is no need of such
vanity. You are thought here to be the most
senseless and fit man for the constable of the
watch; therefore bear you the lantern. This is your
charge: you shall comprehend all vagrom men; you are
to bid any man stand, in the prince's name.25
Second WatchmanHow if a' will not stand?
DOGBERRYWhy, then, take no note of him, but let him go; and
presently call the rest of the watch together and
thank God you are rid of a knave.
VERGESIf he will not stand when he is bidden, he is none
of the prince's subjects.
DOGBERRYTrue, and they are to meddle with none but the
prince's subjects. You shall also make no noise in
the streets; for, for the watch to babble and to
talk is most tolerable and not to be endured.
WatchmanWe will rather sleep than talk: we know what35
belongs to a watch.
DOGBERRYWhy, you speak like an ancient and most quiet
watchman; for I cannot see how sleeping should
offend: only, have a care that your bills be not
stolen. Well, you are to call at all the
ale-houses, and bid those that are drunk get them to bed.42
WatchmanHow if they will not?
DOGBERRYWhy, then, let them alone till they are sober: if
they make you not then the better answer, you may
say they are not the men you took them for.
WatchmanWell, sir.
DOGBERRYIf you meet a thief, you may suspect him, by virtue
of your office, to be no true man; and, for such
kind of men, the less you meddle or make with them,
why the more is for your honesty.51
WatchmanIf we know him to be a thief, shall we not lay
hands on him?
DOGBERRYTruly, by your office, you may; but I think they
that touch pitch will be defiled: the most peaceable
way for you, if you do take a thief, is to let him
show himself what he is and steal out of your company.
VERGESYou have been always called a merciful man, partner.
DOGBERRYTruly, I would not hang a dog by my will, much more
a man who hath any honesty in him.61
VERGESIf you hear a child cry in the night, you must call
to the nurse and bid her still it.
WatchmanHow if the nurse be asleep and will not hear us?
DOGBERRYWhy, then, depart in peace, and let the child wake
her with crying; for the ewe that will not hear her
lamb when it baes will never answer a calf when he bleats.
VERGES'Tis very true.
DOGBERRYThis is the end of the charge:--you, constable, are
to present the prince's own person: if you meet the
prince in the night, you may stay him.
VERGESNay, by'r our lady, that I think a' cannot.72
DOGBERRYFive shillings to one on't, with any man that knows
the statues, he may stay him: marry, not without
the prince be willing; for, indeed, the watch ought
to offend no man; and it is an offence to stay a
man against his will.
VERGESBy'r lady, I think it be so.
DOGBERRYHa, ha, ha! Well, masters, good night: an there be
any matter of weight chances, call up me: keep your
fellows' counsels and your own; and good night.
Come, neighbour.82
WatchmanWell, masters, we hear our charge: let us go sit here
upon the church-bench till two, and then all to bed.
DOGBERRYOne word more, honest neighbours. I pray you watch
about Signior Leonato's door; for the wedding being
there to-morrow, there is a great coil to-night.
Adieu: be vigitant, I beseech you.
BORACHIOWhat Conrade!90
Watchman[Aside] Peace! stir not.
BORACHIOConrade, I say!
CONRADEHere, man; I am at thy elbow.
BORACHIOMass, and my elbow itched; I thought there would a
scab follow.
CONRADEI will owe thee an answer for that: and now forward
with thy tale.
BORACHIOStand thee close, then, under this pent-house, for
it drizzles rain; and I will, like a true drunkard,
utter all to thee.100
Watchman[Aside] Some treason, masters: yet stand close.
BORACHIOTherefore know I have earned of Don John a thousand ducats.
CONRADEIs it possible that any villany should be so dear?
BORACHIOThou shouldst rather ask if it were possible any
villany should be so rich; for when rich villains
have need of poor ones, poor ones may make what
price they will.
CONRADEI wonder at it.
BORACHIOThat shows thou art unconfirmed. Thou knowest that
the fashion of a doublet, or a hat, or a cloak, is
nothing to a man.111
CONRADEYes, it is apparel.
BORACHIOI mean, the fashion.
CONRADEYes, the fashion is the fashion.
BORACHIOTush! I may as well say the fool's the fool. But
seest thou not what a deformed thief this fashion
Watchman[Aside] I know that Deformed; a' has been a vile
thief this seven year; a' goes up and down like a
gentleman: I remember his name.
BORACHIODidst thou not hear somebody?120
CONRADENo; 'twas the vane on the house.
BORACHIOSeest thou not, I say, what a deformed thief this
fashion is? how giddily a' turns about all the hot
bloods between fourteen and five-and-thirty?
sometimes fashioning them like Pharaoh's soldiers
in the reeky painting, sometime like god Bel's
priests in the old church-window, sometime like the
shaven Hercules in the smirched worm-eaten tapestry,
where his codpiece seems as massy as his club?
CONRADEAll this I see; and I see that the fashion wears
out more apparel than the man. But art not thou
thyself giddy with the fashion too, that thou hast
shifted out of thy tale into telling me of the fashion?132
BORACHIONot so, neither: but know that I have to-night
wooed Margaret, the Lady Hero's gentlewoman, by the
name of Hero: she leans me out at her mistress'
chamber-window, bids me a thousand times good
night,--I tell this tale vilely:--I should first
tell thee how the prince, Claudio and my master,
planted and placed and possessed by my master Don
John, saw afar off in the orchard this amiable encounter.140
CONRADEAnd thought they Margaret was Hero?
BORACHIOTwo of them did, the prince and Claudio; but the
devil my master knew she was Margaret; and partly
by his oaths, which first possessed them, partly by
the dark night, which did deceive them, but chiefly
by my villany, which did confirm any slander that
Don John had made, away went Claudio enraged; swore
he would meet her, as he was appointed, next morning
at the temple, and there, before the whole
congregation, shame her with what he saw o'er night
and send her home again without a husband.151
First WatchmanWe charge you, in the prince's name, stand!
Second WatchmanCall up the right master constable. We have here
recovered the most dangerous piece of lechery that
ever was known in the commonwealth.
First WatchmanAnd one Deformed is one of them: I know him; a'
wears a lock.
CONRADEMasters, masters,--
Second WatchmanYou'll be made bring Deformed forth, I warrant you.
First WatchmanNever speak: we charge you let us obey you to go with us.
BORACHIOWe are like to prove a goodly commodity, being taken165
up of these men's bills.
CONRADEA commodity in question, I warrant you. Come, we'll obey you.

Next: Much Ado About Nothing, Act 3, Scene 4


Explanatory Notes for Act 3, Scene 3

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) < >.


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