Henry Stacy Marks, Dogberry Examining Conrade and Borachio (1853)

Oil on canvas, size 17 x 21 inches, Private collection.

Constable Dogberry is a master of the malapropism and not too bright, but in Act IV, Scene i, of Much Ado About Nothing he chances to overhear the boasting of Borachio and arrest him, thus saving the day for Hero and the rest of the characters in the play. One of life's ironies, as this play demonstrates, is that we must not underestimate the honest but foolish people we deal with, as Conrade discovers when he tries to dismiss Dogberry and his attempts at arrest; "Away," Conrade says, "you are an ass, you are an ass." Dogberry knows when he has been shown disrespect and rises to the occasion with all the force and dignity bestowed upon him in his role as a Constable:

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 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 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 every thing handsome about him. Bring him away. O that I had been writ down an ass!

Dogberry is one of Shakespeare's best comic inventions and the part was played by the best comedian in the company, Will Kempe.

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