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-- Philip Weller, November 13, 1941 - February 1, 2021
Dr. Weller, an Eastern Washington University professor of English and Shakespearean scholar for more than 50 years.

Much Ado About Nothing: Act 3, Scene 3

Illustrator: Sir John Gilbert

           Enter DOGBERRY and his compartner
           [VERGES] with the WATCH.

  1   Are you good men and true?

  2   Yea, or else it were pity but they should
3. salvation: malapropism for "damnation."
  3   suffer salvation, body and soul.

  4   Nay, that were a punishment too good for them,
5. allegiance: —This is another malapropism, but I can't imagine what other word Dogberry could have in mind. >>>
  5   if they should have any allegiance in them, being
  6   chosen for the prince's watch.

7. charge: instructions.
  7   Well, give them their charge, neighbor
  8   Dogberry.

9. desartless: malapropism for "deserving."
  9   First, who think you the most desartless
10. constable: i.e., captain of the watch for the night. —Dogberry is the permanent constable.
 10   man to be constable?

      First Watchman
11. Hugh Otecake, sir, or George Seacole: —Perhaps Shakespeare is making a joke about the contrasting appearances of two members of his acting company. Oat cake is light brown; sea coal (coal washed out onto beaches) is dark black.
 11   Hugh Otecake, sir, or George Seacole; for they
 12   can write and read.

 13   Come hither, neighbour Seacole. God hath blessed
14. good name: good reputation.  well-favored: good looking. 15-16. to write and read comes by nature: —Only the ability to learn how to read and write comes by nature. Perhaps Dogberry is illiterate and a bit jealous of Seacole's accomplishment.
 14   you with a good name: to be a well-favored man is
 15   the gift of fortune; but to write and read comes
 16   by nature.

      Second Watchman
 17   Both which, master constable,—

 18   You have: I knew it would be your answer. Well,
 19   for your favor, sir, why, give God thanks, and make
20-22. and for your writing and reading, let that appear when there is no need of such vanity: —Dogberry should mean that Seacole's ability to read and write is an accomplishment (not a "vanity") which could be very useful and urgently needed, but Dogberry gets everything backwards. 23. senseless: malapropism for "sensible." 25. comprehend: malapropism for "apprehend."  vargom: malapropism for "vagrant." 26. stand: stop.
 20   no boast of it; and for your writing and reading,
 21   let that appear when there is no need of such
 22   vanity. You are thought here to be the most
 23   senseless and fit man for the constable of the
 24   watch; therefore bear you the lantern. This is your
 25   charge: you shall comprehend all vagrom men; you are
 26   to bid any man stand, in the prince's name.

      Second Watchman
 27   How if a' will not stand?

 28   Why, then, take no note of him, but let him go; and
 29   presently call the rest of the watch together and
 30   thank God you are rid of a knave.

 31   If he will not stand when he is bidden, he is none
 32   of the prince's subjects.

33. meddle: have to do.
 33   True, and they are to meddle with none but the
 34   prince's subjects. You shall also make no noise in
 35   the streets; for, for the watch to babble and to
36. tolerable: malapropism for intolerable.
 36   talk is most tolerable and not to be endured.

 37   We will rather sleep than talk: we know what
38. belongs to: are the duties of. —The Watchman has just stumbled into saying that it is the duty of the watch to sleep. Of course the opposite is true: the duty of a watchman is to stay on watch, awake and alert.
 38   belongs to a watch.

 39   Why, you speak like an ancient and most quiet
 40   watchman; for I cannot see how sleeping should
41. bills: —A bill is a kind of polearm. >>>
 41   offend: only, have a care that your bills be not
 42   stolen. Well, you are to call at all the ale-houses,
 43   and bid those that are drunk get them to bed.

 44   How if they will not?

 45   Why, then, let them alone till they are sober:
46. if they make you not then the better answer: i.e., if they don't then agree to go home.
 46   if they make you not then the better answer,
 47   you may say they are not the men you took
 48   them for.

 49   Well, sir.

 50   If you meet a thief, you may suspect him, by
51. true: honest.
 51   virtue of your office, to be no true man; and,
52-53. meddle or make: have to do.
 52   for such kind of men, the less you meddle or
53. is: it is.
 53   make with them, why the more is for your honesty.

 54   If we know him to be a thief, shall we not lay
 55   hands on him?

 56   Truly, by your office, you may; but I think
57. they that touch pitch will be defiled: —This common saying means that you shouldn't hang out with thieves or other low-life characters.
 57   they that touch pitch will be defiled: the most
 58   peaceable way for you, if you do take a thief,
 59   is to let him show himself what he is and steal
 60   out of your company.

 61   You have been always called a merciful
 62   man, partner.

 63   Truly, I would not hang a dog by my will, much
64. more: —Dogberry should say "less."
 64   more a man who hath any honesty in him.

 65   If you hear a child cry in the night, you must call
66. still: quiet.
 66   to the nurse and bid her still it.

 67   How if the nurse be asleep and will
 68   not hear us?

 69   Why, then, depart in peace, and let the child wake
70-72. the ewe that will not hear her lamb when it baes will never answer a calf when he bleats: This appears to be a proverb, and it seems that Dogberry thinks this proverb shows that there's nothing to be a done about a nurse who won't make her child be quiet.
 70   her with crying; for the ewe that will not hear her
 71   lamb when it baes will never answer a calf
 72   when he bleats.

 73   'Tis very true.

 74   This is the end of the charge:—you, constable, are
75. present: represent.
 75   to present the prince's own person: if you meet the
76. stay: stop, detain.
 76   prince in the night, you may stay him.

 77   Nay, by'r our lady, that I think a' cannot.

 78   Five shillings to one on't, with any man that knows
79. statues: malapropism for "statutes" [laws].  without: unless.
 79   statues, he may stay him: marry, not without the
 80   prince be willing; for, indeed, the watch ought to
 81   offend no man; and it is an offence to stay a man
 82   against his will.

 83   By'r lady, I think it be so.

 84   Ha, ha, ha! Well, masters, good night: an there be
85. weight chances: —Dogberry probably means "weighty chance" (heavy risk).
 85   any matter of weight chances, call up me: keep your
 86   fellows' counsels and your own; and good night.
 87   Come, neighbour.

 88   Well, masters, we hear our charge: let us
 89   go sit here upon the church-bench till two,
 90   and then all to bed.

 91   One word more, honest neighbours. I pray you watch
 92   about Signior Leonato's door; for the wedding being
93. coil: fuss, to-do.
 93   there tomorrow, there is a great coil tonight.
94. vigitant: malapropism for "vigilant."
 94   Adieu: be vigitant, I beseech you.

           Exeunt [DOGBERRY and VERGES].

           Enter BORACHIO and CONRADE.

 95   What, Conrade!

      Watchman [To the other watchmen.]
 96   Peace! stir not.

 97   Conrade, I say!

 98   Here, man; I am at thy elbow.

99. Mass: by the mass.
 99   Mass, and my elbow itched; I thought there would a
100. scab: scurvy fellow.
100   scab follow.

101   I will owe thee an answer for that: and now forward
102   with thy tale.

103. penthouse: a structure with a shed roof, projecting from the main building. Picture 104-105. like a true drunkard, utter all: —The idea that drinking makes one tell the truth was, and is, expressed by the Latin phrase, "In vino veritas" (in wine there is truth).
103   Stand thee close, then, under this penthouse, for
104   it drizzles rain; and I will, like a true drunkard,
105   utter all to thee.

      Watchman [To the other watchmen.]
106   Some treason, masters: yet
107. stand close: keep concealed.
107   stand close.

108   Therefore know I have earned of Don John
109   a thousand ducats.

110   Is it possible that any villany should be
111. dear: costly.
111   so dear?

112   Thou shouldst rather ask if it were possible any
113. villainy: i.e., one wanting villainy to be committed.
113   villainy should be so rich; for when rich villains
114   have need of poor ones, poor ones may make what
115   price they will.

116   I wonder at it.

117. unconfirmed: inexperienced.
117   That shows thou art unconfirmed. Thou knowest
118   that the fashion of a doublet, or a hat, or a cloak,
119. is nothing to a man: i.e., does not make the man.
119   is nothing to a man.

120   Yes, it is apparel.

121   I mean, the fashion.

122   Yes, the fashion is the fashion.

123   Tush! I may as well say the fool's the fool. But
124. deformed thief: ill-formed thief. —Fashion, by leading men to wear different kinds of clothing, steals their forms. In lines 133-138 Borachio offers examples of this general principle.
124   seest thou not what a deformed thief this fashion is?

      Watchman [To the other watchmen.]
125   I know that Deformed; a' has been a vile thief
126   this seven year; a' goes up and down like a
127   gentleman: I remember his name.

128   Didst thou not hear somebody?

129   No; 'twas the vane on the house.

130   Seest thou not, I say, what a deformed thief this
131   fashion is? how giddily a' turns about all the hot
132   bloods between fourteen and five-and-thirty?
133-134. Pharaoh's soldiers: —Possibly Shakespeare had in mind some picture >>> 134. reechy: smoky, filthy. 135. Bel's priests: An allusion to the story of Bel (Baal) and the Dragon from the Apocryphal book of Daniel. 136. shaven Hercules: This allusion has not been identified. 137. codpiece: genital covering worn by men. >>>

139-140. fashion wears out more apparel than the man: i.e., clothes are more often discarded because the fashion has changed than because they are worn out. 142-143. shifted out of thy tale into telling me of the fashion: —Conrade is punning on the another meaning of "shift": to change clothes.
133   sometimes fashioning them like Pharaoh's
134   soldiers in the reechy painting, sometime like
135   god Bel's priests in the old church-window,
136   sometime like the shaven Hercules in the smirched
137   worm-eaten tapestry, where his codpiece seems as
138   massy as his club?

139   All this I see; and I see that the fashion wears
140   out more apparel than the man. But art not thou
141   thyself giddy with the fashion too, that thou hast
142   shifted out of thy tale into telling me of the
143   fashion?


144. Not so, neither: Conrade has accused Borachio of shifting his topic to "the fashion." Borachio now denies Conrade's accusation. It's possible that in Borachio's drunken mind there is a connection between his commentary on "the fashion" and the story of his visit to Margaret at Hero's window; perhaps the connection is that, as "the fashion" belies a man's character, so his charade with Margaret has belied Hero's character. 150. possessed: i.e., filled with suspicion of Hero's virtue. 151. amiable: loving.
144   Not so, neither: but know that I have tonight
145   wooed Margaret, the Lady Hero's gentlewoman,
146   by the name of Hero: she leans me out at her mistress'
147   chamber-window, bids me a thousand times good
148   night,—I tell this tale vilely:—I should first
149   tell thee how the prince, Claudio and my master,
150   planted and placed and possessed by my master Don
151   John, saw afar off in the orchard this amiable
152   encounter.

153   And thought they Margaret was Hero?

154   Two of them did, the prince and Claudio; but the
155   devil my master knew she was Margaret; and partly
156. possessed them: i.e., filled them with suspicion of Hero's virtue.
156   by his oaths, which first possessed them, partly by
157   the dark night, which did deceive them, but chiefly
158   by my villany, which did confirm any slander that
159   Don John had made, away went Claudio enraged;
160   swore he would meet her, as he was appointed, next
161   morning at the temple, and there, before the whole
162   congregation, shame her with what he saw o'er night
163   and send her home again without a husband.

      First Watchman
164   We charge you, in the prince's name,
165. stand!: stop!; halt!
165   stand!

      Second Watchman
166. right master constable: i.e., Dogberry.
166   Call up the right master constable. We have here
167. recovered: malapropism for "discovered." lechery: —Maybe "treachery" is meant, but "lechery" (fornication, adultery) would also be appropriate.
167   recovered the most dangerous piece of lechery that
168   ever was known in the commonwealth.

      First Watchman
169   And one Deformed is one of them: I know him; a'
170. lock: i.e., a love lock of hair. —Such a fancy adornment would be fit for a person whose name is "Deformed" and who is a companion of "Fashion."
170   wears a lock.

171   Masters, masters,—

      Second Watchman
172   You'll be made bring Deformed forth,
173   I warrant you.

174   Masters,—

      First Watchman
175-176. we charge you let us obey you to go with us: —This is a double malapropism. First Watchman means to say, "we order you to obey us and go with us."
175   Never speak: we charge you let us
176   obey you to go with us.

177. goodly commodity: valuable commercial goods.
177   We are like to prove a goodly commodity, being
178. taken up of these men's bills: (1) obtained on credit secured by these men's promissory notes; (2) arrested by men with pikes.  —Borachio is sarcastically saying that he and Conrade will be a valuable catch for the rubes who have arrested them. 179. in question: (1) of doubtful value; (2) about to be tried in court.  —Conrade is also being sarcastic.
178   taken up of these men's bills.

179   A commodity in question, I warrant you.
180   Come, we'll obey you.