Summary and Analysis
Dogberry appears with his deputy, Verges, and the men who will take the night watch "the Prince's watch." Dogberry gives his men their charge for the evening and then leaves them to their duty.
Borachio and Conrade appear and converse, unknowingly within eavesdropping range of the watchmen. Borachio tells Conrade of his romancing of Margaret dressed as Hero in sight of Claudio and Don Pedro and of the considerable reward Don John has promised him for this deception. The watchmen arrest the two men.
In Shakespeare's time, officials such as Dogberry and his watch were often depicted as incompetent, and Dogberry is surely one of the most incompetent. Dogberry often thinks of one word but says another, suggesting he uses words beyond his true vocabulary in an effort to sound authoritative and educated. As a result, he sometimes says the opposite of what he means. For example, in his charge to the watch he says, "who think you the most desartless man to be constable?" but he means "deserving" not "desartless" (in some editions, the word is "desertless"). And he compliments Seacoal as "the most senseless and fit man for the constable of the watch" — "sensible"? The watch "shall comprehend all vagrom men" — certainly he means "apprehend all vagrant men." Verges occasionally does the same thing: In his first comment, he suggests as a punishment "they should suffer salvation body and soul" — surely meaning "suffer damnation." (In Act IV, Scene 2, Dogberry makes a similar word switch after hearing testimony from Borachio: "Thou wilt be condemned into everlasting redemption for this.")
Dogberry expresses a unique philosophy of maintaining security: Let sleeping drunks lie, don't make noise, don't meddle with thieves, don't awaken nurses to quiet crying children, offend no one, sleep when you can.
In the 1993 film of the play, Michael Keaton portrays Dogberry as an object of ridicule, entering and exiting with Verges as if they were riding horses. And yet, is Dogberry really as incompetent and fuzzy-headed as he appears on first sight and hearing? Some of his lines have an undercurrent of good sense and wry humor shining through his loose tongue — for example, in his comments on the possible vanity associated with Seacoal's ability to read and write; in the avoidance of argument and violence; and in the metaphor of the ewe, its lamb, and a calf. Perhaps Dogberry is more sly than inept.
The play's audience gets only Borachio's brief description of the crucial love scene in Hero's window. Margaret, who seems quite fond of her mistress, probably does not know what she was participating in, but why does she dress in Hero's clothes and let Borachio call her Hero? (In the 1993 film, the audience sees the erotic Borachio/Margaret scene in Hero's window, while Don John watches from below with Claudio and Don Pedro.)
In Act II, Scene 1, the wedding was set for exactly a week ("a just seven-night") after Claudio proposed to Hero. This present scene takes place the night before the wedding. The intervening days have certainly flown by, most of them apparently uneventful except for the eavesdropping scenes. Shakespeare does not indicate how Beatrice and Benedick behave publicly in each other's presence after their eavesdropping episodes, nor if there are any other efforts to bring Beatrice and Benedick together.