What is the dramatic significance of Dogberry in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing ?
The dramatic significance is the purpose of any particular element in a play. Every single element of a play, such as a character, action, line, soliloquy, monologue, etc., is carefully constructed and used with some sort of purpose in mind. An author or playwright can use elements to serve many purposes, or for dramatic significance, including but not limited to, moving the plot forward, creating tension, relieving tension, and creating characterization. Dogberry is dramatically significant for several reasons, some of those are to provide comic relief, create irony, and to relay a theme.
We know that one dramatic significance of Dogberry is to create comic relief because we meet the odd character for the first time after a significantly dramatic moment. In Act 3, Scene 2, Don John has successfully tricked Claudio and Don Pedro into believing that Hero is promiscuous and unfaithful. Plus, Claudio has decided to publicly humiliate Hero, and Don Pedro has supported that decision. Immediately after this tense scene, we meet Dogberry and the watch. Dogberry is a very classic Shakespearean fool who is a complete idiot but actually turns out to do more and know more than the other characters of the play.
We know that the second dramatic significance of Dogberry is to create irony because Dogberry ironically becomes the play's hero. Ironically, Dogberry had absolutely no intention of apprehending any criminals that night. He in fact instructed his men of the watch to "sleep" rather than to "talk," as sleeping cannot "offend" (III.iii.34, 37). He also instructs them to allow thieves to "steal out of [their] company," as it is the best way to prove that such men are thieves (54-55). Hence, it is ironic that Dogberry, who is the most ridiculous character, should be the only character who unearths Don John's evil plot of slander and treachery.
The third dramatic significance of Dogberry is that he particularly reveals the theme of appearance vs. reality. Due to Dogberry's ironic success of revealing Don John's treachery, we see just how ridiculous the leaders of the city of Messina truly are. While both Governor Leonato and Prince Don Pedro appear to be honorable men, the reality is that they are actually quite foolish. Leonato is foolish enough to have chosen Dogberry as the city's Constable. Also, had Leonato come with Dogberry to interrogate the prisoners that morning, Leonato would have saved Hero from a great deal of suffering. Also, Don Pedro is foolish enough to keep his brother Don John in his company after his brother has just attempted to overthrow his crown. He is foolish enough to believe himself to be "reconciled" to his brother when it is very evident that Don John only has more treachery in mind (I.i.132). Hence, seeing Dogberry become the hero of the play shows us the true reality of the other character's natures.