Act III, Scene 3 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on June 12, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1035

New Characters: Dogberry: illiterate master constable, whose love of high--faluting words is only matched by his misuse of them, he exposes the slanderous deception, thereby saving Hero

Verges: headborough, or parish constable, Dogberry's elderly companion

First Watchman and Second Watchman (George Seacoal):

Dogberry's assistant, who providentially overhear Borachio describe the...

(The entire section contains 1035 words.)

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New Characters: Dogberry: illiterate master constable, whose love of high--faluting words is only matched by his misuse of them, he exposes the slanderous deception, thereby saving Hero

Verges: headborough, or parish constable, Dogberry's elderly companion

First Watchman and Second Watchman (George Seacoal):

Dogberry's assistant, who providentially overhear Borachio describe the details of the deception perpetrated upon Hero

Summary
The scene takes place at night, on the street, to the side of the door of Leonato's house. Master Constable Dogberry, bearing a lantern, and his elder compartner, Verges, arrive with the watch. Dogberry gives them their charge, specifically instructing them to watch about Leonato's door because of the preparations for the marriage. Borachio staggers forth from Leonato's, followed by Conrade, into the drizzling rain. The watch overhear Borachio, his tongue liquor-loose, boast that he earned a thousand ducats for his villainy from Don John. Borachio then discourses upon fashion, calling it a deformed thief. Then he details how he wooed Margaret, by the name of Hero, while being observed by Don John, Don Pedro, and Claudio from the orchard and how, believing the deceit, Claudio vowed to shame Hero at the wedding before the congregation the next day. The watch immediately takes them into custody.

Analysis
The tragic apprehensions stirred by the last scene are quickly relieved as Shakespeare introduces his broadly comic auxiliary plot in the person of the initimable Master Constable Dogberry, which brings a common touch to a play peopled with aristocrats. The scene is impeccably timed for the process of discovery and the direction of our dramatic responses and Dogberry's world of language parodies the syntactic landscapes of the other characters in the play and, as he says, "present[s] the Prince's own person."

As this prose scene opens, Dogberry instructs the watch with the zaniest misuse of language imaginable-"This is your charge: you shall comprehend all vagrom men," "[y]ou are thought here to be the most senseless and fit man for the constable of the watch," "for the watch to babble and talk is most tolerable and not to be endured," and "[b]e vitigant," all of which translates into normal police procedure-challenge suspicious characters, make no noise, send drunks home, don't strike too quickly and "let [a thief] show himself what he is and steal out of your company."

Dogberry is the name of a shrub that sprang up in every county of England, a commentary on the constabulatory of Shakespeare's day. The names Oatcake and Seacoal suggest that the men were dealers in these commodities and trained to read and write. The name Borachio is derived from a Spanish word meaning drunkard.

Seacoal follows Dogberry's instructions precisely and directs the watch to stand close as Borachio, "like a true drunkard, utter[s] all," which Shakespeare emphasizes by giving him plenty of sibilants to slur. Borachio brings the clothes imagery, sustained throughout the play, to a climactic point with his seemingly tangential discourse on fashion (116-42):

Borachio: Thou knowest that the fashions of a doublet, or a hat, or a cloak is nothing to a man.

Conrade: Yes, it is apparel.

Borachio: Tush, I may as well say the fool's the fool. But seest thou not what a deformed thief this fashion is .... Seest 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 reechy 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?

Conrade: All this I see and I see... that thou hast shifted out of thy tale into telling me of the fashion?

Borachio: Not so either.

He finally gets to the meat of his story. Borachio, architect of this hoax, now repeatedly calls Don John his "master," claiming he made him do it:

But know that I have tonight 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.

Conrade: And thought they Margaret was Hero?

Borachio: Two 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 villainy, 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 congregation, shame her with what he saw o'ernight.

At this point, the watch charge him.

Shakespeare surprises us, placing the action of the deceit offstage. There was no need to slow the action of his play, which, with all its play-acting and deception, has already called attention to its own devices of illusion. Instead, he moves the play forward by embellishing the discovery with a broadly comic brush.

Seacoal's recognition of one Deformed, is an allusion more popular in Shakespeare's time, but, nonetheless funny. One Deformed may be a pun on a contemporary's name, possibly French, or a comment on the planet Uranus (in myth, a god maimed by his son, Cronus/Saturn), whose change of signs every seven years introduces an extreme change in fashion and public interest, called the seven-year--itch or a person born under that planet. The only thing we know for sure is that he wears a fashionable lock. Borachio's insistence that fashion, i.e., outer semblance, validly relates to his story of deception is a strong clue to the theme of the play.

We now know that Don John's plot will be revealed. Though fools, the watch is effective-they gather evidence before making an accusation, something their betters have not yet learned to do. Shakespeare maintains his comedic stance and prepares us for the scenes to follow by dissolving our tensions into hilarity.

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