Dogberry, the Constable, with the help of his second in command, Verges, was inspecting the Watch, who stood, lined up in the street, opposite the church, ready for their shift. It was dark and Verges carried a lantern.
Dogberry twirled his truncheon and squinted at them. ‘Are you good men and true?’
‘Yes,’ said Verges, ‘or else, it were a pity, but they would suffer salvation, body and soul.’
Dogberry flicked a leaf off the shoulder of one of them with his truncheon. ‘Nay,’ he said, ‘that were a punishment too good for them, if they should have any allegiance in them, being chosen for the prince’s watch.’
‘Well, give them their charge, neighbour Dogberry,’ said Verges.
Dogberry drew himself up and placed his hand on his chest. ‘First, who think you the most desertless man to be constable?’
One of the watchmen pointed to two others. ‘Hugh Otecake, sir, or George Seacole,’ he said, ‘for they can write and read.’
Dogberry tapped his palm with his truncheon. ‘Come hither, neighbour Seacole,’ he said. ‘God has blessed you with a good name: to be a well-favoured man is the gift of fortune: but to write and read comes by nature.’
The watchman began: ‘Both which, master constable…’
‘You have,’ he said looking sternly at the watchman, who stepped back to his place. ‘I knew it would be your answer.’ He turned back to Seacole. ‘Well, for your favour, sir, why, give thanks, and make no boast of it, and for your writing and reading, let that appear when there is no need of such vanity. You are thought here to be the most senseless and fit man for the constable of the watch, therefore bear you the lantern. This is your charge. You shall comprehend all vagrom men: you are to bid any man stand, in the prince’s name.’
‘How if he will not stand?’ said Seacole.
‘Why, then, take no note of him, but let him go: and presently call the rest of the watch together and thank God you are rid of a knave.’
‘If he will not stand when he is bidden, he is none of the prince’s subjects.’ said Verges.
‘True, said Dogberry, ‘and they are to meddle with none but the prince’s subjects. You shall also make no noise in the streets: for, for the watch to babble and to talk is most tolerable and not to be endured.’
‘We will rather sleep than talk,’ said Seacole. ‘We know what belongs to a watch.’
‘Why, you speak like an ancient and most quiet watchman: for I cannot see how sleeping should offend: only, have a care that your bills be not stolen. Well, you are to call at all the ale-houses, and bid those that are drunk get them to bed.’
‘How if they will not?’ said Seacole.
‘Why, then, let them alone till they are sober: if they make you not then the better answer, you may say they are not the men you took them for.’
‘Well, sir,’ said Seacole.
‘If you meet a thief, you may suspect him, by virtue of your office, to be no true man,’ said Dogberry. ‘And, for such kind of men, the less you meddle or make with them, why the more is for your honesty.’
‘If we know him to be a thief, shall we not lay hands on him?’
‘Truly, by your office, you may: but I think they that touch pitch will be defiled: the most peaceable way for you, if you do take a thief, is to let him show himself what he is and steal out of your company.’
‘You have been always called a merciful man, partner,’ said Verges.
‘Truly, I would not hang a dog by my will, much more a man who hath any honesty in him,’ said Dogberry.
‘If you hear a child cry in the night, you must call to the nurse and bid her still it,’ said Verges.
‘How if the nurse be asleep and will not hear us?’ said Seacole.
‘Why, then, depart in peace, and let the child wake her with crying: for the ewe that will not hear her lamb when it baes will never answer a calf when he bleats,’ said Dogberry.
Verges nodded at his friend’s wisdom. ‘Tis very true.’
‘This is the end of the charge,’ said Dogberry. ‘You, constable, are to present the prince’s own person: if you meet the prince in the night, you may stay him.’
‘Nay, by’r lady, that I think he cannot,’ said Verges.
‘Five shillings to one on’t, with any man that knows the statutes, he may stay him’ said Dogberry. ‘Marry, not without the prince be willing: for, indeed, the watch ought to offend no man: and it is an offence to stay a man against his will.’
‘By’r lady, I think it be so,’ said Verges.
‘Ha, ha, ha!’ Dogberry took the lantern from Verges and handed it to Seacole. ‘Well, masters, good night: an there be any matter of weight chances, call up me: keep your fellows’ counsels and your own: and good night. Come, neighbour.’
‘Well, masters,’ said Seacole, ‘we hear our charge: let us go sit here upon the church-bench till two, and then all to bed.’
Dogberry turned again. ‘One word more, honest neighbours. I pray you watch about Signior Leonato’s door: for the wedding being there to-morrow, there is a great coil to-night.
Adieu: be vigitant, I beseech you.’
Seacole extinguished the lamp and they sat to wait. Before long, they heard someone coming.
‘Hey Conrade!’ a voice called.
‘Quiet,’ whispered Seacole. ‘Don’t move.’
The voice came again. ‘Conrade, I say!’
Another voice: ‘Here man, I’m at your elbow. By our lady, my elbow was itchy so I knew there was some kind of villain there.’
‘I’ll pay you back for that Borachio,’ said Conrade. ‘Now get on with your story.’
‘Let’s shelter from the drizzle under this overhang and I’ll spill it all out to you like a drunkard,’ said Borachio.
‘There’s some treason afoot,’ whispered Seacole. ‘Don’t move yet.’
‘I’ve earned a thousand ducats from Don John,’ said Borachio.
‘Is it possible that any villainy should cost so much?’ said Conrade.
‘You should rather ask if it were possible that any villainy should be so rich, because when rich villains need poor ones, the poor ones can name their price.’
‘I’m amazed,’ said Conrade.
‘That shows how inexperienced you are. You know that the fashion of a doublet, or a hat, or a cloak, doesn’t tell you anything about the man.’
‘Yes, they’re only clothes,’ said Conrade.
‘I mean the fashion.’
Conrade was confused. Borachio was leaning heavily on him and smelling foully of ale. Conrade humoured his friend. ‘Yes, the fashion is the fashion,’ he said.
Borachio belched. ‘Tosh! I might as well say the fool’s the fool. But…’ He swayed and Conrade caught him and righted him ‘… can’t you see how deformed a thing the latest fashion is?’
‘Shhh.’ said Seacole. ‘I know that fellow, Deformed. He has been a vile thief this seven year: he goes up and down like a gentleman. I remember his name.’
Borachio turned his head. ‘Didn’t you hear someone?’
‘No, it was the weathervane on the roof,’ said Conrade.
‘Can’t you see what a grotesque thief fashion is? How he turns the heads of all the hot bloods between fourteen and thirty-five? Sometimes he makes them like Pharaoh’s soldiers in the painting of the drowning in the Red Sea, sometimes like the priests in the story of Bel, and sometimes like the clean shaven Hercules in the old tapestries, where his codpiece is as big as his club.’
‘Yes, yes,’ said Conrade. ‘I understand all that, and I can see that fashion is bigger than the man. But hasn’t your head been turned giddy by fashion too, that you’ve changed the subject by talking about fashion?’
Borachio thought about it. ‘No,’ he said, ‘not at all, but I know that tonight I wooed Margaret, the Lady Hero’s gentlewoman, in Hero’s name. She leant out of her mistress’ bedroom window, wishing me goodnight a thousand times. But I’m telling you this story badly. I should first tell you that the prince, Claudio, and my master, planted there by my master, Don John, watched this amorous encounter from the orchard.’
‘And they thought Margaret was Hero?’
‘Two of them did,’ said Borachio. ‘The Prince and Claudio, but that devil, my master, knew she was Margaret. And partly because of his assurances, that ensnared them, and partly because of the darkness, which deceived them, but mainly because of my villainy, that confirmed Don John’s slander, Claudio went away enraged. He swore that he would meet her, as arranged, at the temple tomorrow morning, and there, in front of the whole congregation, he would shame her with what he saw tonight and send her home without a husband.’
Suddenly there was a light and a band of watchmen surrounded them. ‘We charge you, in the prince’s name, stand!’ a voice said.
Another voice gave an instruction: ‘Call up the right master constable. We have here recovered the most dangerous piece of lechery that ever was known in the commonwealth.’
‘And one Deformed is one of them,’ said Seacole. ‘I know him by that hanging curl in his hair.’
‘Gentlemen, gentlemen,’ said Conrade as they laid their hands on him.
‘You’ll be made to bring Deformed forth,’ said Seacole.
‘Never speak,’ said Seacole. ‘We charge you, let us obey you to go with us.’
‘We’re likely to prove prize captives, being arrested by this lot,’ said Borachio.
‘That’s debatable, I’m sure,’ said Conrade. ‘Come, we’ll obey you.’