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XVII. A CONSTABLE OF THE
BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
SCENE I. CHARGING THE WATCH. The old playwrights rather like making fun of the constable,
with his pompous ways and his blundering use of long words in the effort to make himself important. Here we have a most delightful officer of this kind arranging the Watch, a body which walked the streets of a town after nightfall, kept order, and arrested vagrants. They were armed with the bill', an old-fashioned weapon consisting of an axe-blade with a spike at the back, fastened to a long wooden shaft ending in a spear-head. The scene is laid in Messina, but Shakespeare was thinking of London
in this sketch. Enter Dogberry, a head constable, carrying a lantern,
Verges, a petty constable, and the Watch, armed with brown bills. Dogberry. Are you good men and true ?
Verges. Yea, or else it were pity but they should suffer salvation, body and soul.
Dogberry. Nay, that were a punishment too good for them, if they should have any allegiance in them, being 5 chosen for the Prince's watch.
Verges. Well, give them their charge, neighbour Dogberry.
Dogberry. First, who think you the most desartless man to be constable ?
First Watch. Hugh Oatcake, sir, or George Seacoal ; for they can write and read.
Dogberry. Come hither, neighbour Seacoal. God hath blessed you with a good name : to be a well-favoured man is the gift of fortune ; but to write and read comes by 15 nature.
Second Watch. Both which, master constable,
Dogberry. You have : I knew it would be your answer. Well, for your favour, sir, why, give God thanks, and make no boast of it; and for your writing and reading, 20 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. (Gives him the lantern.] This is your charge : you shall comprehend all vagrom men; you are to bid 25 any man stand, in the Prince's name.
Second Watch. How, if a' will not stand ?
Dogberry. 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.
30 Verges. If he will not stand when he is bidden, he is none of the Prince's subjects.
Dogberry. True, and they are to meddle with none but the Prince's subjects. [Ťo the Watch.] You shall also make no noise in the streets; for, for the watch to babble 35 and talk is most tolerable and not to be endured.
Second Watch. We will rather sleep than talk: we know what belongs to a watch.
Dogberry. Why, you speak like an ancient and most quiet watchman; for I cannot see how sleeping should 40 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.
Watch. How if they will not ?
Dogberry. Why, then, let them alone till they are sober : 45 if they make you not then the better answer, you may say they are not the men you took them for.
Watch. Well, sir.
Dogberry. If you meet a thief, you may suspect him, by virtue of your office, to be no true man; and, for such 53 kind of men, the less you meddle or make with them, why, the more is for your honesty.
Second Watch. If we know him to be a thief, shall we not lay hands on him ?
Dogberry. Truly, by your office, you may ; but I think 55 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,
Verges. You have been always called a merciful man, partner
Dogberry. Truly, I would not hang a dog by my will ; much more a man who hath any honesty in him.
Verges. If you hear a child cry in the night, you must call to the nurse, and bid her still it.
Second Watch. How if the nurse be asleep and will 65 not hear us ?
Dogberry. 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.
70 Verges. 'Tis very true.
Dogberry. This is the end of the charge :-you, constable, are to present the Prince's own person : if you meet the Prince in the night, you may stay him.
Verges. Nay, by 'r lady, that, I think, a' cannot. 75
Dogberry. Five shillings to one on't, with any man that knows the statues, he may stay him : 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.
80 Verges. By 'r lady, I think it be so.
Dogberry. Ha, ha, ha! 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. [To Verges.] Come, neighbour.
85 Second Watch. Well, masters, we hear our charge : let us go sit here upon the church-bench till two, and then all to bed.
Dogberry. One word more, honest neighbours. I pray you, watch about Signior Leonato's door; for the wedding 90 being there to-morrow, there is a great coil to-night. Adieu, be vigitant, I beseech you. [Exeunt Dogberry and Verges. The Watch patrol the
Perhaps Dogberry rather confused the Watch by the length
and solemnity of his instructions ; at any rate they did something practical. They arrested two followers of Don John, a treacherous brother of the Prince of Messina, who had slandered the Lady Hero, a daughter of Leonato, the Governor of Messina, and broken off her.
marriage. These followers were named Borachio and Conrade, and Borachio, while telling all the villany to Conrade, was overheard by the Watch. The constable and petty constable call on Leonato, the Governor, to make their report and receive instructions.
Enter Leonato, with Dogberry and Verges. Leonato. What would you with me, honest neighbour ? Dogberry. Marry, sir, I would have some confidence with you, that decerns you nearly.
Leonato. Brief, I pray you; for you see it is a busy time with me.
5 Dogberry. Marry, this it is, sir. Verges. Yes, in truth it is, sir. Leonato. What is it, my good friends ? Dogberry [confidentially]. Goodman Verges, sir, speaks a little off the matter : an old man, sir, and his wits are 10 not so blunt, as, God help, I would desire they were ; but, in faith, honest as the skin between his brows.
Verges. Yes, I thank God, I am as honest as any man living that is an old man and no honester than I.
Dogberry. Comparisons are odorous : palabras, neigh- 15 bour Verges.
Leonato. Neighbours, you are tedious. Dogberry. It pleases your worship to say so, but we poor
Duke's officers; but truly, for mine own part, if I were as tedious as a king, I could find in my ao heart to bestow it all of your worship.
Leonato. All thy tediousness on me, ha ?
Dogberry. Yea, an 't were a thousand pound more than 'tis; for I hear as good exclamation on your worship as of any man in the city; and though I be but a poor 25 man, I am glad to hear it.
Verges. And so am I.
Verges. Marry, sir, our watch to-night, excepting your worship's presence, have ta’en a couple of as arrant 30 knaves as any in Messina.
Dogberry (aside to Leonato). A good old man, sir, he will be talking; as they say, when the age is in, the wit is out. God help us ! it is a world to see ! [To Verges.] Well said, i' faith, neighbour Verges: well, God's a good 35 man : an two men ride of a horse, one must ride behind.
[To Leonato.) An honest soul, i' faith, sir ; by my troth he is, as ever broke bread: but God is to be worshipped : all men are not alike; alas, good neighbour !
Leonato. Indeed, neighbour, he comes too short of you. 40
Dogberry. One word, sir : our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two aspicious persons, and we would have them this morning examined before your worship. 45
Leonato. Take their examination yourself, and bring it me : I am now in great haste, as may appear unto you.
Dogberry. It shall be suffigance.
Enter a Messenger.
[Exeunt Leonato and Messenger. Dogberry. Go, good partner, go, get you to Francis Seacole ; bid him bring his pen and inkhorn to the gaol : we are now to examination these men.
55 Verges. And we must do it wisely.
Dogberry. We will spare for no wit, I warrant you ; here's that (touching his forehead] shall drive some of them to a non com : only get the learned writer to set down our excommunication, and meet me at the gaol. 60
SCENE III. THE EXAMINATION.
The examination takes place at the prison ; Dogberry,
Verges, and Francis Seacole, who combines the office of town-clerk and sexton, appear in gowns. Seacole carries
with him an old-fashioned inkhorn. Enter Dogberry, Verges, the Sexton, and the Watch, with
Conrade and Borachio as prisoners. Dogberry. Is our whole dissembly appeared ? Verges. Oh, a stool and a cushion for the sexton.
[A stool is placed for the Sexton. Sexton. Which be the malefactors ? Dogberry. Marry, that am I and my partner.