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|Play||Much Ado About Nothing|
In the play, Dogberry is the chief of the citizen-police in Messina. As is usual in Shakespearean comedy, and Renaissance comedy generally, he is a figure of comic incompetence. The humor of Dogberry's character is his frequent use of malapropism, a technique Shakespeare would use again in Elbow from Measure for Measure. In both plays, Shakespeare appears to be poking mild fun at the amateur police forces of his day, in which respectable citizens spent a fixed number of nights per year fulfilling an obligation to protect the public peace, a job for which they were, by and large, unqualified.
Dogberry and his crew, however, are also given a thematic function, for it is they who (accidentally) uncover the plot of Don John and begin the process of restoration that leads to the play's happy conclusion. In that sense, Dogberry's comic ineptitude is made to serve the sense of a providential force overseeing the fortunate restoration of social and emotional order.
When describing a criminal's offense, Dogberry likes to say it in many different ways as a numbered list out of order:
Marry, sir, they have committed false report; moreover, they have spoken untruths; secondarily, they are slanders; sixth and lastly, they have belied a lady; thirdly, they have verified unjust things; and, to conclude, they are lying knaves.
Dogberry was played by Michael Keaton in Kenneth Branagh's 1993 film adaptation, and has been played on television by Michael Elphick, Frank Finlay and Barnard Hughes. Christopher Benjamin alternated in the role with Terry Woods in Terry Hands' 1982 production for the Royal Shakespeare Company. He was played by Nathan Fillion in Joss Whedon's 2012 film version.