Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Dogberry and his Malapropisms

Usually in a Shakespeare comedy, you would have a cast of characters who may not be comedic by nature but are usually thrust in comedic situations. You have Benedick and Beatrice, who constantly bicker at each other with creative use of language. You have Claudio and Hero, whose relationship is troubled by the manipulations of Don John and his cohorts. All the characters are people whom you could relate to in real life who have situations thrust at them.

Of course, Shakespeare has characters highly comedic by nature. Dogberry, a watchman in Much Ado About Nothing, is comical relief for the comedy itself. He is memorable in that he constantly uses malapropisms, or incorrect uses of words, in his dialogue.
Dogberry has a few examples up his unknowing sleeve, with the incorrect words italicized and the correct words in parenthesis:

"We will spare for no wit, I warrant you. Here's that shall drive some of them to a nonecome. Only get the learned writer to set down our excommunication, and meet me at the jail. (Examination)

"Goodman Verges, sir, speaks a little off the matter-an old man, sir, and his wits are not so blunt." (Sharp)

"One word, sir. Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two aspicious persons, and we would have them this morning examined before your worship." (Apprehended and suspicious)

"Is our whole dissembly appeared?" (Assembly)

"O villain! Thou wilt be condemned into everlasting redemption for this." (Damnation)

Where did the malapropism come from? It is derived from the character Mrs. Malaprop, coming from the 1775 comedy The Rivals written by Richard Sheridan. Malaprop itself is derived from mal a propos, meaning "inappropriate" in French. Mrs. Malaprop, like Dogberry, was a character who always used words in the most "inappropriate" manner imaginable!
Here are a few examples, with incorrect words italicized and the correct words in parenthesis:
"Oh, he will dissolve my mystery!" (Resolve)

"Oh! It gives me such hydrostatics to such a degree!" (Hysterics)

"...she might reprehend the true meaning of what she is saying." (Comprehend)

As you can see, the misuse of words will lead to confusion and importantly, humor!

Even though Dogberry's incorrect use of certain words might seem to backfire on him, they actually do the opposite. It helps Dogberry and his men help foil Don John's nefarious plot as well as to capture two of his minions!

Has Dogberry made any further contributions other than accidently "outsmarting" Don John and his malicious company? In a way, for referring to a "dogberry" would be referring to an inept or a really dumb official. He is not to be confused with the dogberry fruit which grows on certain plants, particuarily the European dogwood. We can assume Shakespeare dubbed Dogberry as a fruit, or a truly inept Renaissance version of a "fruitcake!"
For more Dogberry escapades, here is a scene from the Hinds Community College Raymond Campus production of Much Ado About Nothing, with Dogberry and company "respecting," or suspecting, the culprits!
- Kristopher