Dost thou not suspect my place? Dost thou not suspect my years? O that he were here to write me down an ass! But masters, remember that I am an ass. Though it be not written down, yet forget not that I am an ass. No, thou villain, thou art full of piety, as shall be proved upon thee by good witness. I am a wise fellow, and which is more, an officer, and which is more, a householder, and which is more, as pretty a piece of flesh as any is in Messina, and one that knows the law, go to . . . and one that hath two gowns, and everything handsome about him. Bring him away. O that I had been writ down an ass! (IV.ii.67–78)
Dogberry is the constable and leader of the town night watch in Messina, the town where the action of the play takes place. Despite his comedic substitutions of incorrect words for similar-sounding correct words, Dogberry does succeed in apprehending Conrad and Borachio and unraveling Don John’s plot to deceive Claudio and ruin Hero. At this moment, he has caught Borachio and brought him before the sexton to record the events of the evening. Binding the villains together, Dogberry calls Conrad a “naughty varlet” (IV.ii.65). Conrad has angrily responded to Dogberry with “Away, you are an ass, you are an ass” (IV.ii.66). Dogberry, infuriated that anyone should insult him, delivers this indignant comic speech filled with verbal misuse, saying “suspect” instead of “respect” and “piety” instead of “impiety.” Dogberry’s determined insistence that he be “writ down an ass” is comical, because instead of asking that the sexton note that Conrad has insulted Dogberry, Dogberry contributes to his own slander by insisting that the sexton put in writing that Dogberry is “an ass.” Dogberry is most offended by Conrad’s accusation because the constable interprets Conrad’s rudeness as a class criticism, which it most likely is. Dogberry may not be a nobleman, but he is a good, law-abiding citizen, he owns his own house, and he possesses two costly pieces of apparel (two gowns), which signifies that though he does not belong to the court, he is part of the emergent bourgeoisie. He is right to feel insulted by the ill-behaved noble Conrad’s invective. Though Dogberry’s poor command of the English language results in hilarity, there is nothing poor or evil about him.