David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING: A Retelling in Prose — Act 3, Scenes 4-5

 — 3.4 —

Hero was talking with her gentlewomen attendants, Margaret and Ursula, in her bedroom.

“Good Ursula, wake my cousin Beatrice, and ask her to get up,” Hero said.

“I will, lady,” Ursula replied.

“And ask her to come here,” Hero said.

“I will,” Ursula said as she exited.

“Truly, I think that your other rabato — your ornamented collar — is better than this one,” Margaret said.

Margaret had worn this rabato the previous night when Borachio had wooed her.

“No, good Margaret,” Hero said. “I will wear this one.”

“Really, I don’t think that this one is as good as the other one, and I think that Beatrice will agree with me,” Margaret said.

“If she does, then she is a fool, and so are you,” Hero said, not unkindly. “I will wear no rabato except this one.”

“I exceedingly like your new decorative head-dress in the other room,” Margaret said, “but I wish that the hair that is part of the head-dress were a trifle browner. In addition, your gown is unusually fashionable, truly, and I believe that although I have seen the Duchess of Milan’s gown that is so well praised.”

“Her gown is more fashionable than all the others,” Hero said.

“Compared to your gown, hers is a fancy dressing gown,” Margaret said. “Her gown has cloth of gold and cuts in the sleeves to reveal the even richer material underneath, and it is laced with silver and set with pearls. It has tight sleeves that go down to the wrist and loose sleeves that are draped from the shoulders. The shirts are trimmed at the hem with blue silk. Her gown is extremely fancy, but your fine, dainty, elegant, graceful, and excellent gown is worth ten of hers.”

“May God give me joy when I wear it because my heart is exceedingly heavy!” Hero said.

“Tonight it will be heavier by the weight of a man as he lies on you,” Margaret said.

“I am shocked!” Hero said. “Aren’t you ashamed to speak like that?”

“Like what, lady?” Margaret asked. “I am not speaking of anything dishonorable. Marriage is honorable, and so is the wedding night. Marriage is so honorable that it is honorable even for a beggar. Your betrothed, Claudio, is honorable even before he is married. I think you would have preferred that I say that your heart will be heavier by the weight of your husband — not just any man — as he lies on you. And if all goes well, you will be heavier because you will become pregnant. But you know what I meant; you know I meant no offense. I was talking about the weight of your soon-to-be husband, and there is no harm in that — as long as it is the right husband and the right wife. Let the weight be heavy and not light because a wife ought to feel weight on her on her wedding night, and a light woman is a frivolous woman — a wanton, unchaste woman. Ask Beatrice what she thinks about this — here she comes.”

Hero said, “Good morning, Beatrice.”

“Good morning, sweet Hero.”

“How are you feeling?” Hero said. “You sound as if you were out of tune.”

“The only tune I am in is ill,” Beatrice said. “I am sick.”

“If you want a tune that is not ill, I recommend ‘Light of Love,’” Margaret said. “That is a light, not heavy, tune, and it has no part for a man. It begins with clapping. If you will sing the song, I will dance it.”

“‘Light of love’ means wanton,” Beatrice said. “If you dance to that tune, you will have light heels — feet that are raised high in the air and wide apart. If your husband has lots of stables, he will also have lots of barns and because you and he will roll in the hay the result will be lots of bairns.”

“That is an illegitimate argument,” Margaret said. “I have no husband, and so I kick your argument away with my light heels.”

“It is almost five o’clock, Hero,” Beatrice said. “It is time you were ready. But truly, I am exceedingly ill!” She sighed, “Ho-hum.”

“Are you sighing because you want a hawk, a horse, or a husband?” Margaret asked.

“If the word ‘ache’ began with and sounded like the letter that begins ‘hawk,’ ‘horse,’ and ‘husband,’ I would be sighing because I have an aitch,” Beatrice said.

“Well, unless you have completely renounced your old views, there will be no more sailing by the North Star,” Margaret said.

Beatrice was mystified: “What does the fool mean, I wonder.”

Margaret thought, I think that Beatrice is sighing because of a different reason than illness. I think that she is sighing because she is in love with and wants to marry Benedick. Unless she has renounced her view that she wants never to be married, then there is no more trusting in signs of love such as sighs — or in anything we used to believe in, such as that the Pole Star, aka the North Star, indicates where the North lies.

“What means the fool?” Margaret said. “I mean nothing, but I hope that God sends all people their heart’s desire!”

Hero knew that Margaret was talking — not explicitly — about Beatrice’s being in love, so she decided to change the subject lest Beatrice grow suspicious: “These are the gloves that Claudio sent me; they have been excellently perfumed.”

Beatrice said, “I am stuffed up, Hero. I cannot smell.”

Margaret knew that Beatrice meant that her nose was stuffed up, but she made a joke out of “stuffed”: “You are supposed to be a virgin, and yet you are stuffed. Has a man stuffed your womb with a baby? Something good can come from catching a cold!”

“God help me!” Beatrice said. “God help me! For how long have you made being a wit your profession?”

“Ever since you stopped using your wit,” Margaret said, thinking, You still don’t know that we have tricked you into thinking that Benedick loves you.

Margaret added, “Don’t you think that my wit becomes me rarely?”

Beatrice knew that Margaret meant ‘rarely’ to mean ‘splendidly,’ but she decided to joke that ‘rarely’ meant ‘seldomly’: “Your wit is not seen enough; you should wear it in your cap so that everyone can see it. After all, fools wear coxcombs on their heads.”

She added, “Truly, I am sick.”

Margaret said, “Get some of this distilled Carduus Benedictus, and apply it over your heart: It is the only thing that will help you to get over a sudden nausea.”

Carduus Benedictus was a medicine composed of Holy Thistle. Thistles have prickles, and Hero punned, “Margaret, you are pricking her with a thistle.”

Margaret thought, Wholly thistle is nothing but pricks, and I am thinking a lot about pricks today although not the ones on thistles.I have also been thinking about holes.

Beatrice, of course, had been thinking about Benedick quite a lot recently, and she was suspicious because of the mention of Carduus Benedictus: “Benedictus! Why did you mention Benedictus? Does your mention of this Benedictus have some hidden meaning?”

“Some hidden meaning? No, there is no hidden meaning. All I meant is plain Holy Thistle,” Margaret lied. “You may think perhaps that I think you are in love. No, I am not such a fool as to think what I wish, nor am I such a fool as to wish not to think what I can, nor indeed I cannot think, if I would think my heart out of thinking, that you are in love or that you will be in love or that you can be in love. Yet Benedick was just like you in his opinion of marriage, and yet he has become a man who is like other men: He swore he would never marry, and yet now, despite what he swore, he metaphorically eats his meat without complaining. I do not know how you are changing and being converted the way that he was converted to a new way of thinking, but I think that you are beginning to look with your eyes as other women do. You are becoming like other women.”

Margaret thought, Benedick swore that he would never marry, and yet he has fallen in love. The same is becoming true of Beatrice.

“What pace is this that your tongue keeps?” Beatrice asked. “Your tongue moves rapidly. What are you trying to say?”

“The pace my tongue keeps is not a false gallop,” Margaret said. “It is a real gallop and not a mere cantor. The pace of my tongue is true, and all I say is true.”

Ursula entered the room and said, “Hero, get dressed. Don Pedro, Count Claudio, Signior Benedick, Don John, and all the gallants of the town have come to escort you to church.”

“Help me dress, good Beatrice, good Margaret, and good Ursula,” Hero said.

 — 3.5 —

In another room in Leonato’s house, Leonato was talking to Dogberry and Verges, who had come on official business. Leonato, who was the Governor of Messina, greatly outranked and was much wealthier than Dogberry and Verges.

“What do you want, honest neighbor?” Leonato asked Dogberry.

“Sir, I would have some confidence [confidential conference / confidential conversation] with you that decerns [concerns] you greatly.”

“Keep it brief, please,” Leonato said. “You can see that it is a busy time for me.”

“Truly, it is, sir,” Dogberry replied.

“Yes, in truth it is, sir,” Verges said.

“What do we need to talk about, my good friends?” Leonato asked.

“Goodman Verges, sir, speaks a little off the subject,” Dogberry said. “He tends to ramble because he is an old man, sir, and his wits are not so blunt [sharp] as, God help us, I would desire they were; but, truly, he is as honest as the skin between his brows. His eyebrows do not meet, and so we can see that he is trustworthy. Also, he has not been marked on his forehead as punishment for a horrible crime.”

“That is true,” Verges said. “I thank God that I am as honest as any man living who is an old man and no more honest than I am.”

“Comparisons are odorous [odious],” Dogberry said to Verges. “Palabras, neighbor Verges.”

Leonato thought, Pocas palabrasmeans “few words” in Spanish, and that is probably what Dogberry meant, but Dogberry said palabras— words — and he has been saying word after word without saying anything of significance.

“Neighbors, you are tedious,” Leonato said. He was eager to leave and go to the church for his daughter’s wedding.

Dogberry did not know what “tedious” meant, but he was willing to guess its meaning: “It pleases your worship to say so, but we are the poor Duke’s officers.”

Leonato thought, Dogberry meant to say that Verges and he are the Duke’s poor — that is, impoverished — officers. These men are the Duke’s officers — that is, they are Don Pedro’s officers — and people really ought to feel sorry for the poor — unlucky — Duke because he has such sorry officers.

Dogberry continued, “But truly, for my own part, if I were as tedious [wealthy and generous] as a King, I could find it in my heart to bestow it all on your worship.”

“You would bestow all your tediousness on me?” Leonato asked.

“Yes, and I would do the same thing even if the tediousness were a thousand pounds more than it is; for I hear as good exclamation [acclamation] of your worship as of any man in the city; and although I am only a poor man, I am glad to hear it.”

“And so am I,” Verges said.

They said that they are glad to hear it, Leonato thought. Grammatically speaking, they said that they are glad to hear that they are poor men. Both of them are poor men in more ways than one. Of course, Dogberry and Verges meant to say that they are happy to hear that I am acclaimed, and I am glad to hear that.

“Please let me know what you have to say to me,” Leonato said.

“Sir,” Verges said, “our watchmen last night, excepting [respecting] your worship’s presence, have arrested a couple of as arrant knaves as any in Messina.”

Leonato thought, Verges said that the watchmen have arrested a couple of as arrant knaves as any in Messina, excepting your worship’s presence — that is, the watchmen have arrested a couple of knaves who are as arrant as anyone in Messina with the exception of me, Leonato.

Dogberry interrupted although Verges was telling Leonato what he wanted and needed to know: “Verges is a good old man, sir. He will be talking. As they say, when old age is in, wit is out. God help us! It is a world to see.”

Leonato thought, Dogberry is mixing up his proverbs. The proverb he is thinking of is this: When ale is in, wit is out. Unfortunately, his mangled proverb — when old age is in, wit is out — is often true.

Dogberry complimented his friend, “Well said, neighbor Verges,” then he said to Leonato, “Well, God is a good man; God must have a plan for Verges despite Verges’ loss of his wits. If two men ride on a horse, one man must ride behind — no two men are equal in ability. Verges is an honest soul, sir. Truly, he is as honest as any man who ever broke bread; but just as we know that God is to be worshipped, we know that we must thank God for all things. All men are not alike — it is a pity!”

Leonato said, “Verges is not your equal.” He thought, That is true. As much of a fool as Verges is, he is not Dogberry’s equal.

“God gives us our gifts,” Dogberry replied.

“I must leave you now and go to the church,” Leonato said.

“One more word, sir,” Dogberry said. “Our watchmen, sir, have indeed comprehended [apprehended] two auspicious [suspicious] persons, and we would like to have them this morning examined before your worship.”

“Examine these men yourself, and then come and tell me later what you find out,” Leonato said. “As you should be able to see, I am in a hurry.”

“It shall be suffigance [sufficient],” Dogberry said.

“Drink some wine before you go,” Leonato said. “Fare you well.”

A messenger entered the room and said to Leonato, “My lord, they are waiting for you to give your daughter away to her husband.”

“I will come immediately,” Leonato said. “I am ready.”

Leonato and the messenger departed.

“Verges, good partner, go and get the sexton Francis Seacole,” Dogberry said. “Tell him to bring his pen and inkhorn to the jail. We will now examination [examine] these two auspicious [suspicious] men.”

“We must do so wisely.”

“We will not lack wit, I promise you,” Dogberry said. He pointed to his head and said, “Here is something that shall drive some of them to a non-come.”

If Leonato had been present, he would have thought, Dogberry meant that he would make the two men non-plussed — so confused that they won’t know what to think. Actually, I think that is the effect that Dogberry has on many people. Dogberry’s word — “non-comp” — also brings to mind the Latin phrase non compos mentis, which means out of one’s mind. A few minutes’ conversation with Dogberry can have that effect on the hearer.

Dogberry continued, “We need the learned writer to set down our excommunication [examination / conversation / communication] with the prisoners. Meet me at the jail.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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