Jesting Pilate

Reading. Thinking. Opinionating. Not Necessarily In That Order.

Subverting Dogberry -- fairly geeky
So, I don't really need to be the ten thousandth semi-lapsed LJ user to post this comic.

Better to put up some actual, if trivial, content.


I was thinking about my favourite Shakespeare play in the shower this morning (as one does), which without question or shame would be MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.  I was particularly thinking about how two recent adaptations / retellings I recently encountered either drastically reduced or completely eliminated the Dogberry bits, and how much I appreciated that.

Why, I wonder?  I have nothing against low comedy in general, and in Shakespeare in particular.  I love malapropisms, and adore wordplay of all sorts.  Why do Dogberry's scenes always make me cringe?

I decided that it's because they commit the cardinal sin of comic satire: they punch DOWN, rather than UP.  We're supposed to be the educated, sophisticates who laugh at the rural bumpkin's attempts to appear literate beyond his caste.  And, to be honest, I'm pretty sure that's what the Bard intended.

But it doesn't HAVE to be played that way.

Just like TAMING OF THE SHREW can be presented as a slyly feminist sendup, so could a modern production include a Dogberry for our (well, MY) tastes, without changing a word.  What if he were played as self-aware, a canny rural detective deliberately adopting a bumbling persona to sucker the nobs into revealing their secrets?  I'm thinking of Asey Mayo, perhaps;  or, if you are sadly unfamiliar with the Codfish Sherlock, consider the rumpled Lieutenant Columbo .  With the admirable (and admiring) Verges as his Watson, maybe -- familiar with his methods, but struggling to keep up.

This conceit would help explain /SPOILER ALERT/ the Watch's pivotal role in uncovering Don Jon's deceit; I always thought that Boracchio and Conrad ("gentleman") caved far too easily. When I tried re-reading the scene this way, it also gave a subtle inflection of sly malice to the Constable's apparent inanities, and a masterful fillip of sarcasm to his concluding declaration, "Forget not that I am an ass."

It would take a clever actor to pull of such a subversion, though.  I wish that Michael Keaton had tried it, instead of his bizarre carpet-chewing turn.  Who else, I wonder?


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