The Sexton entered the courtroom, followed by Dogberry and Verges, all wearing gowns. He sat down at the magistrate’s bench and opened his book. The watch brought Conrade and Borachio in.
‘Is our whole dissembly appeared?’ said Dogberry.
‘Which are the malefactors?’ said the sexton.
‘Marry, that am I, and my partner,’ said Dogberry.
‘Nay, that’s certain,’ said Verges. ‘We have the exhibition to examine.’
‘But who are the offenders that have to be examined?’ said the sexton. ‘Bring them before the master constable.’
Two watchmen pushed Conrade and Borachio forward.
‘Yea, marry, let them come before me,’ said Dogberry. ‘What is your name, friend?’
Dogberry turned to the sexton. ‘Pray, write down, Borachio. Yours, sirrah?’
‘I am a gentleman, sir, and my name is Conrade.’
‘Write down, master gentleman Conrade.’ Dogberry squinted at the two defendants. ‘Masters, do you serve God?’
Borachio and Conrade nodded. ‘Yes, sir, we hope,’ said Borachio.
Dogberry raised his hand, ‘Write down, that they hope they serve God: and write God first: for God defend but God should go before such villains! Masters, it is proved already that you are little better than false knaves: and it will go near to be thought so shortly. How answer you for yourselves?’
‘Indeed, sir,’ said Conrade,’ we’re not false knaves.’
Dogberry shook his head and gave the sexton an apologetic look. ‘A marvellous witty fellow, I assure you: but I will go about with him.’ He marched up to Borachio, gripped his ear and pulled his head towards him. ‘Come you hither, sirrah: a word in your ear: sir, I say to you, it is thought you are false knaves.’
Borachio wrenched himself free. ‘Sir, I say to you that we are not.’
‘Well, stand aside. ‘Fore God, they are both in a tale. Have you writ down, that they are none?’
The sexton put his quill down. ‘Master constable, you’re not examining them in the right way. You must call the watch, who are their accusers.’
‘Yea, marry, that’s the eftest way. Let the watch come forth.’ Two of the watchmen stepped forward.
‘Masters, I charge you, in the prince’s name, accuse these men.’
‘This man said, sir, that Don John, the prince’s brother, was a villain,’ one of the watchmen said.
Dogberry’s eyes opened wide. ‘Write down Prince John a villain. Why, this is flat perjury, to call a prince’s brother villain.’
‘Master constable…’ began Borachio.
Dogberry took a threatening step towards him. ‘Pray thee, fellow, peace: I do not like thy look, I promise thee.’
‘What else did you hear him say?’ said the sexton.
‘Marry, that he had received a thousand ducats of Don John for accusing the Lady Hero wrongfully.’
‘Flat burglary as ever was committed,’ said Dogberry.
‘Yea, by mass, that it is,’ said Verges.
‘What else, fellow?’ said the sexton.
‘And that Count Claudio did mean, upon his words, to disgrace Hero before the whole assembly and not marry her.’
The master constable showed his shock with a sharp intake of breath. ‘O villain! thou wilt be condemned into everlasting redemption for this.’
‘What else?’ said the sexton.
‘This is all,’ said the watchman.
The sexton leant forward and looked at them with a severe expression. ‘And you can’t deny this, masters,’ he said. ‘Prince John stole away secretly this morning: Hero was accused and rejected in just this way and, as a result, died suddenly. Master constable, bind these men and bring them to Leonato’s. I’ll go ahead and show him their examination.’
When he had gone Dogberry nodded to a watchman who carried a rope. ‘Come, let them be opinioned.’
Verges offered advice to the watchman as he began binding Conrade’s hands. ‘Let them be in the hands…’ he began. Conrade pushed the watchman away.
‘Off coxcomb! He roared.
‘God’s my life, where’s the sexton?’ said Dogberry. ‘Let him write down the prince’s officer coxcomb. Come, bind them.’ He shook his finger at Conrade. ‘Thou naughty varlet!’
‘Get away!’ said Conrade. ‘You are an ass.’ He put his hands up to his ears and waggled them at Dogberry.
‘You are an ass.’
‘Dost thou not suspect my place?’ said Dogberry. ‘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 a rich fellow enough, go to: and a fellow that hath had losses, and one that hath two gowns and every thing handsome about him. Bring him away. O that I had been writ down an ass!’