Janell Bemis, J.F. Kennedy Jr. High School, West Valley City, Utah.
Much Ado About Nothing 3.3, 3.5, 4.2, 5.1
What's On for Today and Why
Dogberry and his companions provide gregarious humor in Much Ado About Nothing. By turning the watch into bumbling fools, Shakespeare pokes fun at the law.
The goal of this lesson is to help students interpret Dogberry's haphazard speeches. The students should be able to identify his malapropisms and fix them. They should find the humor in the language of the scenes and devise actions to support the humor through performance.
This lesson should take one to two class periods.
What You Need
Folger edition of Much Ado About Nothing
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts
What To Do
1. Read Act 3, scene 3 aloud. Each student in the class should read one line at a time until the scene is finished. Ask the class what they understood and what they didn't understand about the scene. Don't get flustered if they say, "It doesn't make sense." This reaction is a good lead-in to the activity.
2. Explain the concept of a "malapropism" (the ludicrous misuse of words, especially through confusion caused by resemblance in sound). You may wish to introduce The Rivals by Sheridan, and the character of Mrs. Malaprop. Although this play was written much later than Much Ado About Nothing, Mrs. Malaprop became so famous for misusing big words that her name became the root word for this kind of verbal confusion.
3. Read the scene aloud again and have students stop every time they find a malapropism. Write each word on the board, and have students guess at the correct word. Then have the students come up with a short definition of the correct word. Continue identifying the malapropisms.
||Worthy of the position
||Take into custody
4. Assign students in pairs to work on 3.5, 4.2, or 5.1 to identify all of Dogberry's malapropisms. They may work on this assignment in class or complete it as homework. See the handout below.
5. Dogberry not only uses malapropisms; he uses entire phrases incorrectly. Ask the class to identify these phrases and find an action that illustrates them. Assign students into groups of three to five, and choose a few lines for each group to perform. For example, 5.1.217-233, the scene in which Dogberry presents the prisoners, is a wonderful passage for this activity: "Marry, sir, they have committed false report, moreover they have spoken untruths, secondarily, they are slanders, sixth and lastly, they have belied a lady, thirdly they have verified unjust things, and to conclude, they are lying knaves" (5.1.225-229). Students should come up with the actions to fit key words or phrases, and then perform the passage to emphasize the ridiculousness of the situation.
How Did It Go?
Ask students to turn in their lists of malapropisms. Assign points for acting out the scenes. Then hold a class discussion to analyze each performance. What did the actors do to illustrate Dogberry's incompetence? Were the scenes funny? Why or why not?
If you used this lesson, we would like to hear how it went and about any adaptations you made to suit the needs of YOUR students.