A man of supreme confidence and perhaps somewhat less than supreme abilities, Constable Dogberry is the unlikely, admittedly indirect hero of our play. Placed in charge of the night watch in the city of Messina, Dogberry, accompanied by his aging sidekick Verges, introduces himself to the audience with his love of fine large words—the only problem is that he usually chooses a word that means the opposite of what he thinks. Luckily, his semi-literate underlings seldom catch his errors, and are more likely to be impressed by the sound of the big fancy word. As well, he seems to think that “wisdom” means something like “the opposite of common sense” and that it is always a good idea to sprinkle one’s speech with allusions to the Bible or other sources of wisdom, no matter if the allusion reverses the meaning. Here he is instructing the watchmen on what to do if they run into a robbery in progress:
If we know him to be a thief, shall we not lay hands on him?
Truly, by your office, you may; but I think “they that touch pitch will be defiled”: the most peaceable way for you, if you do take a thief, is to let him show himself what he is and steal out of your company.
In this exchange with the Governor of Messina, Dogberry thinks “tedious” is a compliment too high for him, and happily bestows it back on the bemused governor. In his first line he says “odorous” when he means “odious,” and quotes just enough of the Spanish proverb pocas palabras (few words, as in let’s get to the point) to make it mean its opposite:
Comparisons are odorous: palabras, neighbor Verges.
Neighbors, you are tedious.
It pleases your worship to say so, but we are the poor duke's officers; but truly, for mine own part, if I were as tedious as a king, I could find it in my heart to bestow it all of your worship.
All thy tediousness on me, ah?