David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s LOVE’S LABOR’S LOST: A Retelling — Act 5, Scene 1

— 5.1 —

The schoolmaster Holofernes, the curate Sir Nathaniel, and Constable Dull talked together in King Ferdinand’s park. The three men had dined together at the home of the father of one of Holofernes’ pupils.

Holofernes said, “Satis quod sufficit.”

The Latin sentence means, “Enough is sufficient.” As a proverb, its meaning is this: “Enough is as good as a feast.”

“I praise God for you, sir,” Sir Nathaniel said to Holofernes. “Your remarks at dinner have been sharp and full of wise sayings; pleasant without scurrility, witty without affectation, audacious without impudence, learned without arrogance, and novel without heresy. I did converse the other day with a companion of the King’s, who is graced with the name of, nominated, or called Don Adriano de Armado.”

Holofernes said, “Novi hominem tanquam te.”

The Latin sentence means, “I know the man as well as I know you.”

Holofernes continued, “Armado’s disposition is lofty, his discourse peremptory and resolved, his tongue refined and smooth, his eye ambitious, his gait majestical, and his general behavior vain, ridiculous, and thrasonical — boastful and vainglorious. He is too picked, too spruce, too affected and foppish, too odd, as it were, too peregrinate and affectedly foreign, as I may call it.”

Sir Nathaniel said, “A most singular and choice epithet — a most singular and appropriate turn of phrase.”

He drew out his notebook so he could write down the phrase.

Holofernes said, “Armado draweth out the thread of his verbosity finer than the staple, aka material, of his argument, aka subject. I abhor such fanatical phantasimes.”

A phantasime is an extravagantly behaved person.

Holofernes continued, “I abhor such insociable, aka intolerable, and point-devise, aka affectedly precise and immaculate, companions.

“I abhore such rackers of orthography — he is a person who tortures correct spelling, as we can tell by the way he pronounces words.

“Armado speaks ‘dout,’ sineb, when he should say ‘doubt’; he speaks ‘det,’ when he should pronounce ‘debt’ — d, e, b, t, not d, e, t.”

Sineis Latin for “without.”

Holofernes continued, “Armado clepeth a calf, cauf; half, hauf; neighbor vocaturnebor; neigh abbreviated ne.”

“Clepeth” is an archaic verb meaning “calls.”

Holofernes pronounced the “igh” in the words “neighbor” and “neigh”; he pronounced it somewhat like one of the ways of pronouncing the German word “ich,” which means “I.”

Vocatur” is a Latin word that means “is called.”

Holofernes was a member of an English Renaissance group who wanted English words to be spelled and pronounced as closely as possible to those Latin words on which the English word was thought to be based. The English word “doute” became “doubt” because of the Latin word “dubitum,” and the English word “dette” became “debt” because of the Latin word “debitum.” Holofernes wanted the letter “b” in these words to be pronounced.

Holofernes continued, “This is abhominable — which he would call abominable.”

People used to think that the word “abominable” came from the Latin phrase “ab homine,” which means “away from man,” or “unnatural.” Actually, it comes from the Latin word “abominabilis,” which means “contemptible.”

Holofernes continued, “It insinuateth me of insanie. Ne intelligis, domine? To make frantic, lunatic.”

Holofernes was complaining that such pronunciations drove him insane.

Ne intelligis, domine?” is Latin for “Do you understand, sir?”

Sir Nathaniel said, “Laus Deo, bone intelligo.”

He had meant to say, “Praise be to God, I understand well,” but he made a mistake. He said “bone” instead of “bene.”

Holofernes said, “Bone? Bonefor bene? Priscian is a little scratched, but it will serve.”

Priscian, who flourished in 500 A.D., was a scholar whose Latin grammar book was used for many centuries.

“To break Priscian’s head” meant “to mangle Latin grammar.” Here, Holofernes was saying that Sir Nathaniel’s Latin was a little wrong, but it would serve — Holofernes understood what Sir Nathaniel meant.

Sir Nathaniel looked up and asked, “Videsne quis venit?”

The Latin sentence means, “Do you see who is coming?”

Holofernes looked and then replied, “Video, et gaudeo.”

The Latin sentence means, “I see, and I rejoice.”

Don Adriana de Armado, Mote, and Costard walked over to Holofernes and Sir Nathaniel.

Armado greeted them: “Chirrah!”

As usual, Holofernes disliked Armado’s pronunciation: “Quare‘chirrah,’ not ‘sirrah’?”

Quare” is Latin for “why.”

“Sirrah” was a word used to address a male of inferior status to that of the speaker.

Armado said, “Men of peace, well encountered.”

Holofernes replied, “Most military sir, salutation.”

Mote said quietly to Costard, “They have been at a great feast of languages, and stolen the scraps.”

Costard replied, “Oh, they have lived long on the alms-basket of words.”

An alms-basket was a basket used to collect scraps of leftover food for the impoverished. Armado, Holofernes, and Sir Nathaniel used fancy words — those left over from the conversation of ordinary people, who do not use them.

Costard continued, “I marvel that your master has not eaten you for a word, for you are not so long by the head — as tall — as the word ‘honorificabilitudinitatibus.’”

Honorificabilitudinitatibus” is the dative or ablative case of a Medieval Latin word that means, “In the state of being honored.” The English word “honorificabilitudinity,” meaning “honorableness,” is interesting because it has only alternating vowels and consonants. The word appeared in Bailey’s Dictionary, published in 1721.

Costard continued to remark on Mote’s small size: “You are more easily swallowed than a flap-dragon.”

A flap-dragon is a raisin in brandy that has been set on fire.

Mote said, “Peace! Silence! The peal begins.”

The peal was the noise of conversation between Holofernes and Armado.

Armado asked Holofernes, “Monsieur, are you not lettered?”

Mote said, “Yes, yes, he is; he teaches boys the hornbook.”

The hornbook was used in teaching. A leaf of paper showed the alphabet; it was placed on a wooden rectangular block with a handle and covered with transparent horn to protect it. When heated, horn becomes malleable. When scraped thin enough, horn is transparent.

Mote asked Holofernes, “What is ‘a, b,’ spelt backward, with the horn on his head?”

Holofernes replied, “The answer is ‘ba,’ pueritia, with a horn added.”

The word “pueritia” is Latin for childhood; Holofernes was calling Mote a child.

Mote said, “Baa, most silly sheep with a horn. You hear his learning.”

He was making fun of Holofernes by calling him a sheep.

Holofernes asked, “Quis, quis, you consonant?”

Quis” is Latin for “who.” He was asking, “Who is the sheep, consonant?”

By calling Mote a consonant, Holofernes was saying that Mote is insignificant. A vowel can form a syllable by itself, but a consonant cannot. To say “b,” one must say the consonant “b” and the vowel “e.”

Mote replied to Holofernes’ question, “The third of the five vowels, if you repeat them; or the fifth, if I repeat them.”

Holofernes said, “I will repeat them — a, e, i — ”

Mote finished the sentence that began with Holofernes’ “I”: “— the sheep.”

In other words, “I — that is, Holofernes — am the sheep.”

Mote continued, “The other two vowels conclude it — o, u.”

In other words, “Oh, ewe” or “Oh, you.” “U” being the fifth of five syllables, as Mote pronounced them, “u” — that is, ewe, or you, Holofernes — is the sheep.

Armado, who got the joke, said, “Now, by the salt wave of the Mediterraneum, a sweet touch, a quick venue of wit! Snip, snap, quick and home! It rejoiceth my intellect: true wit!”

“Mediterraneum” was Armado’s way of pronouncing “Mediterranean.”

A “touch” is a “hit” in fencing; a “venue” is a “sword-thrust” in fencing. “Home” means “right to the target.”

“To snip-snap” is “to engage in smart repartee.” “Quick and home” means “by being quick, you hit the target.”

Mote said, “Offered by a child to an old man, who is wit-old.”

A “wittold” is a witting — knowing — cuckold, the husband who knows that he has an unfaithful wife but who does nothing about it.

Holofernes asked, “What is the figure? What is the figure?”

“Figure” means “figure of speech” or “emblem.”

Mote replied, “Horns.”

Horns were said to grow on the forehead of a cuckold, and so they were the emblems of a cuckold.

Holofernes said, “Thou disputest like an infant, a child. Go, whip thy gig.”

“Whip thy gig” meant “play with your top.” A whip could be used to keep a top spinning.

Mote said, “Lend me your horn to make one, and I will whip about your infamy manu cita— I will make a gig out of a cuckold’s horn.”

Manu cita” is Latin for “with a ready hand.”

Costard said to Mote, “If I had but just one penny in the world, I would give it to you so you can buy gingerbread. Wait, there is the very remuneration I had from your boss, you halfpenny — little — purse of wit, you pigeon-egg — small egg — of discretion.”

Costard gave Mote some money and said, “Oh, if the Heavens were so pleased that they would make you my bastard, what a joyful father you would make me!

“There; you have it — the money — ad dunghill, at the fingers’ ends, as they say.”

A pile of manure is a dunghill; dung is manure.

Holofernes said, “Oh, I smell false Latin; Costard used ‘dunghill’ for ‘unguem.’”

The word “unguem” is Latin for “fingertip.” The Latin phrase “ad unguem” is Latin for “to the fingertip,” which is idiomatic for “exact in detail.”

Armado said to Holofernes, “Arts-man, aka scholar, preambulate, aka walk ahead of the others with me, we will be singuled, aka singled-out, from the barbarous. Do you not educate youth at the charge-house, aka school, on the top of the mountain?”

Holofernes replied, “Or mons— the hill.”

Armado said, “At your sweet pleasure, for the mountain.”

He preferred the more grandiose geographical structure.

Hearing “mounting,” as in “sexual mounting,” rather than “mountain,” Holofernes replied, “I do, sansquestion.”

Sans” is French for “without.”

Armado said, “Sir, it is the King’s most sweet pleasure and affection to congratulate — salute — the Princess at her pavilion in the posteriors of this day, which the rude multitude call the afternoon.”

“Posteriors” meant “later parts,” as well as “buttocks.”

Holofernes replied, “The posterior of the day, most generous and noble-minded sir, is liable and apt, congruent and fitting, and measurable and suited for the afternoon. The word is well culled, chosen, sweet, and apt, I do assure you, sir, I do assure you.”

Armado replied, “Sir, the King is a noble gentleman, and my familiar, I do assure ye, my very good friend. As for what is inward and secret and private between us, let it pass. I do beseech and ask thee to remember thy courtesy. I beseech thee, apparel thy head.”

The phrase “remember thy courtesy” means either “take your hat off” or “put your hat on.”

Holofernes had taken off his hat for some reason.

Armado continued, “And among these private things the King and I have shared other importunate, burdensome, and most serious designs, and of great import indeed, too, but let that pass, for I must tell thee, it will please his grace, by the world, sometime to lean upon my poor shoulder, and with his royal finger, thus, dally with my excrescence, aka my hair, with my mustachio; but, sweet heart, let that pass.

“By the world, I recount no fable. Some certain special honors it pleaseth his greatness to impart to Armado, a soldier, a man of travel, who has seen the world; but let that pass.

“The very all of all, aka sum of everything, aka most important thing, is — but, sweet heart, I do implore secrecy — that the King would have me present the Princess, sweet chuck, aka sweet chick, with some delightful ostentation, or show, or pageant, or antic, aka grotesque show, or firework.

“Now, understanding that the curate and your sweet self are good at such eruptions of wit and sudden breakings out of mirth, as it were, I have acquainted you withal, to the end to crave your assistance.”

Holofernes knew immediately the kind of entertainment that he wanted King Ferdinand — and Armado — to present to the Princess of France: “Sir, you shall present before her the Nine Worthies.”

The Nine Worthies were nine great men: three from the Bible, three from classical times, and three from romances.

The three from the Bible were Joshua, King David, and Judas Maccabaeus.

The three from classical times were Hector of Troy, Alexander the Great, and Julius Caesar.

The three from romances were King Arthur, Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne, and Godfrey of Bouillon.

Holofernes, however, wanted the Roman Pompey the Great and the mythological hero Hercules to be among the Nine Worthies.

Holofernes continued, “Sir, you shall present before her the Nine Worthies. Sir Nathaniel, as concerning some entertainment of time, some show in the posterior of this day, to be rendered by our assistants, at the King’s command, and this most gallant, illustrate, and learned gentleman, before the Princess — I say none so fit as to present the Nine Worthies.”

Holofernes was excited. He said “illustrate” instead of “illustrious,” and his syntax was not clear. But it was clear that he wanted to present the Nine Worthies, and he believed that they could find performers who would be fit to present the Nine Worthies.

Sir Nathaniel asked, “Where will you find men worthy enough to present them?”

Holofernes replied, “Joshua, yourself; myself; and this gallant gentleman,Judas Maccabaeus.”

Holofernes was so excited that he continued to not be clear. Perhaps he meant that he would play King David. “This gallant gentleman” was Armado.

He continued, “This swain, Costard, because of his great limb or joint and his great size, shall pass as Pompey the Great. The page, Mote, will be Hercules —”

Armado interrupted, “Pardon, sir; error. Mote is little; he is not quantity enough for that Worthy’s thumb. Mote is not even as big as the end of Hercules’ club.”

“Shall I have audience?” Holofernes said. “Listen to me. Mote shall present Hercules in minority. He will play Hercules as a baby. His entrance and exit shall be strangling a snake; and I will have an apology — a prologue — for that purpose.”

When Hercules was an infant, Juno, Queen of the gods, who hated Hercules because her husband, Jupiter, had cheated on her and fathered Hercules with a mortal woman, sent two snakes to kill him as he slept. The infant Hercules woke up and used his great strength to strangle the two snakes.

Mote said, “An excellent device! An excellent plan! So, if any of the audience hiss, you may cry, ‘Well done, Hercules! Now you are crushing the snake!’ That is the way to make an offense gracious, although few have the grace to do it.”

Audiences hiss actors when audience members dislike them. But in this case, Holofernes could pretend that the hissing of the audience was the hissing of the snake.

Armado asked, “What about the rest of the Worthies?”

Holofernes replied, “I will play three myself.”

Mote said, “You are a thrice-worthy gentleman!”

Armado asked, “Shall I tell you a thing?”

Holofernes replied, “We attend. We are listening.”

Armado said, “We will have, if this fadge not, an antic.”

In other words, “If this presentation of the Nine Worthies does not succeed, we will have an antic — a grotesque spectacle.”

This could mean that if the presentation of the Nine Worthies failed, it would be a grotesque spectacle, or that if the presentation of the Nine Worthies failed, they would have as a backup entertainment an antic.

He then said, “I beseech you, follow me.”

They had stopped to talk because Holofernes was so excited, but now Armado wanted to start walking again.

Holofernes said, “Via, goodman Dull!”

One meaning of “Via” in Italian is “Hurry up!”

He then said to Constable Dull, “Thou hast spoken no word all this while.”

Constable Dull replied, “Nor understood none neither, sir.”

Allons!” Holofernes said. “We will employ thee. We will find something for thee to do.”

Allons!” is French for “Let’s go!”

Constable Dull said, “I’ll make one in a dance, or something like that; or I will play on the tabor — a small drum — to the Worthies, and let them dance the hay.”

“Most dull, honest Dull!” Holofernes said. “To our sport, away! To our entertainment, let’s go!”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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