David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scene 1

— 4.1 —

On a public street stood Mrs. Page, Mistress Quickly, and William Page, the Pages’ young son, who was studying Latin, as even very young pupils did at that time.

Speaking about Falstaff, Mrs. Page asked Mistress Quickly, “Do you think that he is already at Mrs. Ford’s house?”

“I am sure that he is by this time, or will be immediately, but, truly, he is very outrageously angry about being thrown into the water. Mrs. Ford wants you to go to her right away.”

Mrs. Page replied, “I’ll be with her very soon; first I need to take my young man here to school.”

She looked up and said, “Look, his schoolmaster — Sir Hugh — is coming; I see that today is a playing day — a holiday from school.”

Because Sir Hugh was a university-educated priest, he was the schoolmaster in Windsor.

She said, “How are you, Sir Hugh? Is there no school today?”

“No, there is no school,” Sir Hugh replied. “Mr. Slender has requested that I allow the boys to play today.”

“God bless him,” Mistress Quickly said.

Mrs. Page said, “Sir Hugh, my husband says my son is not learning anything at all in school. Please, ask him some questions about his knowledge of Latin.”

“Come here, William,” Sir Hugh said. “Hold up your head; come here.”

“Come on, son,” Mrs. Page said. “Hold up your head; answer your teacher, and don’t be afraid.”

With his Welsh accent, Sir Hugh asked, “William, how many numbers is in nouns?”


William was correct: the two numbers were singular and plural.

Latin is a language that has inflections according to number and case. The inflections are changes in the form of the word that reveal information such as whether the noun is singular or plural. The inflections also reveal whether a noun is in the nominative, genitive, accusative, ablative, or vocative case.

Mistress Quickly, who knew no Latin, said, “Truly, I thought there had been one number more because they say, ‘God’s nouns.’”

She was mistaken. People sometimes referred to God’s ’ounds, or wounds, not God’s nouns. Also, Jesus suffered five wounds on the cross, not three. He was wounded in his side, his hands, and his feet.

“Peace your tattlings!” Sir Hugh said to Mistress Quickly; he meant, “Be quiet!”

He then asked, “What is ‘fair,’ William?”

William gave the Latin word for “fair,” aka “beautiful”: “Pulcher.”

Mistress Quickly misunderstood: “Polecats! There are fairer things than polecats, surely.”

Polecats were regarded as vermin; in addition, the word “polecat” was a slang term for a prostitute.

“You are a very simplicity ’oman [simple-minded woman],” Sir Hugh said to her. “Please, be quiet.”

He then asked, “What is lapis, William?”

William correctly translated the Latin word “lapis”: “A stone.”

“And what is ‘a stone,’ William?”

“A pebble.”

Here, William answered incorrectly. Sir Hugh had wanted William to translate the English word “stone” into Latin.

Sir Hugh said, “No, it is lapis. Please, remember in your prain [brain].”

William said, “Lapis.”

“That is a good William,” Sir Hugh said. “What is he, William, who does lend articles?”

Articles are words such as “this” and “that.”

William had memorized the answer from his Latin book and quoted it word for word: “Articles are borrowed of the pronoun, and be thus declined, Singulariter, nominativo, hic, haec, hoc.”

Singularitermeans “in the singular,” nominativomeans “in the nominative case.”

Hic, haec,hocare all Latin words meaning “this.”Hicis masculine; haecis feminine; and hocis neuter.

Sir Hugh said in his Welsh accent, “Nominativo, hig, hag, hog. Please, listen: genitivo, hujus. Well, what is your accusative case?”

Genitivomeans “in the genitive case; hujusmeans “of this.”

William replied, “Accusativo, hinc.”

Accusativomeans “in the accusative case.” However, William erred when he answered hinc; he should have answered hunc.

Sir Hugh corrected him: “Please, have your remembrance, child, accusative, hung,hang, hog[hunc, hanc, hoc].”

Mistress Quickly said, “‘Hang-hog’ is Latin for bacon, I bet.”

Bacon is hung and then smoked and preserved. A story was told about a prisoner named Hog who once tried to get out of being hung by saying that he was related to a VIP named Sir Nicholas Bacon, who replied that the prisoner and he could not be related unless the prisoner was hanged because Hog does not become Bacon until it is hanged.

Sir Hugh said, “Leave your prabbles [prattling brabbles, aka trivial words], ’oman.”

He then asked, “What is the focativecase, William?”

By “the focativecase,” Sir Hugh meant “the vocative case.”

“O — vocativo, O,” William replied. In a way, William was correct. When you address someone by name in Latin, you are using the vocative case.

This is a translation of a name in the vocative case from Latin to English: “Oh, William.”

Sir Hugh said, “Remember, William; focativeis caret.”

Caretis Latin for “It is lacking.” Sir Hugh meant that although names can be in the vocative case, the articles hic, haec,hoclack a vocative case.

Mistress Quickly, who heard the Latin word “caret” but understood it to be the English word “carrot,” said, “And that’s a good root.”

Anyone with a bawdy sense of humor who heard the conversation could have had a good laugh. Sir Hugh’s pronunciation offocativecalled to mind a four-letter English word that began with fand ended with k. An “O” was a letter that was then used to refer to a vagina. And “carrot” was a word then used to refer to a penis.

Sir Hugh said to Mistress Quickly, “Stop speaking, ’oman.”

Mrs. Page added, “Quiet!”

Sir Hugh asked, “What is your genitive case plural, William?”

“Genitive case?” William asked.


William answered, “Genitive — horum, harum, horum.”

He had answered correctly, but Mistress Quickly, who knew no Latin, was shocked. She understood “genitive case” to mean “Jenny’s case.” Prostitutes were called by diminutive names such as Jenny, and the word “case” was then used to refer to a vagina. In addition, she heard the Latin word “horum” and thought that she was hearing the English word “whore.”

Mistress Quickly said, “God’s vengeance on Jenny’s case! Darn her! Never say her name, child, if she is a whore.”

Sir Hugh said, “For shame, ’oman.”

Mistress Quickly defended herself: “You do ill to teach the child such words.”

She said to Mrs. Page, “He teaches him to hick and to hack, which they’ll do fast enough by themselves.”

To “hick” is to hiccup after drinking excessively, and to “hack” is to fornicate.

Mistress Quickly said to Sir Hugh, “And to say the word horum! Shame on you!”

Sir Hugh replied, “Are you lunatics, ’oman? Have you no understandings for your cases and the numbers of the genders? You are as foolish Christian creatures as I would desires.”

“Please, be quiet,” Mrs. Page said to Mistress Quickly.

Sir Hugh said, “Show me now, William, some declensions of your pronouns.”

“I have forgotten that,” William said.

“It is qui, quae, quod,” Sir Hugh said. “If you forget your quies, your quaes, and your quods, you must be preeches.”

By “preeches,” Sir Hugh meant “breeched” — William would be spanked after his britches were pulled down.

Sir Hugh then said to William, “Go your ways, and play; go.”

“He is a better scholar than I thought he was,” Mrs. Page said.

“He is a good sprag [alert, clever] memory,” Sir Hugh said. “Farewell, Mrs. Page.”

Adieu, good Sir Hugh.”

Sir Hugh departed.

Mrs. Page said to her son, “Let’s go home, boy. Come, we stay here too long.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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