Study Guide

The Merry Wives of Windsor Language and Communication

By William Shakespeare

Language and Communication

SLENDER
I had rather than forty shillings I had my
book of Songs and Sonnets here. (1.1.193-194)

When it comes time to woo Anne Page, Slender's got absolutely no game. Think about it. Slender is so bad at hitting on Anne that his friends try to do it for him, prompting Anne to tell them to "let him woo for himself" (3.4.48). No wonder Slender says he wishes he had his nifty book of love poetry with him when he shows up at Anne's house. Why does any of this matter? Well, if you're going to have any street cred in one of Shakespeare's play, you've got to be able to master the English language.

PAGE
If he should intend this voyage
towards my wife, I would turn her loose to him;
and what he gets more of her than sharp words, let
it lie on my head. (2.1.180-183)

When Page finds out that Falstaff wants to hook up with his wife, he isn't at all worried that his wife will cheat on him. Here, Page says something like "Fine, let him have her and her big mouth." Basically, Page repeats an age-old stereotype about women being sharp-tongued and shrewish—in other words, women's weapon is words. (How's that for some alliteration?)

FALSTAFF
Good morrow, goodwife.
MISTRESS QUICKLY
Not so, an 't please your Worship.
FALSTAFF
Good maid, then.
MISTRESS QUICKLY
I'll be sworn—as my mother was,
the first hour I was born.
FALSTAFF
I do believe the swearer. What with me? (2.2.34-39)

Shakespeare sure has a lot of fun at Mistress Quickly's expense. When Falstaff addresses Mistress Quickly as a "good maid" (maid being an unmarried virgin), Mistress Quickly tries to swear that, yep, she's a virgin all right. But, that's not actually what she ends up saying. When she declares that she's a "maid" just like her mom was at the "hour" her mom gave birth to her, Mistress Quickly ends up saying that she's not a virgin, since obviously her mom couldn't have been a virgin if she was pregnant and giving birth. Oops. Words matter.

HOST
A word,
Monsieur Mockwater.
DOCTOR CAIUS
'Mockvater'? Vat is dat?
HOST
'Mockwater,' in our English tongue, is 'valor,'
bully.
DOCTOR CAIUS
By gar, then, I have as much mockvater
as de Englishman. (2.3.57-63)

When the Host calls Doctor Caius "Monsieur Mockwater," he's basically saying that Caius is sterile, and therefore lacks courage. The Host is also having fun with the fact that Doctor Caius is a Frenchman who isn't familiar with a lot of English slang. That's why the Host lies and is all "Mockwater just means that you're courageous!" (And Doctor Caius falls right into his trap when he declares that he's full of "mockvater.") In fact, the Host uses a bunch of slang terms throughout this entire scene in order to make Caius look like a fool.

HOST
Let them
keep their limbs whole and hack our English. (3.1.76-77)

Obviously, the Host thinks it's more fun to listen to the two foreigners (Caius and Evans) butcher the English language than it is to watch them "hack" into each with their swords. That's why he prevents them from fighting a duel. The Host figures, hey—why let them kill each other when it's so much more fun to mock them every time they speak? See what we mean when we say this play has got a thing for ragging on foreigners?

CAIUS
If there be one or two, I shall make-a the turd. (3.3.200)

There are a couple of things Shakespeare just can't seem to resist: 1) potty humor and 2) making the French look/sound silly. That's why we're not really surprised when Doctor Caius accidentally refers to himself as a "turd" instead of the "third" member of a bird-hunting party.

MISTRESS QUICKLY
Alas the day! good heart, that was not her fault:
she does so take on with her men; they mistook their erection.

FALSTAFF
So did I mine, to build upon a foolish woman's promise. (3.5.33-35)

Okay. We've seen how Shakespeare mocks foreigners in this play by making them "hack" the English language to bits with their "funny" accents and their tendency to use the wrong words when they talk. But the play is also full of English characters that have some language issues. Here, Mistress Quickly is trying to say that the servants mistook their "directions" from Mistress Page but she ends up cracking a dirty joke without realizing what she's done. Whoops. Of course, Falstaff can't resist cracking a dirty joke of his own when he says "So did I mine, to build upon a foolish woman's promise." (Translation: Falstaff regrets being sexually aroused by Mistress Page's promise to have an affair with him.) By the way, it's pretty obvious that Falstaff is the character with the best command of the English language in this play. So maybe he really is the protagonist, after all.

You do ill to teach the child such words: he teaches him to hick and to hack, which they'll do fast enough of themselves, and to call "whorum." Fie upon you! (4.1.54-56)

We've already seen how Mistress Quickly tends to talk dirty unintentionally. Here, we see that she also has a habit of mishearing filthy words in other peoples' language. When Evans gives little William a Latin grammar lesson, Mistress Quickly misunderstands the entire event and accuses Evans of teaching Willy a bunch of dirty words while encouraging him to "hick and hack" and call "whorum" (drink and have sex). But what little Willy is actually learning is pretty basic Latin pronouns: "hic" and "haec" for "this" and "that," and "horum" meaning "of these" or "of this." Not too dirty.

I will never mistrust my wife again until thou art able to woo her in good English (5.5.128-129)

Translation: the day Evans will be able to seduce his wife with "good English" is the day when pigs fly. I.e., never.

SIR HUGH EVANS
Seese is not good to give putter; your belly is all putter.

FALSTAFF
'Seese' and 'putter'! have I lived to stand at the
taunt of one that makes fritters of English? This
is enough to be the decay of lust and late-walking
through the realm. (5.5.134-136)

Falstaff takes a lot of pride in his speech, which is why he can't stand the fact that a foreigner who makes "fritters" of the English language is talking smack to him. For Falstaff (and Shakespeare, too), being a master of English language is a matter of national pride.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...