I was recently studying a play of Shakespeare called: Merry Wives of Windsor and the context is that there are two persons talking one is William and the other is Evans, the second one is the father of William, the father called Evan is trying to measure the knowledge of Williams about latin grammar and says:

Evans, how many numbers is in nouns?

and the boy comes forward and says:

William Two.

The problem is that I cant understand Why the boy William answer that? to the question of the father and in the play seems that the boy is making fun of the father but i cant understand why?, I would like to appreciate any explanation of this.

  • "Two" is correct. William just seems to be answering the question, not making fun of the questioner (who does not seem to be his father). The humor is supposed to come from Mistress Quickly's misinterpretations of the Latin words as English words. – herisson Apr 25 '16 at 16:43
  • Thanks a lot for the explanation but Why is right the answer of William?, i get confuse about the meaning of the question and the right answer, i would like to appreciate any explanation of this. – neo33 Apr 25 '16 at 16:45
  • The text I linked to has some explanation. In Classical Latin grammar, there are two grammatical numbers (singular and plural) for which nouns can be inflected. Sir Hugh Evans is not William's father; William is the son of Mistress Page. – herisson Apr 25 '16 at 16:50

When quoting plays, kindly give the Act and Scene numbers so people can find the passage more easily. There's usually going to be some context around it.

In this case, there's a pun and you only told the first part of it. The full passage ends with the clown saying Truly, I thought there had been one number more, because they say ''Od's nouns'.

Now, this isn't going to be funny, because explaining jokes seldom works within a language and we're translating another one here, but:

Evans is emphasizing his own poor education by saying "how many numbers is" instead of "are". The word number here isn't using the common meaning but the grammatical one, where you have singular and plural.

The correct answer is "two" and that's what William says.

The joker notes it should be three (It is in Greek and for some places in English where we have a dual case) since people say Od's 'ouns (i.e., nouns are odd, not even, in number). The pun is on G‑d's wounds, which was a mild oath in Shakespeare's time in reference to Jesus's wounds from the nails on His cross.

It's something like a little girl being asked how she would cross the river and answering dammit because that's what dad is always saying. It's right and cute and a little naughty and somewhat embarrassing to any adults the kids have been listening to.

  • 2
    + 0.95 Evans' grammatical mistake doesn't reflect his poor education but the fact that he is a Welshman, not a native speaker of English. – StoneyB on hiatus Apr 25 '16 at 17:12
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    Is "how many numbers is" even a mistake in Shakespearean English? (And would "are" really be the proper alternative form to use here?) Apparently the text this dialogue is based on is Lilly's grammar of Latin, which has "In Nounes be two Numbers, the singular and the Plurall." – herisson Apr 25 '16 at 17:15
  • 1
    How many be wasn't wrong (since replaced by "there are"), but is was. At least based on my review of Searchable Shakespeare, that seems to have been the case then as well... but you're right that I could well be wrong on that w/r/t all the dialects popping around back then. Sources and factchecking welcome. [e.g., Is "two things is ~" really a notable Welshism?] – lly Apr 25 '16 at 17:28

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