And since that time it is eleven years,
For then she could stand alone. Nay, by the rood,
She could have run and waddled all about,
For even the day before, she broke her brow.
And then my husband—God be with his soul!
He was a merry man—took up the child.
“Yea,” quoth he, “Dost thou fall upon thy face?
Thou wilt fall backward when thou hast more wit,
Wilt thou not, Jule?” and, by my holy dame,
The pretty wretch left crying and said “ay.”

The dictionary entry that comes first has this to say about "ay":


adverb, Archaic.

ever; always.

The one that says it is a variant of "aye" is third on the list.

Here's the dictionary entry

Both meanings fit perfectly; the former ("always") is a dash more comical.

Which is it?

  • 2
    She was crying, so it's always possible she was using Ay! (sometimes repeated, and spelt Ai-ai-ai!) in the sense given by the full OED as Alas! Ah me! — an ejaculation of regret, sorrow, pity. But it's all a matter of opinion and Lit Crit interpretation. Apr 12, 2017 at 16:47
  • @FumbleFingers Yes, but she left crying. Apr 12, 2017 at 19:02
  • She brightened up.
    – Ricky
    Apr 12, 2017 at 19:09
  • @StoneyB: Literary Studies degree or not, I'm not daft enough to argue with you of all people about the precise meaning of a line in Shakespeare! My substantive point (clearly bolstered by Both meanings fit perfectly in the OP) is that it's essentially a matter of Lit Crit / Interpretation. Obviously Ricky here doesn't agree that such interpretation is Off Topic for ELU, but that's my position. Apr 12, 2017 at 19:21
  • 1
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it should be migrated to Literature. Apr 13, 2017 at 2:47

1 Answer 1


According to No Fear Shakespeare → Romeo and Juliet → Act 1, Scene 3, Page 3

“Yes,” said my husband, “Did you fall on your face? You’ll fall backward when you grow up, won’t you, Jule?” And she stopped crying and said, “Yes.”

  • 2
    I'm upvoting, but No Fear Shakespeare is no Gospel.
    – Ricky
    Apr 12, 2017 at 16:56
  • 1
    I know. My Riverside Shakespeare is at home. Apr 12, 2017 at 17:01
  • That is a poor gloss: it ruins the joke. I'd say not a reliable source for the meaning of the original.
    – MetaEd
    Apr 13, 2017 at 15:43
  • @MetaEd I finally got a look at my Riverside Shakspeare and it does not have a footnote for "Ay". Is your problem the fact that I essentially cited Sparknotes? While I understand your prejudice against the source remember that these notes are written by serious experts. Apr 13, 2017 at 23:48
  • It's actually to do with how they treated the rest of the quoted passage.
    – MetaEd
    Apr 13, 2017 at 23:50

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