III.1, lines 117-144
ARMADO Sirrah Costard, I will enfranchise thee.
COSTARD O, marry me to one Frances! I smell some l’envoi, some goose in this.
ARMADO Be my sweet soul, I mean setting thee at liberty, enfreedoming thy person. Thou wert immured, restrained, captivated, bound.
COSTARD True, true, and now you will be my purgation and let me loose.
ARMADO I give thee thy liberty, set thee from durance, and in lieu thereof impose on thee nothing but this: (he gives Costard a letter) bear this significant to the country maid Jacquenetta. (He gives him a coin.) There is remuneration; for the best ward of mine honour is rewarding my dependants. Moth, follow.
MOTH Like the sequel, I. Signor Costard, adieu.
COSTARD My sweet ounce of man’s flesh, my incony Jew!
Now will I look to his remuneration. ‘Remuneration’! O, that’s the Latin word for three farthings. Three farthings—remuneration. ‘What’s the price of this inkle?’ ‘One penny.’ ‘No, I’ll give you a remuneration.’ Why, it carries it! ‘Remuneration’! Why, it is a fairer name than French crown. I will never buy and sell out of this word.
BIRON O, my good knave Costard, exceedingly well met.
COSTARD Pray you, sir, how much carnation ribbon may a man buy for a remuneration?
BIRON What is a remuneration?
COSTARD Marry, sir, halfpenny-farthing.
BIRON Why then, three-farthing-worth of silk.
My main reason for choosing this passage is, of course, its humor. Some of this is a bit ribald (i.e., “you will be my purgation”), but I think I’m struck even more by the importance of miscommunications and mistakes. While he has admittedly been making similar mistakes for some 50 lines or so at this point, in this passage Costard first suggests that “enfranchise” means “marry to a prostitute” and then takes “remuneration” too narrowly, as the exact sum which he has received (three farthings). Meanwhile, Armado plays with “ward/reward” and Moth declares himself a “sequel” (because he follows).
While there are certainly class differences at play in the characterization of Costard, I find the particular ways in which Shakespeare is setting up his mistakes intriguing. One of Costard’s issues is clearly a lack of knowledge of Latin, but this seems to be compounded by, i.e., (a) failure to distinguish between slang (Frances) and elevated language (franchise) and (b) failure of deduction (although this is a legitimate way to learn a language, and similar mistakes do not necessarily surprise me in the mouth of a FRE101 student). Moreover, while Armado and Moth’s wordplay appears considerably more dignified, the more I read over the passage, the more I wonder if the rhetorical mechanisms at play here are actually all that much more sophisticated than those in Costard’s speech. Armado’s statement that rewarding his dependants (…wards?) is a ward of his honor, for instance, seems almost too redundant. Are these distinctions meant to be murky (i.e., Costard is ridiculous, but he is so in part because of the specific ways in which Armado’s speech has rubbed off on him)? And how does one begin to categorize specific kinds of ignorance?