What does Shakespeare mean by the quote,  "Boys, apes, braggarts, Jacks, milksops!" from Much Ado About Nothing?

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shakespeareguru | Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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This is Antonio (Leonato's older brother) from Act V, scene i, line 91.  It comes upon the entrance of Claudio and Don Pedro after they have both caused Hero's "death" by defaming her at her own wedding with charges of not being a virgin.

Antonio is fired up, to say the least.  He, though he is advanced in age, wants to fight Claudio and Don Pedro and minces no words in letting them know what he thinks of them.  He calls them BOYS, the meaning of which is obvious.  This would have been a real slam to their manhood, even though, to Antonio, they are so very young.  MILKSOPS would also refer to their age, implying that they are still babies, drinking their mother's milk.  APES and JACKS  can be seen as simple terms of contempt, an ape being less than a man, and a Jack, a common term for a scoundrel.  BRAGGARTS implies that they have been spreading, pridefully and boastfully, around town, how they defamed Hero.

The interesting thing about this scene is that it isn't hard to imagine that a wizened old man running after young soldiers saying he wants to beat them up as a funny event, but Shakespeare manages, through the dignity of Leonato, to make this both a touching and a funny scene.


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