Alexander the Pig

Trevor Lloyd


Towards the end of the battle of Agincourt in Shakespeare’s Henry V the Welsh captain Fluellen (that is Shakespeare’s name for him; in historical fact he would have been Llewelyn) compares the triumphant Henry of Monmouth favourably with Alexander the Pig. Gower, the English captain to whom he is speaking, says “Alexander the Great,” perhaps to correct him, perhaps just to make sure he follows what Fluellen is talking about. In any case Fluellen replies “the pig or the great or the mighty or the huge or the magnanimous are all one reckonings.”1 Alexander the Pig is a funny mistake, but it is also very authentic: a Welsh speaker would have grown up knowing about Alexander fawr, and would learn that fawr (or mawr) normally translates into English as ‘big.’ So, Alexander the Big, and then it’s very natural for a Welsh speaker with the traditional difficulty with ‘b’ and ‘p’ to pronounce it Alexander the Pig.2 An English speaker could hardly invent that, and yet it is all likely enough. I infer that Shakespeare met a Welsh speaker, or was told about one by a friend, and it would have been natural for a Welsh speaker say “the pig or the great (and possibly even the huge) are all one reckonings,” though there are distinct Welsh equivalents for mighty and for magnanimous.3

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