Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name





Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616


A careful perusal of Shakespeare’s works leads to one outstanding conclusion. Shakespeare was preeminently interested in words, as such. His every play shows a painstaking attention to words in their various shades of meaning. It is our interest to present some definite proof of this extraordinary emphasis on words, and to attempt in a small way to explain the reason for this particular trait of Shakespeare’s. Certainly as skillful a playwright as he would not have included so many carefully planned word-plays in his dramas if the audience of the time were not interested in the language itself as well as in the dramatic qualities of the play. In those days when the language was in its infancy there must certainly have been a keen interest in the flexibility of the English tongue. Shakespeare was reflecting the spirit of an age in which new words were being coined daily, and new meanings for old words constantly discovered. The clown in Twelfth Night expresses the spirit of the ages toward the language. After a lengthy word-play he says;’ “You have said, sir. To see this age. A sentence is but a cheveril glove to a good wit: how quickly the wrong side may be turned outward.” ((III.1.12) In Love’s Labour’s Lost we find a few lines which reveal much of the real state of the language at that time. The King has praised Armado as an entertainer. Biron answers :- “Armado is a most illustrious wight, A man of fire-new words, fashion’s own knight.” (I. :, 178-179) Fashion must, then, have favored the man who could coin new words, or make new linguistic discoveries. In a period when many scholars were denying the ability of the English language to adapt itself to the uses of the nation, and were persistently proclaiming the merits of Latin as the only language of true flexibility and beauty, Shakespeare, Lyly, Jonson, and others, fortunately gifted with the power to mould the language to their purpose, successfully illustrated the great resources of the English tongue to a public keenly alive to the literary conflict then going on. The present work does not attempt to prove or illustrate the great changes then taking place in the grammar, or to show the relation between Elizabethan grammar and that of the present day. It will not mention Shakespeare’s rhetorical or grammatical use of the language at all, or make any effort to show the relation of his vocabulary to that of his contemporaries. The present thesis is an attempt to show Shakespeare’s interest in words themselves by means of his word-play in the form of direct puns, phrases, pronunciation, and misused words. Some of these word-plays are known by the writer to be borrowed. In such cases the source will be given. In such places where a proverb, saying, or custom of the time is the source of the play on words it will be classified as such. Only the first ten plays of the author will be used for illustrative material:- Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice, The Taming of the Shrew, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Twelfth Night, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, The Comedy of Errors. Some effort will be made to show that Shakespeare used certain types of characters for his play on words, but it is impossible to limit the illustrations of his interest in words to these characters, as our author never lost an opportunity to play upon the meaning of a word in any sense.