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Ethnic, Class, and Occupational Identities in Shakespeare’s Names

Ethnic, Class, and Occupational Identities in Shakespeare’s Names

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Title: Ethnic, Class, and Occupational Identities in Shakespeare’s Names
Author: Smith, Grant
Abstract: The clarity of ethnic, class, and occupational identities in Shakespeare’s names contributes significantly to
the verisimilitude of his art. In contrast to Ben Jonson, and other theatrical rivals, Shakespeare used
relatively few names that are obviously descriptive – such as Frugal, Tradewell, or Stargaze in Jonson’s
The City Madam. Shakespeare’s naming shows that his imagination was focused on stage action rather than
on references that might appear in print. He designated a large percentage of characters actually appearing
on stage in terms of social groups, e.g., “Certaine Commoners” (Julius Caesar), and identified minor
individuals to clarify functional roles (“Messenger”) or for wordplay, e.g., “Cobbler” (Julius Caesar).
Shakespeare drew very clear distinctions in social class in his uses of socially distinctive names and formal
titles. He also made ethnic differences clear in the names where ethnicity seems unimportant to the action
(e.g., the spelling of Alonso in The Tempest), but he seems deliberately to have avoided common ethnic
associations when the names are mentioned frequently by other characters and ethnicity is a major theme –
e.g., Aaron (Titus Andronicus) and Othello (Othello). By avoiding names that are specifically associative
with ethnic minorities, Shakespeare lends these major ethnic characters greater individuality and dignity.
Subject: Class and Occupation Identities in Shakespeare
Naming in Shakespeare
Type: Article
Rights: The following articles are © 2009 with the individual authors. They are made available free of charge from this page as a service to the community under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivative Works license version 3.0. For full details go to http://creativecommons.org.licenses/ny-nd.3.0
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10315/4033
Published: York University
Citation: Proceedings of the 23rd International Congress of Onomastic Sciences
ISBN: 978-1-55014-521-2
Date: 2009

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