The Relative Which with Personal Antecedents in Shakespeare’s History Plays

  • Kiriko SatoEmail author


This paper examines Shakespeare’s use of the relative which with personal antecedents. The personal use of which was acceptable in Shakespeare’s period, when the animacy parameter had not yet been established for the choice of relative pronouns, although it was being replaced by who and whom and became confined to things in the eighteenth century. I shall analyse contexts where Shakespeare has his characters use personal which in his history plays, demonstrating that it tends to appear when the speaking character is superior in social status to his/her referent(s) or highly emotional, usually displaying anger towards them; otherwise, the referent is dead or present as a corpse. The history plays I examined provide 39 instances of personal which, and at least one of these three factors are relevant in 38 cases. Interestingly, Shakespeare is known to use thou in the same contexts in place of you, the more ordinary or unmarked form as the singular second person pronoun. In conclusion, Shakespeare did not consider which as a simple variant for who(m); instead, he must have found which to be a marked form, exploiting it in particular contexts where thou was generally preferred.


Early Modern English Relative pronouns Shakespeare History plays Personal antecedents Which 



This is a revised version of the paper read at the 90th General Meeting of the English Literary Society of Japan held at Tokyo Woman’s Christian University on 19–20 May 2018. I would like to express my thanks to the audience at the presentation for their questions and comments. I am also grateful to the anonymous reviewers of this article for their valuable suggestions and advice, which helped me to improve my argument.


  1. Barber, C. (1981). ‘You’ and ‘thou’ in Shakespeare’s Richard III. Leeds Studies in English, 12, 273–289.Google Scholar
  2. Barber, C. (1997). Early Modern English (2nd ed.). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Bate, J., & Rasmussen, E. (Eds.). (2007). William Shakespeare, complete works. Basingstoke: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  4. Blake, N. F. (2002). A grammar of Shakespeare’s language. New York: Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Busse, U. (2002). Linguistic variation in the Shakespeare corpus: Morpho-syntactic variability of second person pronouns. Pragmatics & Beyond New Series (Vol. 106). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
  6. Busse, U. (2003). The co-occurrence of nominal and pronominal address forms in the Shakespeare corpus: Who says thou or you to whom? In I. Taavitsainen & A. H. Jucker (Eds.), Diachronic perspectives on address term systems (pp. 193–221). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Busse, U. (2012). Early Modern English: Pronouns. In A. Bergs & L. J. Brinton (Eds.), English historical linguistics: An international handbook. Handbooks of Linguistics and Communication Science (Vol. 34(1), pp. 731–743). Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.Google Scholar
  8. Busse, U., & Busse, B. (2010). Shakespeare. In A. H. Jucker & I. Taavitsainen. (Eds.). Historical pragmatics. Handbooks of Pragmatics (Vol. 8, pp. 247–281). Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.Google Scholar
  9. Culpeper, J. (2001). Language and characterisation: People in plays and other texts. Edinburgh: Pearson Longman.Google Scholar
  10. Danson, L. (2000). Shakespeare’s dramatic genres. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Dekeyser, X. (1984). Relativizers in Early Modern English: A dynamic quantitative study. In J. Fisiak (Ed.), Historical syntax. Trends in Linguistics: Studies and Monographs (Vol. 23, pp. 61–87). Berlin: Mouton.Google Scholar
  12. Evans, G. B., & Tobin, J. J. M. (Eds.). (1997). The Riverside Shakespeare (2nd ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
  13. Franz, W. (1939). Die Sprache Shakespeares in Vers und Prosa. Halle/Saale: Max Niemeyer. [4th ed. of Shakespeare-Grammatik].Google Scholar
  14. Hattaway, M. (Ed.). (1991). The second part of King Henry VI. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Hope, J. (1994). The authorship of Shakespeare’s plays: A socio-linguistic study. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hope, J. (2003). Shakespeare’s grammar. London: Thomson Learning.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Jespersen, O. (1954). A Modern English grammar on historical principles: Part III-Syntax (Vol. 2), rpt. London: Routledge, 2007.Google Scholar
  18. Jucker, A. H., & Taavitsainen, I. (2013). English historical pragmatics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Krüger, A. (1929). Studien über die Syntax des englischen Relativpronomens zu Beginn der spätneuenglischen Zeit. Giessen: Druckrei Justus Christ.Google Scholar
  20. Lull, J. (Ed.). (2009). King Richard III (updated edition). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Margeson, J. (Ed.). (1990). King Henry VIII. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Mazzon, G. (2003). Pronouns and nominal address in Shakespearean English: A socio-affective marking system in transition. In I. Taavitsainen & A. H. Jucker (Eds.), Diachronic perspectives on address term systems (pp. 223–249). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Mulholland, J. (1967). ‘Thou’ and ‘you’ in Shakespeare: A study in the second person pronoun. English Studies, 48, 34–43.Google Scholar
  24. OED = The Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Accessed 28 May 2018.
  25. Onions, C. T. (Ed.). (1986) A Shakespeare glossary. Enlarged and revised throughout by R. D. Eagleson. Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
  26. Poutsma, H. (1916). A grammar of Late Modern English, Part II: The parts of speech. Section I, B: Pronouns and numerals. Groningen: P. Noordhoff.Google Scholar
  27. Quirk, R., Greenbaum, S., Leech, G., & Svartvik, J. (1985). A comprehensive grammar of the English language. London: Longman.Google Scholar
  28. Rissanen, M. (1999). Syntax. In R. Lass (Ed.), The Cambridge history of the English language: 1476–1776 (Vol. 3, pp. 187–331). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Rydén, M. (1966). Relative constructions in early sixteenth century English: With special reference to Sir Thomas Elyot. Uppsala: Almqvist & Wiksell.Google Scholar
  30. Rydén, M. (1983). The emergence of who as relativizer. Studia Linguistica, 37, 126–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Sanders, N. (Ed.). (1981). The first part of King Henry the Sixth. Harmondsworth: Penguin.Google Scholar
  32. Sato, K. (2015). Non-restrictive relative that in Shakespearean English: A comparison between Romeo and Juliet and The Merry Wives of Windsor. Studia Neophilologica, 87, 1–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Sato, K. (2016). The personal use of relative which in Shakespearean English: The relevance of social and emotional factors. Anglia, 134, 207–238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Sato, K. (2017). Relative pronouns as predicatives: Evidence from Shakespearean English. English Studies, 98, 368–375.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Schmidt, A. (1971). Shakespeare lexicon and quotation dictionary: A complete dictionary of all the English words, phrases and constructions in the works of the poet, 2 vols. (3rd ed.). Revised and enlarged by G. Sarrazin. New York: Dover Publications.Google Scholar
  36. Stein, D. (2003). Pronominal usage in Shakespeare: Between sociolinguistics and conversational analysis. In I. Taavitsainen & A. H. Jucker (Eds.), Diachronic perspectives on address term systems. Pragmatics & Beyond New Series (Vol. 107, pp. 251–307). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
  37. Taylor, E. W. (1972). Shakespeare’s use of s endings of the verbs to do and to have in the First Folio. CLA Journal, 16, 214–231. Rpt. in V. Salmon & E. Burness (Eds.), (1987). A reader in the language of Shakespearean drama (pp. 371–388). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
  38. Taylor, E. W. (1976). Shakespeare’s use of eth and es endings of verbs in the First Folio. CLA Journal, 19, 437–457. Rpt. in V. Salmon & E. Burness (Eds.), (1987). A reader in the language of Shakespearean drama (pp. 349–369). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
  39. Warren, R. (Ed.). (2003). Henry VI, part two. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Weil, H., & Weil, J. (Eds.). (2007). The first part of King Henry IV (updated edition). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Media B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of English StudiesDaito Bunka UniversityTokyoJapan

Personalised recommendations