Terms of Art in King Lear

The Shakespearean Authorship Review, 21, Spring 1969

IN an article in No. 20 of this Review (autumn 1968, "A Note on Terms of Art in Hamlet"), attention was drawn to the significance that Shakespeare's use of technical words, or technical meanings of common words, may possibly prove to have as a clue to his special­ised knowledge and fields of interest. The words given in John Dover Wilson's Glossary to the New Cambridge edition of Hamlet were examined ; 361 of them were found to have technical meanings (often used by Shakespeare in a pun or quibble); and these meanings were classified in a scheme which is repeated below. The results seemed sufficiently interesting to encourage further work ; and what follows now is a similar approach to King Lear. Again the New Cambridge edition (1960) has been used, edited by George Ian Duthie and John Dover Wilson. It will be appreciated that the present writer relies on the glossary definitions provided by these authorities, and restricts himself to what he hopes is an impartial attempt to decide whether a given meaning is to be regarded as technical, and if so into what category it falls. The numbers in brackets against each heading show first the number of words in Lear, second the number of words in Hamlet, and third the com­bined number eliminating duplications. In the words that follow the numbers an asterisk is placed against any word duplicated with the same technical meaning in the glossaries to the two plays. The total number of words from Lear is 229.

LAW (24, 42, 66) : able, action‑taking, apprehend, attaint, avouch, beadle, bench, cage, cause, challenge, cutpurse, depositary, distribution, evidence, interessed, interest of, justicer, pass upon, plight, quit, rogue, seize upon, sub­contracted, summoner.

MEDICINE (21, 29, 49) : blister, burn, dimensions, disposition, dream, fixed, fumiter, infirmity, kibe*, mother, physic, rage, secret, simple, sinew, surfeit, temper, untented, wisdom, wise, wits.

STAGE and DRAMA (‑, 17,17). ‑

ARMS and MILITARY ARTS (19, 26, 43 :) alarum, alarumed, ancient, arbitrament, battle, bill, brown bill, century, charge, cohort, conductor, faichion, lists*, plate, power*, press‑money, retreat, tucket, word.

NAUTICAL (3, 8, 11) : cock, hurricano, main.

HUSBANDRY and CRAFTS (22, 17, 39) : brazed, canker‑bit, crowkeeper, daub it, engine, fell, fire‑new, fret, furrow‑weeds, gad, germen, hatch, joined­stool, peascod, pinfold, soiled, stone, sumpter, temper, tender‑hefted, white, wild,

HORTICULTURE (3, 3, 6) : costard, crab, cuckoo flower.

TRADE and FINANCE (8, 23, 31): civet, earnest, exhibition, pawn, price, sizes, tell, worth.

STATECRAFT, GOVERNMENT, ADMINISTRATION (21, 12, 32): boon, confederacy, deathsman, guardian, ordinance, party, post, practice*, prefer, proclaimed, recreant, retention, speculation, state, sway, tithing, treacher, unstate (oneself), vaunt‑couriers, villain, weal.

LIFE of COURT and ARISTOCRACY (22, 15, 37) : array, barber‑monger, blood, broken meats, compliment, court'sy, coxcomb, depend, dunghill, generous, gentle, gentleman, grace, meiny, place, quality, sennet, simple, strain, three­suited, varlet, worthy.

MYTHOLOGY and the CLASSICS (3, 18, 20) : childe, epicurism, Hecate*.

The BIBLE (‑, 1, 1): ‑

HERALDRY (1, 8, 8) : addition*.

RHETORIC and LOGIC (1, 8, 9) : argument.

ASTROLOGY, THEOLOGY, DEMONOLOGY, MAGIC (12, 11, 23): aroint thee, art, ban, dragon, elf, element, nightmare, sectary‑astronomical, spherical, star‑blasting, taking, Ursa major.

MUSIC (2, 11, 13) : jarring, tune.


FENCING (2, 13, 14) : foin, motion*.

ARCHERY (4, 4, 7) : blank*, clothier's yard, clout, fork.

BOWLS (1, 2, 2) : rub*.

HUNTING and the CHASE (3, 14, 17) : brach, lym, sa sa.

FALCONRY (1, 5, 6) : flesh.

FIELD SPORTS, OTHER (1, 4, 5): horseway.

NATURE and WILD LIFE (12, 15, 26) : blast, champaign, chought, cub­drawn, darnel, deer, field, fitchew, halcyon, nature, samphire, wall‑newt.

DOMESTIC LIFE (25, 30, 54) : hallow, bobtail, carbonado, cockney, codpiece, ditch‑dog, fetch, flake, frontlet, furred gown, jakes, nether‑stocks, pillicock, placket, plight, sallet*, silly‑ducking, slip‑shod, sop o' th' moonshine, teem, thing, trundle‑tail, unbolted, wagtail, wawl.

RELIGIOUS OBSERVANCE (3, 20, 23) : benison, holy water, mysteries.

POPULAR GAMES and GAMBLING (9, 6, 15) : bo‑peep, course, draw, handy‑dandy, rest, set, side, wage, wake.

UNCLASSIFIED (6, 9, 15) : notion, oeillade, perdu, study, web, whelked.

    The comparison between Lear and Hamlet is itself of interest. Lear has a narrower range of technicalities. The numerous words of art from stage and drama of Hamlet are unrepresented in Lear, and there are large drops in the nautical, mythological, heraldic and musical terms, and words relating to rhetoric, fencing, all field sports (5 instead of 23) and religious observance. Taking the two plays together, the leading interests shown in this computation are in law (66), domestic life (54), medicine (49), arms and military arts (43), husbandry and crafts (39), life of court and aristocracy (37), statecraft and government (32) and trade and finance (31).

    It is hoped that further study will show how much variation and how much consistency there is from play to play, what the general picture is that eventually emerges, and whether particular plays show differences from the general pattern which need some special explanation.