Interactional Aspects of Language-based Humour in Shakespeare’s Comedies: The Dynamics of Punning by Ladies-in-Waiting.

  • Magdalena Adamczyk
Keywords: pun, wordplay, Shakespeare’s comedy, strategic punning, interaction, context.


What makes Shakespeare a man of his time is, among other things, his infatuation with punning, understood as playful fiddling with (identical/similar) forms and (distinct) meanings of words. While heavy use of puns in his plays is very much in keeping with the spirit of the day, the phenomenon enjoying a remarkably high status in Elizabethan low- and highbrow literature and culture, Shakespeare’s brand of linguistic humour is surely one of a kind. The present study focuses on the dynamics of punning practiced by ladies-in-waiting in three Shakespearean comedies, i.e., Lucetta in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Maria in Twelfth Night and Margaret in Much Ado About Nothing, and is designed to afford insight into intricate context-sensitive punning processes. It leads to the conclusion that even though the characters examined do not come into the category of highly prolific punsters, their playing with words is fully conscious and carefully tailored to individual contextual settings, principally to the type of interacting parties. Accordingly, rather than for ornamental purposes, punning proves to be used calculatedly as a powerful discourse management strategy aimed at asserting interactive dominance in order to mock the pretentiousness of interlocutors.

Author Biography

Magdalena Adamczyk
University of Zielona Góra