We are unable to display your institutional affiliation without JavaScript turned on.
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Download PDF

Grammatical Theatricality in Richard III:
Schoolroom Queens and Godly Optatives

Shakespeare learned English lessons in school that were unintended consequences of Latin grammar lessons. These included lessons in the optative mood from Lily’s Grammar, a text of Reformation origins that inserted a God-term or agentive role for God in translating (or mistranslating) speech acts of wishing and desiring into Early Modern English. The resulting formulations are all on display in curses like Queen Margaret’s “God I pray him, / That none of you may live” in Richard III. Godly optatives in prayers, blessings, and curses represent a form of passionate speech act strongly reminiscent of the all-male grammar-school classroom and yet characteristic of the play’s female characters, who would themselves have been played by boy actors. Experimenting with this mistranslated verbal construction, Shakespeare not only explored an alternative form of potency or agency in the speech acts of his female characters. Literalizing the mistranslation, bringing God’s intervention into the performative speech acts of human wishing, he also created an effective structural pattern for an apparently providential tragedy. In more general terms, this essay emphasizes the scope and importance of grammatical culture for early modern theater, articulating a conception of grammatical theatricality. It argues that Richard III is a grammatical play, framed upon a virtuoso set of grammatical variations and strongly suggestive of how much Shakespeare got out of, and made out of, the accidental English grammar lessons in his early schooling.

God I pray him, That none of you may live his natural age.

—Queen Margaret, 1.3.209–101

In reflecting upon situations of desiring or wishing, with which the optative mood of Lily’s Grammar is concerned, we are not in the first instance likely to think in terms of distinct speech acts, oratorical declamation, or vocalized utterance projected outward to an audience. Neither are we very likely to invoke God as potential agent. For us, wishing, like reading, is more likely to be a solitary matter of silent meditation—desire an amorphous inner condition, often more potent for not being fully verbalized. Elizabethan schoolboys, on the other hand, were encouraged by some of their earliest grammar lessons to think of wishing and desiring in this highly articulate and declamatory way, and this manner of giving utterance to wishes and desires is fundamental to the language of Richard III. It is especially prevalent in the prayers and the curses of the female characters, all of them played by boy actors, and so it helps to shape the gender dynamics of the play. For wishing or desiring, schoolboys were instructed in a particular grammatical mood—the optative mood—that required considerable effort to memorize, decline, construe, and recite out loud in all its various persons and tenses. Ironically, Shakespeare creates a distinctive language of female passion in the English of this play that is strongly reminiscent of and highly evocative of schoolboy Latin grammar training—that is, he creates women’s emotive utterance out of the experiences that have been most forcefully identified as the masculine puberty rites of Elizabethan culture.2 As has often been emphasized, the prominent scenes of female cursing and lamentation [End Page 32] are interpolations, not derived from the play’s recognized sources,3 and so they clearly represent one of the most pronounced elements of Shakespeare’s own linguistic invention.

This essay argues that the verbal inventiveness of this play arises out of a deeply embedded grammatical culture renewed in England with the reestablishment and spread of grammar schools in the course of the Reformation and specifically with the development of Lily’s Grammar and its royal authorization as the one grammar text for the realm. This Latin grammar paradoxically brought features of the English language into salience as they were mapped in translation (or mistranslation) onto Latin categories. At the same time, grammatical pedagogy and its effect on understanding of English were seamlessly woven together with the religious culture and ideology of the English Reformation as schoolmasters were repeatedly enjoined in the pages of their grammar text to “apply your scholars in lernynge and godly education.”4 My argument treats inadvertent lessons in English that a Stratford-educated grammar-school boy took away from his “Lily,” lessons in which he was able to discover surprising relevance to theatrical practice and dramatic form. What this process reveals is an extraordinary relation between the women’s curses for which Richard III is famous and the optative mood.

I. Lily’s Optatives: Inserting the God-Term

In A Shorte Introdvction of Grammar, the “Accidence” or parts of speech constituting the English segment of Lily memorized and recited in the early forms of grammar school, the optative was one of six Latin moods, including indicative, imperative, optative, potential, subjunctive, and infinitive.5 According to [End Page 33] Priscian, the sixth-century Latin grammarian and one of only a handful of named authors in Shakespeare’s plays, the moods were not merely formally distinct verbal constructions; they delineated, according to his definition, the various inclinations of the mind or soul.6 The division of moods inherited and promulgated by Lily was based more on semantic than on formal categories, or on what has seemed to later descriptive grammarians a muddle of semantic and formal categories, as is clear from the fact that the optative, potential, and subjunctive moods share identical Latin endings. But grammar was not just about formal structures of language. Humanist grammars were heirs to the highly developed medieval tradition of speculative grammar, a kind of universalist semantics and a study that (not unlike today’s emerging field of cognitive grammar) had associated the articulation of grammatical categories with an investigation of the human mind or of the soul and with the understanding of mental action.7 The category of the optative, then, made it clear that wishing or desiring was a primary category of mental action in words; its grammatical disposition could legitimately be expected to tell one something about wishing and desiring. In Shakespeare criticism, we have heard a great deal about the rhetorical construction of the passions—how the classical theory of rhetoric was translated into a poetics for the Elizabethan theater, how figures of pathos could become building blocks of passionate dramatic speech, how classical examples like Hecuba’s passionate utterance could become a model for writers and players alike. But we have heard little or nothing about the grammatical construction of passionate speech.8 In this omission, we underestimate the scope and influence of grammar in early modern culture.9

Grammar lessons in Shakespeare’s day involved explicit and tacit lessons that influenced Elizabethan playwrights and stage players, including both lessons in English and lessons in acting skills. Had the Tudor schools relied on imported continental texts for grammatical training, as they initially did for classical literature, the situation with regard to lessons in the vernacular would have been very different. But in the late 1530s or early 1540s, under circumstances that have never been fully explained, “sundry learned men” called together by the “Kinges Maiesties wisdome” worked to revise texts initially prepared by John [End Page 34] Colet and his schoolmaster William Lily for St. Paul’s School, reducing the “diuersitye of Grammars” taught throughout the realm to “one kinde” of royally authorized and mandated “Grammar.”10 It was this Reformation undertaking that eased the boys’ comprehension by providing standard English equivalences for the proliferation of Latin constructions including the complicated verb conjugations and, thus, a new lens on the vernacular. Even though later grammarians would come to deplore the descriptive inadequacy of categories imported from Latin for the articulation of English grammar, early modern poets and dramatists could develop a close acquaintance with vernacular constructions as schoolboys by declining and construing their Latin nouns, pronouns, and verbs into English. In learning Latin and simultaneously receiving instruction in the English “signs” for the various categories, they learned about the expressive potential of a language they were nonetheless forbidden to speak at school. These comparative lessons also yielded many fanciful examples of tortured English expressions suggestive of what the vernacular could not readily be made to do or of significant points of disparity between the languages. The optative mood as it is presented in Lily provides a fascinating example of this Janus-faced suggestiveness. “The Optatiue wissheth or desireth, with these signes, would god, I pray God, or God graunt: as Vtinam amem, I pray God I loue. and hath euermore an Adverbe of wisshing ioyned with him.”11 Schoolboys, of course, learned this sort of definition by rote and, as the Latin grammar dialogue between William and Parson Evans in The Merry Wives of Windsor makes clear, were discouraged from departing from the letter of the definition.

But schoolboys like William also had curious and inquiring minds, and surely some of them would have noticed and perhaps even made a joking matter out of the anomalous treatment of the Latin adverb “utinam,” described in Lewis and Short’s Latin Dictionary as “a particle of wishing” and translated there as “oh that! I wish that! if only! would to heaven! would that!”12 Surely some of them must have asked how is it that at the moment of desire in Lily’s Grammar,God always gets brought into the picture? How is it that God is always made a principal agent whenever one is said to be “wishing” or “desiring” in English? Ian M. Green has recently noted this small “insertion” in the highly influential authorized [End Page 35] grammar for a Protestant nation “of a role for ‘God,’” but without considering it in relation to English writers or playwrights.13 The oddity becomes even more salient in the long repetitive sequences of Lily’s Grammar that chart the variation of verbs in their different moods through all the various tenses and voices, producing for the optative in the active voice: “God graunt I loue,” “Wold God I loued,” “I praie God I haue loued,” “Would God I had loued,” “God graunt I loue heareafter”; and in the passive voice, “God graunt I be loued,” “Woulde God I were loued,” “I pray God I haue been loued,” “Woulde God I had been loued,” and “God graunte I be loued hereafter.”14 In offering only this Christianized speech act in the Englishing of the optative or wishing mood, Lily’s Grammar adds an extra person to the dramatizing of a wish: it is not the direct action of a wishing-I willing to act upon the object of his or her wish; it is a mediated action, a suitor’s plea that God intervene on his or her behalf. That this is not the only or even the most natural translation in the Early Modern English of the time for Latin utinam (and could indeed be thought of as a mistranslation) is apparent if we turn for a moment to the treatment of the optative mood in the first extant grammar of English, William Bullokar’s Bref Grammar (1586), a work that for the most part simply transfers Lily’s grammatical categories onto English. Bullokar opens his account of the English optative precisely with Lily’s three English signs for the Latin optative (“I-pray-God,” “God-grant,” and “would-God,” including the variants “pray-God” and “would-too-God”). But as if to acknowledge that the God-terms do not satisfactorily represent the “signs” in English for the wish or desire as a speech act or vocalized articulation, he generously supplements with additional forms, including “I-would, would, . . . O-that, and O-if.”15 Indeed, even John Colet’s own definition in the Tudor Paules Accidence—“The optatyue willeth or desyreth: with these signes: wolde sholde or wolde to god”16 —had made God’s part less prominent. The authorized grammar, in this at least a product of the emerging English Reformation, took seriously (and literally) the injunction to the Christian teacher eloquently expressed in the preface to the 1557 Geneva edition of Lily as “hauing God before your eies.” [End Page 36] 17

II. Schoolroom Queens and Richard III

Boys were also learning acting skills with their Latin grammar as they memorized and declaimed their noun and verb declensions on demand before teachers, ushers or monitors, and peers. It is commonly acknowledged that many Elizabethan players acquired acting techniques by way of the oratorical training of the grammar schools and the performance of actual plays, but the protocols internalized by boys in the earliest grammar-school forms (as young as seven or eight years) for perfecting “without booke”18 the complex grammar text would undoubtedly have contributed to the “habitus” of players so schooled.19 Learning by memory their accidence—that is, their “parts of speech”— and belting out variations on “God graunt I loue,” “God graunt thou loue,” “God graunt he loue,” “God graunt we loue” would have prepared boy actors for the labors of memorization and recitation expected of them when they received their “parts” for roles like Queen Margaret or Queen Elizabeth in Richard III.20 Before the “part” or role as a task for the player’s memorization and vocalization, one might say, came the schoolboy’s “part of speech.”21

Richard III is notable among Shakespeare’s history plays for its generous provision of four female and four child roles, all eight most likely played by boy actors.22 Although the use of boy actors in the Elizabethan theater is often associated with transvestite or sexual themes, there are other ways that their use might have inflected the portrayal of female characters. In Richard III, it is significant how often a pedagogical context is invoked not only with child characters but also when the chorus of women (and especially Queen Margaret) makes its appearance: “Teach me to be your queen,” says Margaret in 1.3, “and you my subjects: / O serve me well, and teach yourselves that duty” (1.3.250–51). In more specific terms, as T. W. Baldwin demonstrated, Shakespeare’s plays (especially the early plays) incorporate many references and direct quotations from Lily’s Grammar.23 Queen Margaret employs the technical vocabulary of the grammar text and of Latin pedagogy in the English classroom [End Page 37] when she responds to Queen Elizabeth’s plea in Act 4 to “help me curse / That bottled spider” (4.4.80–81): “O thou, well skilled in curses, stay a while, / And teach me how to curse mine enemies” (ll. 116–17). Not only does she use the grammarian’s word “sign” (l. 90) in a distinctive way but she describes her own manner of deploying repetitive formulae to fill out her lengthy rhetorical declamations as if she were giving instruction in the declining of nouns or verbs: “Decline all this, and see what now thou art” (l. 97). It is very clear that the main preparation or rehearsal ground for the queens and duchesses in Richard III—the women who strive to be “copious in exclaims,” making “calamity be full of words,” which are the “attorneys” and “Poor breathing orators of miseries” (ll. 135, 126, 127–29)—is not only the grammar school’s rhetorical training and oratorical practice but also, and fundamentally, the early forms’ drilling in and performative vocal recitation of grammatical declensions. Furthermore, not only do the play’s child characters chime in on the antiphonal or schoolroom-like question and response declamation of these passions, but their appearances are punctuated with educational adages.24

Beyond simply memorizing and reciting their declensions, schoolboys were rehearsed in their application in ways that the particular brand of copia on display in Richard III recollects and highlights. As they took their first steps in imitation of classical authors, they were encouraged to ring the changes upon the basic situations of sentences, practicing grammatical variations where, for example, the changed person or number of a noun or pronoun required grammatical changes for agreement elsewhere, or where a changed temporal framework required alterations in verb mood or tense. This is precisely what occurs in sequences of repetitive laments in Richard III like the following:

queen elizabeth

What stay had I but Edward, and he’s gone?


What stay had we but Clarence, and he’s gone?

duchess of york

What stays had I but they, and they are gone? (2.2.74–76)

John Brinsley’s detailed accounts of grammar-school practices in Lvdvs Literarivs: Or, the Grammar Schoole make it clear that schoolboys were encouraged to use this strategy of ringing grammatical changes on a set example as a compositional tool in their first steps in the exercise of epistolary composition imitating Cicero: “Cause them for their exercise to make another Epistle in imitation of Tullies Epistle, vsing al the phrases and matter of that Epistle; onely applying and turning it to some friend, as if they had the very same occasion [End Page 38] then presently: and also changing numbers, tenses[,] persons, places, times: yet so as thereby to make all the matter and phrases, each way most familiar to them and fully their owne.”25 This protocol of changing one element of situation to rehearse grammatical changes and assist in copious invention amplifying laments is fundamental to Shakespeare’s play. We see it in the long lists of substituted but parallel situations posed by the substituting sets of queens:

queen margaret

I had an Edward, till a Richard killed him;
I had a husband, till a Richard killed him.
[Toelizabeth ] Thou hadst an Edward, till a Richard killed him;
Thou hadst a Richard, till a Richard killed him.

duchess of york [rising]

I had a Richard too, and thou didst kill him;
I had a Rutland too, thou holpst to kill him. (4.4.40–45)

We see it too in Richard’s persuasive tactic to move Queen Elizabeth to woo her daughter as Richard’s second queen. Having wronged “the time o’erpast” he proposes to swear to her by “The time to come,” or, as Elizabeth puts it, echoing grammatical futurity in Lily as “Hereafter time” (ll. 318–21; emphasis added):26 “Plead what I will be, not what I have been; / Not my deserts, but what I will deserve” (ll. 345–46). Richard III is regularly regarded as a play that foregrounds its characters’ theatrical and oratorical skills. But if theatricality is a central quality of this play, it is even more specifically (especially in the women’s roles) grammatical theatricality—passionate oratorical performance copious in grammatical variation.

III. Optative Cursing in Richard III

To illustrate the heightened attention in Richard III to the optative mood, Act 1, scene 3, where Queen Margaret makes her first appearance, can productively be read as taking its cue from and creatively supplementing school lessons in this showy grammatical mood. The primary speech genre of the scene is the curse.27 As many critics have articulated, curses play a hugely important structural [End Page 39] role in Richard III. Both Margaret’s curses and the larger discussion of curses in 1.3 serve as an effective dramatic way to link the present situation of the scene to the past of the larger tetralogy and struggle between the York and Lancaster factions and to the future of the play’s resolution and the subsequent Tudor ascendancy.28 Early in this scene, Richard of Gloucester proclaimed to Queen Elizabeth and her associates his purpose to “put into your minds, if you forget, / What you have been ere this, and what you are” (1.3.131–32). He forcefully juxtaposes then and now a second time by announcing that the curses his father, the Duke of York, hurled against Queen Margaret when the boy Rutland was murdered have been fulfilled (ll. 171–78). Paradoxically, it is Richard’s inflammatory claim that his father’s curses have “fall’n upon thee” and taken effect—that “God, not we, hath plagued thy bloody deed” (ll. 177–78)— that emboldens Margaret to imagine her own curses to be not merely invective but potentially effectual: “Can curses pierce the clouds and enter heaven? / Why then, give way, dull clouds, to my quick curses!” (ll. 192–93). Looking forward, Shakespeare deploys the simple dramatic expedient of allowing Margaret in 1.3 to utter curses that predict the play’s future outcomes in order to give the play a clear sense of structure. As Marjorie Garber puts it, “Margaret’s curse . . . is to become the true plot of this play, despite the plural ‘plots,’ inductions, and stratagems so ingeniously devised by Richard.”29 Tied in with this structural use of curses are the competing interpretations about the forces shaping historical events—whether necessity or contingency, divine will or human action, a shaping force or a flood of circumstances. Similarly, the God-term in the optatives opens up the God-question attaching itself to the play’s larger trajectory.

As is readily evident, the grammar of the curse is paradigmatic of the grammar of Lily’s optative mood. One of Lily’s three “signs” for the optative, “I pray God,” is foregrounded in the obtrusive inversion of Margaret’s central curse: “God I pray him, / That none of you may live his natural age” (ll. 209–10). But it is notable that the scene’s engagement with the schoolroom’s mood of “wishing or desiring” encompasses more than a great cascading declamation of curses. In the opening episode as characters approach and comfort Queen [End Page 40] Elizabeth, who is anxious about King Edward’s health, the dialogue highlights two other speech genres—the blessing and the greeting—that characteristically shared with cursing the quality of being a vocalized, discrete act of wishing deploying Lily’s English “signs” of the optative or recognizable variations. Lord Gray refers to the desired perlocutionary sequel to blessings: “The heavens have blessed you with a goodly son” (l. 9). Buckingham and Stanley’s elaborate greetings display another conventional version of verbal wishing, one eliding and the other employing the God-term of Lily’s optatives, to bring three persons rather than a simple I / you binary exchange into the interaction involved in the social greeting: “Good time of day unto your royal grace. / God make your majesty joyful, as you have been” (ll. 18–19). Greetings are so commonplace that they are scarcely notable, except that Queen Elizabeth’s response—“The Countess Richmond . . . / To your good prayer will scarcely say ‘Amen’” (ll. 20–21)—calls attention to the strategic workings of the speech genre, initiating with her comment a series of reflexive observations and comebacks to the characters’ various expression of wishes through the vehicle of what I am calling Lily’s God-terms.

The use of the “God grant” variant for a wish is uncommon in Shakespeare’s plays, occurring only seven times, with five uses in Richard III.30 One spectacular example of its use marks the climax of Lady Anne’s cursing in the first act (“Then God grant me, too, / Thou mayst be damnèd for that wicked deed” [1.2.102–3]) in an encounter that comments reflexively on the interrelation of “blessings” and “curses.” Lady Anne accuses Richard of having “made the happy earth thy hell, / Filled it with cursing cries and deep exclaims”; Richard counters that by “rules of charity,” she should render “good for bad, blessings for curses” (ll. 51–52, 68–70). A pattern of parodic comebacks by Richard develops, deconstructing or interrogating the women’s godly optatives. In a verbal duel with Richard, Queen Elizabeth dissociates herself from him with a God-mediated wish—“God grant we never may have need of you”—and is mocked by Richard’s comeback that grammatically varies her expression: “Meantime, God grants that I have need of you” (ll. 76–77). A similar parody, highlighting and talking back at the women’s distinctive style of “godly optative,” serves Richard to misdirect suspicion about Clarence’s murder: [End Page 41]

God grant that some, less noble and less loyal, Nearer in bloody thoughts, but not in blood, Deserve not worse than wretched Clarence did, And yet go current from suspicion.


As these exchanges interrogate the distinctive speech action of this play’s “schoolroom queens,” they also probe and quietly deconstruct the ideological fiction encapsulated in English’s mistranslated optative mood.

All translation, whether literal or responsive to a host culture, is mistranslation in some sense, but there is a particularly strong case for thinking of Lily’s optative mood as mistranslated into sixteenth-century English. First, there is the history of the optative mood as a formal category of grammar. Appearing as early as the Greek grammar of Dionysius Thrax, it migrated into Latin grammar together with the subjunctive mood, despite there being “formally, no optative” in Latin, where the optative and subjunctive share identical endings and “an equivalent could be found only be calling optative those subjunctive forms, usually preceded by utinam, which expressed a wish.”31 Similarly, it migrated or was mistranslated into English, where many early grammarians like Bullokar simply kept the classical categories.32 Second, as we have seen, it was mistranslated in Lily’s Grammar and in an English grammatical tradition strongly influenced by Lily—incorporating a fictional three-way exchange as if it were directly equivalent to the Latin and a transparent fact of language use. It is a strange action of mistranslation to make a Christian God appear out of nowhere when one construes verbs communicating wishes from classical Latin into English, and it invents a whole new dramatic plot type or premise that Act 1, scene 3, and other scenes in Richard III exploit, debate, and interrogate in creating the overall plot trajectory. The mistranslation changes the story. It substitutes for the ineffectual or nonexistent agency, however passionate, of wishing subjects a subject’s paradoxically potent passion—if it can awaken God’s agency on its behalf, if it can make it happen that, in the villain’s own words spelling out the plot logic of the Englished optative curse, the “curses ...are fall’n upon thee,/ And God ...hath plagued thy bloody deed” (1.3.176–78).

IV. Conclusion

What I am suggesting is that a particular form of language game is played out in Richard III, a language game that recollects and transforms classroom games associated with grammar teaching and the arts of translation and mistranslation [End Page 42] learned in school. Colin Burrow claims that “Shakespeare’s works exploit the slippage between the august ideals of humanist education and its practical shortcomings, between its ambitions and its unintended consequences.”33 For the most part, the English lessons that Shakespeare learned in school were “unintended consequences” of Latin grammar lessons. Richard III is a grammatical play, framed upon a virtuoso set of grammatical variations, which strongly suggests how much Shakespeare got out of, and made out of, these accidental English grammar lessons. With women’s and children’s parts built on schoolboys’ recitation of these lessons, he created a heightened language for passionate utterance and explored an alternative form of potency in his female characters’ speech acts. Literalizing the mistranslation, bringing God’s intervention into the performative speech acts of human wishes, he created an effective structure for an apparently providential tragedy. Indeed, King Henry VII’s ascendancy might be said to change the mood, depending on whether one interprets his final utterance—“God say ‘Amen’” (5.8.41)—as optative or imperative. [End Page 43]

Lynne Magnusson  

Lynne Magnusson is Professor of English at the University of Toronto and Director of the Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies. She is the author of Shakespeare and Social Dialogue: Dramatic Language and Elizabethan Letters, and her recent publications include “Language” in the Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare and “A Play of Modals: Grammar and Potential Action in Early Shakespeare” in Shakespeare Survey 62. She is currently completing The Transformation of the English Letter, 1500–1620 and an edition of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

I am grateful to Jonathan Hope, Ross Knecht, Alysia Kolentsis, Ruth Morse, David Schalkwyk, Paul Stevens, Emily Sugerman, and Margaret Tudeau-Clayton for providing contexts and conversations that helped to shape this paper.


1.  Quotations from Shakespeare’s plays are from Stephen Greenblatt, gen. ed., The Norton Shakespeare Based on the Oxford Edition, 2nd ed. (New York: W. W. Norton, 2008).

2.  Walter Ong, “Latin Language Study as a Renaissance Puberty Rite,” Studies in Philology 56 (1959): 103–24.

3.  Harold F. Brooks, “Richard III, Unhistorical Amplifications: The Women’s Scenes and Seneca,” Modern Language Review 75 (1980): 721–37.

4. An Introdvction of the Eyght Partes of Speche (London: Thomas Berthelet, 1542), sig. A1v.

5.  What is called “Lily’s Grammar” is a complex and variable amalgam of texts in English and Latin of composite authorship. On its composition, see Vincent Joseph Flynn, “The Grammatical Writings of William Lily, ?1468–?1523,” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 37 (1943): 85–113; Vincent Joseph Flynn, ed., “Introduction,” in A Shorte Introdvction of Grammar (1567; rpt., New York: Scholars’ Facsimiles, 1945), iii–xii; C. G. Allen, “The Sources of ‘Lily’s Latin Grammar’: A Review of the Facts and Some Further Suggestions,” Library ser. 5, 9 (1954): 85–100; Lawrence D. Green, “Grammatica Movet: Renaissance Grammar Books and Elocutio,” in Rhetorica Movet: Studies in Historical and Modern Rhetoric in Honor of Heinrich F. Plett, ed. Peter I. Oesterreich and Thomas G. Sloane (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 73–115, esp. 96–97; and John S. Pendergast, Religion, Allegory, and Literacy in Early Modern Europe, 1560–1640: The Control of the Word (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2006), 74–77. On the moods, their relation to Reformation theology, and their Englishing in Lily, see Brian Cummings’s invaluable The Literary Culture of the Reformation: Grammar and Grace (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2002), esp. 206–13.

6.  Ian Michael, English Grammatical Categories and the Tradition to 1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1970), 114; “Priscian a little scratched” is from Love’s Labor’s Lost, 5.1.26.

7.  Jan Pinborg, “Speculative Grammar,” in The Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy, vol. 1, ed. Norman Kretzmann et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1982), 254–69.

8.  In Shakespeare’s Schoolroom: Rhetoric, Discipline, Emotion (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2012), Lynn Enterline shows how schoolroom pedagogy, discipline, and rhetorical education shaped passionate utterance but not in relation to the specifics of grammatical constructions.

9.  On the “neglected hinterland of grammar,” see Cummings,11.

10.  Lily, A Shorte Introdvction of Grammar (London: Reginald Wolfe, [1567]), intro. Vincent J. Flynn (New York: Scholars’ Facsimiles, 1945), sig. A2r. This reference to committee revision repeats the claim made as early as 1542 in An Introdvction of the Eyght Partes of Speche (London: Thomas Berthelet, 1542), sig. A2v.

11.  Lily, Shorte Introdvction of Grammar (1567), sig. B2v.

12.  Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short, A New Latin Dictionary (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1891); Perseus Digital Library, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus, “utinam, adv.,” 2A.

13.  Ian M. Green, Humanism and Protestantism in Early Modern English Education (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2009), 147.

14.  Lily, Shorte Introdvction of Grammar (1567), sigs. B4r, B6v–B7. Cummings comments that Lily “is forced to conjure up an entirely arbitrary order of English phrases which he treats as if he were parsing the inflections of a Latin verb” (210).

15.  William Bullokar, Bref Grammar for English, in Booke at Large (1580) and Bref Grammar for English (1586) (Delmar, NY: Scholars’ Facsimiles and Reprints, 1977), 23.

16.  John Colet, Aeditio (n.pl., 1527), sig. [B5v].

17. A Short Introdvction of Grammar ([Geneva: C. Badius], 1557), sig. A1v.

18.  John Brinsley, Lvdvs Literarivs: or, The Grammar Schoole (London, 1612), sig. K2.

19.  Lynn Enterline’s chapter “Imitate and Punish” in Shakespeare’s Schoolroom richly illuminates kinds of theatricality in the schoolroom with an accent on regimes of discipline shaping everyday life (33–61).

20.  Simon Palfrey and Tiffany Stern, Shakespeare in Parts (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007).

21.  On “hearing parts” and “oft saying Parts” to master grammar, see Brinsley, sigs. K3r–v.

22.  On patterns of doubling, see John Jowett, ed., “Introduction,” in The Tragedy of King Richard III (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000), esp. 75–76. Furthermore, he claims that “one cannot rule out the possibility that old women such as Margaret and the Duchess of York would have been performed by adult men” (75).

23.  T. W. Baldwin, William Shakspere’s Small Latine & Lesse Greeke, 2 vols. (Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1944), 1:557–80.

24.  Consider the antiphonal response pattern of 2.2.59–88 and the unfolding of proverbs about growth with York’s appearance in 2.4.6–37.

25.  Brinsley, sig. Y4v.

26.  “God graunt I loue hereafter” translates the future tense of the optative mood (Lily, Shorte Introdvction of Grammar [1567], sig. B4).

27.  Among the many thoughtful treatments of curses from a variety of perspectives, see David Bevington, “‘Why Should Calamity be Full of Words’: The Efficacy of Cursing in Richard III,” Iowa State Journal of Research 56 (1981): 9–18; Gina Bloom, Voice in Motion: Staging Gender, Shaping Sound in Early Modern England (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania, 2007), 91–94; and David Schalkwyk, “Text and Performance, Reiterated: A Reproof Valiant, or Lie Direct?” in Shakespearean International Yearbook 10: Special Section, The Achievement of Robert Weimann, ed. Graham Bradshaw et al. (Surrey, UK: Ashgate, 2010), 47–76, esp. 64–70.

28.  Janis Lull, ed., King Richard III (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999), 7; and Wolfgang Clemen, A Commentary on Shakespeare’s “Richard III, English version (1968; rpt. Routledge, 2005), 54.

29.  Marjorie Garber, Shakespeare after All (New York: Anchor Books / Random House, 2004), 147. Where Jean E. Howard and Phyllis Rackin’s influential reading in Engendering a Nation: Feminist Readings of Shakespeare (London and New York: Routledge, 1997) describes the play’s women as “deprived of theatrical power and agency” (108), James R. Siemon, ed., King Richard III (London: Methuen, 2009), follows Gina Bloom in claiming that “lament, denunciation and curse comprise a powerful female idiom” (19).

30.  This figure is based on a simple search using the Online Shakespeare Concordance (http://sydney.edu.au/engineering/it/~matty/Shakespeare/test.html), with the other uses in Love’s Labor’s Lost and The Merchant of Venice. One wonders if the use of Lily’s “God-terms” in optatives in later Shakespeare was discouraged by the 1606 statute “for the preuenting and auoyding of the great abuse of the holy Name of God in Stage-playes,” although accounts of it generally emphasize swearing and oaths. See Hugh Gazzard, “An Act to Restrain Abuses of Players (1606),” Review of English Studies, n.s. 61, 251 (2010): 495–528.

31.  Michael, 114, 424.

32.  Michael, 425.

33.  Colin Burrow, “Shakespeare and Humanist Culture,” in Shakespeare and the Classics, ed. Charles Martindale and A. B. Taylor (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004), 9–27, esp. 15.

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • English language -- Study and teaching -- England -- History -- 17th century.
  • English language -- Early modern, 1500-1700 -- Grammar.
  • Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616 -- Language.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access