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Publicly Available Published by De Gruyter June 9, 2016

The Personal Use of Relative which in Shakespearean English: The Relevance of Social and Emotional Factors

  • Kiriko Sato EMAIL logo
From the journal Anglia


This paper explores Shakespeare’s use of wh-relative pronouns with personal antecedents, particularly the personal use of which, which had started to be marginalised before Shakespeare’s period and replaced by who and whom. The present survey of Shakespeare’s plays reveals a significant fact with relation to the second person pronouns thou and you (including their inflected case forms) as antecedents: which is common with thou but extremely rare with singular you; on the other hand, who(m) shows no preference for either form and occurs with them equally. The association of which with thou and its avoidance of you suggests that Shakespeare may have exploited personal which in contexts where thou is generally preferred – when the speaker is superior in social status to the referent or the speaker is highly emotional. Evidence is presented from close examination of three plays (Romeo and Juliet, King Richard II, and King Lear), demonstrating that characters of high status may use which if the referents are social inferiors but not vice versa. In addition, personal which is associated with heightened emotion and dramatic tension. In fact, fellow, knave, and similar insulting words are commonly used as antecedents of which. On the other hand, social status or emotional states of characters are not relevant to the use of who(m). Hence in Shakespeare’s English, who(m) is the unmarked form as a personal relative pronoun, while which is the marked form, usually used, just like thou, to refer to social inferiors or to mark strong emotions.

1 Introduction

It is well known that relative which as well as who and whom were available with personal antecedents in Early Modern English.[1] In fact, Barber (1997: 211) states that which was “freely” used with personal antecedents in this period.[2] The personal use of which had never been proscribed by grammarians prior to Shakespeare’s time until James Greenwood clearly restricted which to things and who(m) to persons during the first decade of the eighteenth century (Bately 1965). Much earlier, however, in the fourth edition of his Grammatica linguae anglicanae published in 1674, John Wallis proposed, as regards “our Father which” in the Lord’s Prayer, that who was more proper and more elegant:

Which, qui.] Relativum; De Rebus pariter & Personis dictum. [...] Poterat autem (quia de Personâ agitur) non minus Who hoc loco dici; quod Personis magis est proprium, & quidem nunc dierum frequentius; (sed which de Rebus.) Hinc factum est, quod in Liturgiâ Anglicanâ, ubi ante dicebatur which de personis, substituitur in ejusdem nuperâ recensione ut plurimum (& fere semper) who & whom, tanquam de personis elegantius. (John Wallis, Grammatica linguae anglicanae, as cited by Bately 1965: 246)

‘Relative which is used for both things and persons. However, when persons are referred to, who could be used just as often for it is more appropriate when referring to persons, and it is of course more frequent these days; which, however, is used to refer to things. Hence, in the Anglican Liturgy, where which was used to refer to persons, it was usually (almost always) replaced by who and whom in recent recensions as they were considered more elegant for referring to persons’.[3]

This stylistic trait of who may lie behind its generalisation and final replacement of which as a personal relative pronoun. From the perspective of grammatical systematisation and sociolinguistics, Rissanen (1999: 294) states that the development from which to who

is in accordance both with the tendency to systematise the use of various grammatical forms in the course of the Early Modern English period and with the polite and formal expressions of Tudor and Stuart society, which probably emphasised the observation of the ‘personality’ of the referent.[4]

Evans’s (2013) investigation of the idiolect of Queen Elizabeth I provides empirical support for Rissanen’s view. Referring to her own compilation, the Queen Elizabeth I Corpus (QEIC), and Nevalainen and Raumolin-Brunberg’s (2002) research into the Corpus of Early English Correspondence (CEEC), Evans considers the frequency of who and which after animate antecedents (101–112).[5] She finds that who accounts for 100% in Elizabeth’s pre-accession period (1554–1558) and 92.2% in her post-accession period (1559–1603), while who is significantly less frequent in the 1560–1599 CEEC texts (at 76% to 24% which). The disparities between CEEC and QEIC (either pre- or post-accession period) are statistically significant. Evans (2013: 108) concludes that “Elizabeth’s social status and experiences, as both princess and queen, position her within those circles that would be interested in ‘polite and formal expressions’”.

Shakespeare composed his plays from 1589 to 1613; he was born into Elizabeth’s reign and worked all but his final ten years within it.[6] Personal which is not uncommon in Shakespeare’s English (unlike Elizabeth’s), but has so far received relatively little attention. As which and who can appear in parallel after the same antecedent, as in (1) below,[7] the two forms might well be taken as exhibiting free variation:

(1) PROSPERO. I am Prospero, and that very duke / Which was thrust forth of Milan, who most strangely / Upon this shore (where you were wrack’d) was landed (Tmp 5.1.159–161)

Indeed, comprehensive studies of Shakespeare’s language have not identified any differences, grammatical or semantic, between the two relative pronouns after personal antecedents (cf. Franz 1939: §335; Brook 1976: §103; Blake 2002: §§ and Since no articles or monographs have focused on Shakespeare’s use of personal which so far, this issue is worthy of investigation.[8]

Which began to be used as a relative pronoun in the earliest Middle English period (Mustanoja 1960: 195).[9] By Shakespeare’s time, who and whom had also been firmly established as relative pronouns. According to Rydén (1983: 126–127), whom began to be used as a relative pronoun around 1100, and the first indubitable example of relative who is recorded about 300 years later, in a Paston letter of 1426. “By 1600 who had clearly got the upperhand of personal which” (Rydén 1983: 132), so that who and whom are prevalent in Shakespeare’s plays (see Table 1 in Section 2 below). Previous scholars dealing with the historical development from which to who have rarely included the inflected form whom, confining their survey to relative pronouns in subject roles (cf. Meier 1967; Nevalainen and Raumolin-Brunberg 2002). Yet, as which is common in object roles in Shakespeare, competing with whom, the present study takes into consideration the inflected form as well. On the other hand, relative that is outside the scope of this survey because its function is mainly to introduce restrictive relative clauses and the restrictive/non-restrictive distinction seems to be the primary factor in choosing between that- and wh-relative pronouns, rather than the socio-pragmatic factors that this study is concerned with (Franz 1939: §339).[10]

The present study investigates Shakespeare’s use of personal which in comparison with who and whom, paying special attention to the social distance between the speaker and the referent and also to the speaker’s emotional state. Section 2 begins by mentioning some exclusions and then surveys the frequency of which, who, and whom used with personal antecedents in Shakespeare’s plays. Section 3 evaluates the influence of the antecedent category on Shakespeare’s choice between which and who(m). Section 4 focuses on the second person pronouns thou/thee and ye/you as relative antecedents;[11] the determiners thy/thine/your and the reflexive pronouns thyself/yourself are also included.[12] Interestingly, personal which is common with thou but extremely rare with singular you; on the other hand, who(m) is found with both forms equally. This suggests that which may be used, just like thou, in contexts in which the speaker is superior in status to the referent or is highly emotional. Section 5 conducts a close analysis of the three plays where personal which is most frequent: Romeo and Juliet (ten instances), King Richard II (nine instances), and King Lear (twelve instances).[13] The results indicate that personal which rarely occurs when the antecedent is higher in social rank than the speaker; in addition, characters tend to use personal which in highly emotional contexts. Hence both social status and emotion are shown to influence Shakespeare’s choice of personal relative pronouns.

2 General Frequency

Before surveying the frequency of relative pronouns, it is necessary to mention some exclusions. First, in order to focus on unambiguously personal antecedents, non-human referents (spirits, animals, and qualities) are excluded throughout. In fact, Shakespeare seems to avoid using who(m) to refer to supernatural beings. In The Tempest, for example, Ariel is referred to by which three times, e.g. “This gallant which thou seest” (Tmp 1.2.414),[14] but never by who(m); other spirits such as Juno and Ceres are also referred to by which: “Spirits, which by mine art / I have from their confines call’d to enact / My present fancies” (Tmp 4.1.120–122). Therefore, which seems to be the ordinary choice when non-human, albeit animate, beings are referred to. Also excluded are beasts referring to human beings, as in “They are sheep and calves which seek out assurance in that” (Ham 5.1.116–117). A non-personal antecedent combined with a personal one is ignored: “Spare thy Athenian cradle and those kin / Which [...] must fall” (Tim 5.4.40–41). The sequence that [...] which referring to some quality or aspect of a person, not the person him/herself, is excluded, e.g. “That which you are, my thoughts cannot transpose” (Mac 4.3.21) or “I, your glass, / Will modestly discover to yourself / That of yourself which you yet know not of” (JC 1.2.68–70). Second, so-called free relatives such as “Who steals my purse steals trash” (Oth 3.3.157) are not included.[15] Finally, the antecedent of which can be ambiguous between a personal and a sentential referent. An ambiguous example is in “you must now speak Sir John Falstaff fair, / Which swims against your stream of quality” (2H4 5.2.33–34), which Harrison (1938: 144) explicitly analyses as having personal reference (to Falstaff), but OED sees it as “[r]eferring to a fact, circumstance, or statement” (OED s.v. which, pron. and adj. 7c.). There are four more instances of this kind, all of which have been left out of this survey.[16]

After such exclusions, 446 instances of who, 320 of whom, and 188 of which (including seven instances of the which) were retained for analysis.[17]

Table 1

Frequency of who, whom, and which used with personal antecedents in Shakespeare’s plays


Table 1 shows that which accounts for only about one fifth of this data, indicating that which, albeit still available, had started to be marginalised after personal antecedents. Furthermore, the breakdown by play in the Appendix shows a progressing stronger dominance of who(m) over time: the use of who(m) shows a higher frequency in Shakespeare’s later plays than in early ones, while which is distributed more evenly. Hence, while Shakespeare’s style shows a substantial increase of relativisation of all sorts over time (Hope 2010: 153), this stylistic change results from the raw frequency of who(m), but not from that of which.

3 The Influence of the Antecedent Head Category

The present section will demonstrate how Shakespeare’s choice of relative pronouns varies according to the category of the antecedent head. Historically, the use of relative who started with nouns higher on a “scale of personhood” (Rydén 1983: 130; Nevalainen and Raumolin-Brunberg 2002: 118), such as the Deity, and proper nouns, and later expanded into use with nouns lower on that scale, such as collective nouns and pronouns. Hence Shakespeare, writing during the period of transition, may be expected to use who(m) more often with proper nouns and less often with collectives or pronouns. Accordingly, antecedent heads in the present dataset were classified into four categories: proper nouns, common nouns, collectives, and pronouns. One complicating factor is that, as a result of apposition, heads of more than one category may be present, as in (2) or (3):

(2) RODERIGO. That thou, Iago, who hast had my purse / As if the strings were thine, shouldst know of this. (Oth 1.1.2–3)

(3) AEMILIUS. They hither march amain, under conduct / Of Lucius, son to old Andronicus, / Who threats, in course of this revenge, to do / As much as ever Coriolanus did. (Tit 4.4.65–68)

Such cases were (somewhat arbitrarily) classified according to the head closer to the relative pronoun; hence the antecedent head in (2) is taken as the proper noun Iago, and that in (3) as the common noun son. Table 2 shows the resulting distribution of the relative pronouns who, whom, and which across head categories.

Table 2

Categories of antecedent heads used with who, whom, and which in Shakespeare’s plays

Head Categorywhowhomwhich
Proper Noun111 (24.9%)72 (22.5%)17 (9.0%)
Common Noun242 (54.3%)164 (51.3%)90 (47.9%)
Collective Noun6 (1.3%)3 (0.9%)8 (4.3%)
Pronoun87 (19.5%)81 (25.3%)73 (38.8%)

Shakespeare’s use of personal relative pronouns is consistent with the broader direction of historical development: which is particularly rare with proper nouns but is more strongly associated with collectives or pronouns than are who or whom. Thus, the antecedent head category is relevant, at least to some extent, to Shakespeare’s use of which instead of who(m).

4 Thou vs. you and the Choice of Relative Pronouns

Section 2 has shown that which was much less common than who(m) after personal antecedents, accounting for about one-fifth of such instances in Shakespeare’s plays (Table 1 in Section 2). Moreover, the use of who(m) increases largely in his later plays, and the proportion of which becomes much smaller. This suggests that personal which might be confined, as the marked form, to some particular context(s). Pursuing this line of argument, the present section examines whether the same sociolinguistic and pragmatic factors which determine the choice between thou and you in Early Modern English are at work in the choice between which and who(m) after personal antecedents.

In Elizabethan English, the system of second person pronouns was in transition. Thou and you co-existed for the second person singular pronoun; however, thou was gradually dropping out. Originally, you was the polite form used by social inferiors to address social superiors, but it began to be more generally preferred without a particular intention to be polite, and, by the turn of the seventeenth century, could be taken to be the unmarked neutral form in many cases. By contrast, the use of thou was more and more limited to socially specific contexts, usually used as a marked form for addressing social inferiors. Against this background, when speakers used thou deviating from the socially predictable usage, it carried emotional connotations (Busse 2012: 738–741; Jucker and Taavitsainen 2013: 83–84). This pragmatic effect holds in Shakespeare’s English. Dealing with Shakespeare’s plays King Lear and As You Like It, Stein (2003) establishes the normal form of address according to the relative status of the addressee, and then analyses thou, you, and their inflected forms used in unpredictable ways. Stein reveals that about 30% of the use of thou is marked in Shakespeare,[18] showing that it carries emotional connotations such as “scorn”, “disapproval”, “complicity”, “affection”, “intimacy”, and “respect” (2003: 265 and passim).

Busse (2003) is concerned with the relationship between address pronouns, thou and you, and nominal terms of address.[19] Grouping nominal terms of address into six categories, Busse shows their relative association with either thou or you. Terms of endearment (e.g. burry, wag), terms of abuse (e.g. villain, varlet), and generic terms of address (e.g. gentleman, friend) co-occur with thou more often than they do with you; contrariwise, terms of courtesy (e.g. liege, monsieur), terms of occupation (e.g. doctor, lieutenant), and kinship terms (e.g. sister, cousin) occur more often with you. Although the “thoufulness” or “youfulness” varies among individual nouns, and even though there are exceptions such as nurse, which is a “thou word” though a term of occupation, Busse’s analysis convincingly shows that the choice between thou and you has a strong relationship with the social position and/or emotional state expressed by nominal terms of address.[20]

To turn to relative constructions, the second person pronouns may stand as antecedents of wh-relative pronouns. Table 3 shows the distribution of who, whom, and which to occur with thou or singular you. Their inflected case forms and reflexive pronouns are included.

Table 3

Distribution of who, whom, and which used with second person singular pronouns in Shakespeare’s plays

you (singular)611118

An interesting picture emerges here: which is not uncommon with thou, accounting for 34.6% (9 instances out of 26), but it appears only once with singular you, accounting for 5.6% (1 out of 18); who and whom, if put together, occur with thou and singular you 17 times each, showing no strong association with either form.

The lone instance of ‘singular you + which’ appears in Cymbeline, used by Jachimo to refer to Imogen:

(4) JACHIMO. In himself, ’tis much; / In you, which I account his, beyond all talents. (Cym 1.6.79–80)

Jachimo says that Imogen belongs to her husband Leonatus. It seems plausible that the possessive pronoun his made you (Imogen) sound like something inanimate to be possessed, causing Shakespeare to use which here. There is another example of ‘you + which’ in Shakespeare’s plays:

(5) MARTIUS. You cry against the noble Senate, who / (Under the gods) keep you in awe, which else / Would feed on one another? (Cor 1.1.186–188)

However, Martius addresses citizens here, and this you is undoubtedly in the plural.

Personal which and the pronoun thou are also similar in their distribution pattern in different genres of plays. Busse (2003) reveals that the proportion of thou is much smaller in the comedies than in the histories and tragedies, claiming that the literary genre affects the thou/you choice in Shakespeare. The proportion of thou is 46.4% in the histories and 48.5% in the tragedies, respectively; in the comedies, however, the proportion of thou is only 31.4% (Busse 2003: 216). According to Busse’s (2002) more comprehensive survey, this tendency is commonly observed in Early Modern English texts other than Shakespeare. The lower degree of thou in the comedies, Busse infers, “could probably be attributed to the fact that even among middle- or lower-class speakers, which constitute the majority of the personnel of the Comedies, the normal form of exchange was you and not thou” (2002: 58–59). Interestingly enough, the distribution of wh-relative pronouns used with personal antecedents shows the same tendency. As shown in Table 4, personal which accounts for over one-fifth in both the histories and tragedies, but in the comedies, the proportion of which is smaller, i.e. 16.7%.[21]

Table 4

Distribution of personal who(m) and which in different genres

Comedies (17 works)348 (83.3%)70 (16.7%)418
Histories (10 works)203 (77.2%)60 (22.8%)263
Tragedies (10 works)215 (78.8%)58 (21.2%)273

Section 2 argued that personal which may have been the marked form in contrast to neutral, unmarked who(m). The relatively higher frequency of who(m) in the comedies reinforces this view.

In Shakespeare’s English, personal which undoubtedly prefers thou, perhaps avoiding you. In addition, personal which is rarer in later plays than in early plays, and it is also least frequent in the comedies. It is plausible to say that which, like thou, was used as the marked form, which entails that personal which would be used, just like thou, from social superiors to inferiors, and otherwise as a mark of strong emotion such as anger or affection of the speaker. The next section aims to prove this hypothesis by means of a close analysis of three plays, focusing on contexts where which or who(m) is used with personal antecedents.

5 Case Studies

This section examines the use of personal relative pronouns in three Shakespearean plays: Romeo and Juliet, King Richard II, and King Lear, which were chosen as case studies on the basis of having the most frequent use of personal which of all the plays by Shakespeare, with nine to twelve instances in each play, giving 31 instances in total, accounting for 16.5% (31 out of 188) of all the occurrences in Shakespeare’s plays. The total frequency of who and whom in the three plays is 72, which accounts for 9.4% (72 out of 766).[22] Thus, the present survey is limited, but the evidence from the three plays will convincingly demonstrate that the personal use of which in Shakespeare is associated with the social distance between the speaker and referent and the speaker’s emotional state.

5.1 Romeo and Juliet

5.1.1 Which

Romeo and Juliet is an early tragedy composed in 1595 or 1596. In this play, there are ten instances of personal which. In most cases, the antecedent of personal which is clearly of lower status than the speaker or they are of nearly equal rank. In example (6), there is a large social distance between the speaker, Romeo, and the referent, an apothecary:

(6) ROMEO. I do remember an apothecary – / And hereabouts ’a dwells – which late I noted / In tatt’red weeds, with overwhelming brows, / Culling of simples; meagre were his looks, / Sharp misery had worn him to the bones (Rom 5.1.37–41)

As soon as Romeo receives the news of Juliet’s death, he decides to kill himself and to buy a fatal poison from the poor apothecary. The antecedent of which is an apothecary (paraphrased as ’a ‘he’). It is obvious that Romeo, a noble man, is superior in status to the apothecary. The difference in their social status is reflected in the second person pronouns they use: Romeo invariably addresses the apothecary using thou or its inflected forms (passim in Rom 5.1.58–84), while the apothecary only uses you to Romeo (Rom 5.1.77 and 5.1.79). Moreover, Romeo’s insulting description of the apothecary in (6), e.g. “tatt’red weeds” (‘ragged clothes’), “overwhelming brows”, and “meagre”, indicates that he despises the apothecary as a poor social inferior. Thus, Romeo’s contemptuous feelings toward the apothecary as well as their social positions may have triggered the use of which.

Emotions can be a more significant factor, as shown when Lady Capulet uses which to refer to Tybalt and Romeo in her conversation with her daughter Juliet after Romeo has slain Tybalt:

(7) LADY CAPULET. So shall you feel the loss, but not the friend

Which you weep for.

JULIET. Feeling so the loss,

I cannot choose but ever weep the friend.

LADY CAPULET. Well, girl, thou weep’st not so much for his death,

As that the villain lives which slaughter’d him. (Rom 3.5.75–79)

Here, the friend ‘kinsman’ is Tybalt, Lady Capulet’s nephew, and the villain is Romeo, who has slain him. The antecedent the friend indicates her intimacy with Tybalt; her affection towards him is obvious in her cry in the scene of his death: “Tybalt, my cousin! O my brother’s child!” (Rom 3.1.146). On the other hand, she displays her hatred of Romeo, insultingly calling him the villain. According to Busse (2003: 213), villain, as an address noun, shows the highest degree of co-occurrence with thou of all the abusive vocatives.[23] Thus, which appears with the noun that most strongly prefers thou.

Personal which is also uttered by characters who are highly emotional, as in the next two examples:

(8) JULIET [to Romeo]. Do not swear at all; Or if thou wilt, swear by thy gracious self, / Which is the god of my idolatry (Rom 2.2.112–114)

(9) BENVOLIO. O Romeo, Romeo, brave Mercutio is dead! / That gallant spirit hath aspir’d the clouds, / Which too untimely here did scorn the earth. (Rom 3.1.116–118)

Example (8) is from the balcony scene, in which Romeo and Juliet passionately confess their love for each other. She uses which in conjunction with thy gracious self to refer to Romeo. It should be noted that thy, not your, combines with self here; the adjective gracious ‘lovely, attractive’ (Schmidt 1971: I, 490 (5)) also reveals her deep love for him.[24] Example (9) is uttered by Benvolio after the disastrous scene in which Mercutio is stabbed by Tybalt and dies. Benvolio shouts to Romeo, using which in reference to dead Mercutio. Benvolio must have been stunned by the death of his friend. Likewise, Friar Lawrence’s which in (10) can be regarded as expressing emotion:

(10) FRIAR LAWRENCE [to Romeo]. Fie, fie, thou shamest thy shape, thy love, thy wit, / Which like a usurer abound’st in all, / And usest none in that true use indeed / Which should bedeck thy shape, thy love, thy wit. (Rom 3.3.122–125)[25]

In this scene, the friar harshly scolds Romeo for crying over his banishment. As a mentor and friend, the friar is always affectionate to Romeo, but now Romeo’s womanish tears let him down, and he reprimands Romeo, urging him to be more reasonable (Rom 3.3.108 ff.). His exclamation, “Fie, fie”, expresses his “indignant reproach” (OED s.v. fie, int. 1.). Emotions of different sorts – anger and fatherly affection – reside in the friar’s words in this passage.

There remain four more instances of which used with personal antecedents:

(11) ROMEO. What lady’s that which doth enrich the hand / Of yonder knight? (Rom 1.5.41–42)

(12) CHORUS. That fair for which love groan’d for and would die (Rom 2.0.3)

(13) JULIET. To move the heavens to smile upon my state, / Which, well thou knowest, is cross and full of sin. (Rom 4.3.4–5)

(14) FRIAR LAWRENCE. But he which bore my letter, Friar John, / Was stayed by accident (Rom 5.3.250–251)

In (11), Romeo has not yet got acquainted with Juliet, and he asks who she is. Example (12) is uttered by the Chorus, whose social status cannot be determined; the antecedent, That fair, refers to Rosaline. In (13), Juliet refers to herself.[26] In (14), Friar Lawrence uses which to refer to Friar John, whom he asked to deliver his letter to Romeo in Mantua; their statuses are not clarified in the play text, but they may be equal in rank as Franciscan brethren since John addresses Lawrence as thou (Rom 5.2.15, 5.2.23). These four instances cannot be categorised into either the social or emotional use of which. However, it should be noted that personal which, including (11)–(14), is never used in reference to social superiors by someone lower in rank in Romeo and Juliet.

5.1.2 Who and whom

Romeo and Juliet contains twelve tokens of who(m) (eight of who and four of whom). As we have shown in the previous section, speakers never employ which to refer to people of higher status in this play, but who does appear in such a case. The Watchman, for example, uses who to refer to Juliet when he finds her dead in the tomb:

(15) FIRST WATCHMAN. And Juliet bleeding, warm, and newly dead, / Who here hath lain this two days buried. (Rom 5.3.175–176)

Whom is available between nobles that are probably of the same rank, as Benvolio uses it to refer to Rosaline in (16), and Juliet to Romeo in (17):

(16) BENVOLIO. At this same ancient feast of Capulet’s / Sups the fair Rosaline whom thou so loves, / With all the admired beauties of Verona. (Rom 1.2.82–84)

(17) JULIET. I will not marry yet, and when I do, I swear / It shall be Romeo, whom you know I hate, / Rather than Paris. (Rom 3.5.121–123)

People referred to by who(m) cover a wide range in social status, including social superiors.

The previous section established that which is often used when the speaker’s emotions are heightened. Lady Capulet, for example, refers to Tybalt and Romeo by using which in high excitement in (7). However, she uses who to refer to her husband in less emotional contexts:

(18) LADY CAPULET. Well, well, thou hast a careful father, child, / One who, to put thee from thy heaviness, / Hath sorted out a sudden day of joy (Rom 3.5.107–109)

Lady Capulet had previously been cursing at Romeo, planning vengeance on him (Rom 3.5.87 ff.). Her interjections in (18), “Well, well”, may be just an expletive (Schmidt 1971: II, 1351 (4)), but it is more likely to be a signal that her tone as well as her topic has changed here. She soothes Juliet, kindly suggesting that she should marry Paris; here Lady Capulet talks much more calmly than in (7).

The level of formality may be relevant to the choice of who(m). Examining second person pronouns, Jucker and Taavitsainen (2013: 1) show that an attorney insultingly addressed Sir Walter Raleigh as thou during his trial in spite of the formality of the courtroom where you was expected. In (19) below, Escalus, Prince of Verona, orders Benvolio to explain the details of the affray that caused the death of Mercutio and Tybalt. Answering the Prince, Benvolio uses relative who(m) three times in succession, referring to Tybalt, Mercutio, and Romeo:

(19) PRINCE. Benvolio, who began this bloody fray?

BENVOLIO. Tybalt, here slain, whom Romeo’s hand did slay!

[...] but that he [Tybalt] tilts

With piercing steel at bold Mercutio’s breast,

Who, all as hot, turns deadly point to point,

[...] and then Tybalt fled;

But by and by comes back to Romeo,

Who had but newly entertain’d revenge (Rom 3.1.151–171)

Interestingly, Benvolio uses which to refer to Mercutio immediately after his death, as cited in (9) above. His using who and which to refer to the same person may be taken as a mark of equivalency between the two relative pronouns; however, the situation markedly differs between the two passages. In the scene where (19) occurs, Lord Montague, Lord Capulet, and their wives are present in addition to Escalus.[27] They are parents or close relatives of those Benvolio names as involved in the affray: Lord and Lady Montague are Romeo’s parents; Lady Capulet is Tybalt’s aunt, as indicated when she herself cries, “Tybalt, my cousin! O my brother’s child!” (Rom 3.1.146); and Escalus is Mercutio’s relative, as shown by Benvolio’s words: “thy kinsman, brave Mercutio” (Rom 3.1.145). When Benvolio speaks in front of these elderly people, that is, in a more formal situation than (9) above, who(m), the neutral form, is likely to be more appropriate.

Similarly, a difference in situation can account for variation in Friar Lawrence’s choice of relative pronouns in reference to Romeo. He uses which in conjunction with thou when he scolds Romeo in (10). However, in his last monologue of this play, he uses whom to refer to Romeo, explaining how he and Juliet died:

(20) FRIAR LAWRENCE. I married them, and their stol’n marriage-day / Was Tybalt’s dooms-day, whose untimely death / Banish’d the new-made bridegroom from this city, / For whom, and not for Tybalt, Juliet pin’d. (Rom 5.3.233–236)

As in the scene of (19), Escalus, Lord Montague, Lord and Lady Capulet are present here.[28] In this formal situation, whom may be more appropriate for the friar to use to refer to the late Romeo.

We have examined eight instances of who(m) in Romeo and Juliet.[29] It refers to people of various sorts of social status; the speaker’s emotions are not relevant to the choice of who(m); in more formal scenes they use who(m), not which. All this indicates that who(m) is the generally preferred neutral form.

5.1.3 Summary

To sum up, two factors are in play in Shakespeare’s choice of personal which in Romeo and Juliet. One is social hierarchy of the speaker and the referent: using which with a personal antecedent is permissible when the antecedent is lower in social rank than the speaker, or when there are no particular differences in social power between them. In fact, which is never used to refer to social superiors. The other factor is the speaker’s emotional state. Personal which tends to occur in highly emotional contexts, in which the character speaks with affection, anger, or even strong hatred. On the other hand, who(m) is used as the neutral form, referring to both social equals and superiors. In addition, in formal situations where people of high status are present, characters seem to prefer who(m). All this suggests that who(m) is the unmarked, neutral form, while which is the marked form as a personal relative pronoun.

5.2 King Richard II

5.2.1 Which

King Richard II is a history play dated to 1595, thus composed around the same time as Romeo and Juliet. In this play, there are nine instances of personal which. Other than in Richard’s lines, the play contains two instances in which social inferiors are referred to using which:

(21) GREEN. Now for the rebels which stand out in Ireland, / Expedient manage must be made, (R2 1.4.38–39)

(22) BULLINGBROOK. Bushy, Bagot, and their complices, / The caterpillars of the commonwealth, / Which I have sworn to weed and pluck away. (R2 2.3.165–167)

In (21), which refers to the Irish rebels. Their social status is not clarified, but they are not likely to be superior to the speaker, Sir Henry Green, Richard’s retainer. In (22), the speaker, Bullingbrook, is superior in status to the antecedents, Bushy, Bagot, and their complices, who are Richard’s servants. It is also important that Bullingbrook calls them names: “The caterpillars of the commonwealth”. (Note that Bullingbrook is Richard’s rival, who eventually ascends his throne.) Bullingbrook’s hostile feelings toward his rival’s servants as well as his social position may have triggered the use of which here.

The significance of social hierarchy is corroborated by the fact that Richard uses personal which three times, most frequently of all the characters of this play:

(23) RICHARD. We must supplant those rough rug-headed kerns, / Which live like venom (R2 2.1.156–157)

(24) RICHARD [to Aumerle]. Beshrew thee, cousin, which didst lead me forth / Of that sweet way I was in to despair! (R2 3.2.204–205)

(25) RICHARD [to Northumberland]. He shall think that thou, which knowest the way / To plant unrightful kings, wilt know again (R2 5.1.62–63)

The antecedents are all socially lower than Richard. The antecedent in (23) is “kerns”, Irish foot soldiers belonging to the poorer class (OED s.v. kern, n. 1a.). The antecedent thee refers to the Duke of Aumerle in (24), and thou to Northumberland in (25). In these three instances, which may be employed, just like the social use of thou, to refer to social inferiors. In addition, Richard’s emotions may be another factor to evoke which in (23)–(25). As kern is often used with contempt (Onions 1986: 148), he is obviously insulting them; also noteworthy is his scornful statement in the relative clause “live like venom”. Furthermore, he is extremely emotional towards Aumerle and Northumberland. In (24), he is upset to hear that the Duke of York and southern gentlemen have joined Bullingbrook and suddenly vents his fury on the Duke of Aumerle; Richard’s curse, “Beshrew thee”, which means ‘Evil befall, mischief take, devil take, curse, hang!’ (OED s.v. beshrew, v. 3b), signals his fierce anger. In (25), Richard addresses Northumberland, who helped Bullingbrook – an “unrightful” king in Richard’s words – to ascend the throne. Richard is extremely emotional in the scenes of (24) and (25), in which his disastrous fate was determined. Two factors – social status and emotions – are at play in Richard’s using which in the three sentences above.

In this play, there are two more instances of ‘thou + which’, both referring to King Richard. One is uttered by John of Gaunt, Richard’s uncle:

(26) GAUNT [to Richard]. Deposing thee before thou wert possess’d, / Which art possess’d now to depose thyself. (R2 2.1.107–108)

Since the unmarked form for addressing sovereigns is you (Stein 2003: 270), Gaunt’s use of thou deviates from the norm. In fact, the Duke of York, another uncle of Richard, consistently addresses him as you (R2 2.1.141–143 and passim). At the opening scene of this play, Gaunt also courteously addresses Richard as “my liege” (R2 1.1.7) and “your Highness” (R2 1.1.14), but when they meet again in Act 2 Scene 1, he is extremely angry at Richard’s misbehaviour. Abandoning his respectful mode of address, Gaunt uses thou or its variant forms in addressing Richard over thirty times, never employing you-forms (R2 2.1.81–136). His consistent use of thou-forms in this scene is attributable to his furious emotions, and his use of which can similarly be classified as an emotional one.

The other instance of ‘thou + which’ is uttered by the Queen, Richard’s wife. She uses it when she meets the deposed Richard in a London street:

(27) QUEEN [to Richard]. The lion dying thrusteth forth his paw, / And wounds the earth, if nothing else, with rage / To be o’erpow’r’d, and wilt thou, pupil-like, / Take the correction, mildly kiss the rod, / And fawn on rage with base humility, / Which art a lion and the king of beasts? (R2 5.1.29–34)

Here the Queen is distraught by her husband’s deposition; she repeatedly urges him to be strong like a lion, displaying her frustration with the weak, “pupil-like” husband. Since the unmarked form of address from a spouse to a sovereign is you (Stein 2003: 271), her use of thou here can be considered to deviate from the norm. Actually, she invariably uses thou to Richard in this passage (passim in R2 5.1.7–28) with only one exception (R2 5.1.9). Her high emotions may have triggered which, just like thou, to refer to Richard.

The emotional use of which is found in Mowbray’s abuse of Bullingbrook, both of whom are dukes:

(28) MOWBRAY. I am disgrac’d, impeach’d, and baffled here, / Pierc’d to the soul with slander’s venom’d spear, / The which no balm can cure but his heart-blood / Which breath’d this poison. (R2 1.1.170–173)[30]

We have so far examined all the nine instances of personal which in King Richard II, except for one: “I [...] Which elder days shall ripen” (R2 2.3.41–43), where Percy refers to himself. Here, social status is unhelpful in assessing the use of which. Thus, personal which is used to refer to social inferiors or someone equal in social status. Two exceptions, viz. examples (26) and (27), occur with thou in reference to King Richard, who is of the highest class. From the contexts, however, these uses of both which and thou can be regarded as emotional uses.

5.2.2 Who and whom

King Richard II contains twenty tokens of who(m) (twelve of who and eight of whom). Examples in this play show who(m) referring to people belonging to a wide range of status levels from beggars, as in (29), to nobles, as in (30):

(29) RICHARD. [...] like seely beggars / Who sitting in the stocks refuge their shame (R2 5.5.25–26)

(30) KEEPER. Sir Pierce of Exton, who / Lately came from the King, commands the contrary. (R2 5.5.100–101)

In (29), the speaker is Richard and the antecedent is seely [‘poor’] beggars; in (30), the speaker is the Keeper and the antecedent, Sir Pierce of Exton, is his master. Thus, the antecedents of who may be either lower or higher in social status than the speakers. The following two examples support the irrelevance of social hierarchy in using who(m):

(31) RICHARD. [...] this thief, this traitor Bullingbrook, / Who all this while hath revell’d in the night (R2 3.2.47–48)

(32) CARLISLE. My Lord of Herford here, whom you call king, / Is a foul traitor to proud Herford’s king (R2 4.1.134–135)

In both (31) and (32), Bullingbrook, Richard’s rival, is referred to, but it should be noted that in (31), Richard refers to Bullingbrook before he ascends the throne; in (32), Carlisle refers to Bullingbrook after his accession as King Henry IV. Thus, his status varies between the two scenes. Examples (29)–(32) indicate that who(m) is socially neutral as a personal relative pronoun.

Who(m) is also the ordinary choice in comparatively unemotional scenes or a formal situation. In (33)–(35) below, both speakers, Bullingbrook and York, refer to Richard:

(33) BULLINGBROOK. So that by this intelligence we learn / The Welshmen are dispers’d, and Salisbury / Is gone to meet the King, who lately landed / With some few private friends upon this coast. (R2 3.3.1–4)

(34) YORK. Both are my kinsmen: / T’ one is my sovereign, whom both my oath / And duty bids defend (R2 2.2.111–113)

(35) YORK. I come to thee / From plume-pluck’d Richard, who with willing soul / Adopts thee heir (R2 4.1.107–109)

In (33), Bullingbrook is reading (or summarising the contents of) a paper of “intelligence”, i.e. military information (Gurr 1984: 124); Bullingbrook is probably calm, as he is satisfied with the news about Richard’s fall, which is “very fair and good” (R2 3.3.5) for his side. In (34), York is at a loss facing the conflict between his nephews, Richard and Bullingbrook, and is caught in a dilemma (Gurr 1984: 103); York is described as a “vacillating and uncertain” figure in this play (Dawson and Yachnin 2011: 75), as illustrated by this scene; his statement reflects baffled puzzlement more than any stronger emotion. The last example is taken from a scene in Parliament: York enters and makes the announcement in (35), whereupon Bullingbrook declares, “In God’s name I’ll ascend the regal throne” (R2 4.1.113); thus, this who is employed in a very formal situation.

Whereas Gaunt, when losing his temper, uses which to refer to Richard in (26), it is telling that in the very same scene, he also uses whom, wishing good fortune to befall his late brother:

(36) GAUNT. My brother Gloucester, plain well-meaning soul, / Whom fair befall in heaven ’mongst happy souls (R2 2.1.128–129)

This example confirms that his use of which was triggered by his furious anger at Richard.

These eight instances of who(m) in King Richard II demonstrate that who(m) refers to people of widely differing social status, and that the speaker’s emotions are not relevant to the use of who(m).[31] Hence it can be safely said that who(m) is the neutral choice as a personal relative pronoun.

5.2.3 Summary

In King Richard II, personal which refers to a social equal once, viz. (28), and to social inferiors six times, but the other two instances refer to Richard, a sovereign, viz. (26) and (27). The exceptions, however, do not refute the hypothesis that which is distributed similarly to thou. Instead, they prove the relevance of the other factor – the speaker’s emotional state – in choosing which. In (26) and (27), the speakers, Gaunt and the Queen, are so stressed that they address Richard as thou, perhaps deviating from the norm. Their use of which is also consistent with their high emotional states. In contrast, Richard is referred to by who(m) in examples (33)–(35), in which the speakers, Bullingbrook and York, show no obvious strong emotions.

5.3 King Lear

5.3.1 Which

In King Lear, a later play dated to 1605, personal which occurs twelve times. These include two instances which cannot be categorised into the social or emotional use:

(37) GENTLEMAN. Every one hears that, / Which can distinguish sound. (Lr 4.6.210–211)

(38) EDMUND. And turn our impress’d lances in our eyes / Which do command them. (Lr 5.3.50–51)

In (37), the antecedent is everyone; in (38), Edmund refers to those who were at the British camp including himself. Social status is not relevant here; nor can any strong emotions be recognised.

Yet there is a clear difference in social status between the speaker and the referent in the following three instances, in which the speakers are nobles, while the antecedents are all servants that are not individualised:

(39) KENT. Who have – as who have not, that their great stars / Thron’d and set high? – servants, who seem no less, / Which are to France the spies and speculations / Intelligent of our state. (Lr 3.1.22–25)[32]

(40) GONERIL. And the remainders that shall still depend, / To be such men as may besort your age, / Which know themselves and you. (Lr 1.4.250–252)

(41) GLOUCESTER. [...] he which finds him [Edgar] shall deserve our thanks (Lr 2.1.61)

In (39), the Earl of Kent warns against treacherous servants that may give information to their enemy France. In (40), Goneril asks her father to employ servants that befit his age and know their places and his; she means ‘servants’ by such men. In (41), the Earl of Gloucester orders his servants to capture Edgar and he which could refer to any one of the servants (whichever one(s) succeed).[33]

A particularly impressive contrast is found in the Earl of Gloucester’s language. In reference to his son Edgar, Gloucester uses who(m) and which twice, respectively:

(42) GLOUCESTER. I have a son, sir, by order of law, some year elder than this, who yet is no dearer in my account. (Lr 1.1.19–21)

(43) GLOUCESTER. I’ th’ last night’s storm I such a fellow saw, / Which made me think a man a worm. (Lr 4.1.32–33)

(44) GLOUCESTER. And bring some covering for this naked soul, / Which I’ll entreat to lead me. (Lr 4.1.44–45)

(45) GLOUCESTER [to the beggar]. Here, take this purse, thou whom the heav’ns’ plagues / Have humbled to all strokes. (Lr 4.1.64–65)

In (42), Gloucester talks about his sons, Edgar and Edmund, using who to refer to Edgar. In (43)–(45), Edgar is in disguise as a naked beggar and is feigning madness in order not to be captured and killed (Act 2 Scene 3). In (43), Gloucester remembers the beggar, “such a fellow”, whom he saw in the storm scenes of Act 3. Note that fellow is an appellation of contempt (OED s.v. fellow, n. 10c, Schmidt 1971: I, 411 (3)); Barber (1981: 274) points out the collocation of fellow and thou in Richard III. In (44), the beggar comes to Gloucester, who orders his tenant to bring clothes for the naked man but has not yet identified the man as his own son. In (45), Gloucester addresses the beggar with thou whom [...]. Thus, Gloucester uses which twice and whom once to refer to Edgar disguised as a beggar, while he only uses who when he recognises him as his own son. Gloucester’s condescending attitude to the beggar – a man of the lowest status – seems to have triggered the use of which.

Personal which is found twice in furious quarrels. It occurs with knave ‘villain’, a term of abuse (OED s.v. knave, n. 3a), in Act 2 Scene 2, where the Duke of Cornwall and the Earl of Kent, both nobles, insult each other:

(46) CORNWALL. These kind of knaves I know, which in this plainness / Harbor more craft and more corrupter ends (Lr 2.2.101–102)

(47) KENT. He that beguil’d you in a plain accent was a plain knave, which for my part I will not be (Lr 2.2.111–112)

Cornwall refers to Kent by These kind of knaves in (46). Alluding to this, Kent retorts using ‘knave + which’ against him in (47).[34] Similarly, Kent, Lear’s servant, uses which to refer to Oswald, Goneril’s steward:

(48) KENT. [...] the very fellow which of late / Display’d so saucily against your Highness (Lr 2.4.40–41)

The antecedent is fellow again here, as in (43) above. Kent has quarrelled with Oswald twice by then, first when Oswald is insolent to Lear in Act 1 Scene 4 (l. 44–92) and again when Kent encounters Oswald in front of Gloucester’s castle at the opening of Act 2 Scene 2. Kent’s use of which in (48) above is probably due to his (mounting) anger at Oswald.

Finally, the Fool uses which as follows:

(49) LEAR. I should be false persuaded I had daughters.

FOOL. Which they will make an obedient father. (Lr 1.4.234–235)

The antecedent is I, by which Lear refers to himself.[35] This example – which to the King – may seem contrary to the generalisation that which does not collocate with social superiors. However, Mulholland (1967: 41–42) shows that the Fool uses thou and its variant forms 35 times to Lear,[36] arguing that the Fool’s “pronoun usage bears out his unique status in the play”. The Fool’s use of which in (49) is thus entirely consistent with his (exceptional) pattern of usage. The Fool uses which once more in his song:

(50) FOOL. That sir which serves and seeks for gain, / And follows but for form, / Will pack when it begins to rain, / And leave thee in the storm. (Lr 2.4.78–81)

By That sir the Fool implies Lear’s knights who deserted him (Foakes 1997: 243). In its literal sense, sir means ‘gentleman’, but it is used ironically here, as noted in Onions (1986: 253 (2)) and Schmidt (1971: II, 1065 (1)). The Fool criticises those who leave their fallen master (Lear is implied), mocking their self-serving behaviour. In this context, he actually calls them “knaves” (Lr 2.4.76), a word that collocates with which twice in this play, viz. examples (46) and (47). Probably, which is used here because of the Fool’s cynicism towards Lear’s disloyal knights.

5.3.2 Who and whom

King Lear contains forty tokens of who(m) in total (twenty-nine of who and eleven of whom). The far greater total for personal relativisation in this play is consistent with Hope’s (2010: 153) finding that there is a substantial increase of relativisation from early to later periods of Shakespeare’s career as a playwright. This chronological change is itself intriguing as an index of Shakespeare’s changing style; but what is more significant for the present study is that this general tendency is reflected in the use of who(m), but not that of personal which, whose frequency remains almost static so that the relative frequency of which declines.

There is also some evidence of who(m) directly replacing which in contexts where it was most dominant in earlier works. It has been pointed out that Cornwall and Kent use which to insult each other as cited in (46) and (47) above. In the same scene, Act 2 Scene 2, and in the same context of trading insults, they use who to refer to each other as well:

(51) KENT. That such a slave as this should wear a sword, / Who wears no honesty. (Lr 2.2.72–73)

(52) CORNWALL. This is some fellow / Who, having been prais’d for bluntness, doth affect / A saucy roughness (Lr 2.2.95–97)

The antecedents here are abusive terms, slave and fellow. In (53) below, villain, “a typical ‘thou-word’” in Busse’s term (2003: 213), is used with who. Beggars, people of the lowest rank, also occurs as the antecedent of who in (54):

(53) GONERIL. Fools do those villains pity who are punish’d / Ere they have done their mischief (Lr 4.2.54–55)

(54) EDGAR. The country gives me proof and president / Of Bedlam beggars, who, with roaring voices, / Strike in their numb’d and mortified arms / Pins, wooden pricks, nails, sprigs of rosemary (Lr 2.3.13–16)

When speakers refer to social superiors, they usually use who(m) in Romeo and Juliet and King Richard II; this tendency is also seen in King Lear. Who(m) refers to social superiors, sovereigns, in the following three instances:

(55) KENT. Royal Lear, / Whom I have ever honor’d as my king, / Lov’d as my father, as my master follow’d / As my great patron thought on in my prayers (Lr 1.1.139–142)

(56) KENT. Well, sir, the poor distressed Lear’s i’ th’ town, / Who sometime, in his better tune, remembers / What we are come about (Lr 4.3.38–40)

(57) LEAR. My Lord of Burgundy, / We first address toward you, who with this king / Hath rivall’d for our daughter. (Lr 1.1.189–191)

In (55), Kent states that he has been deferential toward Lear; the adjective royal displays his respectfulness. In (56), Kent, who is absolutely loyal to Lear, uses who to refer to Lear again. In (57), Lear uses who with polite you to refer to the Duke of Burgundy. According to Stein (2003: 265), Lear addresses Burgundy as you seven times in this play, never addressing him as thou; as Lear courteously addresses the duke as “noble Burgundy” (Lr 1.1.195) and “your Grace” (Lr 1.1.200), he is actually very deferential to Burgundy in this scene. When speakers show deference or respect to the referents, which is never employed.

The seven instances cited above prove the neutrality of who(m).[37] It can collocate even with abusive terms, such as fellow, slave, and villain, in very insulting contexts. Contrariwise, who(m) is also used by speakers who show respect to the referents; our examination of the three plays has not found any instances of which in contexts like (55)–(57), in which the speakers are respectful to the referents. It can be safely said that who(m) is the neutral form used to refer to people of various statuses in a wide range of situations.

5.3.3 Summary

The investigation of King Lear confirms the strong relationship between which and abusive terms: personal which collocates with fellow twice, viz. (43) and (48), and with knave twice, viz. (46) and (47). Examples (46)–(48) in particular are found in quarrels, which indicates that which is likely to be chosen in a situation of furious emotions. When a character courteously talks to a sovereign, as in (55)–(57), he consistently uses who(m), never which. Thus, who(m) must be the neutral form that speakers usually use in various situations. The Fool’s using which to refer to Lear does not invalidate our argument, because as he almost always addresses Lear as thou, his use of which represents a stylistically consistent choice.

6 Conclusion

The present paper has investigated Shakespeare’s use of wh-relative pronouns with personal antecedents with the purpose of answering the question in what circumstances Shakespeare had his characters use which in place of the more common forms, who and whom. By surveying all the plays of Shakespeare, we have revealed a significant fact that has not been recognised by previous scholars: who(m) appears after thou and you with exactly the same frequencies, seventeen times each; on the other hand, which occurs with you only once, although it is not uncommon with thou, occurring nine times. In Early Modern English, you was unmarked in most cases, while thou was the marked form usually used to refer to social inferiors by social superiors; otherwise, thou carried emotional senses, either positive or negative (Busse 2012: 738–741; Jucker and Taavitsainen 2013: 83–84). Since which rarely collocates with you in Shakespeare’s language, while ‘thou + which’ is a firmly established collocation, it is plausible that which is the marked form as a personal relative pronoun and used in similar contexts as those in which thou is generally preferred. There are two more pieces of evidence supporting the markedness of which. Firstly, the use of relative constructions increases in the course of Shakespeare’s career as a playwright (Hope 2010: 153), but the increase only affects frequencies of who and whom, while the frequency of which remains almost static, as seen in the Appendix. Thus, personal which was getting more and more marginalised in Shakespeare’s later plays. Secondly, personal which is less frequent in the comedies than in the histories and tragedies, meaning that who(m) is the form usually used by people from middle or lower class backgrounds, that is, by characters that are more prevalent in the comedies.

All this suggests that who(m) was the unmarked, neutral form, while which was the marked form used in specific contexts. To prove this hypothesis, a socio-pragmatic analysis of personal which, in comparison with who and whom, was conducted in Romeo and Juliet, King Richard II, and King Lear. In these plays, personal which is almost always used to refer to social inferiors or equals. There are three exceptions to this: examples (26), (27), and (49). Pragmatically, many examples of personal which are uttered by characters in states of heightened emotion: Juliet’s romantic confession of love, Richard’s angry shouts, and Cornwall and Kent’s scornful insults to each other, just to mention a few. When speakers use personal which, it may be accompanied by exclamations such as fie, fie and beshrew thee, showing that they burst into anger. In two of the exceptional cases, (26) and (27), which collocates with thou in reference to King Richard. These instances of thou, uttered by Gaunt (the King’s uncle) and the Queen (his spouse), obviously deviate from the norm (Stein 2003: 270–271). These uses of both which and thou are considered to be triggered by the speakers’ emotional tension. The other exception, example (49), is uttered by the Fool to refer to Lear; but even this demonstrates similar usage conditions for which and thou, as he almost invariably addresses Lear as thou (Mulholland 1967: 41–42). Except for these three instances, which is never used by social inferiors in reference to social superiors. On the other hand, the antecedents of who(m) may be superior, inferior, or equal in status to the speakers. No particular statuses predominate when who(m) is employed.

The relevance of social and emotional factors in Shakespeare’s choice of which is further confirmed by its collocation with abusive terms: fellow and knave occur twice each, and villain once. As these terms go hand in hand with thou in Shakespeare (Barber 1981; Busse 2002, 2003), so they do with which. Similarly, which occurs with words referring to people of lower status, servants and rebels, and those implying the speakers’ contempt such as kerns and caterpillars. Positive emotions such as intimacy and affection may evoke which, albeit less often, as shown by Lady Capulet’s use of friend in reference to her nephew Tybalt and Juliet’s thy gracious self in her appreciation of Romeo.

As cited in Section 1, John Wallis wrote in his Grammatica linguae anglicanae (1674) that after personal antecedents, which was replaced by who and whom in later recensions of the Anglican liturgy because who(m) is more elegant than which. More than half a century earlier, Shakespeare must have been sufficiently aware of this difference between which and who(m). He seems to have found which suitable for referring to social inferiors, especially when his characters speak with anger, contempt, affection, or other strong emotions. This explains why his characters rarely use which to refer to social superiors, particularly when they are deferential toward their referents or courteously refer to sovereigns. The absence of which in formal scenes can also be accounted for along similar lines. In conclusion, personal which is not a simple alternative for who or whom in Shakespearean English, but an effective stylistic device to be exploited when his characters’ emotions are heightened.[38]

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Frequency of who, whom, and which with Personal Antecedents in Shakespeare’s Plays

Title (abbreviation)Datewhowhomwhich
1 Henry VI (1H6)1589–15905115
2 Henry VI (2H6)1590–1591987
3 Henry VI (3H6)1590–15919156
Richard III (R3)1592–159314147
The Comedy of Errors (Err)1592–1594762
Titus Andronicus (Tit)1593–1594684
The Taming of the Shrew (Shr)1593–1594473
The Two Gentlemen of Verona (TGV)1594360
Love’s Labour’s Lost (LLL)1594–1595357
King John (Jn)1594–1596894
Richard II (R2)15951289
Romeo and Juliet (Rom)1595–15968410
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (MND)1595–1596344
The Merchant of Venice (MV)1596–15971355
1 Henry IV (1H4)1596–15971036
The Merry Wives of Windsor (Wiv)1597523
2 Henry IV (2H4)1598837
Much Ado about Nothing (Ado)1598–15991522
Henry V (H5)15991895
Julius Caesar (JC)1599800
As You Like It (AYL)1599833
Hamlet (Ham)1600–1601834
Twelfth Night (TN)1601–1602370
Troilus and Cressida (Tro)1601–16021182
All’s Well That Ends Well (AWW)1602–16038144
Measure for Measure (MM)16041485
Othello (Oth)1604672
King Lear (Lr)1605291112
Macbeth (Mac)16061694
Antony and Cleopatra (Ant)1606–160712118
Coriolanus (Cor)1607–160827156
Timon of Athens (Tim)1607–160812158
Pericles (Per)1607–160829195
Cymbeline (Cym)1609–161034209
The Winter’s Tale (WT)1610–161124169
The Tempest (Tmp)161117157
Henry VIII (H8)1612–161320104
Published Online: 2016-6-9
Published in Print: 2016-6-1

© 2016 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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