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Politeness reciprocity in Shakespeare’s dialogue: the case of thanks

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>13/10/2022
<mark>Journal</mark>Journal of Historical Pragmatics
Issue number2
Number of pages23
Pages (from-to)202-224
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Recently, it has been proposed that (im)politeness in interaction today is governed in large part by a Principle of (Im)politeness Reciprocity (Culpeper and Tantucci 2021). This paper investigates whether politeness reciprocity works similarly in early modern English – specifically, in the plays of Shakespeare. Focussing on thanking behaviours, the questions of whether politeness reciprocity can be detected, and, if so, how social status might influence the nature of reciprocity, are addressed. The first part of the paper establishes that Early Modern English politeness behaviours were being discussed in terms associated with reciprocity (e.g., metaphors relating to balance and financial/commercial transactions). Then, all the instances of the two main thanking formula patterns (the verbal first person pronoun + thanks + second person pronoun and the nominal thanks) were extracted from thirty-eight plays attributed wholly or substantially to Shakespeare, and coded for a number of variables, including the weightiness of the gift for which thanks has been given, the amount of effort expended in performing thanks, and the social statuses of the Thanker and Thankee. The results show that reciprocity does govern thanking behaviours, and that social status licences imbalances in those behaviours. The paper also touches on conventionalisation.