Address forms

When people directly address each other with courtesy or affection, they may choose to use a proper noun (Jane, Jones, Mrs Smith) or a common noun (darling, sir) - or of course a combination of the two (darling Jane). Proper nouns may be informally shortened (Katherine > Kate) or adapted (Edward > Ned, Yedward), but there are far more possibilities using common nouns. The language of endearment is explicitly recognized by Falstaff as he addresses his companions (1H4 II.iv.271): ‘gallants, lads, boys, hearts of gold, all the titles of good fellowship’. The naming practice performs a variety of expressive functions, shading from courtesy through endearment into sarcasm and insult, and the exact nuance can be deduced only by taking careful note of who the personalities are and the context in which they are speaking. The following list illustrates some of the distinctive expressions in Shakespearean English, when used in direct address. A few may still be heard today, especially in regional dialects.
Item Location Personalities Gloss
bawcock WT I.ii.121 TN III.iv.112 H5 III.ii.25 Leontes to Mamilius [father to child]
Sir Toby to Malvolio [aristocrat to steward]
Pistol to Fluellen [soldier to officer]
fine fellow, dear lad [often in parody]
biddy TN III.iv.115 Sir Toby to Malvolio [aristocrat to steward] chicken [childish affectation]
bully MW II.iii.16 MND III.i.7 Tem V.i.258 Host to Doctor Caius [companions]
Quince to Bottom [co-actors]
Stephano to Caliban [master to servant]
dear, excellent [encouragement, warm companionship]
captain 1H6 V.iii.97Tim II.ii.77WT I.ii.122 Margaret to Suffolk [nobles]
Page to Fool [acquaintances]
Leontes to Mamillius [father to son]
[to a senior person of no particular rank; also, familiar address to non-soldier]
chuck Oth III.iv.49LLL V.i.105TN III.iv.113 Othello to Desdemona [spouses]
Armado to Holofernes [aristocrat to schoolmaster]
Sir Toby to Malvolio [aristocrat to steward]
chick, chicken [between spouses, to children; also in parody]
dame Mac IV.ii.65 AC IV.iv.29 TS II.i.23 2H6 I.ii.42 Messenger to Lady Macduff
Antony to Cleopatra [lovers]
Baptista to Katherina [father to daughter]
Gloucester to Duchess [husband to wife]
lady, mistress [formally polite]

girl [as reprimand]
woman [as reprimand]

father TS IV.v.45 Cor V.i.3 Katherina to Vincentio
Menenius reporting Coriolanus’ words to him
[respectful to an old man]
gallant MA III.ii.14 MW III.ii.1 1H6 III.ii.41 Benedick to all [fellow-lords]
Mistress Page to Robin [lady of the house to a page]
Pucelle to the English [enemies]
fine gentleman [often ironic or sarcastic]
gentle WT IV.iv.46 Florizel to Perdita [lovers] dearest, dear one [polite intimate]
gentles H5 II.chorus.35 LLL II.i.211 MND V.i.126 Chorus to audience
Princess to all
Quince to the play audience
ladies and gentlemen [formally polite, regardless of rank]
gentleman TN III.i.76MND III.i.179RJ II.ii.100 Sir Toby to Viola as Cesario [knight to gentleman]
Bottom to Peaseblossom [Queen’s consort to fairy attendant]
Juliet to Romeo [lovers]
sir [formally polite, regardless of social rank] [conveying sincerity]
gentlewoman TG IV.iv.105RJ II.iv.107 Julia to Silvia [as if messenger to lady]
Mercutio to Nurse [noble to member of household]
madam [formally polite] [mock polite]
goodman LLL IV.ii.36RJ I.v.77Ham V.i.14 Holofernes to Dull [schoolmaster to constable]
Capulet to Tybalt [head of family to nephew]
Second Clown to First Clown
mister, master [dignified, respectful] [as a reprimand] [mock politeness]
gossip MW IV.ii.8 Mistress Page to Mistress Ford [friends] friend, neighbour [usually, woman to woman]
heart Cym I.ii.43RJ I.i.184RJ I.v.88 Innogen to Posthumus [lovers]
Romeo to Benvolio [friends]
Capulet to all [host to guests]
sweetheart
dear friend
dear friends

lady MA II.i.283Oth III.iv.36TN V.i.256 Claudio to Beatrice [lord to a lady at court]
Othello to Desdemona [spouses]
Sebastian to Olivia [lovers]
madam [very formal; also, as ‘my lady’]
liege R2 II.i.147 Northumberland to Richard [lord to king] lord, sovereign [subject to king; usually ‘my liege’]
lordings 2H6 I.i.143 Gloucester to all [lord to other lords] my lords, gentlemen
master TN IV.ii.27 2H4 II.i.1 MV II.ii.43 Sir Toby to Feste as Sir Topas [aristocrat to parson]
Hostess to Fang [lady to sergeant]
Launcelot to Gobbo [of himself]
[dignified term for a professional person; sometimes applied inappropriately by lower classes, e.g. to a sergeant or yeoman]
masters 1H6 I.i.152 Ham II.ii.420TS I.ii.18 Bedford to all [lord to other lords]
Hamlet to Players
Grumio calling the inhabitants of a house
sirs, gentlemen [formally polite; condescending to social inferiors; often as ‘my masters’]
mouse LLL V.ii.19Ham III.iv.184TN I.v.58 Rosaline to Katharine [friends] [Hamlet imagining]
Claudius to Gertrude [spouses]
Feste to Olivia [fool to employer]
little one [playful, usually to a woman]
signor, signior MA V.i.110MND IV.i.161H6 III.ii.67 Claudio to Benedick [lord to lord]
Bottom to Cobweb [Queen’s consort to fairy attendant]
Alençon to Talbot [enemies]
sir [friendly approach; also as ‘good signor’; not restricted to Italy] [mock friendliness]
sir TN IV.ii.17WT I.ii.135 Sir Toby to Feste as Sir Topas [aristocrat to parson]
Leontes to Mamillius [father to son]
[respectful title for a priest, clerk, or other professional; often mock use]
sirs AC IV.xv.84 Cleopatra to Charmian and Iras [unusual use to women]
sirrah KL I.ii.78TS I.ii.19KJ II.i.140KL I.iv.114Mac IV.ii.31 Lear to Edmund [father to son]
Petruchio to Grumio [master to servant]
Bastard to Austria [aristocratic adversaries]
Fool to Lear [fool to master]
Lady Macduff to Son [mother to son]
sir [authoritative] [authoritative] [contemptuous] [familiar] [playful]
sweet TNK I.i.217 MV II.vi.44 TG II.iv.152 Theseus to Hippolyta [engaged couple]
Lorenzo to Jessica [lovers]
Valentine to Proteus [good companions]
sweetheart [between spouses and lovers] dear friend [uncommon between men]
sweetheart, sweet heart MW IV.ii.10 AW II.iii.266 TN III.iv.29 2H4 II.iv.178 Mistress Page to Mistress Ford [friends]
Parolles to Bertram [friends]
Malvolio to Olivia [as a lover]
Pistol to his sword
dear
dear friend
darling
darling [with mock affection]
sweeting Oth II.iii.246 TS IV.iii.36 Othello to Desdemona [spouses]
Petruchio to Katherina [as lover]
darling
wench TS III.ii.237 TNK II.i.181Tem I.ii.139 Petruchio to Katherina [as spouse]
Emilia to Woman [mistress to maid]
Prospero to Miranda [father to daughter]
lass, girl [affectionate to wife, daughter, or sweetheart]
worship, your MA V.i.307MW II.ii.39Cor II.i.88 Dogberry to Leonato [constable to governor]
Mistress Quickly to Falstaff [housekeeper to knight]
Menenius to Brutus and Sicinius [friend of Coriolanus to enemies]
[great respect; also used for mock effect]

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