Ayumi Nonomiya University of Sheffield “Thou and you in eighteenth-century English plays.”


This study is a quantitative and qualitative investigation of the use of thou and you in four tragedies and four comedies written in eighteenth-century Britain. The quantitative study deals with three factors: genre, characters’ class and gender. Thou tends to appear very frequently in tragedies, which were often written in verse. While class has a notable influence, gender does not play an important role in the pronoun choice.
The qualitative study of thou in comedies reveals that thou is used to mark heightened emotion. In tragedies, thou can be used as an unmarked pronoun to represent social distance. As in comedies, emotive use of thou is also seen in tragedies.
One unexpected finding is that the percentage of thou in the eighteenth-century tragedies in this study is higher than that in Shakespearean plays. These eighteenth-century tragedians sometimes used thou where Shakespeare did not. My hypothesis is that eighteenth-century dramatists tried to imitate an older style of second person pronoun usage when writing tragedies, but since thou was no longer a part of their everyday language, they failed to imitate it perfectly and enregistered thou as a part of theatrical language.

full text