Doctoral thesis

"The Play's the Thing": Underspecification in Shakespearean Drama

Number of pages237
Imprimatur date2024
Defense date2024

William Shakespeare, renowned for his linguistic agility, is also exceptional in his use of a word without meaning. The word ‘thing’, a semantically vacuous word, is particularly frequent in Shakespeare’s plays. Whilst ambiguity is frequently noted to be fundamental to literature, few literary scholars have engaged with explorations of this phenomenon in linguistics. Adopting a linguistic concept called ‘underspecification’, this thesis argues that Shakespeare strategically employs the word ‘thing’ to attract attention to and delay the comprehension of the ‘thing’ so designated. The utility of this technique is explored in four dramatic contexts: staging the supernatural, scenes of judgement, representations of sentential speech, and comic exchanges. Paying attention to such lapses in meaning, this thesis contends, offers new insight into the way in which Shakespeare anticipated and actively shaped the reception of his drama.

  • Shakespeare
  • Early modern drama
  • Digital humanities
  • Reception
  • Performance history
Citation (ISO format)
SMITH, Emily Louisa. ‘The Play’s the Thing’: Underspecification in Shakespearean Drama. 2024. doi: 10.13097/archive-ouverte/unige:177653
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