Volume 22, Issue 2
  • ISSN 1566-5852
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9854



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 + + and the nominal ) 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.

Available under the CC BY 4.0 license.

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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): Early Modern English; politeness; reciprocity; Shakespeare; social status; thanks
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