'Better a witty fool than a foolish wit': on punning styles of Shakespeare's pedants and jesters

Magdalena Adamczyk


One of the hallmarks of Shakespeare’s stylistic uniqueness is undoubtedly his dexterous use of puns. Besides being skilfully woven into the dramatic texture of his plays, their great strength lies also in the fact that they are carefully tailored to cater for both dramatic and conversational needs of individual characters. The paper attempts to zoom in on two distinctive punning styles of Shakespeare’s dramatis personae, as developed by pedants (here represented by Holofernes from Love’s Labour’s Lost) and jesters (exemplified by Feste from Twelfth Night). By way of examining the peculiarities of their punning in terms of its amount, semantics, conversational dynamics and participant configuration, the study demonstrates that the two figures represent the opposite poles of the punning art. Whereas the jester proves a virtuoso punster trading witty repartees whenever opportunity offers, the pedant’s puns, being overly sophisticated and erudite, appear highly impenetrable and flat in effect.


Pun; wordplay; Elizabethan English; Shakespeare’s comedy; jester; pedant

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.18172/jes.2614

Copyright (c) 2013 Magdalena Adamczyk

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© Universidad de La Rioja, 2013

ISSN 1576-6357

EISSN 1695-4300