steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Onomastic Mastication

Even making allowance for dramatic convention, it's always bothered me a little how few characters in Renaissance and Restoration drama appear to notice the eloquence of their names, especially given their near-universal obsession with wordplay. How could Sir Epicure Mammon, for example, ever hope not to be recognized as a worldly epicure the moment he announced himself? Was Sir Andrew Aguecheek fated from birth to be sickly, along with all the alliterative Agucheeks before him, or could he have shrugged off his fate by the constant application of good diet and callisthenics?

I know, I know, they aren't real people so the question is nonsensical - but given the effort that goes into making these characters appear real in many other ways I still think it a natural and non-trivial one. It's just this kind of irritant that provoked me in a former life to spend three years writing about Spenserian allegory, to the delight of all.

What about our names, though? I always felt sorry for John Craven, and for anyone whose surname happened to be Lipfriend. But some names are subtly ambiguous. For years, I thought of the name "Lance Armstrong" as an uber-macho one, rolling Sir Lancelot and Fortinbras into one. Now, I recognize it as a tacit admission of cheating - that he lanced his arm in order to become strong. Like Poe's purloined letter, Armstrong's confession was lying in plain sight, but few had eyes to see it. Perhaps characters in seventeenth-century comedies are suffering from the same problem? "Falstaff, you say? Is that Falstaff as in 'not really Welsh', or is that a dildo in your codpiece? Or does it, perchance, just happen to be your name?" The possibilities are endless.
Tags: books, language, maunderings
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