The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0148 Thursday, 15 February 2007
From: Stephanie Kydd <
Date: Tuesday, 13 Feb 2007 09:09:10 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 18.0120 Atone
Comment: Re: SHK 18.0120 Atone
>I have long been struck by Shakespeare's use of the word "atone", which
>strikes me as pun on "make one" and "propitiate" in a religious sense.
I would say Dennis Taylor is correct in his conjecture that Shakespeare
plays on these two senses of "atone". The word "one" was originally
pronounced without the "w" and was near in sound to the modern word
"own", not "won". This pronunciation of "one" survived into the late
17th century and survives today in such words as "atone", "alone", and
Elizabethan pronunciation of the vowel in "one" was somewhere between
the modern "own" and "on". Shakespeare rhymes "one" with "on" and
"gone", as well as "lone" and "bone", and plays on "want one", "wanton"
in TN III.i. (see Helge Kokeritz: "Shakespeare's Pronunciation", pp.
132, 229-235, 492). Shakespeare similarly plays on "alone" / "all one"
in AYLI I.i., where Charles the Wrestler threatens to inflict such
injury on Orlando that he will neither go "alone" (by himself) or "all
one" (in one piece).
>Yet in the Chadwyck Bible data base, I find the following:
>Tyndale, Bible, 2 Cor 5 (1530-34): "praye we you in Christes
>stede / that ye be atone with God." This seems to have some
>evocation of the later "atone"; should the OED list it as a first
In literal early use "atone" meant to be "at one" or commune with God.
The Tyndale quotation uses "atone" in this sense. Modern
spelling/pronunciation of this passage would be "that ye be at one [WON]
with God". The secondary sense of "propitiate" derives from this
The OED, although excellent, is not without its shortcomings. In dating
"atone" (v) to 1593 and "atone" (n) to 1595, the OED is probably off by
at least six-to-eight years. The words "attonement" and "attonemaking"
appear in Thomas Thomas' 1587 Latin/English dictionary meaning
"agreement" and "agreement, or consent" respectively (q.v. "Gratia",
"Conciliatio") - and doubtless these words derive from the already
extant usage of a verb "atone" meaning "set at accord". However, the
OED's strict rules of citation permit no latitude for similar words. If
the word in question is "atone", OED will not cite an earlier usage of
"atonement". The same word used as a different part of speech, as well
as earlier usage of a compound word used in the same sense but spelled
as two separate words, will be similarly excluded.
- Stephie Kydd
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