Shakespeare and Chess Again

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For the last three centuries, Shakespeare’s plays have been continuously glossed, commented on and annotated. However, there still remain quite a few obscure passages and complex words which continue to puzzle and cause debate as to their precise meanings. One such word is pawn, glossed as a pun in some editions of King Lear, and passed over in silence in other plays where it appears in similar contexts.  This essay proposes an alternative reading of the word in King Lear, King John and The Winter’s Tale. The hypothesis put forward is that Shakespeare was indeed hinting at the various senses of this word and exploiting its punning potential in these three plays. This suggestion is supported by a series of examples of similar rhetorical exploitation of this polysemic word as found in several contemporary authors. These examples will demonstrate that the various senses of the word were indeed very much alive in Elizabethan England –and quite probably in Shakespeare’s mind. 

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