Will's word

23rd May 2003 at 01:00
Pretence (noun) "pretext, false behaviour, fallacious reason"

The underlying theme today is that someone isn't telling the truth or behaving sincerely, and in this sense it can be traced back to the 16th century. The word does sometimes have this sense in Shakespeare, as when Queen Katherine tells Henry VIII off for his taxation policy: "the pretence for this Is named your wars in France" (Henry VIII, I.ii.59). But usually the word lacks any notion of hypocrisy. When one of the lords in All's Well that Ends Well (IV.iii.47) says of Helena's journey, "Her pretence is a pilgrimage", he means only that this is her intention. And it is this sense of "plan" or "purpose" which is the usual one in the plays, as when Edmund tells his father that Edgar has written a letter "to feel my affection to your honour and to no other pretence of danger" (King Lear, I.ii.88).

David Crystal is author, with Ben Crystal, of Shakespeare's Words, published by Penguin

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today