Will's word: Painful

10th June 2005 at 01:00
Painful (adjective) feeling or giving pain; irksome

Both subjective (feeling pain) and objective (causing pain) senses are found in Shakespeare. In The Rape of Lucrece, an old man is said to be "plagued with cramps and gouts and painful fits" (line 856), and in King Edward III, the king proclaims "An intercession of our painful arms" (V.i.237). The meaning extends to include such senses as "arduous" and "gruelling", as when King Henry talks of "rainy marching in the painful field" (Henry V, IV.iii.111). But most of Shakespeare's uses reflect an older, late 14th-century sense which is now lost: "painstaking, diligent, laborious." Coriolanus talks of "painful service" (Coriolanus, IV.v.71), the Princess of "painful study" (Love's Labour's Lost, II.i.23), Katherina of "painful labour" (The Taming of the Shrew, V.ii.148), and the Sonneteer of a "painful warrior" (Sonnet 25, line 9). The meaning is sometimes uncertain: when Ferdinand, heaving logs, says "some sports are painful", it isn't entirely clear whether he means "causing pain" or simply "laborious" (The Tempest, III.i.1).


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

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a Tes/ Tes Scotland subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number


The guide by your side – ensuring you are always up to date with the latest in education.

Get Tes magazine online and delivered to your door. Stay up to date with the latest research, teacher innovation and insight, plus classroom tips and techniques with a Tes magazine subscription.
With a Tes magazine subscription you get exclusive access to our CPD library. Including our New Teachers’ special for NQTS, Ed Tech, How to Get a Job, Trip Planner, Ed Biz Special and all Tes back issues.

Subscribe now