Some Richard Research

Ok, ok, I couldn’t bring myself to title this post Some Dick Research, but that’s what I want to talk about. This post is going to be PG-13, fair warning.

I found an article about this new teenage adaptation of Richard III (kinda sorta) that chose to call itself Teenage Dick.  (Clicked that link, did you?  Now you’re on a list.  Go have a seat over there… )

Not being terribly familiar with Richard III cover to cover (and wanting to change that, because I’ll be going to see it and the end of this week), I wondered, “Did Shakespeare ever make the obvious joke there?”  We often talk about how he wasn’t afraid to make a dick joke, so when his main character is named Richard, did he go for it?

The best I can tell (and by that I mean searching the open source shakespeare for the obvious), he did not. The only reference I see is here:

‘Jockey of Norfolk, be not too bold,
For Dickon thy master is bought and sold.’

But then I thought, “Well, was it common to abbreviate the name Richard as Dick back then?  Maybe it came later.”  But that’s not accurate because I knew that Henry VI Part 2 has a character Dick the Butcher (most famous for his “First thing we do let’s kill all the lawyers” quote).

I also noticed something interesting in Henry IV Part 1:

Sirrah, I am sworn brother
to a leash of drawers; and can call them all by
their christen names, as Tom, Dick, and Francis.

I’ve always heard the expression as “Every Tom, Dick and Harry,” but… is that where that comes from?  Does Shakespeare get credit for that?

I suppose I could google all these things but it’s more fun to get a discussion going.  Was Dick a common nickname for Richard during Shakespeare’s time, and was it also a euphemism for other things?  I’m leaning toward some combination of no, because you’d then think that there’d be more such puns in the works and I just can’t find them.

On a related but different note, is he the first to use that Tom, Dick and Francis/Harry thing?  When did it turn into Harry?

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One thought on “Some Richard Research

  1. When in doubt, I first turn to The Grammarphobia Blog. The authors usually have some citations to support their comments, and their entries are pretty humorously written.

    On Dicks (as it were):
    https://www.grammarphobia.com/blog/2011/01/dick.html

    On Tom Dick and Harry:
    https://www.grammarphobia.com/blog/2007/02/tom-dick-and-harry.html

    Unfortunately, “Filthy Shakespeare” by Pauline Kiernan does not seem to address this issue. She was more interested in puns in the plays. Her only mention of Dick seems to be one reference to Master Burbage,

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