This is about trying to understand the etymology, meaning and current usage(if any) of a specific form for the word deliver.

Is deli'ver, to deliver, delivered

There was an old form1 which was obsolete even 100 years ago; the verbal adjective deliver:

Deli'ver, a. Obs. or arch. Also 4-7 Delyuer(e, (4 delyure, 5, deliuuer, -liuere, -lyvyr, 6 -liure). [a. OF. delivre, deslivre (cf. It. dilibero), vbl. adj. from delivrer to DELIVER.] [...]

3. Delivered (of a child) Obs.

[...] c. 1400 MAUNDEV. (Roxb.) xv 67. Mary was delyuer of hir childe vnder a palme tree.

There is also the well known and meaning rich verb:

Deliver, v.1 Also 3-5 deliure 3-6 delyuer (e, 4 deliuyr, delyuyr, dilyuer(e, 4-5 delyuir(e, 4-6 delyure, diliuer(e, 6 Sc. delywer. [a. F. délivrer, in OF. also deslivrer, = Pr. de, deslivrar, Cat. desliuar, OSP. delibrar, It. diliberare: - late pop. L. deliberare, in Romanic partly refashioned as * deslibrare (DE - I. 6), used in sense of L. liberare to set free, liberate (see Du Cange). (in cl. Lat. deliberare had a different sense: see DELIBERATE.)]


I. [...] 3. To disburden (a woman) of the fœtus, to bring to childbirth ; in passive, to give birth to a child or offspring. Rarely said of beasts. (The active is late and and chiefly in obstetrical use.)

This form is discussed in another question. It is obviously the core meaning related to giving birth and delivering babies. But there exists a final form which has its own entry in the NED(a participial adjective?!):

Delivered, ppl. a.1 [f. DELIVER v.1 + -ED 1.] Set free ; disburdened of offspring ; handed over ; surrendered ; formally uttered or stated, etc.; see the verb.

[...] c. 1588 SHAKS Tit. A. iv. ii. 142 Cornelia, the midwife, and my selfe, and none else but the deliuered Emperess.

The item disburdened of offspring clearly stands out in the list, but it's supposedly all about the aforementioned first form of the verb....

Shakespeare's Titus Adronicus:


Nurse: O, that which I would hide from heaven's eye,

Our Empress' shame and stately Rome's disgrace!

She is delivered, lords, she is delivered.

Aaron: To whom?

Nurse: I mean, she is brought abed.

Aaron: Well, God give her good rest! What hath he sent her?

Nurse: A devil.


(142, like in the NED)

Aaron:[...] But say again, how many saw the child?

Nurse: Cornelia the midwife and my selfe,

and none else but the delivered Empress.

Needless to say but just for context, this is a gruesome affair(I have never read this). The empress and her family are spoils of war, and she was forced into marriage; she has an affair with her lover Aaron, a man who has a different skin color clearly; and so the baby is dynamite; the empress wants the baby dead, hands it over to the nurse, which delivers him to Aaron for that very purpose(and [the empress] bids thee christen it with thy dagger's point). But Aaron loves the child and has other plans...

Shakespeare answers himself, through the nurse, the question of whether the empress was handed over to anyone else. Could she have implied, despite the explanation to Aaron, that figuratively the empress was disburdened of her offsping as in physically dispossessed? But if so, why would that be relevant to Aaron and others? Furthermore wouldn't relieved be more convenient a term, as in relieved of her duty(of care)? And why would delivered be used again a second time on i.e. 142. now that we're no longer talking about Rome's fall etc.? I can't find a way to resist the conclusion that this is literally about giving birth but I don't have enough command over the text nor the language to be certain.


  • What is the meaning of is delivered in the excerpts presented from the Titus Andronicus play?
  • That is, if the empress is delivered, as in a state of being free from the burden of the child she was carrying in her womb, now that she has given birth, then what is the difference between disburdened of a foetus, disburdened of child and disburdened of offspring, in the context of the references presented, if any(is that standalone entry only for the "Shakespeare" meaning, is it redundant?);
  • Did William Shakespeare revive the equivalent of the old obsoleted meaning(is deli'ver) with his play, through his use of is delivered, and is that still being used in contemporary English today(as the NED/OED1 is 100 years old)?

An answer doesn't need to be as long to provide insight.

1. These are just (comparative)notes which are not central to the question. The old form, as well as newer ones, all share a more or less similar latin root with a strong free/freed meaning; and with similar words related to even weight, labor - from a very cursory and non expert look. More importantly of course this root is shared with other languages such as French. Of interest is of course délivrer. It contains a reference to: "2. a) début xiies. être délivrée « avoir accouché » (Lois de Guillaume le Conquérant, éd. J. E. Matzke, § 33);" - literally: to be/is delivered "to have (had) delivered"; it is a different word(accoucher) and a different auxiliary(to be vs. to have). Here is the referenced section 33 of the text(c. 1095-1135 from a 13th manuscript, prop. of the Earl of Leicester):

Si femme est - jugée à mort u a defaciun - des membres, ki seit encein - tée, ne facet l'um justice - desqu'ele seit délivrée. (If a woman is - sentenced to death or dismemberment - and is pregnant - justice shall not be carried - until she is (would be) delivered.[my translation, from what I gather]).

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    Shakespeare was a master at using words with two meanings to great effect. I would not try to tie him down to one here; to me it seems he intended both, with irony at the second meaning. – anongoodnurse Dec 4 '14 at 12:11
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    @medica's right. Shakespeare was master of the double and even triple entendre. It's obvious here that he's playing with the meanings for effect. – Robusto Dec 4 '14 at 12:58
  • One of my fav.: By my life, this is my lady's hand these be her very C's, her U's and her T's and thus makes she her great P's-Twelfth Night: Act 2, Scene 5, – Misti Dec 4 '14 at 13:16
  • @medica/ Robusto / Mysti Sinha - Thank you for your comments! He's had a masterful impact, which is why I asked. He could have used "she had an unexpected delivery"... "she was delivered by someone with dark hands"; or even something such as "she deposed a second time". I have never read a single play of his; reading only a few lines I know it's rich, but nothing was obvious to me - I can see meanings concurring to produce effects, but not all of them originate from the same exact structs(a -v - ppl a), or are proximal. Hence the question does his play reflect/create this specific usage. Ty! – user98955 Dec 4 '14 at 20:17
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You may safely ignore two of these OED entries:

  • The form ‘deliver, a.’ was already archaic in Shakespeare’s day and may be regarded as merely an alternative to delivered.

  • The senses provided at ‘delivered, ppl.’ merely list (partially) the participialized senses of the verb, and in fact OED refers you to the verb.

The sense ‘disburden’ is an awkward paraphrase; I think it represents the lexicographer’s effort to come up with a definition which reflects the word’s etymological origin and the phrase’s syntactic role:

  • Etymologically the lexicographer depicts the woman as being ‘set free’ of the burden she has carried. This is not, I think, a meaning that was ever actually ‘felt’ to be present in the childbirth context. In any case, it could really be imputed only to the transitive use, e.g. ‘The midwife delivered her of a child’, and the earliest use I have found of an unambiguously transitive use is in Brome’s The Love-Sick Court (ca. 1638), from the generation after Shakespeare’s death. The reflexive use, delivered herself of, is even later, and is probably influenced by the earlier deliver oneself of an opinion or speech.

  • Syntactically the lexicographer views BE delivered (of) as a passive, but I think this is at odds with the semantics of the phrase and probably conditioned by the lexicographer’s awareness of the later transitive sense. I note that John Lawler has very convincingly described BE born as a ‘deponent verb’— a passive form with an active sense—and I think BE delivered of may very aptly be described in the same way.

To come then to your questions:

  • In a childbirth context, BE delivered (of) means simply HAVE given birth (to). Aaron, who is much given to puns, affects for a jest to take delivered in the sense handed over; but what the Nurse means by She is delivered (and what anyone in the audience would understand) is that the Empress has given birth; and the delivered Empress is the Empress who has given birth.

    Of course this does not preclude a secondary sense being in play here. I imagine sophisticated auditors detected the sense she is rescued in she is delivered and looked forward to its literal fulfilment—Aaron is to rescue Tamora from shame—and ultimate ironic reversal—recognition of the child’s identity will lead to Aaron revealing the plot to Lucius and Titus and in the end to Tamora’s destruction.

  • There is no essential difference in the variants disburdened of {a foetus / child / offpring}

  • Shakespeare did not revive an obsolete usage; BE delivered of had been current in this sense since the 14th century and continues in use to this day, although its use has been declining steadily since the 1870s.

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    @Amphiteóth Shakespeare is also given to punning on deliver in the sense 'report': "I am great [i.e. pregnant] with woe and shall deliver weeping" Per V,1 – StoneyB on hiatus Dec 5 '14 at 0:02
  • @Amphiteóth ? I don't understand your question ? – StoneyB on hiatus Dec 5 '14 at 0:31
  • I meant that's 8. in the old NED [...]to present(an account, etc.). – user98955 Dec 5 '14 at 0:33
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    @Amphiteóth Closer to 10, but employed intransitively (weeping there is an adjective, a predicative complement). – StoneyB on hiatus Dec 5 '14 at 0:48
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    @Amphiteóth That point about de- is important. In English de- or dis- have this strong negative sense only when they are affixed to independently meaningful morphemes: deregulate, de-Gauss, disallow. But that sense is absent when a word comes 'prefabricated' into the language; there is no ∗termine or ∗liver or ∗gust corresponding to F terminer, livrer, goûte for E determine, deliver, disgust. – StoneyB on hiatus Dec 6 '14 at 14:44

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