Is there a consistent application of any distinction between the forms of the words thou and you, and art and are in Shakespeare's sonnets? Is he simply following a convention regarding formality in diction, or can a case be made that he is trying to create something more in terms of meaning by his choice in a specific case?

  • Yes, there can be a significance. There is an interesting article on it by Dr Mark Womack of the University of Houston in drmarkwomack.com/engl-3306/handouts/shakespeares-language/…. Better still, Andrew Gurr published a book on the subject back in 1982. But this is not my area of expertise. – Tuffy Apr 27 '18 at 17:08
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    This seems pretty broad. "If you can imagine an entire book that answers your question, you’re asking too much." And someone has: Shakespeare's Use of the Pronoun of Address: Its Significance in Characterization and Motivation. – Laurel Apr 27 '18 at 17:45
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    The use of thou and you was changing around that time, and Shakespeare was no more concerned with being consistent in his spelling or grammar than anybody else of the time, which means not at all. For the record, thou agrees with art (but we, you, and they agree with are); in addition, thee and ye (like me) are objective pronouns, and can't appear as subjects. – John Lawler Apr 27 '18 at 18:32
  • @JohnLawler I think you switched you and ye there. Originally, ye was the subject pronoun and you the object pronoun. By Shakespeare’s time, that was already messed up and both pronouns could have both functions, but I don’t think there was ever a period in English where ye could only appear as object and not as subject. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 27 '18 at 18:41

I think his use of the terms reflects the then current use and is not a special use or device of any kind.

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    You 'think' would perhaps be better if you could add some evidence – BladorthinTheGrey May 27 '18 at 19:10

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