Shakespeare sometimes gives his characters names that suit their personality. Look at Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night. What kind of a person does his name tell you he’d be like? What other characters have a similar clue in their name?

Sir Toby Belch’s name tells the audience that he is a gentleman by birth, but also a coarse, noisy character, fond of drinking and feasting. Other characters in Twelfth Night with similar clues in their names include Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Malvolio, and Feste.

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Nominative determinism is far more common in literature than in life, and Shakespeare is actually less inclined than many of his contemporaries to give his characters names which sum up their personalities or occupations. When he does so, he is subtler than many other playwrights. Sir Toby Belch is a...

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Nominative determinism is far more common in literature than in life, and Shakespeare is actually less inclined than many of his contemporaries to give his characters names which sum up their personalities or occupations. When he does so, he is subtler than many other playwrights. Sir Toby Belch is a case in point. The first part of his name tells you that he is a knight, and therefore a gentleman by birth, but his surname suggests that he is uncouth, noisy, and drinks too much.

Several other characters in Twelfth Night have similar clues to their disposition in their name. Sir Andrew Aguecheek also has a name which begins promisingly, suggesting bravery and manliness, since the name Andrew comes from the Greek word for "man." However, the "ague" or fever in his cheek counters this impression with the idea that he is hot-headed and feeble-minded. Malvolio, perhaps the best-known character in the play, has a name that literally means "ill-will." This is appropriate for the mean-spirited steward, who dreams of how he will lecture and persecute Sir Toby when he is married to Olivia. Finally, the name of Feste, Olivia's fool, is clearly appropriate for a jester, since it suggests a festival, an opportunity for high spirits, jesting, and carousing.

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