Taking the Mick: Characters Named Michael in ARDEN OF FAVERSHAM, OTHELLO, and THE KNIGHT OF THE BURNING PESTLE

Main Article Content

Lisa Hopkins


When Shakespeare bestows the name Michael Cassio on a character in Othello he would doubtless have been aware of some distinguised antecedents, including his friend Michael Drayton and two other authors whom he did not know personally but was fond of reading, Michel de Montaigne and Miguel Cervantes.  Less immediately, several historical persons of the name, perhaps most notably the Emperor Michael Palaeologus, are mentioned in a number of early modern texts.  Michael does not seem to have been a common name in England, and it was also a name not much found in plays, or at least not in extant ones.  In this essay I focus on three plays in which characters called Michael appear, Arden of Faversham, Othello, and The Knight of the Burning Pestle, and I shall argue that each draws in one way or another on one or more of the inherently paradoxical associations held by the name Michael in the early modern period, which suggested simultaneously money and sanctity, corporeality and spirituality, and past and future.  All three of these Michaels, whether unwillingly or unwittingly, have the same effect of either causing or participating in the disruption of domestic relationships and the pitting of family members against each other.  In their own very different ways, each of these three characters could be seen as emblematising or underlining the effect of sin in the home, and also perhaps as drawing attention to the dual nature of humans as having both a mortal (social, familial, and material) life and an immortal soul, in something of the same way as Michael’s strange status as both saint and archangel makes him eligible to be simultaneously understood  both as someone who was once alive and as an entity always wholly spiritual. 

Article Details

How to Cite
Hopkins, L. “Taking the Mick: Characters Named Michael in ARDEN OF FAVERSHAM, OTHELLO, and THE KNIGHT OF THE BURNING PESTLE”. Linguaculture, vol. 14, no. 1, June 2023, pp. 18-33, doi:10.47743/lincu-2023-1-0328.
Author Biography

Lisa Hopkins, Sheffield Hallam University

Lisa Hopkins is Professor Emerita of English at Sheffield Hallam University.  She is a co-editor of Journal of Marlowe Studies and of Shakespeare, the journal of the British Shakespeare Association, and a series editor of Arden Critical Readers and Arden Studies in Early Modern Drama.  Her most recent publications are The Edge of Christendom on the Early Modern English Stage (De Gruyter, 2022) and A Companion to the Cavendishes, with Tom Rutter (ARC Humanities Press, 2020).  She also works on detective fiction and her book Ocular Proof and the Spectacled Detective in British Crime Fiction was published by Palgrave in 2023. 


Abbot, George. The reasons vvhich Doctour Hill hath brought, for the vpholding of papistry, which is falselie termed the Catholike religion: vnmasked and shewed to be very weake, and vpon examination most insufficient for that purpose, Oxford: Joseph Barnes, 1604.

Adams, Thomas. The happines of the church, London: G. P. for John Grismand, 1619.

Anonymous. Arden of Faversham. Edited by Catherine Richardson, Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare, 2022.

Beaumont, Francis. The Knight of the Burning Pestle. Edited by John Doebler, Edward Arnold, 1967.

Belsey, Catherine. The Subject of Tragedy, Routledge, 1985.

Broughton, Hugh. A treatise of Melchisedek, London: (Richard Watkins) for Gabriel Simson and William White, 1591.

Digby, Everard. Euerard Digbie his dissuasiue From taking away the lyuings and goods of the Church. Wherein all men may plainely behold the great blessings which the Lord hath powred on all those who liberally haue bestowed on his holy temple: and the strange punishments that haue befallen them vvhich haue done the contrarie, London: Robert Robinson and Thomas Newman, 1590.

George, Edwin and Stella, eds. Bristol Probate Inventories. Part I: 1542-1650. Bristol Record Society, 2002.

Gerard, John. ‘Of Archangell or dead Nettle’ Gerard’s Herball, the essence thereof distilled by Marcus Woodward from the edition of Th. Johnson, 1636, The Minerva Press, 1971.

Hacket, Roger. A sermon preached at Nevvport-Paignell in the Countie of Buckingham, London: Robert Wilson, 1628.

Johnson, Ben. Ben: Ionson’s execration against Vulcan· VVith divers epigrams by the same author to severall noble personages in this kingdome. Never published before, London: J. O[kes] for John Benson (and A. Crooke), 1640.

Lawson, Michael. A new orchard and garden, London: Nicholas Okes for John Harrison, 1631.

Nashe, Thomas. London: John Danter, 1596.

Nicholl, Charles. The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street, Allen Lane, 2007.

Reed, Michael, ed. The Ipswich Probate Inventories 1583-1631, Boydell Press for the Suffolk Records Society, VOLUME XXII, 1981.

Richardson, Catherine. ‘Introduction’. Arden of Faversham. Edited by Catherine Richardson, Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare, 2022, pp. 1-112.

Shakespeare, William. Othello. Edited by E. A. J. Honigmann, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1997.

Shickman, Allan. ‘Shakespeare’s ‘Figure of an Angel’: An Iconographic Study’, Colby Library Quarterly 17.1 (March, 1981), pp. 6-25.

Spenser, Edmund. Three proper, and wittie, familiar letters: lately passed betvveene tvvo vniuersitie men: touching the earthquake in Aprill last, and our English refourmed versifying With the preface of a wellwiller to them both, London: H. Bynneman, 1580.

Stokes, James ed. REED Lincolnshire, University of Toronto Press, 2009.

Symonds, William. Pisgah euangelica By the method of the Reuelation, London: Felix Kyngston for Edmund Weauer, 1605.

Taisnier, Jean. A very necessarie and profitable booke concerning nauigation, compiled in Latin by Ioannes Taisnierus, a publice professor in Rome, Ferraria, & other uniuersities in Italie of the mathematicalles, named a treatise of continuall motions. Translated into Englishe, by Richard Eden. London: Richard Jugge, 1575.

Thomas Vivian and Nicki Faircloth. Shakespeare’s Plants and Gardens: A Dictionary, Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare, 2016.

Top, Alexander. Saint Peters rocke vnder which title is deciphered the faith of Peter, the foundation of the church, Christs sacrificehood, and the comfort of the holy Spirit, London: (the Deputies of C. Barker), 1597.

Trigge, Francis. A touchstone, whereby may be easilie discerned, which is the true Catholike faith, of all them that professe the name of Catholiques in the Church of Englande, that they bee not deceiued taken out of the Catholike Epistle of S. Iude, London: Peter Short, 1599.

Vaughan, William. The arraignment of slander periury blasphemy, and other malicious sinnes shewing sundry examples of Gods iudgements against the ofenders, London: Francis Constable, 1630.