Forms of Address

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The Elizabethans had a very socially stratified society. Unlike modern day in the United States, people were well aware of their social standing as compared to the social standing of the person they were addressing. While its not uncommon to address someone as Sir or Madame, most people don't use such honorifics while walking down the street. Sometimes in modern usage we address people by their professions as the Elizabethans did; this manifests itself in certain situations such as: Good evening, Officer or Yes, your Honor . This is also found with Doctor, Professor, but note not with Lawyer; respect is given where it is due!

While at faire, in order to feel comfortable addressing people, you should have a feeling for your respective social level. Fortunately, people wear clothing in accordance with their social standing, making a quick judgement easy.

The words used to address someone are based on both social status and familiarity. For example, the Earl of Warwick could refer to the Earl of Pembroke as Pembroke, My Lord, cousin, Sir, etc. depending on the circumstance. Coming from a merchant or peasant, both would be addressed as my Lord, my Lord Earl, or similar.

Sir or Mistress is always a safe bet for someone who is not nobility but who is dressed well. An older man might be addressed as Father. Someone of your social standing or slightly above could be called Goodman, Goodwife or by their name or profession as Master Patrick or Master Brewer. A familiar tone may be taken by calling someone Cousin.

To children, my lad/lass, or good young sir is appropriate, perhaps erring on the side of safety with my young lord/lady.

To nobility, my Lord, or my Lady is safe if you don't know their exact name or title. The Queen is of course referred to as Your Highness or Your Grace . In the third person, the Queen can be called Her Majesty, but this is not appropriate for addressing the Queen directly. Dukes, Duchesses can be likewise be addressed as Your Grace.

Puritans refer to themselves as Brother and Sister, others might address them as Good Puritan, if they did not know their name. Arch-Bishops and Bishops are refered to as Your Grace, whereas lower members of clerical orders are refered to as Sir Priest. Deacons, Sextons, etc. would be refered to as Master or, if of obviously lower economic status, Goodman.

Officeholders, such as judges, constables, or bureaucrats, and knights, or esquires may be called Your Honour or Your Worship .

In general, extra words such as Good may be thrown in to add further flattery and pomp to an address. Good my Honorable Lord Constable!.

Wench refers to a serving woman and is a perfectly acceptable form of address when appropriate. Personally I hesitate at addressing travellers as wench unless they've demonstrated a willingness to play. Sirrah doesn't have the same modern-day commotations as wench, but it should! It is a slightly demeaning way to address someone: such as a surly child, or in jest to a friend. Coming from a better, this address would sting a bit.


See Also: Debrett's Correct Form by Patrick Montague-Smith (ed).
Thanks to Arthur S. Pruyn, Eric Griswold, Walter Nelson Costumes Acting Language RPFI History
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