Puns are used when we want to play with words that may sound similar in pronunciation, but have a different meaning, and are used to create humor. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is an apt case where several instances of humorous wordplay have been used.
No one can doubt the sheer brilliance of William Shakespeare. Here was a man who changed the entire face of the English language. Of the many plays that Shakespeare penned, one of the most famous one, that has become synonymous with love stories, is Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare, even in the midst of a tragic love story, managed to keep the humor factor alive in the form of puns in Romeo and Juliet.
There are certain characters that can be found to be humorous in many ways. Mercutio always uses puns deliberately, while Gregory and Sampson use a lot of crude puns. The nurse tends to bring out the humor by using puns and by repeating statements she has said before. These different characters have been added, so as to lighten the atmosphere and add a touch of reality to the story. Shakespeare was a brilliant punster and used puns for many purposes in his plays. They helped to lighten a tragic scene or at times, managed to stump the audience when delivered correctly, or sometimes, even camouflaged a situation or a feeling that a person is actually trying to convey.
Romeo and Mercutio Discuss
Mercutio: That dreamers often lie
Romeo: In bed asleep, while they do dream things true. Dreamers lie (are false), and lie (down)
Romeo: Give me a torch: I am not for this ambling;
Being but heavy, I will bear the light.
Mercutio: Nay, gentle Romeo, we must have you dance.
Romeo: You have dancing shoes
With nimble soles. I have a soul of lead
So stakes me to the ground I cannot move.
Mercutio: You are a lover; borrow Cupid’s wings,
And soar with them above a common bound.
Romeo: I am too sore enpierced with his shaft
To soar with his light feathers, and so bound,
I cannot bound a pitch above dull woe:
Under love’s heavy burden do I sink.
Pun Play between Gregory and Sampson
Sampson: Gregory, o’ my word, we’ll not carry coals
Gregory: No, for then we should be colliers
Sampson: I mean, an [if] we be in choler, we’ll draw
Gregory: Ay, while you live, draw your neck out o’ the collar
Gregory: The quarrel is between our masters and us their men.
Sampson: ‘Tis all one, I will show myself a tyrant. When I have fought with the men, I will be cruel with the maids, and cut off their heads.
Gregory: The heads of the maids?
Sampson: Ay, the heads of the maids, or their maidenheads; take it in what sense thou wilt.
Juliet: Give me my Romeo and when I shall die … .
Juliet: Oh I have bought the mansion of love
… , and though I am sold,
Not yet enjoyed.
Mercutio: Come, he hath hid himself among these trees.
Mercutio then exclaims, Now will he sit under a medlar tree,/ And wish his
mistress were that kind of fruit/ As maids call medlars when they
laugh alone./Oh, Romeo, that she were, Oh, that she were/An
open et cetera, thou a poperin pear!
Juliet: Yea, noise? Then I’ll be brief. O happy dagger!
[Snatches Romeo’s dagger.]
This is thy sheath; there rest, and let me die.
Nurse: I must another way,
To fetch a ladder, by the which your love
Must climb a bird’s nest soon when it is dark.
Note.- The reader must know that puns are frequently lewd in nature and more often than not, tend to have sexual innuendos.
We must understand that this play is written keeping in mind the Elizabethan era. The audience at that time immensely enjoyed such puns. After all, imagine a setting where double entendres and puns in Romeo and Juliet are being said out loud in a play with a rapt audience trying to grapple with what is being said against what is being implied. Truly, this is where the beauty of the English language lies!
There were many other forms of humor that William Shakespeare employed in his plays, as he always wanted to startle his audiences and treat them to something unexpected, by manipulating language, creating puns, rhyming poetry, and striking similes, metaphors, and other various figures of speech.