Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Great Puns from History, Part III: Shake your spears for Shakespeare!

Good day, my deareth Puntastic fellows and fellowettes! How fareth thee? Superbeth!

Many of us have had a love/hate relationship with Shakespeare throughout our lives. Being forced to read this strange, boringly Biblical-sounding verse in school was enough to make us look forward to doing algebra instead.

Yet the massive influence that the Bard has had on world literature, pop culture and the English language has made him essential reading - whether you like it or not. While many can now, far beyond high school, stomach and even enjoy his mosaics of iambic pentameter, if you're not a fan, NEVER FEAR! There are several good reasons to revisit these immortal works...

PUNS!! Oh yes, this most famous playwright was a huge fan thereof. Sprinkled throughout his plays are Punning gems in a desert of verse (not that the rest of his plays is "desert", but bear with me here). Some examples:

Romeo and Juliet: After being stabbed, Mercutio maintains his razor-sharp wit: "Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man."

Richard III: The opening lines. Keep in mind Richard III was the son of the Duke of York...:
"Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York..."

Not even the titles of his plays were safe from Punnage. "Much Ado About Nothing" is an interesting example, given that in Shakespeare’s day, "nothing" and "noting" were homophones (they sounded the same). Therefore the title could also be understood as "Much Ado about Noting." "Nothing" is a double-entendre; "an O-thing" was Elizabethan slang for "vagina".

Alas, not all of Shakespeare's readers have enjoyed his puns so much. Dr Samuel Johnson, an early editor of Shakespeare's works, once said that punning was to Shakespeare "the fatal Cleopatra for which he lost the world and was content to lose it", referring to the queen of Egypt who was to be the death of Marc Antony.

But, as has been noted, even Johnson's comment contains a pun. "Fatal" is doubly appropriate, given that Cleopatra was both Antony's death and his destiny.

It seems no one, and nothing, can escape the lure of the Pun.


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