Many of Shakespeare’s iconic plays feature risqué humor, with crude jokes hidden throughout his works.
Romeo And Juliet
At the beginning of Romeo and Juliet, Romeo’s sex life is as barren as Frank Herbert’s Dune(though judging by how the play ends, it really doesn’t get that much better once he meets Juliet). As he laments this fact, his motor-mouthed friend Mercutio shares this timeless bit of wisdom:
If love be blind, love cannot hit the mark. 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. O Romeo, that she were! Oh, that she were An open arse, and thou a poperin pear
Mercutio Tells Romeo to Find a Girl Who Leaves the Back Door Open…
Mercutio is talking about a medlar fruit, which was colloquially referred to as an “open arse,” for reasons that can never be adequately explained. However, there is no such thing as a poperin pear — it’s another old-timey play on words. Separate “poperin” into its three syllables and you get an Elizabethan penis euphemism — “pop ‘er in.”
2. Twelfth Night: Act 1, Scene 3
But it becomes me well enough, does ’t not?
SIR TOBY BELCH
Excellent; it hangs like flax on a distaff; and I
hope to see a housewife take thee between her legs
and spin it off.
In this scene, Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew are discussing Andrew’s hair, which is apparently flat and lifeless. While Toby uses the image of a woman spinning yarn from flax, the line is a rather unfortunate double entendre. Essentially, Sir Toby is telling Andrew that he hopes a woman takes him “between her legs” and that he contracts syphilis, a disease which causes hair loss.
2.1 Twelfth Night: Act 2, Scene 5 – Shakespeare Sneaks the Word “Cunt” into Dialogue
By my life, this is my lady’s hand these be her very C’s, her U’s and her T’s and thus makes she her great P’s.
Later in Twelfth Night, a character named Malvolio receives a letter that he believes is from his boss, Olivia. As Malvolio observes the penmanship, Shakespeare explains why he thinks the letter was written by Olivia and sneaks in a lewd pun. The line would be read, “her very C’s, her U’s, ‘n’ her T’s,” and an Elizabethan audience would quickly realise what he was spelling. He adds an extra punch line with “and thus she makes her great P’s.” Shakespeare: A literary master of both dramatic characterisation and toilet humour.
Essentially, Malvolio is telling everyone, “This is unquestionably my lady’s vagina, with which she makes giant toilet.”
3. Hamlet: Act 2, Scene 2
Then you live about her waist, or in the middle of her favors?
Faith, her privates we.
In the secret parts of Fortune?
When Hamlet asks Guildenstern and Rosencrantz how they’re doing, they say they’re indifferent. They’re neither at the top of Fate, nor the “soles of her shoes.” Hamlet then jokingly asks if they live about Fate’s waist, “in the middle of her favors.” Guildenstern agrees that they’re around “her privates,” in the (ahem) “secret parts” of Fate.
Shakespeare certainly knows how to spice up the small talk.
3.1 Hamlet: Act 3, Scene 2
Shakespeare’s Hamlet is about a guy (named Hamlet) who comes home from college to find out his uncle has murdered his father and married his mother. Hamlet responds by literally killing everyone around him.
HAMLET Lady, shall I lie in your lap?
OPHELIA No, my lord.
HAMLET I mean, my head upon your lap?
OPHELIA Ay, my lord.
HAMLET Do you think I meant country matters?
OPHELIA I think nothing, my lord.
HAMLET That’s a fair thought to lie between maids’ legs.
OPHELIA What is, my lord?
See, when she first declines his offer to put his head in her lap, presumably on the grounds that it is a totally insane thing for a grown man to suggest in a formal public setting, he clarifies, “No no, on your lap, not inside it. Did you think I meant country matters?” Drop the second syllable from “country” and you’ll see what Hamlet is talking about.
Again, Ophelia politely tries to deflect his infantile japes by simply saying, “I think nothing,” but Hamlet immediately quips, “Nothing, eh? ‘No thing’ is pretty much what I’d expect to find between a woman’s legs.” At this point, Hamlet presumably dons a spinning bow tie while someone in the orchestra pit plays a slide whistle.
4. A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Act 5, Scene 1
PYRAMUS: O kiss me through the hole of this vile wall!
THISBE: I kiss the wall’s hole, not your lips at all.
This scene features a play within the play, and characters are acting as lovers Pyramus and Thisbe. Perhaps more importantly, another person is filling the role of the wall. Kissing “the wall’s” hole … well, that is something Thisbe most certainly does not want to do.
5. The Taming of the Shrew: Act 2, Scene 1
Petruchio is trying to woo the frigid ice queen Katherine so that her insane father will allow her younger sister to get married. Luckily, Petruchio’s preferred method of wooing is to engage Katherine in playfully sexual banter while wagging his eyebrows like Groucho Marx
PETRUCHIO Come, come, you wasp, i’faith you are too angry.
KATHERINE If I be waspish, best beware my sting.
PETRUCHIO My remedy is then to pluck it out.
KATHERINE Ay, if the fool could find where it lies.
PETRUCHIO: Who knows not where a wasp does wear his sting? In his tail.
KATHARINA: In his tongue.
PETRUCHIO: Whose tongue?
KATHARINA: Yours, if you talk of tails: and so farewell.
PETRUCHIO: What, with my tongue in your tail?
In his defense, she started it. Katherine takes his simple analogy about pulling out a wasp’s stinger and twists it into that age-old indictment about men being thoroughly unable to locate key parts of a woman’s anatomy. Petruchio smartly counters by offering to lick her asshole… But back in Shakespeare’s day, “tail” was jack-jawing street talk for “vulva.” So in actuality, Petruchio is merely building upon Katherine’s barbed quip by offering to shove his face into her crotch. This is truly a battle of wits.
6. Othello: Act 1, Scene 1
I am one, sir, that comes to tell you your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.
Iago is informing another character, Brabantio, that his daughter has married Othello, a Moor. Iago is far from pleased with this turn of events, and so uses this unusually colorful and eccentric image to tell Brabantio. As a result of this scene, “the beast with two backs” came to be a fairly common euphemism for sex.
7. Titus Andronicus: Act 4, Scene 2
Thou hast undone our mother.
Villain, I have done thy mother.
Chiron confronts Aaron, his mother’s lover, whom he believes is responsible for ruining his mother. Aaron’s witty response is perhaps the earliest “your mom” joke in history.
8. Henry V: Act 2, Scene 1
Pistol’s cock is up,
And flashing fire will follow.
The word “cock” may not have developed its current slang meaning until a decade or two after Henry V was written, so this might not have been an intentional pun. Either way, it was too good to exclude. With the possible double meaning and such vivid imagery, Shakespeare himself would have approved of this joke, unintentional or not.
9. Much Ado About Nothing: Act 5, Scene 2
I will live in thy heart, die in thy lap, and be
buried in thy eyes.
In Elizabethan slang, “to die” was a euphemism for sexual climax, so Benedick telling his lover, Beatrice, that he will “die” in her lap has less-than-chaste implications. It should also be noted that the title of the play itself is a dirty pun; remember, “nothing” was an Elizabethan euphemism for a woman’s lady parts. Oh, Shakespeare, you naughty thing.