Fun in the Pun

March 8, 2010 at 2:15 pm (Analysis and Discussion, Romeo and Juliet) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Stop it!  Stop it!
That’s enough, sir.
I can’t say such silly stuff, sir.
    Mr. Knox, Fox in Socks, by Dr. Seuss
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sorry for all the Seuss references. He’s a big part of my life right now! Anyhow, as I read through all the puns in Romeo and Juliet I keep thinking of Fox in Socks and sometimes I feel like Mr. Knox. Stop it! Stop it! That’s enough, sir!

Romeo and Juliet is just filled with sexual puns. I’m sure they were obvious and right out there to the Renaissance audience. It’s all slang and double entendres and many/most go right over my head unless I stop to decipher them in the footnotes. It takes a lot of effort for me to get them, and after a while, I find them mind-numbing. I mentioned in an earlier post, I thought a new reader might want to “yada, yada” through much of Mercutio since he is so dense with puns.

I’m sure that the audience back then did not have to work to get the joke, and so the joke was funnier. That being the case, the “tragedy” of Romeo and Juliet was at many times a light-hearted comedy and witfest. I’m sure people were on the floor laughing at all the clever back and forth and anatomical references. I really think I lose out in needing to have the jokes excruciatingly explained to me, and then still not really getting them a lot of the time. It must have been really funny in an Animal House kind of way. Right?

So, let’s take it from the top, because that’s what Shakespeare did. He starts right out by laying it on thick. Act I, Scene 1, and the servants Sampson and Gregory are on a witty roll. Geez, as I look at it now, I don’t even know where to start. Whenever they use words like “stand,” “take the wall,” “thrust,” “heads,” “piece of flesh,” yada yada… sorry, I get glazed over right from the start. It’s just too much! Stop it, stop it, Mr. Fox, sir!

Seriously, I have trouble with that aspect of the play (not offended… it just bores me after a while!). “Draw thy tool,” “My naked weapon is out.” Hello? This is all in the first 32 lines of the play! I’m tired reading the footnotes already, and I haven’t even met Mercutio yet.

Alrighty then. So, I’m sure that whole thing set the tone for the rest of the play for the bawdy audience way back when. They’re into it. They’re getting it. They’re loving it. Enter Mercutio.

Here’s the (modern) meaning of the name Mercutio: “The name comes from Mercury, the Roman messenger god. It may also be related to the vocabulary word “mercurial,” originally designating someone with the characteristics of eloquence, shrewdness, swiftness, and thievishness attributed to the god Mercury, or more commonly with an unpredictable and fast-changing mood.” (Source: ParentsConnect)

As I mentioned in my last post, I find Mercutio one of the least mercurial of the characters in this play. But he sure has a swift wit and eloquence. Tybalt may be the King of Cats, but Mercutio is the King of Puns. Maybe Act II, Scene 4 shows him at his finest. Every word out of Mercutio’s mouth is perfectly-pointed. Jab! Jab! His death may come from swordplay, but wow, in life he is a master of wordplay.

It’s dizzying. Romeo is up to the task and keeps right up with Mercutio (boy, you’d have to watch yourself around these guys… I bet I set myself up there using the word “up” if they’d been around to pun off me!). They’re having a lot of fun. Romeo (playing on Mercutio’s last words) says:

Swits and spurs, swits and spurs! or I’ll cry a
match.
(II.4.68-69)

My edition’s note says that means “keep your horse (wit) running fast” or Romeo will claim victory (“cry a match”). Whew!

Benvolio always seems a bit left out of the back and forth and uncomfortable with it. He finally sees Mercutio going off too far (involving “bauble in a hole”) and says “Stop there, stop there!” (II.4.92). It makes me think of poor Mr. Knox again:

I can’t blab such blibber blubber!
My tongue isn’t made of rubber.

And just like Seuss’s fox, Mercutio is a man possessed and CANNOT BE STOPPED. He goes on punning off of poor Benvolio’s own innocent words (“whole depth of my tale”). Yee gods.

And then! And then… oh my, Juliet’s Nurse arrives on the scene! Seriously, I can hardly catch my breath from all the wordplay and dirty jokes and then she comes in and Mercutio is just merciless on her. She is dumb (like a fox?) and plays unknowingly (?) right into Mercutio’s jokes (II.4.100-142). Oh my, oh my. “Saucy merchant” and “scurvy knave,” indeed! Whew! (By the way, I find this scene in the Zeffirelli movie really funny.)

Oh. My. Oh. My. And the Nurse is no innocent herself when it comes to sexual puns. She has many bawdy lines, although the notes in my edition say these are often unintentional puns. I wonder about the Nurse. She plays an interesting stupid/savvy character. Anyhow, look at her go!

O, he is even in my mistress’ case,
Just in her case! O woeful sympathy!
Piteous predicament! Even so lies she,
Blubb’ring and weeping, weeping and blubb’ring.
Stand up, stand up! Stand, an you be a man.
For Juliet’s sake, for her sake, rise and stand!
Why should you fall into so deep an O?
(III.3.84-90)

The puns are on words like “O,” “case,” “rise and stand,” etc. Yep.

They sure are all having a lot of fun in the pun. I find them funny/tiresome. It’s just too much for me, in many ways. But again, I wonder if that’s mainly because it’s so much work for me to decipher them and I’m sure I still don’t appreciate the jokes the way they were intended back then. How do you all like the puns?

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1 Comment

  1. Cutting Shakespeare « Or What You Will said,

    […] the plays. Some of it, you just must yada, yada through, as I was tempted back when I discussed Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet. From the Post article, again: Then there are punch lines that slayed ’em 400 years ago but can […]

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