Puns in Hamlet

Puns in Hamlet
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  • 0:05 Puns
  • 0:29 The Sun and the Son
  • 1:10 What's the Matter?
  • 1:50 Indentures of the Skull
  • 2:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Bryan Cowing

Bryan is a freelance writer who specializes in literature. He has worked as an English instructor, editor and writer for the past 10 years.

If you are reading 'Hamlet' by William Shakespeare, you may have noticed that sometimes the speakers say one thing, but seem to mean something else. Shakespeare is well-known for puns. Read on to find out what they are and how they come into play in the play.


Listen to this sentence: ''I was trying to figure out how lightning worked, and then it struck me.'' Did you pick up on the little joke in this sentence? The word struck is playing on the fact that lightning can strike someone and so can an idea. These types of jokes that play on words are called puns. In William Shakespeare's Hamlet, there are quite a few examples of puns. Let's take a look.

The Sun and the Son

One example of a pun comes when Hamlet and Claudius are talking. Claudius is Hamlet's uncle, but he just married Hamlet's mom. So, now he is Hamlet's uncle and father (well, step-father). Like most 30-year-olds, Hamlet is not too happy about this, so when Claudius calls Hamlet his 'nephew and son,' Hamlet scoffs and mumbles about how much that bothers him. Claudius notices Hamlet's discomfort and asks him why he is so gloomy and why ''clouds still hang'' around him. Hamlet responds with a pun, saying ''Not so, my lord. I am too much i' the sun.'' In this passage, Hamlet is playing on the words ''son'' and ''sun.''

What's the Matter?

Another example of a creative pun is when Polonius and Hamlet are talking. In this scene, Hamlet is pretending to be crazy and lets everyone think it's because Polonius won't let him date his daughter, Ophelia. When Polonius sees that Hamlet is reading something, he asks ''What is the matter, my lord?'' Polonius is not asking Hamlet what the problem is, but instead he's asking him what he's reading, ''I mean, the matter that you read. . .'' Hamlet makes it a sarcastic pun by pretending that Polonius meant ''What is the matter?'' as in ''What's wrong?'' So, Hamlet responds by saying ''Between who?'' This exchange shows how a pun can be played on someone else's words.

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