Puns in Julius Caesar

Puns in Julius Caesar
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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.

In this lesson, we will examine several examples of puns in William Shakespeare's 'Julius Caesar.' We will also examine what they reveal about the characters and intentions.

Definition of Pun

A pun is when someone uses a word that sounds like another word, or a word that has multiple meanings, in a joking way. For example, a picture of a cheese grater with a caption saying, 'I know it's cheesy, but I feel grate' plays on the fact that cheesy and grate have more than one meaning when spoken. William Shakespeare's play, Julius Caesar, contains multiple puns.

Fixing a Broken Soul

One of the first puns in Julius Caesar comes in Act II scene i. Two tribunes (a type of government official during Caesar's time) are patrolling the streets and attempting to clear out the crowds of people who are celebrating Caesar's recent victory. Since all the workers have taken a holiday to celebrate, the tribunes ask the men who they are and why they are not in their shops. One man responds by saying 'I am a mender of bad soles.' The officials press him further and he tells them to not be angry with him, but if their soles are worn out, he can fix them. When the word 'sole' is spoken, it could be interpreted as 'soul.' The cobbler is playing on the fact that sole has more than one meaning, depending on the context.

I Only Work With My All / I Can Recover Your Sole

In that same exchange, the cobbler tells the officials that he does not deal with political matters and he does not chase women. He only deals with his awl. He tells them ...but withal I am, indeed, sir, a surgeon to old shoes…. While less apparent than the pun on 'soles,' the cobbler is playing on the double meaning of 'with awl' and 'withal' (or 'indeed').

The cobbler continues in his joking manner as the officials ask him to explain what he does more directly. He finally tells them that when soles are worn out he recovers them. Again, he is punning on how the phrase 're-covering a sole' sounds like 'recovering a soul'.

The exchange with the cobbler reveals the common people's attitude of disrespect towards the government at the time of Caesar. The cobbler pokes fun at the officials by giving them confusing answers that could be interpreted in multiple ways.

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