By Kalli Damschen, Baylor University
William Shakespeare is widely regarded as one of the greatest writers of all time, and his plays have entertained, inspired, and instructed for centuries. One thing your high school English teacher probably didn’t mention, however: Many of Shakespeare’s iconic plays feature risqué humor, with crude jokes hidden throughout his works. Here are 11 of the bard’s best dirty jokes.
1. Twelfth Night: Act 1, Scene 3
SIR ANDREW 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. Twelfth Night: Act 2, Scene 5
MALVOLIO 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 realize 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 characterization and toilet humor.
3. Hamlet: Act 2, Scene 2
HAMLET Then you live about her waist, or in the middle of her favors?GUILDENSTERN Faith, her privates we.HAMLET 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.
4. Hamlet: Act 3, Scene 2
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?HAMLET Nothing.
By this scene, Hamlet’s going cuckoo for cocoa puffs after his murdered father’s ghost appears, and he apparently decides to deal with it by harassing his would-be girlfriend. His words become especially obscene when one knows that “nothing” was Elizabethan slang for a woman’s lady bits. Shakespeare also sneaks in a pun with the word “country”—just drop off the last syllable, and you’ll see what he was going for.
5. 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.
6. The Taming of the Shrew: Act 2, Scene 1
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?
C’mon. This one isn’t even subtle.
7. Othello: Act 1, Scene 1
IAGO 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.
8. Titus Andronicus: Act 4, Scene 2
CHIRON Thou hast undone our mother.AARON 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.
9. Henry V: Act 2, Scene 1
PISTOL 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.
10. Much Ado About Nothing: Act 5, Scene 2
BENEDICK 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.