7 Filthy Jokes You Didn't Notice in Shakespeare

Let's face it: The percentage of our audience who will just sit down and read a bunch of Shakespeare without being forced to by a professor is pretty damned small. And that's too bad, because what most non-English majors don't realize is that under Shakespeare's flowery language and incomprehensible old-timey wordplay is a whole lot of sly references to boners, anal sex, masturbation, and much worse.

#7. Romeo and Juliet -- Mercutio Tells Romeo to Find a Girl Who Leaves the Back Door Open

Frank Dicksee

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

(Emphasis ours)

James Brydges
"Emphasass mine."

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."

Yep. Mercutio is saying, "What you need, my friend, is a chick who does anal."

Nicholas Joseph Crowley/Royal Shakespeare Company Collection
Mercutio, the original Dude-Bro.

#6. The Taming of the Shrew -- Playful Banter About Cunnilingus

Washington Allston

In The Taming of the Shrew (more commonly known by its Latin name, 10 Things I Hate About You), 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.

KATHERINE
In his tongue.

PETRUCHIO
Whose tongue?

KATHERINE
Yours, if you talk of tales, and so farewell.

PETRUCHIO
What, with my tongue in your tail?

George Henry Hall/Royal Shakespeare Company Collection
"STAGE NOTE: PETRUCHIO should immediately turn to the audience and start flicking his tongue whilst pelvic thrusting."

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, and the game is afoot.

Smatprt
"Your feet, tail, ears, whatever. I'm down for anything."

Or at least that's what it looks like to us. 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.

#5. The Comedy of Errors -- A Single Fat Joke Gets Stretched Out for an Entire Page

McLoughlin Brothers

In The Comedy of Errors, two of the characters begin a protracted discussion of the physical characteristics of a woman named Nell. This is another way of saying that they call her a globular fatass for 23 lines of dialogue:

ANTIPHOLUS OF SYRACUSE
What's her name?

DROMIO OF SYRACUSE
Nell, sir; but her name and three quarters, that's
an ell and three quarters, will not measure her from
hip to hip.

ANTIPHOLUS OF SYRACUSE
Then she bears some breadth?

DROMIO OF SYRACUSE
No longer from head to foot than from hip to hip:
she is spherical, like a globe; I could find out
countries in her.

DEA Picture Library/De Agostini Picture Library/Getty
"Her measurements are in longitude and fatitude."

Realizing they have just struck comedic gold by comparing this woman's corpulent roundness to the planet Earth, the two men proceed to describe where on Nell's undulating ocean of obesity the countries of the world would be located. They start by declaring Ireland to be resting directly on the muddy banks of her asshole, because Shakespeare was English, and as such was required to hate the Irish at least as much as he clearly hated fat women:

ANTIPHOLUS OF SYRACUSE
In what part of her body stands Ireland?

DROMIO OF SYRACUSE
Marry, in her buttocks: I found it out by the bogs.

Royal Shakespeare Company Collection
"This was my Hit 'Em Up."

Get it? "Bogs." Meaning "shit." Anyway, they continue playing Carmen Sandiego with Nell's anatomy, doing their best to insult both her and other nations, including lines about Nell's big chin and nose, until this vaudevillian routine finally comes to a close on this blazing punchline:

ANTIPHOLUS OF SYRACUSE
Where stood Belgia, the Netherlands?

DROMIO OF SYRACUSE
Oh, sir, I did not look so low.

Thomas Newland/Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
After writing this line, he dropped the quill like a mic and pimped out of the room.

Yep. They're talking about her vagina, and how Dromio would rather punch his own face inside out than deign to look upon it. Incidentally, this conversation does nothing to advance the plot in any way, and Nell is never mentioned again.

#4. Hamlet -- Hamlet Tries to Go Alanis Morissette on Ophelia

John William Waterhouse

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. Except for Ophelia, his kind-of girlfriend, whom he merely decides to drive insane by doing his best to confuse, embarrass, and insult her in every conversation they have, for the sole purpose of cracking himself up. Like in this exchange, when he sits down next to her in a theater:

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 maid's legs.

OPHELIA
What is, my lord?

HAMLET
Nothing.

Agnes Pringle/Chiswick Town Hall
"Now quiet, the curtains are opening and I want to see if they match the drapes."

Ophelia is doing her best to be polite, and Hamlet is taking every single one of her responses and twisting them to be about her vagina. 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.

George Clint/Victoria and Albert Museum
"Tell me, do you smell something fishy in the state of Denmark?"

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