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.

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

7 Filthy Jokes You Didn't Notice in Shakespeare
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)

7 Filthy Jokes You Didn't Notice in Shakespeare
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."

7 Filthy Jokes You Didn't Notice in Shakespeare
Nicholas Joseph Crowley/Royal Shakespeare Company Collection

Mercutio, the original Dude-Bro.

The Taming of the Shrew -- Playful Banter About Cunnilingus

7 Filthy Jokes You Didn't Notice in Shakespeare
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:

Come, come, you wasp, i'faith you are too angry.

If I be waspish, best beware my sting.

My remedy is then to pluck it out.

Ay, if the fool could find where it lies.

Who knows not where a wasp does wear his sting? In his tail.

In his tongue.

Whose tongue?

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

What, with my tongue in your tail?

7 Filthy Jokes You Didn't Notice in Shakespeare
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.

7 Filthy Jokes You Didn't Notice in Shakespeare

"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.

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

7 Filthy Jokes You Didn't Notice in Shakespeare
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:

What's her name?

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

Then she bears some breadth?

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

7 Filthy Jokes You Didn't Notice in Shakespeare
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:

In what part of her body stands Ireland?

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

7 Filthy Jokes You Didn't Notice in Shakespeare
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:

Where stood Belgia, the Netherlands?

Oh, sir, I did not look so low.

7 Filthy Jokes You Didn't Notice in Shakespeare
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.

Hamlet -- Hamlet Tries to Go Alanis Morissette on Ophelia

7 Filthy Jokes You Didn't Notice in Shakespeare
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:

Lady, shall I lie in your lap?

No, my lord.

I mean, my head upon your lap.

Ay, my lord.

Do you think I meant country matters?

I think nothing, my lord.

That's a fair thought to lie between maid's legs.

What is, my lord?


7 Filthy Jokes You Didn't Notice in Shakespeare
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.

7 Filthy Jokes You Didn't Notice in Shakespeare
George Clint/Victoria and Albert Museum

"Tell me, do you smell something fishy in the state of Denmark?"

Venus and Adonis -- Venus Commands Adonis to Go "Downstairs"

7 Filthy Jokes You Didn't Notice in Shakespeare
Annibale Carracci

In addition to scribbling out plays laced with innuendo, Shakespeare would occasionally write poetry, also laced with innuendo. His poem Venus and Adonis, about the goddess of beauty falling in love with the sexiest man on the planet, reads more like one of Shakespeare's Red Shoe Diaries than something you'd find in a literary textbook. Check out this line, when Venus is speaking to Adonis:

Graze on my lips, and if those hills be dry
Stray lower, where the pleasant fountains lie.

7 Filthy Jokes You Didn't Notice in Shakespeare
Pieter Borsseler

"STAGE NOTE: VENUS should immediately turn to the audience and start flicking her tongue whilst pelvic thrusting."

Yep. She's talking about country matters. Venus is essentially saying, "We can make out for a bit, but then it's time to go downtown."

7 Filthy Jokes You Didn't Notice in Shakespeare
Francois Lemoyne

"And none of this 'I owe you one' bullshit."

Being a goddess and all, she pretty much has her way with Adonis like this for most of the poem, until he gets killed by a boar. It's something you would write in a feverish state of bitter, premasturbatory frenzy if you had a really extensive vocabulary.

Twelfth Night -- Shakespeare Sneaks the Word "Cunt" into Dialogue

7 Filthy Jokes You Didn't Notice in Shakespeare
Johann Heinrich Ramberg

Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, recently rediscovered by archaeologists in a discount-bin excavation of an ancient Blockbuster as She's the Man starring Amanda Bynes, is about a shipwrecked woman named Viola pretending to be a man for the purposes of hilarious comedy.

7 Filthy Jokes You Didn't Notice in Shakespeare
William Hamilton/Theatre Royal, Bath

Like Tracey Ullman, but funny.

A good deal of the play is devoted to a completely inconsequential subplot wherein several ancillary characters play an elaborate practical joke on a stuffy old butler named Malvolio by presenting him with a forged love note from the young lady of his house:

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. It is, in contempt of question, her hand.

7 Filthy Jokes You Didn't Notice in Shakespeare
Henry Andrews/Theatre Royal, Bath

"Alas, later tonight, the hand in use shall be my own."

Shakespeare was fond of all types of puns -- literal puns ("This ghost has made a grave mistake!"), visual puns, and wordplay that required the dialogue to be spoken aloud for the joke to make sense. Malvolio's line here is an example of that last type -- when the line is performed, it would sound phonetically like this:

"These be her very C's, her U's, 'n' her T's."

The stuffy old butler spells out "cunt" onstage, and immediately follows it by (phonetically) saying "and thus makes she her great pees." Essentially, Malvolio is telling everyone, "This is unquestionably my lady's vagina, with which she makes giant toilet."

7 Filthy Jokes You Didn't Notice in Shakespeare
Daniel Maclise/Tate

"And somehow you're still single?"

There are also some vague masturbation jokes hidden in there, as Malvolio makes it a point to emphasize that "my lady's hand" is responsible for making those C's, U's, and T's end with a great gushing P.

Sonnet 151 -- Shakespeare Writes a Poem About His Boner

7 Filthy Jokes You Didn't Notice in Shakespeare
John Taylor/National Portrait Gallery, London

Sonnets in the 13th and 14th centuries were traditionally short 14-line odes to beautiful women. When Shakespeare came along, he stayed mostly faithful to that tradition, writing numerous sonnets about his love for gorgeous females. However, he would occasionally shift the focus of the narrative over to his bonerific wang, as seen in this excerpt from Sonnet 151:

My soul doth tell my body that he may
Triumph in love: flesh stays no further reason
But rising at thy name doth point out thee
As his triumphant prize.

7 Filthy Jokes You Didn't Notice in Shakespeare
Gerard Soest/Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

"It's the thinking man's 'Dick in a Box.'"

He literally says that his body "rises" at the sound of a girl's name and "points" to her. That is, his fully erect man saber is courageously battling against the laces of his breeches to leer at her through a wall of fabric like the ghost from The Frighteners. The undeniable DTF-ness of Sonnet 151 (and many of his sonnets in general) has frequently been used as a counterargument to the theory that Shakespeare was gay, second only to the sobering rejoinders "Who gives a shit?" and "What difference does it make?"

Regardless, Sonnet 151 makes it pretty clear that on this particular day, the bard really wanted to dip his quill in some lady's inkwell.

7 Filthy Jokes You Didn't Notice in Shakespeare
Richard Westall/Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

"Come now, ladies. You can't leave Willie Shakes shaking his willie."

Related Reading: For more Shakespearean insanity- including random-ass bear attacks- click here. And did you know that old Willy S invented many of the words we use every day? We owe eyeball, puking, alligator and many more to the author of Hamlet! Finish your bard binge by reading Swaim's argument for why Shakespeare would write for Cracked.com if he lived today.


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