In Act I, Scene 1 of Julius Caesar, how did the tribunes Marullus and Flavius react to the wordplay of the commoners?
In Act I, Scene 1 of Julius Caesar, the tribunes Marullus and Flavius accost a group of tradesmen who are wandering the streets in holiday mood. Flavius feels they have no right to be out celebrating:
Hence! home, you idle creatures, get you home.
Is this a holiday?
His temper is not improved when one of the workmen, a cobbler, indulges in some elaborate wordplay around the tools and materials of his trade to dance around Flavius' irritated inquiries:
Truly, Sir, all that I live by is with the awl; I meddle
with no tradesman's matters, nor women's matters, but with
awl. I am indeed, sir, a surgeon to old shoes; when they are
in great danger, I recover them.
As well as punning on "awl/all" and "recover/re-cover," the cobbler plays on the dual meaning of "cobbler" itself (shoe-repairer and bungler) and the two meanings of "out" (angry with and worn out), as well as punning on "sole/soul."
This frivolity serves to underline the high spirits of the common people at the prospect of Caesar's return in triumph, and the furious outburst that it eventually draws from Marullus ("You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things") alerts us to the different attitudes towards Caesar in different sections of the Roman populace. In their reaction to the gaiety of the commoners, Flavius and Marullus foreshadow the attitudes of the conspirators against Caesar later in the play.