The cobbler appears in the first scene in the play. He is called the Second Commoner in the play. His function is to annoy Flavius and Marullus, who are not at all pleased that Julius Caesar is returning to Rome after defeating Pompey’s army. As the common people, who love Caesar, celebrate in the streets, Marullus and Flavius try to get them to leave. The cobbler pesters them with one pun after another.
A pun is a play on words. Shakespeare loves them. A character is punning when he uses a word that can mean two different things. Let’s look at some of the Second Commoner’s (cobbler’s) puns.
When Marullus asks him what his trade is, the cobbler says:
A trade, sir, that, I hope, I may use with a safe
conscience; which is, indeed, sir, a mender of bad soles.
Here, soles can be taken to mean the bottom of a shoe or a “soul.”
When Marullus presses him for a more direct answer, the cobbler says:
Nay, I beseech you, sir, be not out with me: yet,
if you be out, sir, I can mend you.
Here “mend” can mean fix his shoes or fix whatever’s bothering him.
He also says:
Truly, sir, all that I live by is with the awl
He is punning on “all” and “awl” which sound the same but aren’t. An “awl” is a shoe repair tool.
I recover them.
Recover can mean help them (the bad shoes) recover from a problem or put a new cover on them.
All of this sillyness helps characterize the common people for the audience. The commoners really take a beating from the higher classes in this play. They are constantly being insulted and demeaned by the other characters. This shows them to be of little consequence in serious matters.