Twelfth Night Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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What is an example of a double entendre in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night?

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Anne Riley eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Shakespeare is the king of double entendre, and Twelfth Night does not disappoint. The Bard employs double entendre (words that have several meanings, with one usually being sexual or profane) a lot, and while there are many examples throughout the play, here are a couple.

Maria tells Feste: "My lady will hang thee for thy absence." Feste then purposely twists the meaning of the word "hang" and replies, "He that is well hanged" need not fear. When she replies that being "turned away" is just like being hanged, he counters with, "Many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage." Maria is warning Feste of consequences to his actions, but he is deliberately interpreting her words as profane. He implies that a man who is well-endowed can please his wife in the bedroom, and that is what makes a good marriage.

Another example occurs in the spinning conversation. Sir Toby Belch tells Sir Andrew that his hair "hangs like flax on a distaff, and I hope to see a housewife take...

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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elenyr | Student

A double entendre is usually a phrase which has one obvious, straightforward meaning and a second meaning which is usually ironic and often risque (e.g.pertaining to sexual organs, bodily functions etc.)

In Twelfth Night the double entendres come from the mouths of characters like Maria and  Sir Toby:

Sir Toby says of Sir Andrew Aguecheek's dull, lank hair  "it hangs like flax on a distaff; and I hope to see a housewife take thee between her legs and spin it off;" - sexual innuendo

In Act 3:4 there are double entendres relating to swords and sheaths

"therefore, on, or strip your sword stark naked; for meddle you must, that's certain, or forswear to wear iron about you.

"I'll ride your horse as well as I ride you." Act 3:4