What are some examples of puns from Romeo and Juliet?

An example of a pun in Romeo and Juliet is in act 3, scene 1, when Mercutio famously makes a pun as he is dying, saying that he will be a "grave man" tomorrow.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Puns are a play on words for comic effect. Shakespeare was no stranger to puns, particularly in Romeo and Juliet. Before Romeo kills Tybalt, much of the play resembles a traditional romantic comedy, so puns come with the territory.

Many of the puns are comical and character-establishing. In act 1, when Benvolio urges Romeo to continue with their plan to sneak into the Capulet ball, Romeo says that while the others might have "dancing shoes / With nimble soles, I have a soul of lead." The pun is a play on sole (the bottom of a shoe) and soul (one's spirit), establishing Romeo's poetic nature and his melancholy regarding love.

The exchange between Romeo and Mercutio in act 2, scene 4 is replete with puns of a sexual nature. Mercutio is miffed that Romeo skipped out on himself and Benvolio the other night, and he insinuates that Romeo was busy having sex. Being two teenage boys, Romeo and Mercutio make a variety of puns regarding sex organs for humorous effect. For example, when Mercutio calls himself "the very pink of courtesy," the word pink is meant to suggest female genitalia. Romeo follows this up by replying, "The pink flower," and then boasting that his "pump" is "well flowered." The term flower is often used to describe a woman's sexual organs, with the other term "deflower" referring to a woman's loss of virginity. The word "pump" refers to shoes, but it can also refer to an erection. Romeo is effectively calling himself a successful ladies' man with several sexual encounters in his history.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

A pun is a fairly simplistic type of word play which is often based around sexual innuendo, where a word has an implied sexual connotation. In this play, the stock humorous characters are Mercutio and the Nurse, both of whom use a lot of sexual innuendo in their speech and, indeed, often rely on puns to make the other characters (and the audience) laugh.

The trouble with identifying puns in a four hundred year old text is that sometimes the jokes are no longer self-evident, but if you look at act 2, scene 4, we can find some. Note that jokes about sex organs have changed very little since Shakespeare's time, so when Romeo comments that his "pump" is "well flowered," we can guess that he is talking both about his pumps or shoes being flowery, but also about an erection.

Another joke in the same vein appears later, when the nurse arrives and Mercutio says that the "bawdy hand of the dial is now upon the prick of noon," with the word "prick" here having an obvious double meaning. Mercutio is saying, ostensibly, that the time shown on the clock is noon, but he deliberately uses the words "bawdy" and "prick" to give a sense of sexual innuendo and allude to the idea of a bawd's hand being placed on his "prick." The fact that Mercutio feels able to joke in this manner with the Nurse, too, gives us further understanding of her character; Mercutio would not speak in such a fashion to Juliet or to another woman of high birth. He is implying that the Nurse is sexually lax.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

A pun is a play on words, usually for humorous effect.  Shakespeare liked to use puns, often with sexual meaning.  However, puns can be based on just about anything. 

 Although puns are often made for humor’s sake, the person making them is not always laughing.  For example, Romeo makes a pun on the idea of being “in love.”

BEN:

In love?

ROM:

Out—

BEN:

Of love?(165)

ROM:

Out of her favour, where I am in love. (Act 1, Scene 1)

In this case, the pun is a play on the concept of being “in love” and Romeo is not really in a laughing mood.  It’s not really an incredibly sad scene though, because Shakespeare is still using the pun to inject some silliness.

Sometimes one character makes a pun off of the other.  Consider this exchange.

MER:

That dreamers often lie.

ROM:

In bed asleep, while they do dream things true.

The double meaning of “lie” is a pun, as in the fictional nature of dreams and being flat in bed.  In this case Mercutio begins the pun, and Romeo completes it.

The character of Mercutio uses puns a lot, often of a sexual nature.  However, his most famous pun is with his dying words.  Mercutio is such a punster that even with his last breath, he has to use a pun!

Ask for me to-morrow,

and you shall find me a grave man. (Act 3, Scene 1)

He will be a grave man, meaning serious, because he will be in his grave, because he will be dead!

Romeo and Juliet is one of the bawdiest plays the bard wrote, and one of the funniest.  This comes in large part from the puns.  The puns, largely coming from Mercuito and Nurse, were designed to entertain the cheaper seats in the theater, but would have brought a chuckle from even the nobility.  Even today, modern audiences can’t help but smile even in the most tragic scene when poor Mercutio is killed by Tybalt in a brawl and dies with a pun.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As Romeo, Mercutio, and Benvolio are on the way to the fateful ball at the Capulets' mansion, Romeo is still moping about the fact that Rosaline has rejected his love. He asks to carry a torch:

Give me a torch. I am not for this ambling. 
Being but heavy, I will bear the light.

The pun here is on the word "light," which is, on the one hand, the opposite of the word "heavy." Romeo's heart is heavy, because he is sad. On the other hand, of course, the word "light" refers to the fire from the torch that he is asking to carry. 

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The dialogue in Romeo and Juliet includes numerous puns. Although this play is a tragedy, it includes a lot of humor. Elizabethan audiences were particularly fond of wordplay and Shakespeare engaged them with many puns in most of his works. Many characters in Romeo and Juliet use wordplay, although exchanges between Romeo and Mercutio do so to a high degree, such as when Mercutio says,

Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man. I am peppered, I warrant, for this world. A plague o' both your houses! (3.1.101-102)

These are some of Mercutio's dying words. The word grave is used as a pun. It has two meanings since it refers to seriousness as well as a place where a body is buried.

The very opening of this play is also full of puns. This warms up the audience and gets them ready for the action that follows. The banter between Sampson and Gregory plays on the similar sounds of "choler," "carry coals," "collar," and "collier." In Shakespeare's day, "to carry coals" meant to be the object of an insult.

Sampson: Gregory, on my word, we’ll not carry coals.

Gregory: No, for then we should be colliers.

Sampson: I mean, an we be in choler, we’ll draw.

Gregory: Ay, while you live, draw your neck out of collar. (1.1.1-4)

Here, these to Capulet servants joke about literally carrying coals, while also being the butt of jokes which refers to the other meaning of the phrase. Sampson jokes that they'll attack their masters if they are forced to carry coals and Gregory points out that they would then find their necks in a collar, referring to a noose.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are several puns in the play Romeo and Juliet that range from the humorous to provocative to deeply tragic. A pun is a type of play on words that uses a word that has multiple meanings or two words that sound the same to subvert the commonly understood meaning of a phrase or sentiment.

The first pun is at the very beginning of the play, obviously intended to appeal to the audiences comedic sensibilities. Two Capulet workers, Sampson and Gregory, are complaining about the work they have to do moving coals. Those who belong to this profession are known as colliers. For performing this work, Sampson claims that they would be in a choler, or an angry state, and turn on their masters. Gregory reminds him that if they were to do such a thing, they will find themselves in "collars," or a hangman's noose. This clever feat of wordplay likely loosened up the audience and engaged them further with the narrative.

Without a doubt the most famous and tragic pun in the play is spoken by the clever Mercutio during his death scene. As his friends look on in disbelief, Romeo says that Mercutio's wound cannot be that bad. Mercutio replies that if Romeo asks for him tomorrow, he will find "a grave man." This is a pun where Mercutio admits that he knows that he is dying, as "grave" here is intended to mean dead, though on the surface it could be seen as meaning serious or humorless.

Another famous pun that is certainly more lighthearted is when Romeo claims that he cannot dance because while others have "nimble soles" his "soul" is made of lead. This is a clever pun that contrasts the light footwork of skilled dancers with the heavy and depressed feeling that Romeo feels from his love-sickness.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Romeo and Mercutio develop a pun together in act 1, scene 4:

ROMEO: Well, what was yours?

MERCUTIO: That dreamers often lie.

ROMEO: In bed asleep while they do dream things true.

(I.iv.54–56)

The pun here centers on the word "lie." Dreamers do lie in bed, physically reclining, and they also lie to themselves through their dreams.

Another pun is found in this same scene when Benvolio is trying to persuade Romeo to attend the Capulet party. Romeo responds:

Give me a torch. I am not for this ambling.
Being but heavy, I will bear the light. (I.iv.11–12)

Here, Romeo says that he is heavy in spirit. The pun is on the word "light," which both refers to an attempt to lighten his spirit and also refers back to the light of the torch used in the previous line.

Juliet offers some puns of her own, like the following:

Be not so long to speak. I long to die (IV.i.68)

At this point in the play, Juliet speaks to Friar Lawrence about her fears that she will be forced to marry Paris despite already married Romeo (unbeknownst to her parents). Here, the pun is on the word "long," used first as a sense of time ("Don't take so long to tell me what to do") and the second time as a sense of desire ("I really just want to die").

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In act 1, scene 4 Romeo's friends want him to go with them to the Capulets' feast, but he is really not in the mood for entering into the party spirit. He'll go along with them, but without much enthusiasm; and he certainly won't participate in any dancing or general feasting. So he will simply stand around as a torchbearer, providing light for the ladies and gentlemen as they enjoy themselves:

Give me a torch: I am not for this ambling; 
Being but heavy, I will bear the light.

Romeo is engaging in a bit of punning here. He says that he is "heavy," meaning that he's feeling a bit down, but that he will "bear the light." Romeo is of course referring to the torch that he will carry during the festivities. The light is a heavy burden he would rather not be carrying. Figuratively speaking, Romeo is also carrying a torch for Rosaline, and it is his unrequited love for her that explains why Romeo is feeling so miserable.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

When Romeo's friends are trying to talk him into going to the Capulets' party, Mercutio says that he wants to see Romeo dance.  Romeo replies, "You have dancing shoes / With nimble soles.  I have a soul of lead / So stakes me to the ground I cannot move" (1.4.14-16).  The pun is on the words soles and soul; Romeo says that Mercutio is carefree and ready to dance but that Romeo is not because he is so weighed down by his sadness. 

Later, when Tybalt and Mercutio are sword fighting and Mercutio is fatally wounded when Romeo comes between them, Romeo hopes that the wound is not so bad.  However, Mercutio knows that the injury is quite serious.  He says, "Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man" (3.1.101-102).  Here, the pun is on the word grave.  Grave has two meanings that apply here: serious and also the place where one is buried.  Both meanings work because it is a bad injury that will render Mercutio fairly serious (because he'll be dead) and because he'll be dead, he'll soon be put into a grave (i.e. he'll be a grave man because he'll be in a grave).

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on