Why does Marullus get annoyed with the cobbler in Act I, scene i  of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar?  

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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In Act I, scene i of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Marullus gets annoyed with the cobbler whom he meets on the street for two reasons. The first reason has to do with puns, the second with what Marullus considers great impropriety.

First of all, the definition of a pun (noun) is the use of one word to suggest the meaning or use of another word with the same or similar sound for the purpose of expressing or emphasizing an alternate meaning (e.g., "You drive your Porche; I drive my porch" is a pun on the similar sound of a car's name and the space in front of a house and may be used to emphasize a difference in living standards).

The cobbler was a "saucy fellow" (meaning boldly impertinent, insolent, rude) who answered all Marullus's questions with double meanings in puns so that Marullus couldn't tell what he meant, although Flavius was able to keep up with the cobbler's witticisms. The cobbler and his companion, the carpenter, were walking out of doors in their "best clothes" as for a holiday. Flavius and Marullus call their behavior into question because the day is a workday, not a holiday.

In Rome, on a work day, workmen ("mechanicals") were required to wear the clothes and carry the instruments that signified their occupation. The saucy cobbler ought to have had his leather apron on and be carrying his awl (tool for piercing leather to prepare it for stitching).

The cobbler leads Marullus through verbal double-play with the twin meanings of cobbled (shoes repaired and clumsy bungler), sole (soul and sole of shoe) and other words confusing Marullus and not giving him the direct answer that he is accustomed to receiving.

Secondly, the cobbler and carpenter are, in Marullus's eyes, guilty of great impropriety (erroneous, unsuitable, unseemly behavior or remarks). On that day, Caesar was to come back to Rome. The citizens had declared ("culled") themselves a holiday to watch Caesar's procession and to celebrate his entry to the city.

But it so happened that Caesar had been away to defeat Pompey's sons after Pompey's death. Pompey had been Caesar's friend and ally but had become his enemy. Marullus believed it was inappropriate to celebrate the return of Caesar after vanquishing the son's of a former friend and ally. So for this reason, and for the annoying puns, Marullus was annoyed--even actually angry--with the cobbler.

[The Web site ClickNotes.com has expanded information on Shakespearean texts that make comprehension of historical references, puns and archaic language easier to understand.]

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