What are the cobbler's puns in Julius Caesar?

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The puns on "cobbler" in Julius Caesar occur in act 1, scene 1 and indicate the inability of Marullus and Flavius to understand the commoners. The second commoner jokes that he could "cobble" Marullus, meaning that he could fix him. This follows his comment that he is a "mender of bad soles," the implication being that he is offering to mend the bad souls of Marullus and Flavius.

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The puns on the word "cobbler" and the practice of cobbling can be found in the very first scene of the play. They serve to indicate how poorly Marullus and Flavius understand the common people of Rome; they do not realize that they are being teased by the Second Commoner.

The second commoner explains that he is a "mender of bad soles." This is a pun: the commoner is suggesting that Marullus and Flavius have bad souls, which he could "cobble." There is also a joke involved in the fact that cobbling, while it means workmanship on shoes, can also suggest poor workmanship or simply cobbling something together roughly. The second commoner says that he is not a "fine" tradesman, but simply a cobbler: someone who can put two things back together roughly. He then jokes that he is out in the street trying to wear out the leather on his shoes so as to get more work for himself.

The interactions between Marullus, Flavius and the commoners are awkward and stilted; Marullus and Flavius do not seem to realize that they are being glibly made fun of by the two commoners, who use wordplay to conceal their true meaning, which is that Marullus and Flavius need to be "mended," even if only by a poor workman. The cobbler suggests that if he were to "cobble" them, they would be in a better state afterwards, although there is some implication that "cobble" could also mean "hobble," or fight with.

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Flavius and Murellus are annoyed that the commoners have decided to dress in their finest clothes and take a holiday to celebrate Julius Caesar, an unnerving idea that suggests the common people may encourage Caesar to take over as emperor. Trying to get the commoners off the street and back to work, Murellus asks one why he is not in his work clothes and what his trade is.

The man addressed, a cobbler, won't answer directly. He evades by replying:

Truly, sir, in respect of a fine workman, I am but, as you would say, a cobbler.

Cobbler has two meanings in this context. it is a pun on his real profession, which is a cobbler—a person who repairs shoes—and also suggests that he is opposite of a fine workman in that he simply "cobbles" things together in a makeshift way.

Murellus commands him to "answer me directly" but the man continues to evade him, frustrating Murellus. In another pun, instead of plainly stating his trade, the cobbler says he is

a mender of bad soles.

This is a pun on soles as the soles of shoes and souls as human souls.

This punning shows how the common people use word play and double entendres as a form of power: this is a way of talking that tries to evade having the powerful know their business. The cobbler talks in puns to confuse Murellus. From the opening of the play, therefore, Shakespeare establishes the disconnect between the common people and those in power.

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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.

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