Though it’s not yet achieved the classic status of the knock-knock joke, the “I have a _____ joke but ______” has become an Internet favorite over the last few years. As is our wont, let’s add Shakespeare to that list, shall we?
I Have a Shakespeare Joke, But…
I have a Hamlet joke but can’t decide how to finish it.
I have a Romeo and Juliet joke but you probably heard it back in high school.
I have a Macbeth joke that always gets a good laugh, but it really kills in Scotland.
I have a Lavinia joke but can’t say it out loud.
I have a Midsummer Night’s Dream joke but it’s pretty asinine.
I have a joke about that silent bit during the play-within-a-play in Hamlet, but it’s dumb.
I have a Shakespeare joke but everybody else claims they wrote it.
In all our years of writing and collecting Shakespeare jokes, I can’t remember if we ever did this theme. We’ve got knock-knock jokes, lightbulb jokes, and duck jokes, and I’ve forgotten how many others. But we seem to have snubbed the classic, the “Dad joke.” Which is surprising because if you ask my kids, dad jokes are all I’ve got.
Let’s rectify that situation, shall we?
Hamlet: “I am too much in the sun.” Claudius: “Hi, too much in the sun. I’m Dad.”
I heard that Lavinia can play the piano by ear. Which makes sense since she can’t use her hands. (Was that tasteless? I heard Lavinia jokes were tasteless.)
Juliet: “I’ll call you later!” Romeo: “Don’t call me later, call me Romeo!”
Ophelia didn’t suffer from insanity, it seemed like she was really enjoying herself.
Romeo: I had a date with Juliet tonight. It was awesome. Mercutio: Wait, seriously? Romeo: Yeah. Tomorrow, we’re going to try figs.
Gloucester walks into a bar. And then a table, and a chair, and another table…
Beatrice: Lord, I could not endure a husband with a beard on his face. Leonato: I didn’t like it at first either, but it grew on me.
Of all the crimes that Macbeth committed, people often forget that both he and his wife were guilty of resisting a rest.
Where my Shakespeare dads at? Add your own in the comments!
Ok now listen. I’ve been running this site for coming up on fifteen years now, hunting for interesting, educational and amusing things to say about Shakespeare.
Please, for the love of all that is good and holy in this world, can we put an end to every combination of the joke that involves Shakespeare deciding between pencils? Yes, yes, 2B or not 2B. We get it. We’ve heard it, about a million times.
In an attempt to put this one to bed and declare it the oldest known Shakespeare joke, I went googling to see how far back in time I could find it. Anybody know this one?
Said Hamlet to Ophelia, I’ll draw a sketch of thee, What kind of pencil shall I use? 2B or not 2B?
I couldn’t pin down an actual year that was written, but Spike Milligan died in 2002. Assuming he didn’t knock that one out on his death bed, this joke is at least twenty years old. His book Silly Verse For Kids was written in 1959, though, so if it turns out this poem was part of that collection then it’s more like sixty years old.
Please stop telling that joke. It is the least original thing anyone will hear all day.
This week there are stories about both Amelia Bassano and Delia Bacon making the rounds, so I’ve had to spend some time talking authorship with people in my life.
So when I saw this interesting new AI project called TalkToTransformer I had to have some fun with it. You’re supposed to give this thing a writing prompt, and then it will fill in the rest. I prompted, “The works of William Shakespeare were actually written by…” and here’s what I got!
The works of William Shakespeare were actually written by two men; one was English and the other was an American. The English writer William Wordsworth (1710 – 1696), and the American poet John Wilkes Booth (1711 – 1816) were both inspired by Shakespeare, though they were not connected in any way.
William Shakespeare, known as the ‘son of an ironmonger’, wrote much of a tale known as the Merry Wives of Windsor. The story describes a happy couple, a young boy and a young girl – although it’s not clear if the parents are named or the boy is named.
There were many variations of the poem, and it probably wasn’t the last of its kind – perhaps the first. The early versions have been used to create an image of the Victorian age, featuring scenes of women (especially English women) in their prime; and an older man (sometimes male) with a young woman.
The play was first staged during the playwright’s lifetime, in 1819.
Hey, makes about as much sense as every other authorship theory! I like how it made Wordsworth a time traveler. I think one of the Booth family would appreciate being credited as an author, too. When authorship comes up I’m going to start pushing the Wordsworth/Booth theory, because why not?
One of my favorite puns in all of Shakespeare can be found in this exchange between Hamlet and Polonius:
‘Tis well: I’ll have thee speak out the rest soon.
Good my lord, will you see the players well
bestowed? Do you hear, let them be well used; for
they are the abstract and brief chronicles of the
time: after your death you were better have a bad
epitaph than their ill report while you live.
My lord, I will use them according to their desert.
God’s bodykins, man, much better: use every man
after his desert, and who should ‘scape whipping?
I love it. Hamlet tells Polonius to treat the players well. Polonius responds that he will treat them as well as they deserve. Hamlet says that if he were to do that, no man would escape the whip. But the last line can also be read as a play on “dessert”, making “whipping” a play on whipped cream or some other confectionary treat.
Except that it’s not a pun at all. I have been informed by numerous sources that the term “dessert” did not exist for Shakespeare (first published in 1633 according to the OED). Likewise, “whipping” in reference to confectionary, as in a whipped topping or whipped cream, not until the 1800s.
I really wanted this pun to work. I even did my own research, coming across this recipe for a “dishful of snow”, which is basically whipped egg whites and sugar:
Alas, I have to admit that this is in no way called a dessert, nor does it say to whip anything. Oh well. I was actually informed that if Shakespeare was thinking about what we know as dessert, he was probably thinking of something more in line with, “eel baked in Marchpane or lamprey roasted in a sweetened sauce made of its own blood.” Go ahead and think about putting whipped cream on that!
Anyway, what’s your favorite pun of Shakespeare’s? I’ll leave you with another favorite that nobody has yet spoiled for me. This one from Two Gentlemen of Verona:
Nay, I’ll show you the manner of it. This
shoe is my father: no, this left shoe is my father:
no, no, this left shoe is my mother: nay, that
cannot be so neither: yes, it is so, it is so, it
hath the worser sole.