Double entendre, also known as double meaning, is a spoken phrase devised to be understood in multiple ways, especially when one meaning is risqué. Romeo and Juliet abounds in double entendres; Shakespeare included them in almost all scenes. Shakespeare wrote plays for a diverse audience, so his plays had to cater to every possible demographic, forcing him to write material that everyone could enjoy (Bawdy). He was clever enough to realize that sex - whether it be in jokes or people - sells (Bawdy). As John Basil, artistic director of the American Globe, says, “Shakespeare realized [...] double entendres, put the twinkle in the performance,” (Bawdy). Shakespeare concluded that puns attracted and satisfied the audience. An example of this would be in Act 3 Scene 5. This scene is full of double meanings, most occurring when Juliet speaks with her mother, Lady Capulet. For example, when Lady Capulet enters Juliet's bedroom to tell her about her arranged marriage to Paris, she sees Juliet weeping on her bed. Thinking Juliet is still in grief over her cousin, Tybalt, Lady Capulet says to Juliet, "Some grief shows much of love, but much of grief shows still some want of wit."(3.5.72-73). Lady Capulet called Juliet foolish for still crying over her dead cousin, unaware that Juliet is not crying over Tybalt, but because Romeo was exiled from Verona. Juliet plays along though, not wanting to look suspicious. Saying things like, "May God pardon him! I do, with all my heart. And yet no man could make my heart grieve like he does.", Juliet makes it appear as if she is talking about Romeo breaking her heart, not Romeo killing her cousin (3.5.82-83). Her mother does not catch on, responding with, "That is because the traitor murderer lives." (3.5.84). She is too busy fuming over Tybalt's murderer to realize that Juliet is not talking about Romeo killing Tybalt. This scene was full of double meanings, all coming from Juliet and directed at her parents.
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LADY CAPULET. Why, how now, Juliet? (What's going on now Juliet?)
JULIET. Madam, I am not well. (I am not feeling well.)
LADY CAPULET. Evermore weeping for your cousin’s death?What, wilt thou wash him from his grave with tears? An if thou couldst, thou couldst not make him live. Therefore, have done. Some grief shows much of love,But much of grief shows still some want of wit. (Are you still crying over your cousin's death? He's dead, get over it. Some grief shows that you loved him, but too much makes you look foolish.)
JULIET. Yet let me weep for such a feeling loss. (Just let me cry over his death.)
LADY CAPULET. So shall you feel the loss, but not the friend which you weep for. (Fine, but its no use for you'll still feel sad afterwards. He will still be gone.)
JULIET. Feeling so the loss, Cannot choose but ever weep the friend. (I know I will feel the loss, but I will still weep over a close friend.)
LADY CAPULET. Well, girl, thou weep’st not so much for his death, As that the villain lives which slaughtered him. (Well you should cry over the fact that the murderer is still living.)
JULIET. What villain, madam? (What murderer ma'am?)
LADY CAPULET. That same villain, Romeo. (That murder Romeo.)
Shakespeare loved obscene jokes. He loved double entendre obscene jokes best. When conducting research, you'll find that Shakespeare wrote lewd jokes in all of his plays. John Basil comments, "[Shakepeare]'s never crude, but he always reminds us of our humanity on every level.” (Bawdy). Shakespeare understood that to please the audience, he had to "use his gift for wordplay," and entertain the audience with his wit and suggestive writing (Bawdy). For example, in Act 2 scene 3, the Nurse goes to town to find Romeo to warn him about playing with Juliet's feelings. On her quest to find young Romeo, she runs into Mercutio and Peter. During their encounter, many lewd jokes were told - not outright said, but implied. A precedent would be when the Nurse sees Mercutio and bids him a good morning, "God ye good morrow, gentlemen." (2.4.54). His reply, "God ye good den, fair gentlewoman." (2.4.54). The Nurse, surprised to here that it is afternoon asks, "Is it good e'en?", to which Mercutio replies with, "‘Tis no less, I tell you; for the bawdy hand of the dial is now upon the prick of noon." and the Nurse, quite offended, responds, "Out upon you! What a man are you!" ( 2.4.56-58). Now, you may be wondering why the Nurse became so offended by Mercutio's reply. That was because Mercutio's reply had other meaning other than him telling her the clock says it is noon. To understand the meaning behind his reply, you have to understand Shakespeare's language and sense of humor. Shakespearean humor consisted of lewd jokes, bawdy humor, and comic supportive characters (Romeo). Considering Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet after 1593 and before 1596, you'd have to conduct research on some of the terms he used. For example, to understand Mercutio's obscene and quite offensive joke, the definition of some of the terms would be necessary. "Bawdy ˈbôdē/adjective 1.dealing with sexual matters in a comical way; humorously indecent.", "Prick Slang: Vulgar. 1. penis." (Dictionary). Many of the jokes Shakespeare included in his works are hidden behind seemingly normal lines. His use of double entendre with lewd jokes is probably the effect of writing and presenting for people like Queen Elizabeth and James I (Bawdy). Shakespeare came to the conclusion that because he was writing for a whole range of people, he needed to write about things that everyone would enjoy and find humorous. He just hid his obscene jokes behind other lines - even Shakespeare understood that you cannot just come out and say crude jokes because it will not be as humorous as the audience understanding on their own.
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Shakespeare used double entendres for more than lewd jokes; he also used them as an analogy to the play. An example would be when Romeo and Mercutio argue over the avowed accuracy of dreams:
Romeo. I dreamt a dream tonight. (I had a dream tonight.)
Mercutio. And so did I. (So did I.)
Romeo. Well, what was yours? (Really? What was yours about?)
Mercutio. That dreamers often lie. (That dream[ers] lie.)
Romeo. In bed asleep while they do dream things true. (Dreams are nothing but the truth!)
Mercutio. O, then I see Queen Mab hath been with you. (Oh, I see Queen Mab has visited you.) (I.4.50-56).
Romeo is arguing that dreams are reflections of reality–if not reality itself (Queen Mab). Mercutio, the "rationalist", mocks his sensitive friend (Queen Mab). Instead of continuing the argument, he begins his ornate speech about how dreams–granted by the fairy, Queen Mab–only reflect the desires of individuals, not reality (Queen Mab).
Mercutio. And in this state she gallops night by night
Through lover’s brains, and then they dream of love;
On courtier’s knees, that dream on cur’sies straight;
O’er lawyers’ fingers, who straight dream of fees;
O’er ladies’ lips, who straight on kisses dream,
Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues
Because their breaths with sweemeats tainted are. (1.4.75-81)
Mercutio's speech is an analogy on the play because the first half of both the play and the speech are blithe. In the beginning of the play there are two love-struck teenagers, humorous characters and situations, and not much seriousness. But the play takes a darker turn when Mercutio dies. After he dies, not even 20 lines later and Tybalt is dead as well. To worsen the situation, the Prince exiles Romeo from Verona, causing both grief to Juliet and death to Lady Montague, his mother. Romeo being exiled ultimately leads to the miscommunication of the Friar's plan, which in turn results in the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. Mercutio's speech has the same structure. He speaks of love, riches, and pleasure during the first half of it, but it soon takes a depressing turn:
"Mercutio. Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues,Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are.Sometime she gallops o'er a courtier’s nose,And then dreams he of smelling out a suit.And sometime comes she with a tithe-pig’s tailTickling a parson’s nose as he lies asleep,Then he dreams of another benefice.Sometime she driveth o'er a soldier’s neck,And then dreams he of cutting foreign throats,Of breaches, ambuscadoes, Spanish blades,Of healths five fathom deep, and then anonDrums in his ear, at which he starts and wakes,And being thus frighted swears a prayer or twoAnd sleeps again. This is that very MabThat plaits the manes of horses in the nightAnd bakes the elflocks in foul sluttish hairs,Which once untangled, much misfortune bodes.This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs,That presses them and learns them first to bear,Making them women of good carriage.This is she—" (1.4.79-99).
He speaks of how Queen Mab becomes angered and infects ladies lips with "blisters" (i.e. herpes) and how she is who demoralizes good people to make them dream of doing bad things, "Sometime she gallops o'er a courtier’s nose, and then dreams he of smelling out a suit. And sometime comes she with a tithe-pig’s tail. Tickling a parson’s nose as he lies asleep,Then he dreams of another benefice." (1.4.81-85). He then begins the oh-so-joyful tale of how she "driveth o'er a soldier’s neck" and causes the soldier to dream of slitting the enemies' throats, of breaking down walls, of ambushes, of Spanish swords, and of enormous cups of liquor (1.4.86). He continues his speech into bad luck and ends it with sex. Mercutio outlines the structure of the entire play with his speech, demonstrating that while he is speaking of dreams, he is most certainly not talking of “nothing” (Queen Mab). The speech had more than one meaning. It spoke of Mercutio and his mind as well as the structure of the play. It was not a very obvious double entendre, but it did contain more than one meaning. As was said before, double entendres in Shakespeare's works are not always associated to lewd jokes - they can have a depressing ora to them.
This is the symbol because these herbs are very deadly, but they do not look deadly. Just like in Romeo and Juliet, when the Friar was talking about how the herbs were used for healing as well as killing. This has a lot of double meaning. And it also reflects the play in a way, the first half is mostly humor but then after Tybalt dies, it turns into the tragic love story it is.
Start at :04 seconds. Modern use.
Looking for Alaska by John Green is a double entendre all in the name itself. (Spoiler alert) Alaska dies looking for her mother's grave, Pudge and the Colonel almost die looking for how and when Alaska dies, and in the book Alaska talks about finding herself and relieving her ghosts. There are many double entendres in the book as well. Modern Use
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