Shakespeare’s Filthy Sense of Humor

Joe Imbruglia
5 min readApr 30, 2019

Shakespeare was the hands-down the master of dirty jokes and insults in Elizabethan England. Unfortunately, a lot of his witticisms and insults are lost on modern ears. For instance, the play Much Ado About Nothing literally means A Big Fuss About Vaginas. Much Ado means to make a big fuss out of something, and back then nothing was literally no-thing, meaning no penis, therefore a vagina. So if you understand a little bit about how English worked during Shakespeare’s time, his plays become hilarious.

Not only was Shakespeare the world’s greatest literary genius, but he had a super crude sense of humor. So let me give you some of my favorite dirty jokes and insults from Shakespeare’s plays. This is about to get very NSFW.

Dirty Jokes

TWELFTH NIGHT ACT 2 SCENE 5

Malvolio: By my life, this is my lady’s hand these be her very C’s, her U’s and her T’s and thus makes she her great P’s.

Malvolio receives an unsigned letter from who he thinks is Olivia, his boss. He is saying that he thinks it’s from Olivia because the C’s, U’s, N’s and T’s (see where this is going?) look like her handwriting and that when she writes her P’s look very nice. What he is also doing is spelling the word CUNT, and saying she uses that to have a great pee. This would have had audiences rolling on the floor at The Globe.

HAMLET: ACT 2, SCENE 2

Hamlet: My excellent good friends! How dost thou, Guildenstern? Ah, Rosencrantz! Good lads, how do ye both?

Rosencrantz: As the indifferent children of the earth.

Guildenstern: Happy in that we are not over-happy. On Fortune’s cap we are not the very button.

Hamlet: Nor the soles of her shoe?

Rosencrantz. Neither, my lord.

Hamlet: Then you live about her waist, or in the middle of her favors?

Gildenstern: Faith, her privates we.

Hamlet: In the secret parts of Fortune?

Hamlet has just run into Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and he is asking them how they are, they say that they are not at the height of their fortunes currently. Hamlet then asks if they are really down on their luck to which they reply no, as well. Hamlet goes on to inquire if they live about Fortune’s waist, or in the middle of her favors (here favors means vagina), to which Guildenstern jokingly replies positively, and Hamlet ends by asking if they are really in Fortune’s vagina.

This conversation is likely implying Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are having sex with Fortune but it could also be seen to imply cunnilingus. Just some normal Elizabethan dude talk going on here.

HAMLET: ACT 3, SCENE 2

Hamlet: Lady, shall I lie in your lap?

Ophelia: No, my lord.

Hamlet: I mean, my head upon your lap?

Ophelia: Ay, my lord.

Hamlet: Do you think I meant country matters?

Ophelia: I think nothing, my lord.

Hamlet: That’s a fair thought to lie between maids’ legs.

Ophelia: What is, my lord?

Hamlet: Nothing.

Hamlet first asking Ophelia to lie in her lap is taken by Ophelia as an offer for sex (which it most certainly is), to which Hamlet quickly replies that he just wants to lay his head in her lap. He then goes on to ask if she thought he meant “country matter”, country here being a play on the word cunt (one of Shakespeare’s favorites). Ophelia says she thinks nothing, which is again Elizabethan slang for a vagina, but being a young girl of 13 she would likely not have known this and been using its intended meaning. Hamlet says that nothing, or a penis, is fair enough to lie between a girl's legs to which Ophelia basically replies “what are you talking about?”, and Hamlet says nothing, him meaning a vagina, but Ophelia likely taking the statement as “Oh, don’t worry about it”.

OTHELLO: ACT 1, SCENE 1

Iago: I am one, sir, that comes to tell you your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.

This one doesn’t even need explaining; this is also where the term “beast with two backs” was first used in literature and is widely believed to have been coined, or at least popularized, by Shakespeare.

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM: ACT 5, SCENE 1

Pyramus: O kiss me through the hole of this vile wall!

Thisbe: I kiss the wall’s hole, not your lips at all.

In this scene, the characters are actually putting their own play within A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where two of the characters are playing the lovers Pyramus and Thisbe, while a third character is playing the wall. Pyramus is asking for a kiss through the wall and Thisbe is saying that the hole (the actor’s anus) is too deep and she wouldn’t be able to reach Pyramus.

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING: ACT 5, SCENE 2

I will live in thy heart, die in thy lap, and be buried in thy eyes.

Benedick is talking to his lover Beatrice about his true love for her, but he manages to slyly slip in a dirty quip. Back in Shakespeare’s day “to die” was slang for orgasm or ejaculation, so he’s basically telling Beatrice he wants to ejaculate in her lap.

Insults

THE COMEDY OF ERRORS

Thou whoreson, senseless villain!

Basically a ‘your mom’ jest.

He is deformed, crooked, old and sere,
Ill-faced, worse bodied, shapeless everywhere;
Vicious, ungentle, foolish, blunt, unkind;
Stigmatical in making, worse in mind.

Above we have what Shakespeare was the master of, super long-winded insults full of great new ways to tell people off.

1 HENRY IV

Sblood, you starveling, you elf-skin, you dried neat’s tongue, you bull’s pizzle, you stock-fish! O for breath to utter what is like thee! you tailor’s-yard, you sheath, you bowcase; you vile standing-tuck!

Another great super long telling off.

3 HENRY VI

Thou mis-shapen dick!

No explanation necessary

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

I wonder that you will still be talking. Nobody marks you.

Basically, shut the hell up.

RICHARD III

Thou unfit for any place but hell.

Go to hell.

TROILUS AND CRESSIDA

Thou bitch-wolf’s son!

Your mom.

Well for brevity’s sake I will end it here, there are so many more insults and dirty jokes though, I could literally write about them for days. I hope you enjoyed my overview of the filthy mouth of Shakespeare, and I hope now you can get more of a laugh out of the works of The Bard!

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Joe Imbruglia

Warrior-Poet. Magical Internet Money Collector. Hot Sauce Mainliner. Pokemon Master. Eldritch Expat. Candlestick Maker at Bybit.