Shakespeare's Puns

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Helge Kökeritz, in Shakespeare's Pronunciation, lists Shakespeare's puns, many of which are only understandable with some knowledge of the GVS. One of the more famous is from I Henry 4, 2.4.260 and following:

Falstaff's speech 
POINS: Come, your reason Jack, your reason.

FALSTAFF: What, upon compulsion? No: were I at the Strappado, or all the Racks in the World, I would not tell you on compulsion. Give you a reason on compulsion? If Reasons were as plentie as Blackberries, I would give no man a Reason upon compulsion, I.

Falstaff is punning on the word reason, which he would pronounce with a long e. This makes a seemingly random utterance into an understandable joke: "If Reasons [raisins] were as plentie as Blackberries . . . " The e in reason will later move up to e and then to PDE i. 

The jokes get bawdier when Shakespeare puns on reason and raising; Kökeritz cites this example from Taming of the Shrew, pr.2.1.126-7:
LADY: I hope this reason stands for my excuse.
BEGGAR: I, it stands so that I may hardly tarry so long. 

[See Kökeritz 138-9 and Pyles and Algeo 180-1 for more discussion of these passages]


This scene is from Midsummer Night's Dream, 5.1.312 and following:
PYRAMUS: Now dye, dye, dye, dye, dye, dye.

DEMETRIUS: No Die, but an ace for him; for he is but one.

LYSANDER: Lesse then an ace man. For he is dead, he is nothing.

DUKE: With the helpe of a Surgeon, he might yet recover, and prove an Asse.

The words ass and ace could be homonyms for some speakers in Shakespeare's time. The word ass has a short vowel and was pronunced as it is in PDE: [æs]. As Kokeritz notes, however, in the 16th century, ace could be pronunced with the æ as a variant of the long e. With the GVS, the æ moved up to e and then to e, where it is today: [es].

[See Kökeritz 89 for more discussion of this passage]

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