The UVic Writer's Guide


A pun is a play on words. It exploits the multiple meanings of a word, or else replaces one word with another that is similar in sound but has a very different meaning. Puns are sometimes used for serious purposes, but more often for comic effect--almost exclusively so after the eighteenth century.

In the grave-digger scene of Hamlet, the hero and a Clown pun on the words "lie" and "quick":

HAMLET: Whose grave's this, sirrah?

CLOWN: Mine, sir....

HAMLET: I think it be thine indeed, for thou liest in't.

CLOWN: You lie out on't, sir, and therefore `tis not yours. For my part, I do not lie in't, yet it is mine.

HAMLET: Thou dost lie in't, to be in't and say it is thine. `Tis for the dead, not for the quick; therefore thou liest.

CLOWN: `Tis a quick lie, sir; `twill away again from me to you.

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Copyright, The Department of English, University of Victoria, 1995
This page updated September 23, 1995