A blogger running a site called Shakesyear, where he blogs about reading every single work of Shakespeare and the book he’s writing about it, seems to have come across a possible turn towards toilet humor. While the Bard was not shy about making sexual humor, was there evidence that he resorted to a fart joke? He might have — in Hamlet. Yes, “the” Hamlet:
POLONIUS: The actors are come hither, my lord.
HAMLET: Buzz, buzz.
POLONIUS: Upon mine honour —
HAMLET: Then came each actor on his ass.
Hamlet, Act II, Scene ii, lines 388–391
Is “Buzz, buzz” an Elizabethan raspberry sound? Immediately preceding a line about someone’s “ass”? Let’s explore this, shall we?
According to Shakesyear, it’s totally a fart joke:
It would be extremely effective to play the line that way, as a perfect expression of Hamlet’s contempt for Polonius; that Hamlet’s next line is blatantly anal can only support this reading. But this cinches my point. If this is the only raspberry in Shakespeare, it’s because this is the only passage where an inarticulate sound can produce exactly the effect he wants.
Shakesyear also compares the use of a fart joke in contemporary fare, such as the Terrance and Philip episode of South Park, “Not Without My Anus.” In that episode, Saddam Hussein is ultimately defeated with a fart to the face, because that is exactly what he deserved for being such a jerk. He makes the comparison to this passage from Hamlet, equating Hamlet’s feelings towards Polonius with those towards Saddam Hussein. So, in addition to the “graphic” aspect of the fart joke, the impact also entails the dismissive sound of a Bronx cheer in response to someone for whom he doesn’t have much respect. Terrance and Philip combine the two elements with an actual fart and the dismissive sound. And considering the “ass” reference, it’s possible that Shakespeare did the same.
Because in comedy, fart jokes are hack. They’re cheap, they’re lazy, they’re easy, they’re pandering to the lowest common denominator. (Even though the first joke ever recorded was a fart joke, but let’s assume we’ve evolved in our humor, or that we’d at least like to think so. Unless it’s a brilliant fart joke, which can absolutely exist.) But this is less of a gross-out fart joke than it is just a childish, bratty response. So, mostly on par for Hamlet.
Let’s all sit back and bask in the experience of having had this discussion, and how lucky we are to be so free.