There is a very close connection between language and culture. Pun is also a kind of cultural essence expressed through language. Background cultural knowledge, which refers to the context of the whole discourse including social background, plays a dispensable part in interpreting the meanings of pun.
In Act I, Scene 2, old Capulet craved for his daughter’s marrying with Prince’ Kinsman, Paris, a young Nobleman, in order that he could exchange Juliet’s pretty appearance and pleasant youth hood for property, power and noble social status. He said to Paris that:
The earth hath swallowed all my hopes but she;
She is the hopeful lady of my earth.
But woo her, gentle Paris…
(Act I, Scene 2)
In these two sentences, a Sylletic Pun is applied. Master Shakespeare here on purpose chosen the word “earth” which has two different meanings, one is “lands”, the other is “grave”. So the discourse can be easily interpreted as follows:
Context one: the world has swallowed all Capulet’s hopes except the hope of his daughter, whose marriage with Paris, the kinsman to the prince, is the hope of his lands and property.
Context two: the world has swallowed all Capulet’s hopes except the hope of his daughter, whose marriage with Paris is the grave dug by her father for the young lady.
On one hand, Old Capulet wanted to betroth his daughter to Paris, through their marriage he would be the greatest beneficiary of lands and property. So Context one is accepted. On the other, being 13 years old, Juliet is much younger than Paris, who she can hardly falls in love with. So their marriage is the grave her father dug for her. As a result, the meaning expressed in Context two is reasonable.
To complete understanding on this skillful pun, we should pay attention to the background knowledge of its history and custom. In the times of Elizabeth, marriage in Verona is a pure trade of property and power. Arranged marriage is the product of feudal society and the “grave” for young, particularly women. This marriage arranged by old Capulet predicted that the coming of the inevitable tragedy of the two families. This pun also predicted the death of Juliet and revealed the theme of anti-feudalism.