Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Knock, Knock! Who’s There?

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 8, 2010

Surprise, surprise —  it was William Shakespeare who first penned the immortal “Knock, knock! Who’s there?” in his play Macbeth in Act 2, scene 3 written between 1611 and 1612 and first performed in 1623:

PORTER:
Here’s a knocking indeed! If a man were porter of hell-gate, he should have old turning the key.

Knock within.

Knock, knock, knock! Who’s there, i’ th’ name of Beelzebub? Here’s a farmer that hanged himself on the expectation of plenty. Come in time, have napkins enough about you, here you’ll sweat for ’t. 

Knock within.

Knock, knock! Who’s there, in th’ other devil’s name? Faith, here’s an equivocator that could swear in both the scales against either scale, who committed treason enough for God’s sake, yet could not equivocate to heaven. O, come in, equivocator.

Knock within.

Knock, knock, knock! Who’s there? Faith, here’s an English tailor come hither for stealing out of a French hose. Come in, tailor. Here you may roast your goose.

Of course, in the play it was no joke. The famous “knock, knock” jokes didn’t start until more than 300 years later. 

In the UK, Ireland, France, Belgium, Australia, the U.S.A., Canada, South Africa and India, the “knock knock” jokes are well known.  However, in countries such as Brazil and Germany,  “knock knock” jokes are practically unknown.

The “knock knock” joke has been used in at least 31 pop culture movies such as The Santa Clause 2 (2002), Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997), Rocky V (1990), Sixteen Candles (1984), An American Werewolf in London (1981), Carry on Dick (1974), and The Fugitive Kind (1959).

I guess the joke’s on William Shakespeare for having found a phrase that lends itself so well to puns and merriment!  Knock, knock!  Who’s there?

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