William Shakespeare did more than write the most famous plays and sonnets in English literature and contribute more than 1,700 words to the English language. He can also claim credit for inventing one of the most popular forms of humor: the knock-knock joke. The date was 1606, and the venue was Macbeth, Act 2, Scene 3:
PORTER: Here’s a knocking indeed! If a man were porter of
hell-gate, he should have old turning the key.
Knock, knock, knock, knock! Who’s there, i’ the name of Belzebub Here’s a farmer that hanged himself on th’ expectation of plenty. Come in time! Have napkins
enow about you; here you’ll sweat for’t.
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, 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.
Knock, knock! Never at quiet! What are you? But this
place is too cold for hell. I’ll devil-porter it no further.
I had thought to have let in some of all professions, that go
the primrose way to the everlasting bonfire.