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"proper" and "neat"
Act 1,
Scene 1
Lines 20-26

An explanation of the wordplay on “proper” and “neat” in Act 1, Scene 1 of myShakespeare’s Julius Caesar.


Thou art a cobbler, art thou?


Truly, sir, all that I live by is with the awl.  I meddle
with no tradesman's matters, nor women’s matters, but
with all. I am, indeed, sir, a surgeon to old shoes; when
they are in great danger I recover them. As proper men
as ever trod upon neat's leather have gone upon my

The double meaning here means that these words can be read in two ways:

  • "Neat" was another word for cow. In that sense, the cobbler is just saying that many men have walked in his cow-leather shoes.
  • As an adjective, "neat" meant elegant and refined, while "proper" meant excellent. So this sentence could also be interpreted as, "The most excellent men have walked in my elegant shoes."