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Title: Folk-lore of Shakespeare
Author: Thiselton-Dyer, Thomas Firminger
Language: English
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                       FOLK-LORE OF SHAKESPEARE

                                BY THE

                 REV. T. F. THISELTON DYER, M.A. OXON.

                               NEW YORK


It would be difficult to overestimate the value which must be attached
to the plays of Shakespeare in connection with the social life of the
Elizabethan age. Possessed of a rich treasury of knowledge of a most
varied kind, much of which he may be said to have picked up almost
intuitively, he embellished his writings with a choice store of
illustrations descriptive of the period in which he lived. Apart, too,
from his copious references to the manners and customs of the time, he
seems to have had not only a wide knowledge of many technical subjects,
but also an intimate acquaintance with the folk-lore of bygone days. How
far this was the case may be gathered from the following pages, in which
are collected and grouped together, as far as arrangement would permit,
the various subjects relating to this interesting and popular branch of
our domestic history. It only remains for me to add that the edition of
the poet’s plays made use of is the “Globe,” published by Messrs.

                                            T. F. THISELTON DYER.


    CHAP.                                          PAGE.

      I. FAIRIES                                      1

     II. WITCHES                                     25

    III. GHOSTS                                      43

     IV. DEMONOLOGY AND DEVIL-LORE                   52

      V. NATURAL PHENOMENA                           62

     VI. BIRDS                                       97

    VII. ANIMALS                                    161

   VIII. PLANTS                                     201

     IX. INSECTS AND REPTILES                       250

      X. FOLK-MEDICINE                              264


    XII. BIRTH AND BAPTISM                          332

   XIII. MARRIAGE                                   342

    XIV. DEATH AND BURIAL                           362

     XV. RINGS AND PRECIOUS STONES                  386

    XVI. SPORTS AND PASTIMES                        394

   XVII. DANCES                                     424

  XVIII. PUNISHMENTS                                433

    XIX. PROVERBS                                   444

     XX. HUMAN BODY                                 475

    XXI. FISHES                                     497

   XXII. SUNDRY SUPERSTITIONS                       505


  INDEX                                             549




The wealth of Shakespeare’s luxuriant imagination and glowing language
seems to have been poured forth in the graphic accounts which he has
given us of the fairy tribe. Indeed, the profusion of poetic imagery
with which he has so richly clad his fairy characters is unrivalled, and
the “Midsummer-Night’s Dream” holds a unique position in so far as it
contains the finest modern artistic realization of the fairy kingdom.
Mr. Dowden, in his “Shakspere Primer” (1877, pp. 71, 72) justly remarks:
“As the two extremes of exquisite delicacy, of dainty elegance, and, on
the other hand, of thick-witted grossness and clumsiness, stand the
fairy tribe and the group of Athenian handicraftsmen. The world of the
poet’s dream includes the two—a Titania, and a Bottom the weaver—and can
bring them into grotesque conjunction. No such fairy poetry existed
anywhere in English literature before Shakspere. The tiny elves, to whom
a cowslip is tall, for whom the third part of a minute is an important
division of time, have a miniature perfection which is charming. They
delight in all beautiful and dainty things, and war with things that
creep and things that fly, if they be uncomely; their lives are gay with
fine frolic and delicate revelry.” Puck, the jester of fairyland, stands
apart from the rest, the recognizable “lob of spirits,” a rough,
“fawn-faced, shock-pated little fellow, dainty-limbed shapes around
him.” Judging, then, from the elaborate account which the poet has
bequeathed us of the fairies, it is evident that the subject was one in
which he took a special interest. Indeed, the graphic pictures he has
handed down to us of

    “Elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes and groves;
    And ye, that on the sands with printless foot,
    Do chase the ebbing Neptune, and do fly him
    When he comes back; you demy-puppets that
    By moonshine do the green-sour ringlets make
    Whereof the ewe not bites,” etc.,

show how intimately he was acquainted with the history of these little
people, and what a complete knowledge he possessed of the superstitious
fancies which had clustered round them. In Shakespeare’s day, too, it
must be remembered, fairies were much in fashion; and, as Johnson
remarks, common tradition had made them familiar. It has also been
observed that, well acquainted, from the rural habits of his early life,
with the notions of the peasantry respecting these beings, he saw that
they were capable of being applied to a production of a species of the
wonderful. Hence, as Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps[1] has so aptly written,
“he founded his elfin world on the prettiest of the people’s traditions,
and has clothed it in the ever-living flowers of his own exuberant
fancy.” Referring to the fairy mythology in the “Midsummer-Night’s
Dream,” it is described by Mr. Keightley[2] as an attempt to blend “the
elves of the village with the fays of romance.” His fairies agree with
the former in their diminutive stature—diminished, indeed, to dimensions
inappreciable by village gossips—in their fondness for dancing, their
love of cleanliness, and their child-abstracting propensities. Like the
fays, they form a community, ruled over by the princely Oberon and the
fair Titania. There is a court and chivalry; Oberon would have the
queen’s sweet changeling to be a “knight of his train, to trace the
forests wild.” Like earthly monarchs, he has his jester, “that shrewd
and knavish sprite called Robin Goodfellow.”

    [1] “Illustrations of the Fairy Mythology of ‘A
    Midsummer-Night’s Dream,’” 1845, p. xiii.

    [2] “Fairy Mythology,” p. 325.

Of the fairy characters treated by Shakespeare may be mentioned Oberon,
king of fairyland, and Titania, his queen. They are represented as
keeping rival courts in consequence of a quarrel, the cause of which is
thus told by Puck (“Midsummer-Night’s Dream,” ii. 1):

    “The king doth keep his revels here to-night:
    Take heed the queen come not within his sight;
    For Oberon is passing fell and wrath,
    Because that she as her attendant hath
    A lovely boy, stolen from an Indian king;
    She never had so sweet a changeling;
    And jealous Oberon would have the child
    Knight of his train, to trace the forests wild;
    But she perforce withholds the loved boy,
    Crowns him with flowers and makes him all her joy;
    And now they never meet in grove or green,
    By fountain clear, or spangled starlight sheen,” etc.

Oberon first appears in the old French romance of “Huon de Bourdeaux,”
and is identical with Elberich, the dwarf king of the German story of
Otuit in the “Heldenbuch.” The name Elberich, or, as it appears in the
“Nibelungenlied,” Albrich, was changed, in passing into French, first
into Auberich, then into Auberon, and finally became our Oberon. He is
introduced by Spenser in the “Fairy Queen” (book ii. cant. i. st. 6),
where he describes Sir Guyon:

    “Well could he tournay, and in lists debate,
    And knighthood tooke of good Sir Huon’s hand,
    When with King Oberon he came to faery land.”

And in the tenth canto of the same book (stanza 75) he is the
allegorical representative of Henry VIII. The wise Elficleos left two

                        “of which faire Elferon,
    The eldest brother, did untimely dy;
    Whose emptie place the mightie Oberon
    Doubly supplide, in spousall and dominion.”

“Oboram, King of Fayeries,” is one of the characters in Greene’s “James
the Fourth.”[3]

    [3] Aldis Wright’s “Midsummer-Night’s Dream,” 1877, Preface,
    pp. xv., xvi.; Ritson’s “Fairy Mythology,” 1875, pp. 22, 23.

The name Titania for the queen of the fairies appears to have been the
invention of Shakespeare, for, as Mr. Ritson[4] remarks, she is not “so
called by any other writer.” Why, however, the poet designated her by
this title, presents, according to Mr. Keightley,[5] no difficulty. “It
was,” he says, “the belief of those days that the fairies were the same
as the classic nymphs, the attendants of Diana. The fairy queen was
therefore the same as Diana, whom Ovid (Met. iii. 173) styles Titania.”
In Chaucer’s “Merchant’s Tale” Pluto is the king of faerie, and his
queen, Proserpina, “who danced and sang about the well under the laurel
in January’s garden.”[6]

    [4] Essay on Fairies in “Fairy Mythology of Shakspeare,” p. 23.

    [5] “Fairy Mythology,” 1878, p. 325.

    [6] Notes to “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream,” by Aldis Wright,
    1877, Preface, p. xvi.

In “Romeo and Juliet” (i. 4) she is known by the more familiar
appellation, Queen Mab. “I dream’d a dream to-night,” says Romeo,
whereupon Mercutio replies, in that well-known famous passage—

    “O, then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you,”

this being the earliest instance in which Mab is used to designate the
fairy queen. Mr. Thoms[7] thinks that the origin of this name is to be
found in the Celtic, and that it contains a distinct allusion to the
diminutive form of the elfin sovereign. _Mab_, both in Welsh and in the
kindred dialects of Brittany, signifies a child or infant, and hence it
is a befitting epithet to one who

    In shape no bigger than an agate-stone
    On the fore-finger of an alderman.”

Mr. Keightley suggests that Mab may be a contraction of Habundia, who,
Heywood says, ruled over the fairies; and another derivation is from
Mabel, of which Mab is an abbreviation.

    [7] “Three Notelets on Shakespeare,” pp. 100-107.

Among the references to Queen Mab we may mention Drayton’s “Nymphidia:”

    “Hence Oberon, him sport to make
    (Their rest when weary mortals take,
    And none but only fairies wake),
      Descendeth for his pleasure:
    And Mab, his merry queen, by night
    Bestrides young folks that lie upright,” etc.

Ben Jonson, in his “Entertainment of the Queen and Prince at Althrope,”
in 1603, describes as “tripping up the lawn a bevy of fairies, attending
on Mab, their queen, who, falling into an artificial ring that there was
cut in the path, began to dance around.” In the same masque the queen is
thus characterized by a satyr.

    “This is Mab, the mistress fairy,
    That doth nightly rob the dairy,
    And can help or hurt the cherning
    As she please, without discerning,” etc.

Like Puck, Shakespeare has invested Queen Mab with mischievous
properties, which “identify her with the night hag of popular
superstition,” and she is represented as

    “Platting the manes of horses in the night.”

The merry Puck, who is so prominent an actor in “A Midsummer-Night’s
Dream,” is the mischief-loving sprite, the jester of the fairy court,
whose characteristics are roguery and sportiveness. In his description
of him, Shakespeare, as Mr. Thoms points out, “has embodied almost every
attribute with which the imagination of the people has invested the
fairy race; and has neither omitted one trait necessary to give
brilliancy and distinctness to the likeness, nor sought to heighten its
effect by the slightest exaggeration. For, carefully and elaborately as
he has finished the picture, he has not in it invested the ‘lob of
spirits’ with one gift or quality which the popular voice of the age was
not unanimous in bestowing upon him.” Thus (ii. 1) the fairy says:

    “Either I mistake your shape and making quite,
    Or else you are that shrewd and knavish sprite,
    Call’d Robin Goodfellow: are you not he
    That frights the maidens of the villagery;
    Skim milk; and sometimes labour in the quern,
    And bootless make the breathless housewife churn;
    And sometime make the drink to bear no barm;
    Mislead night-wanderers, laughing at their harm?
    Those that Hobgoblin call you, and sweet Puck,
    You do their work, and they shall have good luck:
    Are not you he?”

The name “Puck” was formerly applied to the whole race of fairies, and
not to any individual sprite—_puck_, or _pouke_, being an old word for
devil, in which sense it is used in the “Vision of Piers Plowman:”

    “Out of the poukes pondfold
    No maynprise may us fecche.”

The Icelandic _puki_ is the same word, and in Friesland and Jutland the
domestic spirit is called Puk by the peasantry. In Devonshire, Piskey is
the name for a fairy, with which we may compare the Cornish Pixey. In
Worcestershire, too, we read how the peasantry are occasionally
“poake-ledden,” that is, misled by a mischievous spirit called _poake_.
And, according to Grose’s “Provincial Glossary,” in Hampshire they give
the name of Colt-pixey to a supposed spirit or fairy, which, in the
shape of a horse, neighs, and misleads horses into bogs. The Irish,
again, have their Pooka,[8] and the Welsh their Pwcca—both words derived
from Pouke or Puck. Mr. Keightley[9] thinks, also, that the Scottish
_pawkey_, sly, knowing, may belong to the same list of words. It is
evident, then, that the term Puck was in bygone years extensively
applied to the fairy race, an appellation still found in the west of
England. Referring to its use in Wales, “there is a Welsh tradition to
the effect that Shakespeare received his knowledge of the Cambrian
fairies from his friend Richard Price, son of Sir John Price, of the
Priory of Brecon.” It is even claimed that Cwm Pwcca, or Puck Valley, a
part of the romantic glen of the Clydach, in Breconshire, is the
original scene of the “Midsummer-Night’s Dream.”[10]

    [8] See Croker’s “Fairy Legends of South of Ireland,” 1862, p. 135.

    [9] “Fairy Mythology,” 1878, p. 316.

    [10] Wirt Sikes’s “British Goblins,” 1880, p. 20.

Another of Puck’s names was Robin Goodfellow, and one of the most
valuable illustrations we have of the “Midsummer-Night’s Dream” is a
black-letter tract published in London, 1628, under the title of “Robin
Goodfellow: His Mad Pranks, and Merry Jests, full of honest mirth, and
is a fit medicine for melancholy.”[11] Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps,[12]
speaking of Robin Goodfellow, says, “there can be no doubt that in the
time of Shakespeare the fairies held a more prominent position in our
popular literature than can be now concluded from the pieces on the
subject that have descended to us.” The author of “Tarlton’s News out of
Purgatory,” printed in 1590, assures us that Robin Goodfellow was
“famosed in every old wives chronicle for his mad merry pranks;” and we
learn from “Henslowe’s Diary” that Chettle was the writer of a drama on
the adventures of that “merry wanderer of the night.” These have
disappeared; and time has dealt so harshly with the memory of poor Robin
that we might almost imagine his spirit was still leading us astray over
massive volumes of antiquity, in a delusive search after documents
forever lost; or, rather, perhaps, it is his punishment for the useless
journeys he has given our ancestors, misleading night-wanderers, “and
laughing at their harm.”[13] He is mentioned by Drayton in his

    “He meeteth Puck, which most men call
    Hob-goblin, and on him doth fall,” etc.,

“hob being the familiar or diminutive form of Robert and Robin, so that
Hobgoblin is equivalent to Robin the Goblin. _i. e._, Robin
Goodfellow.”[14] Burton, in his “Anatomy of Melancholy,” alludes to him
thus: “A bigger kinde there is of them, called with us hobgoblins and
Robin Goodfellows, that would, in superstitious times, grinde corne for
a mess of milk, cut wood, or do any manner of drudgery work.” Under his
name of Robin Goodfellow, Puck is well characterized in Jonson’s masque
of “Love Restored.”[15]

    [11] This is reprinted in Hazlitt’s “Fairy Tales, Legends, and
    Romances, illustrating Shakespeare and other English Writers,”
    1875, p. 173.

    [12] “Illustrations of the Fairy Mythology of the
    Midsummer-Night’s Dream,” printed for the Shakespeare Society,
    p. viii.

    [13] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. ii. pp. 508-512.

    [14] Thoms’s “Three Notelets on Shakespeare,” p. 88.

    [15] See Nares’s Glossary, vol. ii. p. 695.

Another epithet applied to Puck is “Lob,” as in the “Midsummer-Night’s
Dream” (ii. 1), where he is addressed by the fairy as

    “Thou lob of spirits.”[16]

With this we may compare the “lubber-fiend” of Milton, and the following
in Beaumont and Fletcher’s “Knight of the Burning Pestle” (iii. 4):
“There is a pretty tale of a witch that had the devil’s mark about her,
that had a giant to be her son, that was called Lob-lye-by-the-Fire.”
Grimm[17] mentions a spirit, named the “Good Lubber,” to whom the bones
of animals used to be offered at Manseld, in Germany. Once more, the
phrase of “being in,” or “getting into Lob’s pound,” is easy of
explanation, presuming Lob to be a fairy epithet—the term being
equivalent to Poake-ledden or Pixy-led.[18] In “Hudibras” this term is
employed as a name for the stocks in which the knight puts Crowdero:

    “Crowdero, whom in irons bound,
    Thou basely threw’st into _Lob’s pound_.”

    [16] Mr. Dyce considers that Lob is descriptive of the contrast
    between Puck’s square figure and the airy shapes of the other

    [17] “Deutsche Mythologie,” p. 492.

    [18] See Keightley’s “Fairy Mythology,” pp. 318, 319.

It occurs, also, in Massinger’s “Duke of Milan” (iii. 2), where it means
“behind the arras:”

    “Who forc’d the gentleman, to save her credit,
    To marry her, and say he was the party
    Found in Lob’s pound.”

The allusion by Shakespeare to the “Will-o’-the-Wisp,” where he speaks
of Puck as “sometime a fire,” is noticed elsewhere, this being one of
the forms under which this fairy was supposed to play his midnight

Referring, in the next place, to the several names of Shakespeare’s
fairies, we may quote from “The Merry Wives of Windsor” (iv. 3), where
Mrs. Page speaks of “urchins, ouphes, and fairies”—urchin having been
an appellation for one class of fairies. In the “Maydes’ Metamorphosis”
of Lyly (1600), we find fairies, elves, and urchins separately
accommodated with dances for their use. The following is the _urchin’s_

    “By the moone we sport and play,
    With the night begins our day;
    As we frisk the dew doth fall,
    Trip it, little urchins all,
    Lightly as the little bee,
    Two by two, and three by three,
    And about goe wee, goe wee.”

In “The Tempest” (i. 2) their actions are also limited to the night:

    Shall, for that vast of night that they may work,
    All exercise on thee.”

The children employed to torment Falstaff, in “The Merry Wives of
Windsor” (iv. 4), were to be dressed in these fairy shapes.

Mr. Douce regards the word _urchin_, when used to designate a fairy, as
of Celtic origin, with which view Mr. Thoms[19] compares the _urisks_ of
Highland fairies.

    [19] “Three Notelets on Shakespeare,” pp. 79-82.

The term _ouphe_, according to Grimm, is only another form of the
cognate _elf_, which corresponds with the Middle High-German _ulf_, in
the plural _ulve_. He further proves the identity of this _ulf_ with
_alp_, and with our English _elf_, from a Swedish song published by
Asdwiddson, in his “Collection of Swedish Ballads,” in one version of
which the elfin king is called Herr _Elfver_, and in the second Herr

The name _elf_, which is frequently used by Shakespeare, is the same as
the Anglo-Saxon _alf_, the Old High-German and the Middle High-German
_ulf_. “Fairies and elvs,” says Tollet, “are frequently mentioned
together in the poets without any distinction of character that I can

The other fairies, Peas-blossom, Cobweb, Moth, and Mustard-seed probably
owe their appellations to the poet himself.

How fully Shakespeare has described the characteristics of the fairy
tribe, besides giving a detailed account of their habits and doings, may
be gathered from the following pages, in which we have briefly
enumerated the various items of fairy lore as scattered through the
poet’s writings.

Beauty, then, united with power, was one of the popular characteristics
of the fairy tribe. Such was that of the “Fairy Queen” of Spenser, and
of Titania in “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream.” In “Antony and Cleopatra”
(iv. 8), Antony, on seeing Cleopatra enter, says to Scarus:

    “To this great fairy I’ll commend thy acts,
    Make her thanks bless thee.”

In “Cymbeline” (iii. 6), when the two brothers find Imogen in their
cave, Belarius exclaims:

    “But that it eats our victuals, I should think
    Here were a fairy.”[20]

And he then adds:

    “By Jupiter, an angel! or, if not,
    An earthly paragon! behold divineness
    No elder than a boy.”

    [20] Showing, as Mr. Ritson says, that they never ate.

The fairies, as represented in many of our old legends and folk-tales,
are generally noticeable for their beauty, the same being the case with
all their surroundings. As Sir Walter Scott,[21] too, says, “Their
pageants and court entertainments comprehended all that the imagination
could conceive of what were accounted gallant and splendid. At their
processions they paraded more beautiful steeds than those of mere
earthly parentage. The hawks and hounds which they employed in their
chase were of the first race. At their daily banquets, the board was set
forth with a splendor which the proudest kings of the earth dared not
aspire to, and the hall of their dancers echoed to the most exquisite

    [21] “Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft,” 1831, p. 121.

Mr. Douce[22] quotes from the romance of “Lancelot of the Lake,” where
the author, speaking of the days of King Arthur, says, “En celui temps
estoient appellees faees toutes selles qui sentre-mettoient
denchantemens et de charmes, et moult en estoit pour lors principalement
en la Grande Bretaigne, et savoient la force et la vertu des paroles,
des pierres, et des herbes, parquoy elles estoient tenues et jeunesse et
en beaulte, et en grandes richesses comme elles devisoient.”

    [22] “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” p. 115.

“This perpetual youth and beauty,” he adds, “cannot well be separated
from a state of immortality;” another characteristic ascribed to the
fairy race. It is probably alluded to by Titania in “A Midsummer-Night’s
Dream” (ii. 1):

    “The human mortals want their winter here.”

And further on (ii. 1), when speaking of the changeling’s mother, she

    “But she, being mortal, of that boy did die.”

Again, a fairy addresses Bottom the weaver (iii. 1)—

    “Hail, mortal!”

—an indication that she was not so herself. The very fact, indeed, that
fairies “call themselves _spirits_, ghosts, or shadows, seems to be a
proof of their immortality.” Thus Puck styles Oberon “king of shadows,”
and this monarch asserts of himself and his subjects—

    “But we are spirits of another sort.”

Fletcher, in the “Faithful Shepherdess,” describes (i. 2)—

    “A virtuous well, about whose flow’ry banks
    The nimble-footed fairies dance their rounds,
    By the pale moonshine, dipping oftentimes
    Their stolen children, so to make them free
    From dying flesh, and dull mortality.”

Ariosto, in his “Orlando Furioso” (book xliii. stanza 98) says:

    “I am a fayrie, and to make you know,
    To be a fayrie what it doth import,
    We cannot dye, how old so e’er we grow.
    Of paines and harmes of ev’rie other sort
    We taste, onelie no death we nature ow.”

An important feature of the fairy race was their power of vanishing at
will, and of assuming various forms. In “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream”
Oberon says:

                        “I am invisible,
    And I will overhear their conference.”

Puck relates how he was in the habit of taking all kinds of outlandish
forms; and in the “Tempest,” Shakespeare has bequeathed to us a graphic
account of Ariel’s eccentricities. “Besides,” says Mr. Spalding,[23]
“appearing in his natural shape, and dividing into flames, and behaving
in such a manner as to cause young Ferdinand to leap into the sea,
crying, ‘Hell is empty, and all the devils are here!’ he assumes the
forms of a water nymph (i. 2), a harpy (iii. 3), and also the Goddess
Ceres (iv. 1), while the strange shapes, masquers, and even the hounds
that hunt and worry the would-be king and viceroys of the island, are
Ariel’s ‘meaner fellows.’” Poor Caliban complains of Prospero’s spirits
(ii. 2):

    “For every trifle are they set upon me;
    Sometimes like apes, that mow and chatter at me,
    And after bite me: then like hedgehogs which
    Lie tumbling in my bare-foot way, and mount
    Their pricks at my footfall; sometime am I
    All wound with adders, who, with cloven tongues
    Do hiss me into madness.”

    [23] “Elizabethan Demonology,” p. 50.

That fairies are sometimes exceedingly diminutive is fully shown by
Shakespeare, who gives several instances of this peculiarity. Thus Queen
Mab, in “Romeo and Juliet,” to which passage we have already had
occasion to allude (i. 4), is said to come

    “In shape no bigger than an agate stone
    On the fore-finger of an alderman.”[24]

    [24] Agate was used metaphorically for a very diminutive
    person, in allusion to the small figures cut in agate for
    rings. In “2 Henry IV.” (i. 2), Falstaff says: “I was never
    manned with an agate till now; but I will inset you neither in
    gold nor silver, but in vile apparel, and send you back again
    to your master, for a jewel.” In “Much Ado About Nothing” (iii.
    1) Hero speaks of a man as being “low, an agate very vilely

And Puck tells us, in “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (ii. 1), that when
Oberon and Titania meet,

        “they do square, that all their elves, for fear,
    Creep into acorn cups, and hide them there.”

Further on (ii. 3) the duties imposed by Titania upon her train point to
their tiny character:

    “Come, now a roundel and a fairy song;
    Then, for the third part of a minute, hence;
    Some to kill cankers in the musk-rose buds,
    Some war with rere-mice for their leathern wings,
    To make my small elves coats.”

And when enamoured of Bottom, she directs her elves that they should—

    “Hop in his walks and gambol in his eyes;
    Feed him with apricocks and dewberries,
    With purple grapes, green figs, and mulberries;
    The honey bags steal from the humble-bees,
    And for night tapers crop their waxen thighs
    And light them at the fiery glow-worm’s eyes,
    To have my love to bed, and to arise;
    And pluck the wings from painted butterflies
    To fan the moonbeams from his sleeping eyes.”

We may compare, too, Ariel’s well-known song in “The Tempest” (v. 1):

        “Where the bee sucks, there suck I:
        In a cowslip’s bell I lie;
        There I couch when owls do cry,
        On the bat’s back I do fly
        After summer merrily,
    Merrily, merrily shall I live now
    Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.”

Again, from the following passage in “The Merry Wives of Windsor” (iv.
4) where Mrs. Page, after conferring with her husband, suggests that—

    “Nan Page my daughter, and my little son,
    And three or four more of their growth, we’ll dress
    Like urchins, ouphes, and fairies, green and white,
    With rounds of waxen tapers on their heads,
    And rattles in their hands”

it is evident that in Shakespeare’s day fairies were supposed to be of
the size of children. The notion of their diminutiveness, too, it
appears was not confined to this country,[25] but existed in
Denmark,[26] for in the ballad of “Eline of Villenskov” we read:

    “Out then spake the smallest Trold;
      No bigger than an ant;—
    Oh! here is come a Christian man,
      His schemes I’ll sure prevent.”

    [25] See Grimm’s “Deutsche Mythologie.”

    [26] Thoms’s “Three Notelets on Shakespeare,” 1865, pp. 38, 39.

Again, various stories are current in Germany descriptive of the fairy
dwarfs; one of the most noted being that relating to Elberich, who aided
the Emperor Otnit to gain the daughter of the Paynim Soldan of

    [27] See Keightley’s “Fairy Mythology,” 1878, p. 208.

The haunt of the fairies on earth are generally supposed to be the most
romantic and rural that can be selected; such a spot being the place of
Titania’s repose described by Oberon in “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (ii.

        “a bank where the wild thyme blows,
    Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
    Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
    With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
    There sleeps Titania some time of the night,
    Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight;
    And there the snake throws her enamell’d skin,
    Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in.”

    [28] See also Thorpe’s “Northern Mythology,” 1852, vol. iii. p.
    32, etc.

Titania also tells how the fairy race meet

        “on hill, in dale, forest, or mead,
    By paved fountain, or by rushy brook,
    Or in the beached margent of the sea.”

In “The Tempest” (v. 1), we have the following beautiful invocation by

    “Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves;
    And ye, that on the sands with printless foot
    Do chase the ebbing Neptune, and do fly him
    When he comes back—”

Their haunts, however, varied in different localities, but their
favorite abode was in the interior of conical green hills, on the slopes
of which they danced by moonlight. Milton, in the “Paradise Lost” (book
i.), speaks of

                            “fairy elves,
    Whose midnight revels, by a forest side
    Or fountain, some belated peasant sees,
    Or dreams he sees, while overhead the moon
    Sits arbitress, and nearer to the earth
    Wheels her pale course, they, on their mirth and dance
    Intent, with jocund music charm his ear;
    At once with joy and fear his heart rebounds.”

The Irish fairies occasionally inhabited the ancient burial-places known
as tumuli or barrows, while some of the Scottish fairies took up their
abode under the “door-stane” or threshold of some particular house, to
the inmates of which they administered good offices.[29]

    [29] Gunyon’s “Illustrations of Scottish History, Life, and
    Superstitions,” p. 299.

The so-called fairy-rings in old pastures[30]—little circles of a
brighter green, within which it was supposed the fairies dance by
night—are now known to result from the out-spreading propagation of a
particular mushroom, the fairy-ringed fungus, by which the ground is
manured for a richer following vegetation. An immense deal of legendary
lore, however, has clustered round this curious phenomenon, popular
superstition attributing it to the merry roundelays of the moonlight
fairies.[31] In “The Tempest” (v. 1) Prospero invokes the fairies as the
“demy-puppets” that

    “By moonshine do the green-sour ringlets make,
    Whereof the ewe not bites; and you, whose pastime
    Is to make midnight-mushrooms.”

    [30] Chambers’s “Book of Days,” vol. i. p. 671.

    [31] Among the various conjectures as to the cause of these
    verdant circles, some have ascribed them to lightning; others
    maintained that they are occasioned by ants. See Miss Baker’s
    “Northamptonshire Glossary,” vol. i. p. 218; Brand’s “Pop.
    Antiq.,” 1849, vol. ii. pp. 480-483; and also the
    “Phytologist,” 1862, pp. 236-238.

In “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (ii. 1), the fairy says:

    “I do wander everywhere,
    Swifter than the moon’s sphere;
    And I serve the fairy queen,
    To dew her orbs upon the green.”

Again, in the “Merry Wives of Windsor” (v. 5), Anne Page says:

    “And nightly, meadow-fairies, look, you sing
    Like to the Garter’s compass, in a ring;
    The expressure that it bears, green let it be,
    More fertile-fresh than all the field to see.”

And once in “Macbeth” (v. 1), Hecate says:

    “Like elves and fairies in a ring.”

Drayton, in his “Nymphidia” (l. 69-72), mentions this superstition:

    “And in their courses make that round,
    In meadows and in marshes found,
    Of them so called the fayrie ground,
      Of which they have the keeping.”

Cowley, too, in his “Complaint,” says:

    “Where once such fairies dance, no grass does ever grow.”

And again, in his ode upon Dr. Harvey:

    “And dance, like fairies, a fantastic round.”

Pluquet, in his “Contes Populaires de Bayeux,” tells us that the fairy
rings, called by the peasants of Normandy “Cercles des fées,” are said
to be the work of fairies.

Among the numerous superstitions which have clustered round the fairy
rings, we are told that when damsels of old gathered the May dew on the
grass, which they made use of to improve their complexions, they left
undisturbed such of it as they perceived on the fairy-rings,
apprehensive that the fairies should in revenge destroy their beauty.
Nor was it considered safe to put the foot within the rings, lest they
should be liable to the fairies’ power.[32] The “Athenian Oracle” (i.
397) mentions a popular belief that “if a house be built upon the ground
where fairy rings are, whoever shall inhabit therein does wonderfully

    [32] Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” p. 112.

Speaking of their dress, we are told that they constantly wore green
vests, unless they had some reason for changing their attire. In the
“Merry Wives of Windsor” (iv. 4) they are spoken of as—

    “Urchins, ouphes, and fairies, green and white.”

And further on (v. 4):

    “Fairies, black, grey, green, and white.”

The fairies of the moors were often clad in heath-brown or lichen-dyed
garments, whence the epithet of “Elfin-grey.”[33]

    [33] Ritson’s “Fairy Mythology,” 1878, pp. 26, 27.

The legends of most countries are unanimous in ascribing to the fairies
an inordinate love of music; such harmonious sounds as those which
Caliban depicts in “The Tempest” (iii. 2) being generally ascribed to

                      “The isle is full of noises,
    Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
    Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
    Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
    That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
    Will make me sleep again.”

In the “Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (ii. 3), when Titania is desirous of
taking a nap, she says to her attendants:

    “Come, now a roundel, and a fairy song.”

And further on (iii. 1) she tells Bottom:

    “I’ll give thee fairies to attend on thee,
    And they shall fetch thee jewels from the deep,
    And sing, while thou on pressed flowers dost sleep.”

The author of “Round About our Coal Fire”[34] tells us that “they had
fine musick always among themselves, and danced in a moonshiny night,
around, or in, a ring.”

    [34] Quoted by Brand, “Pop. Antiq.,” vol. ii. p. 481.

They were equally fond of dancing, and we are told how they meet—

    “To dance their ringlets to the whistling wind;”

and in the “Maydes’ Metamorphosis” of Lyly, the fairies, as they dance,

    “Round about, round about, in a fine ring a,
    Thus we dance, thus we dance, and thus we sing a,
    Trip and go, to and fro, over this green a,
    All about, in and out, for our brave queen a,” etc.

As Mr. Thoms says, in his “Three Notelets on Shakespeare” (1865, pp. 40,
41), “the writings of Shakespeare abound in graphic notices of these
fairy revels, couched in the highest strains of poetry; and a comparison
of these with some of the popular legends which the industry of
Continental antiquaries has preserved will show us clearly that these
delightful sketches of elfin enjoyment have been drawn by a hand as
faithful as it is masterly.”

It would seem that the fairies disliked irreligious people: and so, in
“Merry Wives of Windsor” (v. 5), the mock fairies are said to chastise
unchaste persons, and those who do not say their prayers. This coincides
with what Lilly, in his “Life and Times,” says: “Fairies love a strict
diet and upright life; fervent prayers unto God conduce much to the
assistance of those who are curious hereways,” _i. e._, who wish to
cultivate an acquaintance with them.

Again, fairies are generally represented as great lovers and patrons of
cleanliness and propriety, for the observance of which they were
frequently said to reward good servants, by dropping money into their
shoes in the night; and, on the other hand, they were reported to punish
most severely the sluts and slovenly, by pinching them black and
blue.[35] Thus, in “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (v. 1), Puck says:

    “I am sent, with broom, before,
    To sweep the dust behind the door.”

    [35] Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. ii. p. 483.

In “Merry Wives of Windsor” (v. 5), Pistol, speaking of the mock fairy
queen, says:

    “Our radiant queen hates sluts and sluttery;”

and the fairies who haunt the towers of Windsor are enjoined:

    “About, about,
    Search Windsor Castle, elves, within and out:
    Strew good luck, ouphes, on every sacred room:

       *       *       *       *       *

    The several chairs of order look you scour
    With juice of balm and every precious flower.”

In Ben Jonson’s ballad of “Robin Goodfellow”[36] we have a further
illustration of this notion:

    “When house or hearth cloth sluttish lie,
      I pinch the maidens black and blue,
    The bed clothes from the bed pull I,
      And lay them naked all to view.
          ’Twixt sleep and wake
          I do them take,
    And on the key-cold floor them throw;
          If out they cry,
          Then forth I fly,
    And loudly laugh I, ho, ho, ho!”

    [36] Halliwell-Phillipps’s “Illustrations of Fairy Mythology,”
    p. 167; see Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” pp. 122, 123.

In “Round About our Coal Fire,” we find the following passage bearing on
the subject: “When the master and mistress were laid on the pillows, the
men and maids, if they had a game at romps, and blundered up stairs, or
jumbled a chair, the next morning every one would swear ’twas the
fairies, and that they heard them stamping up and down stairs all night,
crying, ‘Waters lock’d, waters lock’d!’ when there was no water in every
pail in the kitchen.” Herrick, too, in his “Hesperides,” speaks of this

    “If ye will with Mab find grace,
    Set each platter in his place;
    Rake the fire up, and set
    Water in, ere sun be set,
    Wash your pales and cleanse your dairies,
    Sluts are loathesome to the fairies:
    Sweep your house; who doth not so,
    Mab will pinch her by the toe.”

While the belief in the power of fairies existed, they were supposed to
perform much good service to mankind. Thus, in “A Midsummer-Night’s
Dream” (v. 1), Oberon says:

    “With this field-dew consecrate,
    Every fairy take his gait;
    And each several chamber bless,
    Through this palace, with sweet peace;
    And the owner of it blest,
    Ever shall in safety rest”—

the object of their blessing being to bring peace upon the house of
Theseus. Mr. Douce[37] remarks that the great influence which the belief
in fairies had on the popular mind “gave so much offence to the holy
monks and friars, that they determined to exert all their power to expel
these imaginary beings from the minds of the people, by taking the
office of the fairies’ benedictions entirely into their own hands;” a
proof of which we have in Chaucer’s “Wife of Bath:”

    “I speke of many hundred yeres ago;
    But now can no man see non elves mo,
    For now the grete charitee and prayeres
    Of limitoures and other holy freres
    That serchen every land and every streme,
    As thikke as motes in the sonne beme,
    Blissing halles, chambres, kichenes, and boures,
    Citees and burghes, castles highe and toures,
    Thropes and bernes, shepenes and dairies,
    This maketh that ther ben no faeries:
    For ther as wont to walken was an elf
    Ther walketh now the limitour himself.”

    [37] “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” pp. 126, 127.

Macbeth, too (v. 8), in his encounter with Macduff, says:

    “I bear a charmed life, which must not yield
    To one of woman born.”

In the days of chivalry, the champion’s arms were ceremoniously blessed,
each taking an oath that he used no charmed weapon. In Spenser’s “Fairy
Queen” (book i. canto 4) we read:

              “he bears a charmed shield,
    And eke enchanted arms, that none can pierce.”

Fairies were amazingly expeditious in their journeys. Thus, Puck goes
“swifter than arrow from the Tartar’s bow,” and in “A Midsummer-Night’s
Dream” he answers Oberon, who was about to send him on a secret

    “I’ll put a girdle round about the earth
    In forty minutes.”

Again, the same fairy addresses him:

    “Fairy king, attend, and mark:
    I do hear the morning lark.

      _Oberon._ Then, my queen, in silence sad,
    Trip we after the night’s shade:
    We the globe can compass soon,
    Swifter than the wand’ring moon.”

Once more, Puck says:

    “My fairy lord, this must be done with haste,
    For night’s swift dragons cut the clouds full fast,
    And yonder shines Aurora’s harbinger,” etc.

It was fatal, if we may believe Falstaff in “Merry Wives of Windsor” (v.
5) to speak to a fairy: “They are fairies; he that speaks to them shall

Fairies are accustomed to enrich their favorites; and in “A Winter’s
Tale” (iii. 3) the shepherd says: “It was told me I should be rich by
the fairies;”[38] and in “Cymbeline” (v. 4), Posthumus, on waking and
finding the mysterious paper, exclaims:

    “What fairies haunt this ground? A book? O rare one!
    Be not, as is our fangled world, a garment
    Nobler than that it covers,” etc.

    [38] See Croker’s “Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of
    Ireland,” p. 316.

At the same time, however, it was unlucky to reveal their acts of
generosity, as the shepherd further tells us: “This is fairy gold, boy;
and ’twill prove so; up with’t, keep it close, home, home, the next way.
We are lucky, boy; and to be so still requires nothing but secrecy.”

The necessity of secrecy in fairy transactions of this kind is
illustrated in Massinger and Field’s play of “The Fatal Dowry,” 1632
(iv. 1),[39] where Romont says:

    “But not a word o’ it; ’tis fairies’ treasure,
    Which, but reveal’d, brings on the blabber’s ruin.”

    [39] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” vol. ii. p. 493.

Among the many other good qualities belonging to the fairy tribe, we are
told that they were humanely attentive to the youthful dead.[40] Thus
Guiderius, in “Cymbeline,” thinking that Imogen is dead (iv. 2), says:

    “With female fairies will his tomb be haunted,
    And worms will not come to thee;”[41]

there having been a popular notion that where fairies resorted no
noxious creature could be found.

    [40] Ritson’s “Fairy Mythology of Shakespeare,” 1875, p. 29.

    [41] Some copies read _them_.

In the pathetic dirge of Collins a similar allusion is made:

    “No wither’d witch shall here be seen,
      No goblin lead their nightly crew;
    The female fays shall haunt the green,
      And dress thy grave with pearly dew.”

It seems, however, that they were also supposed to be malignant; but
this, “it may be,” says Mr. Ritson, “was merely calumny, as being
utterly inconsistent with their general character, which was singularly
innocent and amiable.” Thus, when Imogen, in “Cymbeline” (ii. 2), prays
on going to sleep,

    “From fairies and the tempters of the night,
    Guard me, beseech ye,”[42]

it must have been, says Mr. Ritson,[43] the _incubus_ she was so afraid

    [42] We may compare Banquo’s words in “Macbeth” (ii. 1):

        “Restrain in me the cursed thoughts that nature
         Gives way to in repose.”

    [43] “Fairy Mythology,” pp. 27, 28.

Hamlet, too, notices this imputed malignity of the fairies (i. 1):

                        “Then no planet strikes,
    Nor fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm.”[44]

    [44] “Comedy of Errors” (iv. 2) some critics read:

        “A fiend, a fairy, pitiless and rough.”

That the fairies, however, were fond of indulging in mischievous sport
at the expense of mortals is beyond all doubt, the merry pranks of Puck
or Robin Goodfellow fully illustrating this item of our fairy-lore.
Thus, in “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (ii. 1) this playful fairy says:

    “I am that merry wanderer of the night.
    I jest to Oberon and make him smile,
    When I a fat and bean-fed horse beguile,
    Neighing in likeness of a filly foal:
    And sometime lurk I in a gossip’s bowl,
    In very likeness of a roasted crab;
    And when she drinks, against her lips I bob,
    And on her wither’d dewlap pour the ale.
    The wisest aunt, telling the saddest tale,
    Sometime for three-foot stool mistaketh me;
    Then slip I from her bum, down topples she,
    And ‘tailor’ cries, and falls into a cough.”

A fairy, in another passage, asks Robin:

                        “Are you not he
    That frights the maidens of the villagery,

       *       *       *       *       *

    Mislead night-wanderers, laughing at their harm?”

We have already mentioned how Queen Mab had the same mischievous humor
in her composition, which is described by Mercutio in “Romeo and Juliet”
(i. 4):

                      “This is that very Mab
    That plats the manes of horses in the night,
    And bakes the elflocks in foul sluttish hairs,
    Which, once untangled, much misfortune bodes.”

Another reprehensible practice attributed to the fairies was that of
carrying off and exchanging children, such being designated
changelings.[45] The special agent in transactions of the sort was also
Queen Mab, and hence Mercutio says:

    “She is the fairies’ midwife.”

And “she is so called,” says Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps, “because it was
her supposed custom to steal new-born babes in the night and leave
others in their place.” Mr. Steevens gives a different interpretation to
this line, and says, “It does not mean that she was the midwife to the
fairies, but that she was the person among the fairies whose department
it was to deliver the fancies of sleeping men in their dreams, those
children of an idle brain.”

    [45] This superstition is fully described in chapter on _Birth_.



In years gone by witchcraft was one of the grossest forms of
superstition, and it would be difficult to estimate the extent of its
influence in this and other countries. It is not surprising that
Shakespeare should have made frequent allusions to this popular belief,
considering how extensively it prevailed in the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries; the religious and dramatic literature of the
period being full of it. Indeed, as Mr. Williams[46] points out, “what
the vulgar superstition must have been may be easily conceived, when men
of the greatest genius or learning credited the possibility, and not
only a theoretical but possible occurrence, of these infernal
phenomena.” Thus, Francis Bacon was “not able to get rid of the
principles upon which the creed was based. Sir Edward Coke, his
contemporary, the most acute lawyer of the age, ventured even to define
the devil’s agents in witchcraft. Sir Thomas Browne and Sir Matthew
Hale, in 1664, proved their faith—the one by his solemn testimony in
open court, the other by his still more solemn sentence.” Hence, it was
only to be expected that Shakespeare should introduce into his writings
descriptions of a creed which held such a prominent place in the history
of his day, and which has made itself famous for all time by the
thousands of victims it caused to be sent to the torture-chamber, to the
stake, and to the scaffold. Thus he has given a graphic account of the
celebrated Jeanne D’Arc, the Maid of Orleans, in “1 Henry VI.,” although
Mr. Dowden[47] is of opinion that this play was written by one or more
authors, Greene having had, perhaps, a chief hand in it, assisted by
Peele and Marlowe. He says, “It is a happiness not to have to ascribe to
our greatest poet the crude and hateful handling of the character of
Joan of Arc, excused though to some extent it may be by the occurrence
of view in our old English chronicles.”

    [46] “Superstitions of Witchcraft,” 1865, p. 220.

    [47] “Shakspere Primer,” 1877, p. 63.

Mr. Lecky,[48] too, regards the conception of Joan of Arc given in “1
Henry VI.” as “the darkest blot upon the poet’s genius,” but it must be
remembered that we have only expressed the current belief of his day—the
English vulgar having regarded her as a sorceress, the French as an
inspired heroine. Talbot is represented as accusing her of being a
witch, serving the Evil One, and entering Rouen by means of her
sorceries (iii. 2):

    “France, thou shalt rue this treason with thy tears,
    If Talbot but survive thy treachery.
    Pucelle, that witch, that damned sorceress,
    Hath wrought this hellish mischief unawares,
    That hardly we escaped the pride of France.”

    [48] “Rationalism in Europe,” 1870, vol. i. p. 106.

Further on (v. 3) she is made to summon fiends before her, but she
wishes them in vain, for they speak not, hanging their heads in sign of
approaching disaster.

    “Now help, ye charming spells and periapts;
    And ye choice spirits that admonish me
    And give me signs of future accidents.
    You speedy helpers, that are substitutes
    Under the lordly monarch of the north,
    Appear and aid me in this enterprise.”

But she adds:

    “See, they forsake me! Now the time is come
    That France must vail her lofty-plumed crest,
    And let her head fall into England’s lap.
    My ancient incantations are too weak,
    And hell too strong for me to buckle with:
    Now, France, thy glory droopeth to the dust.”

Finally, convicted of practising sorcery, and filling “the world with
vicious qualities,” she was condemned to be burned. Her death, however,
Sir Walter Scott[49] says, “was not, we are sorry to say, a sacrifice to
superstitious fear of witchcraft, but a cruel instance of wicked policy,
mingled with national jealousy and hatred. The Duke of Bedford, when the
ill-starred Jeanne fell into his hands, took away her life in order to
stigmatize her memory with sorcery, and to destroy the reputation she
had acquired among the French.”

    [49] “Demonology and Witchcraft,” 1881, pp. 192, 193.

The cases of the Duchess of Gloucester and of Jane Shore, also
immortalized by Shakespeare, are both referred to in the succeeding

The Witch of Brentford, mentioned by Mrs. Page in “The Merry Wives of
Windsor” (iv. 2), was an actual personage, the fame, says Staunton,[50]
of whose vaticinations must have been traditionally well known to an
audience of the time, although the records we possess of her are scant
enough. The chief of them is a black-letter tract, printed by William
Copland in the middle of the sixteenth century, entitled “Jyl of
Braintford’s Testament,” from which it appears she was hostess of a
tavern at Brentford.[51] One of the characters in Dekker and Webster’s
“Westward Ho”[52] says, “I doubt that old hag, Gillian of Brainford, has
bewitched me.”

    [50] “Shakespeare,” 1864, vol ii. p. 161.

    [51] See Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 51.

    [52] Webster’s Works, edited by Dyce, 1857, p. 238.

The witches in “Macbeth” are probably Scottish hags. As Mr. Gunnyon
remarks,[53] “They are hellish monsters, brewing hell-broth, having cats
and toads for familiars, loving midnight, riding on the passing storm,
and devising evil against such as offend them. They crouch beneath the
gibbet of the murderer, meet in gloomy caverns, amid earthquake
convulsions, or in thunder, lightning, and rain.” Coleridge, speaking of
them, observes that “the weird sisters are as true a creation of
Shakespeare’s as his Ariel and Caliban—fates, fairies, and materializing
witches being the elements. They are wholly different from any
representation of witches in the contemporary writers, and yet
presented a sufficient external resemblance to the creatures of vulgar
prejudice to act immediately on the audience. Their character consists
in the imaginative disconnected from the good, they are the shadowy
obscure and fearfully anomalous of physical nature, elemental avengers
without sex or kin.”

    [53] “Illustrations of Scottish History, Life, and
    Superstition,” 1879, p. 322.

It has been urged, however, by certain modern critics, that these three
sisters, “who play such an important part in ‘Macbeth,’ are not witches
at all, but are, or are intimately allied to, the Norns or Fates of
Scandinavian paganism.”[54] Thus, a writer in the _Academy_ (Feb. 8,
1879) thinks that Shakespeare drew upon Scandinavian mythology for a
portion of the material he used in constructing these characters, and
that he derived the rest from the traditions of contemporary witchcraft;
in fact, that the “sisters” are hybrids between Norns and witches. The
supposed proof of this is that each sister exercises the special
function of one of the Norns. “The third,” it is said, “is the special
prophetess, while the first takes cognizance of the past, and the second
of the present, in affairs connected with humanity. These are the tasks
of Urda, Verdandi, and Skulda. The first begins by asking, ‘When shall
we three meet again?’ The second decides the time: ‘When the battle’s
lost and won.’ The third the future prophesies: ‘That will be ere the
set of sun.’ The first again asks, ‘Where?’ The second decides: ‘Upon
the heath.’ The third the future prophesies: ‘There to meet with

    [54] Spalding’s “Elizabethan Demonology,” 1880, p. 86.

It is further added that the description of the sisters given by Banquo
(i. 3) applies to Norns rather than witches:

                                        “What are these
    So wither’d and so wild in their attire,
    That look not like the inhabitants o’ the earth,
    And yet are on’t? Live you? or are you aught
    That man may question? You seem to understand me,
    By each at once her chappy finger laying
    Upon her skinny lips: you should be women,
    And yet your beards forbid me to interpret
    That you are so.”

But, as Mr. Spalding truly adds, “a more accurate poetical counterpart
to the prose descriptions given by contemporary writers of the
appearance of the poor creatures who were charged with the crime of
witchcraft could hardly have been penned.” Scot, for instance, in his
“Discovery of Witchcraft” (book i. chap. iii. 7), says: “They are women
which commonly be old, lame, bleare-eied, pale, fowle, and full of
wrinkles; they are leane and deformed, showing melancholie in their
faces.” Harsnet, too, in his “Declaration of Popish Impostures” (1603,
p. 136), speaks of a witch as “an old weather-beaten crone, having her
chin and knees meeting for age, walking like a bow, leaning on a staff,
hollow-eyed, un-toothed, furrowed, having her limbs trembling with
palsy, going mumbling in the streets; one that hath forgotten her
paternoster, yet hath a shrewd tongue to call a drab a drab.”

The beard, also, to which Shakespeare refers in the passage above, was
the recognized characteristic of the witch. Thus, in the “Honest Man’s
Fortune” (ii. 1), it is said, “The women that come to us for disguises
must wear beards, and that’s to say a token of a witch.” In the “Merry
Wives of Windsor” (iv. 2), Sir Hugh Evans says of the disguised
Falstaff: “By yea and no, I think the ’oman is a witch indeed: I like
not when a ’oman has a great peard; I spy a great peard under her

It seems probable, then, that witches are alluded to by Shakespeare in
“Macbeth,” the contemporary literature on the subject fully supporting
this theory. Again, by his introduction of Hecate among the witches in
“Macbeth” (iii. 5), Shakespeare has been censured for confounding
ancient with modern superstitions. But the incongruity is found in all
the poets of the Renaissance. Hecate, of course, is only another name
for Diana. “Witchcraft, in truth, is no modern invention. Witches were
believed in by the vulgar in the time of Horace as implicitly as in the
time of Shakespeare. And the belief that the pagan gods were really
existent as evil demons is one which has come down from the very
earliest ages of Christianity.”[55] As far back as the fourth century,
the Council of Ancyra is said to have condemned the pretensions of
witches; that in the night-time they rode abroad or feasted with their
mistress, who was one of the pagan goddesses, Minerva, Sibylla, or
Diana, or else Herodias.[56] In Middleton’s “Witch,” Hecate is the name
of one of his witches, and she has a son a low buffoon. In Jonson’s “Sad
Shepherd” (ii. 1) Maudlin the witch calls Hecate, the mistress of
witches, “Our dame Hecate.” While speaking of the witches in “Macbeth,”
it may be pointed out that[57] “the full meaning of the first scene is
the fag-end of a witch’s Sabbath, which, if fully represented, would
bear a strong resemblance to the scene at the commencement of the fourth
act. But a long scene on such a subject would be tedious and
uninteresting at the commencement of the play. The audience is therefore
left to assume that the witches have met, performed their conjurations,
obtained from the evil spirits the information concerning Macbeth’s
career that they desired to obtain, and perhaps have been commanded by
the fiends to perform the mission they subsequently carry through.”
Brand[58] describes this “Sabbath of the witches as a meeting to which
the sisterhood, after having been anointed with certain magical
ointments, provided by their infernal leader, are supposed to be carried
through the air on brooms,” etc. It was supposed to be held on a
Saturday, and in past centuries this piece of superstition was most
extensively credited, and was one of the leading doctrines associated
with the system of witchcraft.

    [55] “Notes to Macbeth” (Clark and Wright), 1877, p. 137.

    [56] Scot’s “Discovery of Witchcraft,” 1584, book iii. chap.
    16. See Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” p. 235.

    [57] “Elizabethan Demonology,” pp. 102, 103. See Conway’s
    “Demonology and Devil-lore,” vol. ii. p. 253.

    [58] “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. iii. p. 8.

Referring, in the next place, to the numerous scattered notices of
witches given by Shakespeare throughout his plays, it is evident that he
had made himself thoroughly acquainted with the superstitions connected
with the subject, many of which he has described with the most minute
accuracy. It appears, then, that although they were supposed to possess
extraordinary powers, which they exerted in various ways, yet these were
limited, as in the case of Christmas night, when, we are told in
“Hamlet” (i. 1), “they have no power to charm.” In spite, too, of their
being able to assume the form of any animal at pleasure, the tail was
always wanting. In “Macbeth” (i. 3), the first witch says:

    “And, like a rat without a tail,
    I’ll do, I’ll do, and I’ll do.”

One distinctive mark, also, of a were-wolf, or human being changed into
a wolf, was the absence of a tail. The cat was said to be the form most
commonly assumed by the familiar spirits of witches; as, for instance,
where the first witch says, “I come, Graymalkin!”[59] (i. 1), and
further on (iv. 1), “Thrice the brinded cat hath mew’d.” In German
legends and traditions we find frequent notice of witches assuming the
form of a cat, and displaying their fiendish character in certain
diabolical acts. It was, however, the absence of the tail that only too
often was the cause of the witch being detected in her disguised form.
There were various other modes of detecting witches: one being “the
trial by the stool,” to which an allusion is made in “Troilus and
Cressida” (ii. 1), where Ajax says to Thersites,

    “Thou stool for a witch!”

—a practice which is thus explained in Grey’s “Notes” (ii. 236): “In one
way of trying a witch, they used to place her upon a chair or a stool,
with her legs tied cross, that all the weight of her body might rest
upon her seat, and by that means, after some time, the circulation of
the blood would be much stopped, and her sitting would be as painful as
the wooden horse; and she must continue in this pain twenty-four hours,
without either sleep or meat; and it was no wonder that, when they were
tired out with such an ungodly trial, they would confess themselves many
times guilty to free themselves from such torture.”

    [59] Graymalkin—a gray cat.

Again, it was a part of the system of witchcraft that drawing blood
from a witch rendered her enchantments ineffectual. Thus, in “1 Henry
VI.” (i. 5), Talbot says to the Maid of Orleans:

              “I’ll have a bout with thee;
    Devil or devil’s dam, I’ll conjure thee:
    Blood will I draw on thee, thou art a witch.”

An instance of this superstition occurred some years ago in a Cornish
village, when a man was summoned before the bench of magistrates and
fined, for having assaulted the plaintiff and scratched her with a pin.
Indeed, this notion has by no means died out. As recently as the year
1870, a man eighty years of age was fined at Barnstaple, in Devonshire,
for scratching with a needle the arm of a young girl. He pleaded that he
had “suffered affliction” through her for five years, had had four
complaints on him at once, had lost fourteen canaries, and about fifty
goldfinches, and that his neighbors told him this was the only way to
break the spell and get out of her power.[60]

    [60] Henderson’s “Folk-Lore of Northern Counties,” p. 181.

It was, also, a popular belief that a great share of faith was a
protection from witchcraft. Hence, in the “Comedy of Errors” (iii. 2),
Dromio of Syracuse says of Nell:

          “if my breast had not been made of faith and my heart of steel,
    She had transform’d me to a curtail-dog, and made me turn i’ the

In order, moreover, to check the power of witches, it was supposed to be
necessary to propitiate them, a ceremony which was often performed. It
is alluded to further on in the same play (iv. 3), where Dromio of
Syracuse says—

    “Some devils ask but the parings of one’s nail,
    A rush, a hair, a drop of blood, a pin,
    A nut, a cherry-stone;”

and in “Macbeth” we read of their being propitiated by gifts of blood.
Witches were supposed to have the power of creating storms and other
atmospheric disturbances—a notion to which much prominence is given in
“Macbeth.” Thus, the witches elect to meet in thunder, lightning, or
rain. They are represented as being able to loose and bind the winds (v.
3), to cause vessels to be tempest-tossed at sea. Hence Macbeth
addresses them (iv. 1):

    “Though you untie the winds, and let them fight
    Against the churches; though the yesty waves
    Confound and swallow navigation up;
    Though bladed corn be lodged and trees blown down;
    Though castles topple on their warders’ heads;
    Though palaces and pyramids do slope
    Their heads to their foundations; though the treasure
    Of nature’s germins tumble all together,
    Even till destruction sicken.”

Thus, by way of illustration, we may quote a curious confession made in
Scotland, about the year 1591, by Agnes Sampson, a reputed witch. She
vowed that “at the time his majesty [James VI.] was in Denmark, she took
a cat and christened it, and afterwards bound to each part of that cat
the chiefest parts of a dead man, and several joints of his body; and
that in the night following, the said cat was conveyed into the midst of
the sea, by herself and other witches, sailing in their riddles, or
crieves, and so left the said cat right before the town of Leith, in
Scotland. This done, there arose such a tempest in the sea, as a greater
hath not been seen, which tempest was the cause of the perishing of a
boat or vessel coming from the town of Brunt Island to the town of
Leith, wherein were sundry jewels and rich gifts, which should have been
presented to the new Queen of Scotland at his majesty’s coming to Leith.
Again, it is confessed that the said christened cat was the cause of the
king’s majesty’s ship, at his coming forth of Denmark, having a contrary
wind to the rest of the ships then being in his company, which thing was
most strange and true, as the king’s majesty acknowledged.” It is to
this circumstance that Shakespeare probably alludes in “Macbeth” (i. 3),
where he makes the witch say:

    “Though his bark cannot be lost,
    Yet it shall be tempest-toss’d.”

Witches were also believed to be able to sell or give winds, a notion
thus described in Drayton’s “Moon-Calf” (865):

    “She could sell winds to any one that would
    Buy them for money, forcing them to hold
    What time she listed, tie them in a thread,
    Which ever as the seafarer undid
    They rose or scantled, as his sails would drive
    To the same port whereas he would arrive.”

So, in “Macbeth” (i. 3):

    “_2 Witch._ I’ll give thee a wind.
     _1 Witch._ Thou’rt kind.
     _3 Witch._ And I another.”

Singer quotes from Sumner’s “Last Will and Testament:”

          “In Ireland, and in Denmark both,
    Witches for gold will sell a man a wind,
    Which, in the corner of a napkin wrapp’d,
    Shall blow him safe unto what coast he will.”

At one time the Finlanders and Laplanders drove a profitable trade by
the sale of winds. After being paid they knitted three magical knots,
and told the buyer that when he untied the first he would have a good
gale; when the second, a strong wind; and when the third, a severe

    [61] Olaus Magnus’s “History of the Goths,” 1638, p. 47. See
    note to “The Pirate.”

The sieve, as a symbol of the clouds, has been regarded among all
nations of the Aryan stock as the mythical vehicle used by witches,
nightmares, and other elfish beings in their excursions over land and
sea.[62] Thus, the first witch in “Macbeth” (i. 3), referring to the
scoff which she had received from a sailor’s wife, says:

    “Her husband’s to Aleppo gone, master o’ the Tiger:
    But in a sieve I’ll thither sail.”[63]

    [62] See Hardwick’s “Traditions and Folk-Lore,” pp. 108, 109;
    Kelly’s “Indo-European Folk-Lore,” pp. 214, 215.

    [63] In Greek, ἑπι ῥιπους πλειν, “to go to sea in a sieve,” was
    a proverbial expression for an enterprise of extreme hazard or
    impossible of achievement.—Clark and Wright’s “Notes to
    Macbeth,” 1877, p. 82.

Stories of voyages performed in this way are common enough in Germany.
A man, for instance, going through a corn-field, finds a sieve on the
path, which he takes with him. He does not go far before a young lady
hurries after him, and hunts up and down as if looking for something,
ejaculating all the time, “How my children are crying in England!”
Thereupon the man lays down the sieve, and has hardly done so ere sieve
and lady vanish. In the case of another damsel of the same species,
mentioned by Mr. Kelly, the usual exclamation is thus varied: “My sieve
rim! my sieve rim! how my mother is calling me in England!” At the sound
of her mother’s voice the daughter immediately thinks of her sieve.
Steevens quotes from the “Life of Doctor Fian,” “a notable sorcerer,”
burned at Edinburgh, January, 1591, how that he and a number of witches
went to sea, “each one in a _riddle or cive_.” In the “Discovery of
Witchcraft,” Reginald Scot says it was believed that “witches could sail
in an egg-shell, a cockle or muscle-shell, through and under the
tempestuous seas.” Thus, in “Pericles” (iv. 4), Gower says:

    “Thus time we waste, and longest leagues make short;
    Sail seas in cockles, have, and wish but for’t.”

Their dance is thus noticed in “Macbeth” (iv. 1):

    “I’ll charm the air to give a sound
    While you perform your antic round.”

Witches also were supposed to have the power of vanishing at will, a
notion referred to in “Macbeth” (i. 3), where, in reply to Banquo’s
inquiry as to whither the witches are vanished, Macbeth replies:

    “Into the air; and what seem’d corporal melted
    As breath into the wind.”

In his letter to his wife he likewise observes: “They made themselves
air, into which they vanished.” Hecate, in the third act, fifth scene,
after giving instructions to the weird host, says:

    “I am for the air; this night I’ll spend
    Unto a dismal and a fatal end.”

To this purpose they prepared various ointments, concerning which
Reginald Scot[64] says: “The devil teacheth them to make ointment of the
bowels and members of children, whereby they ride in the air and
accomplish all their desires. After burial they steal them out of their
graves and seethe them in a caldron till the flesh be made potable, of
which they make an ointment by which they ride in the air.” Lord Bacon
also informs us that the “ointment the witches use is reported to be
made of the fat of children digged out of their graves, of the juices of
smallage, wolf bane, and cinquefoil, mingled with the meal of fine
wheat; but I suppose the soporiferous medicines are likest to do it,
which are henbane, hemlock, mandrake, moonshade—or rather
nightshade—tobacco, opium, saffron,”[65] etc. These witch recipes, which
are very numerous, are well illustrated in Shakespeare’s grim caldron
scene, in “Macbeth” (iv. 1), where the first witch speaks of

            “grease that’s sweaten
    From the murderer’s gibbet.”

We may compare a similar notion given by Apuleius, who, in describing
the process used by the witch, Milo’s wife, for transforming herself
into a bird, says: “That she cut the lumps of flesh of such as were

    [64] “Discovery of Witchcraft,” 1584, book iii. chap. i. p. 40;
    see Spalding’s “Elizabethan Demonology,” p. 103.

    [65] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” vol. iii. pp. 8-10.

    [66] Douce, “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” p. 245, says: “See
    Adlington’s Translation (1596, p. 49), a book certainly used by
    Shakespeare on other occasions.”

Another way by which witches exercise their power was by looking into
futurity, as in “Macbeth” (i. 3), where Banquo says to them:

    “If you can look into the seeds of time,
    And say which grain will grow and which will not,
    Speak then to me.”

Charles Knight, in his biography of Shakespeare, quotes a witch trial,
which aptly illustrates the passage above; the case being that of
Johnnet Wischert, who was “indicted for passing to the green-growing
corn in May, twenty-two years since, or thereby, sitting thereupon
tymous in the morning before the sun-rising; and being there found and
demanded what she was doing, thus answered, I shall tell thee; I have
been piling the blades of the corn. I find it will be a dear year; the
blade of the corn grows withersones [contrary to the course of the sun],
and when it grows sonegatis about [with the course of the sun], it will
be a good, cheap year.”

According to a common notion firmly believed in days gone by, witches
were supposed to make waxen figures of those they intended to harm,
which they stuck through with pins, or melted before a slow fire. Then,
as the figure wasted, so the person it represented was said to waste
away also. Thus, in “Macbeth” (i. 3), the first witch says:

    “Weary sev’n-nights, nine times nine,
    Shall he dwindle, peak, and pine.”

Referring to the histories of the Duchess of Gloucester and of Jane
Shore, who were accused of practising this mode of witchcraft,
Shakespeare, in “2 Henry VI.” (i. 2), makes the former address Hume

    “What say’st thou, man? hast them as yet conferr’d
    With Margery Jourdain, the cunning witch,
    With Roger Bolingbroke, the conjurer?
    And will they undertake to do me good?”

She was afterwards, however, accused of consulting witches concerning
the mode of compassing the death of her husband’s nephew, Henry VI. It
was asserted that “there was found in the possession of herself and
accomplices a waxen image of the king, which they melted in a magical
manner before a slow fire, with the intention of making Henry’s force
and vigor waste away by like insensible degrees.”

A similar charge was brought against Jane Shore, the mistress of Edward
IV., by Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Thus, in “King Richard III.” (iii.
4), Gloucester asks Hastings:

    “I pray you all, tell me what they deserve
    That do conspire my death with devilish plots
    Of damned witchcraft, and that have prevail’d
    Upon my body with their hellish charms?”

And he then further adds:

    “Look how I am bewitch’d; behold mine arm
    Is, like a blasted sapling, wither’d up:
    And this is Edward’s wife, that monstrous witch,
    Consorted with that harlot, strumpet Shore,
    That by their witchcraft thus have marked me.”

This superstition is further alluded to in “King John” (v. 4) by Melun,
who, wounded, says:

    “Have I not hideous death within my view,
    Retaining but a quantity of life,
    Which bleeds away, even as a form of wax
    Resolveth from his figure ’gainst the fire?”

And, again, in “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” (ii. 4), Proteus says:

              “for now my love is thaw’d;
    Which, like a waxen image ’gainst a fire,
    Bears no impression of the thing it was.”[67]

    [67] See Henderson’s “Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties,”
    1879, p. 181.

Images were frequently formed of other materials, and maltreated in some
form or other, to produce similar results—a piece of superstition which
still prevails to a great extent in the East. Dubois, in his “People of
India” (1825), speaks of magicians who make small images in mud or clay,
and then write the names of their animosity on the breasts thereof;
these are otherwise pierced with thorns or mutilated, “so as to
communicate a corresponding injury to the person represented.” They were
also said to extract moisture from the body, as in “Macbeth” (i. 3):

    “I will drain him dry as hay.”

Referring to the other mischievous acts of witches, Steevens quotes the
following from “A Detection of Damnable Driftes Practised by Three
Witches, etc., arraigned at Chelmisforde, in Essex, 1579:” “Item—Also
she came on a tyme to the house of one Robert Lathburie, who, dislyking
her dealyng, sent her home emptie; but presently after her departure
his hogges fell sicke and died, to the number of twentie.” Hence in
“Macbeth” (i. 3) in reply to the inquiry of the first witch:

    “Where hast thou been, sister?”

the second replies:

    “Killing swine.”

It appears to have been their practice to destroy the cattle of their
neighbors, and the farmers have to this day many ceremonies to secure
their cows and other cattle from witchcraft; but they seem to have been
most suspected of malice against swine. Harsnet observes how, formerly,
“A sow could not be ill of the measles, nor a girl of the sullens, but
some old woman was charged with witchcraft.”[68]

    [68] See _Pig_, chap. vi.

Mr. Henderson, in his “Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties” (1879, p.
182), relates how a few years ago a witch died in the village of Bovey
Tracey, Devonshire. She was accused of “overlooking” her neighbors’
pigs, so that her son, if ever betrayed into a quarrel with her, used
always to say, before they parted, “Mother, mother, spare my pigs.”

Multiples of three and nine were specially employed by witches, ancient
and modern. Thus, in “Macbeth” (i. 3), the witches take hold of hands
and dance round in a ring nine times—three rounds for each witch, as a
charm for the furtherance of her purposes:[69]

    “Thrice to thine and thrice to mine,
    And thrice again, to make up nine.
    Peace! the charm’s wound up.”

    [69] “Notes to Macbeth,” by Clark and Wright, 1877, p. 84.

The love of witches for odd numbers is further illustrated (iv. 1),
where one of them tells how

    “Thrice and once the hedge-pig whined,”

this being the witches’ way of saying four times.

In Fairfax’s “Tasso” (book xiii. stanza 6) it is said that

    “Witchcraft loveth numbers odd.”

This notion is very old, and we may compare the following quotations
from Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” (xiv. 58):

    “Ter novies carmen magico demurmurat ore.”

And, again (vii. 189-191):

    “Ter se convertit; ter sumtis flumine crinem
    Irroravit aquis; ternis ululatibus ora

Vergil, too, in his “Eclogues” (viii. 75), says:

    “Numero deus impare gaudet.”

The belief in the luck of odd numbers is noticed by Falstaff in the
“Merry Wives of Windsor” (v. 1):

     “They say there is divinity in odd numbers, either in
     nativity, chance, or death!”

In “King Lear” (iv. 2) when the Duke of Albany tells Goneril,

    “She that herself will sliver and disbranch
    From her material sap, perforce must wither
    And come to deadly use”—

he alludes to the use that witches and enchanters were commonly supposed
to make of withered branches in their charms.[70]

    [70] See Jones’s “Credulities, Past and Present,” 1880, pp.

Among other items of witch-lore mentioned by Shakespeare may be noticed
the common belief in the intercourse between demons and witches, to
which Prospero alludes in the “Tempest” (i. 2):

    “Thou poisonous slave, got by the devil himself
    Upon thy wicked dam, come forth!”

This notion is seriously refuted by Scot in his “Discovery of
Witchcraft” (book iv.), where he shows it to be “flat knavery.”

The offspring of a witch was termed “Hag-seed,” and as such is spoken of
by Prospero in the “Tempest” (i. 2).

Witches were also in the habit of saying their prayers backwards: a
practice to which Hero refers in “Much Ado About Nothing” (iii. 1),
where, speaking of Beatrice, she says:

                      “I never yet saw man,
    How wise, how noble, young, how rarely featured,
    But she would spell him backward.”

Familiar spirits[71] attending on magicians and witches were always
impatient of confinement.[72] So in the “Tempest” (i. 2) we find an
illustration of this notion in the following dialogue:

    “_Prospero._ What is’t thou canst demand?

    _Ariel._                                  My liberty.

    _Prospero._ Before the time be out? No more.”

    [71] Allusions to this superstition occur in “Love’s Labour’s
    Lost” (i. 2), “love is a familiar;” in “1 Henry VI.” (iii. 2),
    “I think her old familiar is asleep;” and in “2 Henry VI.” (iv.
    7), “he has a familiar under his tongue.”

    [72] See Scot’s “Discovery of Witchcraft,” 1584, p. 85.

Lastly, the term “Aroint thee” (“Macbeth,” i. 3), used by the first
witch, occurs again in “King Lear” (iii. 4), “Aroint thee, witch, aroint
thee.” That _aroint_ is equivalent to “away,” “begone,” seems to be
agreed, though its etymology is uncertain.[73] “Rynt thee” is used by
milkmaids in Cheshire to a cow, when she has been milked, to bid her get
out of the way. Ray, in his “Collection of North Country Words” (1768,
p. 52), gives “Rynt ye, by your leave, stand handsomely, as rynt you
witch, quoth Bessie Locket to her mother. Proverb, Chesh.” Some connect
it with the adverb “aroume,” meaning “abroad,” found in Chaucer’s “House
of Fame” (book ii. stanza 32):

    “That I a-roume was in the field.”

Other derivations are from the Latin _averrunco_: the Italian _rogna_, a
cutaneous disease, etc.

    [73] Sec Dyce’s “Glossary,” pp. 18, 19.

How thoroughly Shakespeare was acquainted with the system of witchcraft
is evident from the preceding pages, in which we have noticed his
allusions to most of the prominent forms of this species of
superstition. Many other items of witch-lore, however, are referred to
by him, mention of which is made in succeeding chapters.[74]

    [74] “Notes to Macbeth” (Clark and Wright), pp. 81, 82.



Few subjects have, from time immemorial, possessed a wider interest than
ghosts, and the superstitions associated with them in this and other
countries form an extensive collection in folk-lore literature. In
Shakespeare’s day, it would seem that the belief in ghosts was specially
prevalent, and ghost tales were told by the firelight in nearly every
household. The young, as Mr. Goadby, in his “England of Shakespeare,”
says (1881, p. 196), “were thus touched by the prevailing superstitions
in their most impressionable years. They looked for the incorporeal
creatures of whom they had heard, and they were quick to invest any
trick of moonbeam shadow with the attributes of the supernatural.” A
description of one of these tale-tellings is given in the “Winter’s
Tale” (ii. 1):

    “_Her._ What wisdom stirs amongst you? Come, sir, now
    I am for you again: pray you, sit by us,
    And tell’s a tale.

    _Mam._         Merry or sad shall’t be?

    _Her._ As merry as you will.

    _Mam._                        A sad tale’s best for winter:
    I have one of sprites and goblins.

    _Her._                         Let’s have that, good sir.
    Come on, sit down: Come on, and do your best
    To fright me with your sprites: you’re powerful at it.

    _Mam._ There was a man,—

    _Her._                     Nay, come, sit down; then on.

    _Mam._ Dwelt by a churchyard: I will tell it softly;
    Yond crickets shall not hear it.

    _Her._                       Come on, then,
    And give’t me in mine ear.”

The important part which Shakespeare has assigned to the ghost in
“Hamlet” has a special value, inasmuch as it illustrates many of the
old beliefs current in his day respecting their history and habits.
Thus, according to a popular notion, ghosts are generally supposed to
assume the exact appearance by which they were usually known when in the
material state, even to the smallest detail of their dress. So Horatio
tells Hamlet how, when Marcellus and Bernardo were on their watch (i.

              “A figure like your father,
    Arm’d at point, exactly, cap-a-pe,
    Appears before them, and with solemn march
    Goes slow and stately by them.”

Further on, when the ghost appears again, Hamlet addresses it thus:

                  “What may this mean,
    That thou, dead corse, again, in complete steel,
    Revisit’st thus the glimpses of the moon,
    Making night hideous.”

In the graphic description of Banquo’s ghost in “Macbeth” (iii. 4), we
have a further allusion to the same belief; one, indeed, which is
retained at the present day with as much faith as in days of old.

Shakespeare has several allusions to the notion which prevailed in days
gone by, of certain persons being able to exorcise or raise spirits.
Thus, in “Cymbeline” (iv. 2), Guiderius says over Fidele’s grave:

    “No exorciser harm thee.”

In “Julius Cæsar” (ii. 1), Ligarius says:

                        “Soul of Rome!
    Brave son, derived from honourable loins!
    Thou, like an exorcist, hast conjured up
    My mortified spirit. Now bid me run,
    And I will strive with things impossible;
    Yea, get the better of them.”

In “All’s Well that Ends Well” (v. 3) the king says:

                  “Is there no exorcist
    Beguiles the truer office of mine eyes?
    Is’t real that I see?”

This superstition, it may be added, has of late years gained additional
notoriety since the so-called spiritualism has attracted the attention
and support of the credulous. As learning was considered necessary for
an exorcist, the schoolmaster was often employed. Thus, in the “Comedy
of Errors” (iv. 4), the schoolmaster Pinch is introduced in this

Within, indeed, the last fifty years the pedagogue was still a reputed
conjurer. In “Hamlet” (i. 1), Marcellus, alluding to the ghost, says:

    “Thou art a scholar; speak to it, Horatio.”

And in “Much Ado About Nothing” (ii. 1), Benedick says:

    “I would to God some scholar would conjure her.”

For the same reason exorcisms were usually practised by the clergy in
Latin; and so Toby, in the “Night Walker” of Beaumont and Fletcher (ii.
1), says:

    “Let’s call the butler up, for he speaks Latin,
    And that will daunt the devil.”

It was also necessary that spirits, when evoked, should be questioned
quickly, as they were supposed to be impatient of being interrogated.
Hence in “Macbeth” (iv. 1) the apparition says:

    “Dismiss me. Enough!”

The spirit, likewise, in “2 Henry VI.” (i. 4) utters these words:

    “Ask what thou wilt. That I had said and done!”

Spirits were supposed to maintain an obdurate silence till interrogated
by the persons to whom they made their special appearance.[75] Thus
Hamlet, alluding to the appearance of the ghost, asks Horatio (i. 2):

    “Did you not speak to it?”

Whereupon he replies:

                      “My lord, I did;
    But answer made it none: yet once, methought
    It lifted up its head and did address
    Itself to motion, like as it would speak.”

    [75] We may compare the words “unquestionable spirit” in “As
    You Like It” (iii. 2), which means “a spirit averse to

The walking of spirits seems also to have been enjoined by way of
penance. The ghost of Hamlet’s father (i. 5) says:

    “I am thy father’s spirit,
    Doom’d for a certain term to walk the night,
    And for the day confin’d to fast in fires,
    Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
    Are burnt and purg’d away.”

And further on (iii. 2) Hamlet exclaims:

    “It is a damned ghost that we have seen.”

This superstition is referred to by Spenser in his “Fairy Queen” (book
i. canto 2):

    “What voice of damned ghost from Limbo lake
    Or guileful spright wand’ring in empty ayre,
    Sends to my doubtful eares these speeches rare?”

According to a universal belief prevalent from the earliest times, it
was supposed that ghosts had some particular reason for quitting the
mansions of the dead, “such as a desire that their bodies, if unburied,
should receive Christian rites of sepulture, that a murderer might be
brought to due punishment,” etc.[76] On this account Horatio (“Hamlet,”
i. 1) invokes the ghost:

    “If there be any good thing to be done,
    That may to thee do ease and grace to me,
    Speak to me.”

And in a later scene (i. 4) Hamlet says:

    “Say, why is this? wherefore? What should we do?”

    [76] Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” pp. 450, 451.

The Greeks believed that such as had not received funeral rites would be
excluded from Elysium; and thus the wandering shade of Patroclus
appears to Achilles in his sleep, and demands the performance of his
funeral. The younger Pliny tells a story of a haunted house at Athens,
in which a ghost played all kinds of pranks, owing to his funeral rites
having been neglected. A further reference to the superstition occurs in
“Titus Andronicus” (i. 1), where Lucius, speaking of the unburied sons
of Titus, says:

    “Give us the proudest prisoner of the Goths,
    That we may hew his limbs, and, on a pile,
    _Ad manes fratrum_ sacrifice his flesh,
    Before this earthy prison of their bones;
    That so the shadows be not unappeased,
    Nor we disturbed with prodigies on earth.”

In olden times, spirits were said to have different allotments of time,
suitable to the variety and nature of their agency. Prospero, in the
“Tempest” (i. 2), says to Caliban:

            “Be sure, to-night thou shalt have cramps,
    Side-stitches that shall pen thy breath up; urchins
    Shall, for that vast[77] of night that they may work,
    All exercise on thee.”

    [77] Vast, _i. e._, space of night. So in “Hamlet” (i. 2):

        “In the dead waste and middle of the night.”

According to a popular notion, the presence of unearthly beings was
announced by an alteration in the tint of the lights which happened to
be burning—a superstition alluded to in “Richard III.” (v. 3), where the
tyrant exclaims, as he awakens:

    “The lights burn blue.—It is now dead midnight,
    Cold fearful drops stand on my trembling flesh—

       *       *       *       *       *

    Methought the souls of all that I had murder’d
    Came to my tent.”

So in “Julius Cæsar” (iv. 3), Brutus, on seeing the ghost of Cæsar,

    “How ill this taper burns! Ha! who comes here?”

It has been a widespread belief from the most remote period that ghosts
cannot bear the light, and so disappear at the dawn of day; their signal
being the cock-crow.[78] The ghost of Hamlet’s father says (i. 5):

    “But, soft! methinks I scent the morning air;
    Brief let me be”—


                  “Fare thee well at once.
    The glow-worm shows the matin to be near,
    And ’gins to pale his uneffectual fire:
    Adieu, adieu! Hamlet, remember me.”

    [78] See p. 104.

Again, in “King Lear” (iii. 4), Edgar says: “This is the foul fiend
Flibbertigibbet: he begins at curfew, and walks till the first cock.”

The time of night, as the season wherein spirits wander abroad, is
further noticed by Gardiner in “Henry VIII.” (v. 1):

                        “Affairs, that walk,
    As they say spirits do, at midnight.”

It was a prevalent notion that a person who crossed the spot on which a
spectre was seen became subject to its malignant influence. In “Hamlet”
(i. 1), Horatio says, in reference to the ghost:

    “But soft, behold! lo, where it comes again!
    I’ll cross it, though it blast me.”

Lodge, in his “Illustrations of British History” (iii. 48), tells us
that among the reasons for supposing the death of Ferdinand, Earl of
Derby (who died young, in 1594), to have been occasioned by witchcraft,
was the following: “On Friday there appeared a tall man, who twice
crossed him swiftly; and when the earl came to the place where he saw
this man, he fell sick.”

Reginald Scot, in his “Discovery of Witchcraft” (1584), enumerates the
different kinds of spirits, and particularly notices white, black, gray,
and red spirits. So in “Macbeth” (iv. 1), “black spirits” are
mentioned—the charm song referred to (like the one in act iv.) being
found in Middleton’s “Witch” (v. 2):

    “Black spirits and white,
      Red spirits and gray;
    Mingle, mingle, mingle,
      You that mingle may.”

A well-known superstition which still prevails in this and foreign
countries is that of the “spectre huntsman and his furious host.” As
night-time approaches, it is supposed that this invisible personage
rides through the air with his yelping hounds; their weird sound being
thought to forbode misfortune of some kind. This popular piece of
folk-lore exists in the north of England under a variety of forms among
our peasantry, who tenaciously cling to the traditions which have been
handed down to them.[79] It has been suggested that Shakespeare had some
of these superstitions in view when he placed in the mouth of Macbeth
(i. 7), while contemplating the murder of Duncan, the following

    “And pity, like a naked new-born babe,
    Striding the blast, or heaven’s cherubim, horsed
    Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
    Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,
    That tears shall drown the wind!”

    [79] See Hardwick’s “Traditions, Superstitions, and Folk-lore,”
    1872, pp. 153-176.

Again, in “The Tempest” (iv. 1), Prospero and Ariel are represented as
setting on spirits, in the shape of hounds, to hunt Stephano and
Trinculo. This species of diabolical or spectral chase was formerly a
popular article of belief. As Drake aptly remarks,[80] “the hell-hounds
of Shakespeare appear to be sufficiently formidable, for, not merely
commissioned to hunt their victims, they are ordered, likewise, as
goblins,” to—

                      “grind their joints
    With dry convulsions; shorten up their sinews
    With aged cramps; and more pinch-spotted make them
    Than pard or cat o’ mountain.

    _Ariel._                    Hark, they roar!

    _Prospero._ Let them be hunted soundly.”

    [80] “Shakespeare and His Times,” vol. i. p. 378.


Shakespeare has several references to the old superstitious belief in
the transmigration of souls, traces of which may still be found in the
reverence paid to the robin, the wren, and other birds. Thus, in “The
Merchant of Venice” (iv. 1), Gratiano says to Shylock:

    “Thou almost makest me waver in my faith
    To hold opinion with Pythagoras
    That souls of animals infuse themselves
    Into the trunks of men: thy currish spirit
    Govern’d a wolf, who, hang’d for human slaughter,
    Even from the gallows did his fell soul fleet,
    And, whilst thou lay’st in thy unhallow’d dam,
    Infused itself in thee; for thy desires
    Are wolfish, bloody, starved, and ravenous.”

Caliban, when remonstrating with the drunken Stephano and Trinculo, for
delaying at the mouth of the cave of Prospero, instead of taking the
magician’s life (“Tempest,” iv. 1), says:

    “I will have none on’t: we shall lose our time,
    And all be turn’d to barnacles, or to apes.”

In “Hamlet” (iv. 5), in the scene where Ophelia, in her mental
aberration, quotes snatches of old ballads, she says: “They say the owl
was a baker’s daughter! Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we
may be.”[81]

    [81] See _Owl_, chap. vi.

Again, in “Twelfth Night” (iv. 2), there is another reference in the
amusing passage where the clown, under the pretence of his being “Sir
Topas, the curate,” questions Malvolio, when confined in a dark room, as
a presumed lunatic:

     “_Mal._ I am no more mad than you are: make the trial of it in
     any constant question.

     _Clo._ What is the opinion of Pythagoras concerning wild fowl?

     _Mal._ That the soul of our grandam might haply inhabit a

     _Clo._ What thinkest thou of his opinion?

     _Mal._ I think nobly of the soul, and no way approve his

     _Clo._ Fare thee well. Remain thou still in darkness: thou
     shalt hold the opinion of Pythagoras ere I will allow of thy
     wits, and fear to kill a woodcock lest thou dispossess the
     soul of thy grandam.”

Although this primitive superstition is almost effete among civilized
nations, yet it still retains an important place in the religious
beliefs of savage and uncivilized communities.



The state of popular feeling in past centuries with regard to the active
agency of devils has been well represented by Reginald Scot, who, in his
work on Witchcraft, has shown how the superstitious belief in demonology
was part of the great system of witchcraft. Many of the popular
delusions of this terrible form of superstition have been in a masterly
manner exposed by Shakespeare; and the scattered allusions which he has
given, illustrative of it, are indeed sufficient to prove, if it were
necessary, what a highly elaborate creed it was. Happily, Shakespeare,
like the other dramatists of the period, has generally treated the
subject with ridicule, showing that he had no sympathy with the grosser
opinions shared by various classes in those times, whether held by king
or clown. According to an old belief, still firmly credited in the
poet’s day, it was supposed that devils could at any moment assume
whatever form they pleased that would most conduce to the success of any
contemplated enterprise they might have in hand; and hence the charge of
being a devil, so commonly brought against innocent and harmless persons
in former years, can easily be understood. Among the incidental
allusions to this notion, given by Shakespeare, Prince Hal (“1 Henry
IV.,” ii. 4) tells Falstaff “there is a devil haunts thee in the
likeness of an old fat man;” “an old white-bearded Satan.” In the
“Merchant of Venice” (iii. 1) Salanio, on the approach of Shylock, says:
“Let me say ‘amen’ betimes, lest the devil cross my prayer, for here he
comes in the likeness of a Jew.”

Indeed, “all shapes that man goes up and down in” seem to have been at
the devil’s control, a belief referred to in “Timon of Athens” (ii. 2):

    “_Var. Serv._ What is a whoremaster, fool?

    _Fool._ A fool in good clothes, and something like thee. ’Tis
    a spirit: sometime ’t appears like a lord; sometime like a
    lawyer; sometime like a philosopher, with two stones moe
    than’s artificial one: he is very often like a knight; and,
    generally, in all shapes that man goes up and down in from
    fourscore to thirteen, this spirit walks in.”

A popular form assumed by evil spirits was that of a negro or Moor, to
which Iago alludes when he incites Brabantio to search for his daughter,
in “Othello” (i. 1):

    “Zounds, sir, you are robb’d; for shame, put on your gown;
    Your heart is burst, you have lost half your soul;
    Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
    Is tupping your white ewe. Arise, arise!
    Awake the snorting citizens with the bell,
    Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you.
    Arise, I say.”

On the other hand, so diverse were the forms which devils were supposed
to assume that they are said occasionally to appear in the fairest form,
even in that of a girl (ii. 3):

    “When devils will the blackest sins put on,
    They do suggest at first with heavenly shows.”

So in “The Comedy of Errors” (iv. 3) we have the following dialogue:

    “_Ant. S._ Satan, avoid! I charge thee, tempt me not!

    _Dro. S._ Master, is this mistress Satan?

    _Ant. S._ It is the devil.

    _Dro. S._ Nay, she is worse, she is the devil’s dam; and here
    she comes in the habit of a light wench; and thereof comes
    that the wenches say, ‘God damn me;’ that’s as much as to say,
    ‘God make me a light wench.’ It is written, they appear to men
    like angels of light.”

(Cf. also “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” iv. 3.) In “King John” (iii. 1) even
the fair Blanch seemed to Constance none other than the devil tempting
Lewis “in likeness of a new untrimmed bride.”

Not only, too, were devils thought to assume any human shape they
fancied, but, as Mr. Spalding remarks,[82] “the forms of the whole of
the animal kingdom appear to have been at their disposal; and, not
content with these, they seem to have sought for unlikely shapes to
appear in”—the same characteristic belonging also to the fairy tribe.

    [82] “Elizabethan Demonology,” p. 49.

Thus, when Edgar is trying to persuade the blind Gloucester that he has
in reality cast himself over the cliff, he describes the being from whom
he is supposed to have just departed:

    “As I stood here below, methought his eyes
    Were two full moons; he had a thousand noses,
    Horns whelk’d and wav’d like the enridged sea:
    It was some fiend.”

Again, Edgar says (“King Lear,” iii. 6): “The foul fiend haunts poor Tom
in the voice of a nightingale”—the allusion probably being to the
following incident related by Friswood Williams: “There was also another
strange thing happened at Denham about a bird. Mistris Peckham had a
nightingale which she kept in a cage, wherein Maister Dibdale took great
delight, and would often be playing with it. The nightingale was one
night conveyed out of the cage, and being next morning diligently sought
for, could not be heard of, till Maister Mainie’s devil, in one of his
fits (as it was pretended), said that the wicked spirit which was in
this examinate’s sister had taken the bird out of the cage and killed it
in despite of Maister Dibdale.”[83]

    [83] Harsnet’s “Declaration of Egregious Popish Impostures,” p. 225.

Even the shape of a fly was a favorite one with evil spirits, so much
so, that the term “fly” was a popular synonym for a familiar. In “Titus
Andronicus” (iii. 2) there is an allusion to this belief, where Marcus,
being rebuked by Titus for having killed a fly, gives as his reason:

                “It was a black ill-favour’d fly,
    Like to the empress’ Moor: therefore I kill’d him.”

Mr. Spalding gives the following illustrations of the superstition: “At
the execution of Urban Grandier, the famous magician of Loudun, in 1634,
a large fly was seen buzzing about the stake; and a priest promptly
seizing the opportunity of improving the occasion for the benefit of the
onlookers, declared that Beelzebub had come in his own proper person to
carry off Grandier’s soul to hell. In 1664 occurred the celebrated witch
trials which took place before Sir Matthew Hale. The accused were
charged with bewitching two children, and part of the evidence against
them was that flies and bees were seen to carry into their victims’
mouths the nails and pins which they afterwards vomited.”

Once more, another form devils assumed was that of a dead friend. Thus
“Hamlet” (i. 4), when he confronts the apparition, exclaims:

    “Angels and ministers of grace defend us!
    Be thou a spirit of health, or goblin damn’d,
    Bring with thee airs from heaven, or blasts from hell,
    Be thy intents wicked, or charitable,
    Thou com’st in such a questionable shape
    That I will speak to thee”—

for, as Mr. Spalding remarks, “it cannot be imagined that Hamlet
imagined that a ‘goblin damned’ could actually be the spirit of his dead
father; and, therefore, the alternative in his mind must be that he saw
a devil assuming his father’s likeness—a form which the Evil One knew
would most incite Hamlet to intercourse.”

The same idea seems present in Horatio’s mind:

    “What, if it tempt you toward the flood, my lord,
    Or to the dreadful summit of the cliff,
    That beetles o’er his base into the sea,
    And there assume some other horrible form,
    Which might deprive your sovereignty of reason,
    And draw you into madness?”

Once more, in the next act (ii. 2), Hamlet again expresses his doubts:

                    “The spirit that I have seen
    May be the devil: and the devil hath power
    To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and, perhaps,
    Out of my weakness and my melancholy,
    As he is very potent with such spirits,
    Abuses me to damn me.”

In the Elizabethan times, too, no superstitious belief exerted a more
pernicious and baneful influence on the credulous and ignorant than the
notion that evil spirits from time to time entered into human beings,
and so completely gained a despotic control over them as to render them
perfectly helpless. Harsnet, in his “Declaration of Egregious Popish
Impostures” (1603), has exposed this gross superstition; and a
comparison of the passages in “King Lear,” spoken by Edgar when feigning
madness, with those given by Harsnet, will show that Shakespeare has
accurately given the contemporary belief on the subject. Mr. Spalding
also considers that nearly all the allusions in “King Lear” refer to a
youth known as Richard Mainey, a minute account of whose supposed
possession has been given by Harsnet.

Persons so possessed were often bound and shut up in a dark room,
occasionally being forced to submit to flagellation—a treatment not
unlike that described in “Romeo and Juliet” (i. 2):

    “Not mad, but bound more than a madman is;
    Shut up in prison, kept without my food,
    Whipp’d and tormented.”

In the “Comedy of Errors” (iv. 4) we have an amusing scene, further
illustrative, probably, of the kind of treatment adopted in
Shakespeare’s day:

    “_Courtesan._ How say you now? is not your husband mad?

    _Adriana._ His incivility confirms no less—
               Good doctor Pinch, you are a conjurer;
               Establish him in his true sense again,
               And I will please you what you will demand.

    _Luciana._ Alas, how fiery and how sharp he looks!

    _Courtesan._ Mark how he trembles in his ecstasy!

    _Pinch._ Give me your hand, and let me feel your pulse.

    _Ant. E._ There is my hand, and let it feel your ear.

    _Pinch._ I charge thee, Satan, hous’d within this man,
             To yield possession to my holy prayers,
             And to thy state of darkness hie thee straight:
             I conjure thee by all the saints in heaven.”

Pinch further says:

    “They must be bound, and laid in some dark room.”

As Brand remarks,[84] there is no vulgar story of the devil’s having
appeared anywhere without a cloven foot. In graphic representations he
is seldom or never pictured without one. In the following passage, where
Othello is questioning whether Iago is a devil or not, he says (v. 2):

    “I look down towards his feet;—but that’s a fable.—
    If that thou be’st a devil, I cannot kill thee.”

    [84] “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. ii. pp. 517-519.

Dr. Johnson gives this explanation: “I look towards his feet to see if,
according to the common opinion, his feet be cloven.”

In Massinger’s “Virgin Martyr” (iii. 3), Harpax, an evil spirit,
following Theophilus in the shape of a secretary, speaks thus of the
superstitious Christian’s description of his infernal enemy:

            “I’ll tell you what now of the devil:
    He’s no such horrid creature; cloven-footed,
    Black, saucer-ey’d, his nostrils breathing fire,
    As these lying Christians make him.”


It was formerly commonly believed that not only kingdoms had their
tutelary guardians, but that every person had his particular genius or
good angel, to protect and admonish him by dreams, visions, etc.[85]
Hence, in “Antony and Cleopatra” (ii. 3), the soothsayer, speaking of
Cæsar, says:

                “O Antony, stay not by his side:
    Thy demon,—that’s thy spirit which keeps thee,—is
    Noble, courageous, high, unmatchable,
    Where Cæsar’s is not; but, near him, thy angel
    Becomes a fear, as being o’erpower’d.”

    [85] Ibid. vol. i. pp. 365-367.

Thus Macbeth (iii. 1) speaks in a similar manner in reference to Banquo:

                  “There is none but he
    Whose being I do fear; and, under him,
    My Genius is rebuked; as, it is said,
    Mark Antony’s was by Cæsar.”

So, too, in “2 Henry IV.” (i. 2), the Chief-justice says:

    “You follow the young prince up and down, like his ill angel.”

We may quote a further reference in “Julius Cæsar” (iii. 2), where
Antony says:

    “For Brutus, as you know, was Cæsar’s angel.”

“In the Roman world,” says Mr. Tylor, in his “Primitive Culture” (1873,
vol. ii. p. 202), “each man had his ‘genius natalis,’ associated with
him from birth to death, influencing his action and his fate, standing
represented by its proper image, as a _lar_ among the household gods and
at weddings and joyous times, and especially on the anniversary of the
birthday when genius and man began their united career, worship was paid
with song and dance to the divine image, adorned with garlands, and
propitiated with incense and libations of wine. The demon or genius was,
as it were, the man’s companion soul, a second spiritual Ego. The
Egyptian astrologer warned Antonius to keep far from the young Octavius,
‘For thy demon,’ said he, ‘is in fear of his.’”

The allusion by Lady Macbeth (i. 5), in the following passage, is to the
spirits of Revenge:

                            “Come, you spirits
    That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
    And fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full
    Of direst cruelty!”

In Nash’s “Pierce Pennilesse” we find a description of these spirits and
of their office. “The second kind of devils which he most employeth are
those northern _Martii_, called the _Spirits of Revenge_, and the
authors of massacres and seed-men of mischief; for they have commission
to incense men to rapine, sacrilege, theft, murder, wrath, fury, and all
manner of cruelties; and they command certain of the southern spirits to
wait upon them, as also great Arioch, that is termed the Spirit of
Revenge.” In another passage we are further told how “the spirits of the
aire will mixe themselves with thunder and lightning, and so infect the
clime where they raise any tempest, that suddenly great mortalitie shall
ensue of the inhabitants.” “Aerial spirits or devils,” according to
Burton’s “Anatomy of Melancholy,” “are such as keep quarter most part in
the aire, cause many tempests, thunder and lightnings, tear oakes, fire
steeples, houses, strike men and beasts,” etc. Thus, in “King John”
(iii. 2), the Bastard remarks:

    “Now, by my life, this day grows wondrous hot;
    Some airy devil hovers in the sky,
    And pours down mischief.”

It was anciently supposed that all mines of gold, etc., were guarded by
evil spirits. Thus Falstaff, in “2 Henry IV.” (iv. 3), speaks of
learning as “a mere hoard of gold kept by a devil.” This superstition
still prevails, and has been made the subject of many a legend. Thus, it
is believed by the peasantry living near Largo-Law, Scotland, that a
rich mine of gold is concealed in the mountain. “A spectre once appeared
there, supposed to be the guardian of the mine, who, being accosted by a
neighboring shepherd, promised to tell him at a certain time and on
certain conditions, where ‘the gowd mine is in Largo-Law,’ especially
enjoining that the horn sounded for the housing of the cows at the
adjoining farm of Balmain should not blow. Every precaution having been
taken, the ghost was true to his tryst; but, unhappily, when he was
about to divulge the desired secret, Tammie Norrie, the cowherd of
Balmain, blew a blast, whereupon the ghost vanished, with the

    ‘Woe to the man that blew the horn,
    For out of the spot he shall ne’er be borne.’

The unlucky horn-blower was struck dead, and, as it was found impossible
to remove the body, a cairn of stones was raised over it.”[86]

    [86] See Jones’s “Credulities, Past and Present,” 1880, p. 133.

Steevens considers that when Macbeth (iii. 2) says:

    “Good things of day begin to droop and drowse;
    Whiles night’s black agents to their preys do rouse,”

he refers to those demons who were supposed to remain in their several
places of confinement all day, but at the close of it were released;
such, indeed, as are mentioned in “The Tempest” (v. 1), as rejoicing “to
hear the solemn curfew,” because it announced the hour of their freedom.

Among other superstitions we may quote one in the “Merchant of Venice”
(iii. 1), where Salanio says: “Let me say ‘amen’ betimes, lest the devil
cross my prayer.”

Of the devils mentioned by Shakespeare may be noted the following:

_Amaimon_ is one of the chief, whose dominion is on the north side of
the infernal gulf. He might be bound or restrained from doing hurt from
the third hour till noon, and from the ninth hour till evening. In the
“Merry Wives of Windsor” (ii. 2) Ford mentions this devil, and in “1
Henry IV.” (ii. 4) Falstaff says: “That same mad fellow of the north,
Percy; and he of Wales, that gave Amaimon the bastinado, and made
Lucifer cuckold.”[87]

    [87] See Scot’s “Discovery of Witchcraft,” 1584, p. 393;
    Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” p. 264.

The north was always supposed to be the particular habitation of bad
spirits. Milton, therefore, assembles the rebel angels in the north. In
“1 Henry VI.” (v. 3), La Pucelle invokes the aid of the spirits:

    “Under the lordly monarch of the north.”

_Barbason._ This demon would seem to be the same as “Marbas, alias
Barbas,” who, as Scot[88] informs us, “is a great president, and
appeareth in the forme of a mightie lion; but at the commandment of a
conjurer cometh up in the likeness of man, and answereth fullie as
touching anything which is hidden or secret.” In the “Merry Wives of
Windsor” (ii. 2) it is mentioned by Ford in connection with Lucifer, and
again in “Henry V.” (ii. 1) Nym tells Pistol: “I am not Barbason; you
cannot conjure me.”

    [88] Ibid. p. 378.

The names of the several fiends in “King Lear,” Shakespeare is supposed
to have derived from Harsnet’s “Declaration of Egregious Popish
Impostures” (1603).

_Flibbertigibbet_, one of the fiends that possessed poor Tom, is, we are
told (iv. 1), the fiend “of mopping and mowing, who since possesses
chambermaids and waiting-women.” And again (iii. 4), “he begins at
curfew, and walks till the first cock; he gives the web and the pin.”

_Frateretto_ is referred to by Edgar (iii. 6): “Frateretto calls me; and
tells me, Nero is an angler in the lake of darkness. Pray, innocent, and
beware the foul fiend.”

_Hobbididance_ is noticed as “prince of dumbness” (iv. 1), and perhaps
is the same as Hopdance (iii. 6), “who cries,” says Edgar, “in Tom’s
belly for two white herring.”

_Mahu_, like _Modo_, would seem to be another name for “the prince of
darkness” (iii. 4), and further on (iv. 1) he is spoken of as the fiend
“of stealing;” whereas the latter is described as the fiend “of murder.”
Harsnet thus speaks of them: “Maho was general dictator of hell; and
yet, for good manners’ sake, he was contented of his good nature to make
show, that himself was under the check of Modu, the graund devil in
Ma(ister) Maynie.”

_Obidicut_, another name of the fiend known as Haberdicut (iv. 1).

_Smulkin_ (iii. 4). This is spelled Smolkin by Harsnet.

Thus, in a masterly manner, Shakespeare has illustrated and embellished
his plays with references to the demonology of the period; having been
careful in every case—while enlivening his audience—to convince them of
the utter absurdity of this degraded form of superstition.



Many of the most beautiful and graphic passages in Shakespeare’s
writings have pictured the sun in highly glowing language, and often
invested it with that sweet pathos for which the poet was so signally
famous. Expressions, for instance, such as the following, are ever
frequent: “the glorious sun” (“Twelfth Night,” iv. 3); “heaven’s
glorious sun” (“Love’s Labour’s Lost,” i. 1); “gorgeous as the sun at
midsummer” (“1 Henry IV.,” iv. 1); “all the world is cheered by the sun”
(“Richard III.,” i. 2); “the sacred radiance of the sun” (“King Lear,”
i. 1); “sweet tidings of the sun’s uprise” (“Titus Andronicus,” iii. 1),
etc. Then, again, how often we come across passages replete with pathos,
such as “thy sun sets weeping in the lowly west” (“Richard II.,” ii. 4);
“ere the weary sun set in the west” (“Comedy of Errors,” i. 2); “the
weary sun hath made a golden set” (“Richard III.,” v. 3); “The sun, for
sorrow, will not show his head” (“Romeo and Juliet,” v. 3), etc.
Although, however, Shakespeare has made such constant mention of the
sun, yet his allusions to the folk-lore connected with it are somewhat

According to the old philosophy the sun was accounted a planet,[89] and
thought to be whirled round the earth by the motion of a solid sphere,
in which it was fixed. In “Antony and Cleopatra” (iv. 13), Cleopatra

                                    “O sun,
    Burn the great sphere thou mov’st in! darkling stand
    The varying shore o’ the world.”

    [89] Singer’s “Shakespeare,” vol. x. p. 292.

Supposing this sphere consumed, the sun must wander in endless space,
and, as a natural consequence, the earth be involved in endless night.

In “1 Henry IV.” (i. 2), Falstaff, according to vulgar astronomy, calls
the sun a “wandering knight,” and by this expression evidently alludes
to some knight of romance. Mr. Douce[90] considered the allusion was to
“The Voyage of the Wandering Knight,” by Jean de Cathenay, of which the
translation, by W. Goodyeare, appeared about the year 1600. The words
may be a portion of some forgotten ballad.

    [90] “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” 1839, pp. 255, 256.

A pretty fancy is referred to in “Romeo and Juliet” (iii. 5), where
Capulet says:

    “When the sun sets, the air doth drizzle dew;
    But for the sunset of my brother’s son
    It rains downright.”

And so, too, in the “Rape of Lucrece:”

    “But as the earth doth weep, the sun being set.”

“That Shakespeare thought it was the air,” says Singer,[91] “and not the
earth, that drizzled dew, is evident from many passages in his works.
Thus, in ‘King John’ (ii. 1) he says: ‘Before the dew of evening fall.’”
Steevens, alluding to the following passage in “A Midsummer-Night’s
Dream” (iii. 1), “and when she [_i. e._, the moon] weeps, weeps every
little flower,” says that Shakespeare “means that every little flower is
moistened with dew, as if with tears; and not that the flower itself
drizzles dew.”

    [91] Singer’s “Shakespeare,” vol. viii. p. 208.

By a popular fancy, the sun was formerly said to dance at its rising on
Easter morning—to which there may be an allusion in “Romeo and Juliet”
(iii. 5), where Romeo, addressing Juliet, says:

                    “look, love, what envious streaks
    Do lace the severing clouds in yonder east;
    Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day
    Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.”

We may also compare the expression in “Coriolanus” (v. 4):

    “The trumpets, sackbuts, psalteries, and fifes,
    Tabors, and cymbals, and the shouting Romans,
    Make the sun dance.”

Mr. Knight remarks, there was “something exquisitely beautiful in the
old custom of going forth into the fields before the sun had risen on
Easter Day, to see him mounting over the hills with tremulous motion, as
if it were an animate thing, bounding in sympathy with the redeemed of

    [92] See Knight’s “Life of Shakespeare,” 1843, p. 63.

A cloudy rising of the sun has generally been regarded as ominous—a
superstition equally prevalent on the Continent as in this country. In
“Richard III.” (v. 3), King Richard asks:

                  “Who saw the sun to-day?

      _Ratcliff._ Not I, my lord.

      _K. Richard._ Then he disdains to shine; for, by the book
    He should have braved the east an hour ago:
    A black day will it be to somebody.”

“The learned Moresin, in his ‘Papatus,’” says Brand,[93] “reckons among
omens the cloudy rising of the sun.” Vergil, too, in his first Georgic
(441-449), considers it a sign of stormy weather:[94]

    “Ille ubi nascentem maculis variaverit ortum
    Conditus in nubem, medioque refugerit orbe,
    Suspecti tibi sint imbres; namque urget ab alto
    Arboribusque satisque Notus pecorique sinister,
    Aut ubi sub lucem densa inter nubila sese
    Diversi rumpent radii, aut ubi pallida surget,
    Tithoni croceum linquens Aurora cubile,
    Heu, male tum mitis defendet pampinus uvas:
    Tam multa in tectis crepitans salit horrida grando.”

    [93] “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. iii. p. 241.

    [94] See Swainson’s “Weather-Lore,” 1873, p. 176, for popular
    adages on the Continent.

A red sunrise is also unpropitious, and, according to a well-known

    “If red the sun begins his race,
    Be sure the rain will fall apace.”

This old piece of weather-wisdom is mentioned by our Lord in St.
Matthew, xvi. 2, 3: “When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair
weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather
to-day, for the sky is red and lowring.” Shakespeare, in his “Venus and
Adonis,” thus describes it:

        “a red morn, that ever yet betoken’d
    Wreck to the seaman, tempest to the field,
      Sorrow to shepherds, woe unto the birds,
      Gusts and foul flaws to herdmen and to herds.”

Mr. Swainson[95] shows that this notion is common on the Continent.
Thus, at Milan the proverb runs, “If the morn be red, rain is at hand.”

    [95] “Weather-Lore,” pp. 175, 176.

Shakespeare, in “Richard II.” (ii. 4), alludes to another indication of

    “Thy sun sets weeping in the lowly west,
    Witnessing storms to come, woe and unrest.”

A “watery sunset” is still considered by many a forerunner of wet. A red
sunset, on the other hand, beautifully described in “Richard III.” (v.

    “The weary sun hath made a golden set.”—

is universally regarded as a prognostication of fine weather, and we
find countless proverbs illustrative of this notion, one of the most
popular being, “Sky red at night, is the sailor’s delight.”

From the earliest times an eclipse of the sun was looked upon as an omen
of coming calamity; and was oftentimes the source of extraordinary alarm
as well as the occasion of various superstitious ceremonies. In 1597,
during an eclipse of the sun, it is stated that, at Edinburgh, men and
women thought the day of judgment was come.[96] Many women swooned, much
crying was heard in the streets, and in fear some ran to the kirk to
pray. Mr. Napier says he remembers “an eclipse about 1818, when about
three parts of the sun was covered. The alarm in the village was very
great, indoor work was suspended for the time, and in several families
prayers were offered for protection, believing that it portended some
awful calamity; but when it passed off there was a general feeling of
relief.” In “King Lear” (i. 2), Gloucester remarks: “These late eclipses
in the sun and moon portend no good to us: though the wisdom of nature
can reason it thus and thus, yet nature finds itself scourged by the
sequent effects; love cools, friendship falls off, brothers divide; in
cities, mutinies; in countries, discord; in palaces, treason; and the
bond cracked ’twixt son and father.” Othello, too (v. 2), in his agony
and despair, exclaims:

                           “O heavy hour!
    Methinks it should be now a huge eclipse
    Of sun and moon, and that the affrighted globe
    Should yawn at alteration.”

    [96] Napier’s “Folk-Lore of West of Scotland,” 1879, p. 141.

Francis Bernier[97] says that, in France, in 1654, at an eclipse of the
sun, “some bought drugs against the eclipse, others kept themselves
close in the dark in their caves and their well-closed chambers, others
cast themselves in great multitudes into the churches; those
apprehending some malign and dangerous influence, and these believing
that they were come to the last day, and that the eclipse would shake
the foundations of nature.”[98]

    [97] Quoted in Southey’s “Commonplace Book,” 1849, 2d series,
    p. 462.

    [98] See Tylor’s “Primitive Culture,” 1871, vol. i. pp. 261,
    296, 297, 321.

In “3 Henry VI.” (ii. 1), Shakespeare refers to a curious circumstance
in which, on a certain occasion, the sun is reported to have appeared
like three suns. Edward says, “do I see three suns?” to which Richard

    “Three glorious suns, each one a perfect sun;
    Not separated with the racking clouds,
    But sever’d in a pale clear-shining sky.
    See, see! they join, embrace, and seem to kiss,
    As if they vow’d some league inviolable:
    Now are they but one lamp, one light, one sun,
    In this the heaven figures some event.”[99]

    [99] In “3 Henry VI.” (ii. 1), Edward says:

                      “henceforward will I bear
        Upon my target three fair shining suns.”

This fact is mentioned both by Hall and Holinshed; the latter says: “At
which tyme the sun (as some write) appeared to the Earl of March like
_three sunnes_, and sodainely joyned altogether in one, upon whiche
sight hee tooke such courage, that he fiercely setting on his enemyes
put them to flight.” We may note here that on Trinity Sunday three suns
are supposed to be seen. In the “Mémoires de l’Académie Celtique” (iii.
447), it is stated that “Le jour de la fête de la Trinité, quelques
personne vont de grand matin dans la campagne, pour y voir levre trois
soleils à la fois.”

According to an old proverb, to quit a better for a worse situation was
spoken of as to go “out of God’s blessing into the warm sun,” a
reference to which we find in “King Lear” (ii. 2), where Kent says:

    “Good king, that must approve the common saw,
    Thou out of heaven’s benediction com’st
    To the warm sun.”

Dr. Johnson thinks that Hamlet alludes to this saying (i. 2), for when
the king says to him,

    “How is it that the clouds still hang on you?”

he replies,

    “Not so, my lord; I am too much i’ the sun,”

_i. e._, out of God’s blessing.

This expression, says Mr. Dyce,[100] is found in various authors from
Heywood down to Swift. The former has:

    “In your running from him to me, yee runne
    Out of God’s blessing into the warme sunne;”

and the latter:

    “_Lord Sparkish._ They say, marriages are made in heaven; but
    I doubt, when she was married, she had no friend there.

    _Neverout._ Well, she’s got out of God’s blessing into the
    warm sun.”[101]

    [100] “Glossary to Shakespeare,” p. 283.

    [101] Ray gives the Latin equivalent “Ab equis ad asinos.”

There seems to have been a prejudice from time immemorial against
sunshine in March; and, according to a German saying, it were “better to
be bitten by a snake than to feel the sun in March.” Thus, in “1 Henry
IV.” (iv. 1), Hotspur says:

                     “worse than the sun in March,
    This praise doth nourish agues.”

Shakespeare employs the word “sunburned” in the sense of uncomely,
ill-favored. In “Much Ado” (ii. 1), Beatrice says, “I am sunburnt;” and
in “Troilus and Cressida” (i. 3), Æneas remarks:

    “The Grecian dames are sunburnt, and not worth
    The splinter of a lance.”

_Moon._ Apart from his sundry allusions to the “pale-faced,” “silver
moon,” Shakespeare has referred to many of the superstitions associated
with it, several of which still linger on in country nooks. A widespread
legend of great antiquity informs us that the moon is inhabited by a
man,[102] with a bundle of sticks on his back, who has been exiled
thither for many centuries, and who is so far off that he is beyond the
reach of death. This tradition, which has given rise to many
superstitions, is still preserved under various forms in most countries;
but it has not been decided who the culprit originally was, and how he
came to be imprisoned in his lonely abode. Dante calls him Cain; Chaucer
assigns his exile as a punishment for theft, and gives him a thorn-bush
to carry, while Shakespeare also loads him with the thorns, but by way
of compensation gives him a dog for a companion. In “The Tempest” (ii.
2), Caliban asks Stephano whether he has “not dropped from heaven?” to
which he answers, “Out o’ the moon, I do assure thee: I was the man i’
the moon when time was.” Whereupon Caliban says: “I have seen thee in
her and I do adore thee: my mistress show’d me thee, and thy dog and thy
bush.” We may also compare the expression in “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream”
(v. 1), where, in the directions for the performance of the play of
“Pyramus and Thisbe,” Moonshine is represented “with lanthorn, dog, and
bush of thorn.” And further on, in the same scene, describing himself,
Moonshine says: “All that I have to say, is, to tell you that the
lanthorn is the moon; I, the man in the moon;[103] this thorn-bush, my
thorn-bush; and this dog, my dog.”

    [102] Baring-Gould’s “Curious Myths of the Middle Ages,” 1877,
    p. 190.

    [103] Cf. “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (v. 2): “Yet still she is the
    moon, and I the man.”

Ordinarily,[104] however, his offence is stated to have been
Sabbath-breaking—an idea derived from the Old Testament. Like the man
mentioned in the Book of Numbers (xv. 32), he is caught gathering sticks
on the Sabbath; and, as an example to mankind, he is condemned to stand
forever in the moon, with his bundle on his back. Instead of a dog, one
German version places him with a woman, whose crime was churning butter
on Sunday. The Jews have a legend that Jacob is the moon, and they
believe that his face is visible. Mr. Baring-Gould[105] says that the
“idea of locating animals in the two great luminaries of heaven is very
ancient, and is a relic of a primeval superstition of the Aryan race.”
The natives of Ceylon, instead of a man, have placed a hare in the moon;
and the Chinese represent the moon by “a rabbit pounding rice in a

    [104] Fiske, “Myths and Mythmakers,” 1873, p. 27.

    [105] “Curious Myths of the Middle Ages,” 1877, p. 197.

    [106] Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” 1839, p. 10.

From the very earliest times the moon has not only been an object of
popular superstition, but been honored by various acts of adoration. In
Europe,[107] in the fifteenth century, “it was a matter of complaint
that some still worshipped the new moon with bended knee, or hood or hat
removed. And to this day we may still see a hat raised to her, half in
conservatism and half in jest. It is with deference to silver as the
lunar metal that money is turned when the act of adoration is performed,
while practical peasant wit dwells on the ill-luck of having no piece of
silver when the new moon is first seen.” Shakespeare often incidentally
alludes to this form of superstition. To quote one or two out of many
instances, Enobarbus, in “Antony and Cleopatra” (iv. 9), says:

    “Be witness to me, O thou blessed moon!”

    [107] For further information on this subject, see Tylor’s
    “Primitive Culture,” 1873, vol. i. pp. 288, 354-356; vol. ii.
    pp. 70, 202, 203.

In “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (v. 2) the king says:

    “Vouchsafe, bright moon, and these thy stars, to shine,
    Those clouds, removed, upon our watery eyne.”

Indeed, it was formerly a common practice for people to address
invocations to the moon,[108] and even at the present day we find
remnants of this practice both in this country and abroad. Thus, in many
places it is customary for young women to appeal to the moon to tell
them of their future prospects in matrimony,[109] the following or
similar lines being repeated on the occasion:

    “New moon, new moon, I hail thee:
    New moon, new moon, be kind to me;
    If I marry man or man marry me,
    Show me how many moons it will be.”

    [108] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” vol. iii. pp. 142, 143.

    [109] See “English Folk-lore,” pp. 43, 44.

It was also the practice to swear by the moon, to which we find an
allusion in “Romeo and Juliet” (ii. 2), where Juliet reproves her lover
for testifying his affections by this means:

    “O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon,
    That monthly changes in her circled orb,
    Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.”

And again, in “The Merchant of Venice” (v. 1), where Gratiano exclaims:

    “By yonder moon I swear you do me wrong.”

We may note here that the inconstancy[110] of the moon is the subject
of various myths, of which Mr. Tylor has given the following examples:
Thus, an Australian legend says that Mityan, the moon, was a native cat,
who fell in love with some one else’s wife, and was driven away to
wander ever since. A Slavonic legend tells us that the moon, king of
night, and husband of the sun, faithlessly loved the morning star,
wherefore he was cloven through in punishment, as we see him in the sky.
The Khasias of the Himalaya say that the moon falls monthly in love with
his mother-in-law, who throws ashes in his face, whence his spots.[111]

    [110] “Primitive Culture,” 1873, vol. i. pp. 354, 355.

    [111] The words “moonish” (“As You Like It,” iii. 2) and
    “moonlike” (“Love’s Labour’s Lost,” iv. 3) are used in the
    sense of inconstant.

As in the case of the sun, an eclipse of the moon was formerly
considered ominous. The Romans[112] supposed it was owing to the
influence of magical charms, to counteract which they had recourse to
the sound of brazen instruments of all kinds. Juvenal alludes to this
practice in his sixth Satire (441), when he describes his talkative

        “Jam nemo tubas, nemo æra fatiget,
    Una laboranti poterit succurrere lunæ.”

    [112] See Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” 1839, p. 18.

Indeed, eclipses, which to us are well-known phenomena witnessing to the
exactness of natural laws, were, in the earlier stages of civilization,
regarded as “the very embodiment of miraculous disaster.” Thus, the
Chinese believed that during eclipses of the sun and moon these
celestial bodies were attacked by a great serpent, to drive away which
they struck their gongs or brazen drums. The Peruvians, entertaining a
similar notion, raised a frightful din when the moon was eclipsed,[113]
while some savages would shoot up arrows to defend their luminaries
against the enemies they fancied were attacking them. It was also a
popular belief that the moon was affected by the influence of
witchcraft, a notion referred to by Prospero in “The Tempest” (v. 1),
who says:

    “His mother was a witch, and one so strong
    That could control the moon.”

    [113] Tylor’s “Primitive Culture,” vol. i. p. 329.

In a former scene (ii. 1) Gonzalo remarks: “You are gentlemen of brave
mettle; you would lift the moon out of her sphere.” Douce[114] quotes a
marginal reference from Adlington’s translation of “Apuleius” (1596), a
book well known to Shakespeare: “Witches in old time were supposed to be
of such power that they could put downe the moone by their
inchantment.”[115] One of the earliest references to this superstition
among classical authorities is that in the “Clouds” of Aristophanes,
where Strepsiades proposes the hiring of a Thessalian witch, to bring
down the moon and shut her up in a box, that he might thus evade paying
his debts by a month. Ovid, in his “Metamorphoses” (bk. xii. 263), says:

    “Mater erat Mycale; quam deduxisse canendo
    Sæpe reluctanti constabat cornua lunæ.”

    [114] “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” 1839, p. 16.

    [115] See Scot’s “Discovery of Witchcraft,” 1584, pp. 174, 226,
    227, 250.

Horace, in his fifth Epode (45), tells us:

    “Quæ sidera excantata voce Thessala,
      Lunamque cælo deripit.”[116]

    [116] For further examples, see Douce’s “Illustrations of
    Shakespeare,” p. 17.

Reverting again to the moon’s eclipse, such a season, being considered
most unlucky for lawful enterprises, was held suitable for evil designs.
Thus, in “Macbeth” (iv. 1), one of the witches, speaking of the
ingredients of the caldron, says:

    “Gall of goat, and slips of yew,
    Sliver’d in the moon’s eclipse.”

As a harbinger of misfortune it is referred to in “Antony and
Cleopatra,” where (iii. 13), Antony says:

                 “Alack, our terrene moon
    Is now eclipsed; and it portends alone
    The fall of Antony!”

Milton, in his “Paradise Lost” (bk. i. 597), speaks much in the same

                   “as when the sun new-risen
    Looks through the horizontal misty air
    Shorn of his beams, or from behind the moon
    In dim eclipse, disastrous twilight sheds
    On half the nations.”

And in “Lycidas,” he says of the unlucky ship that was wrecked:

    “It was that fatal and perfidious bark
    Built in the eclipse.”

Its sanguine color is also mentioned as an indication of coming
disasters in “Richard II.” (ii. 4), where the Welsh captain remarks how:

    “The pale-faced moon looks bloody on the earth.”

And its paleness, too, in “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (ii. 2), is spoken
of as an unpropitious sign.

According to a long-accepted theory, insane persons are said to be
influenced by the moon: and many old writers have supported this notion.
Indeed, Shakespeare himself, in “Othello” (v. 2), tells how the moon

    “She comes more nearer earth than she was wont,
    And makes men mad.”

Dr. Forbes Winslow, in his “Light: its Influence on Life and Health,”
says that “it is impossible altogether to ignore the evidence of such
men as Pinel, Daquin, Guislain, and others, yet the experience of modern
psychological physicians is to a great degree opposed to the deductions
of these eminent men.” He suggests that the alleged changes observed
among the insane at certain phases of the moon may arise, not from the
direct, but the indirect, influence of the planet. It is well known that
certain important meteorological phenomena result from the various
phases of the moon, such as the rarity of the air, the electric
conditions of the atmosphere, the degree of heat, dryness, moisture, and
amount of wind prevailing. It is urged, then, that those suffering from
diseases of the brain and nervous system, affecting the mind, cannot be
considered as exempt from the operation of agencies that are admitted
to affect patients afflicted with other maladies. Dr. Winslow further
adds, that “an intelligent lady, who occupied for about five years the
position of matron in my establishment for insane ladies, has remarked
that she invariably observed among them a greater agitation when the
moon was at its full.” A correspondent of “Notes and Queries” (2d
series, xii. 492) explains the apparent aggravated symptoms of madness
at the full moon by the fact that the insane are naturally more restless
on light than on dark nights, and that in consequence loss of sleep
makes them more excitable. We may note here, that in “Antony and
Cleopatra” (iv. 9) Enobarbus invokes the moon as the “sovereign mistress
of true melancholy.”

The moisture of the moon is invariably noticed by Shakespeare. In
“Hamlet” (i. 1) Horatio tells how

                         “the moist star,
    Upon whose influence Neptune’s empire stands,
    Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse.”

In “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (ii. 1) Titania says:

    “Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
    Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
    That rheumatic diseases do abound.”

And in “The Winter’s Tale” (i. 2) Polixenes commences by saying how:

    “Nine changes of the watery star hath been
    The shepherd’s note, since we have left our throne
    Without a burthen.”

We may compare, too, the words of Enobarbus in “Antony and Cleopatra”
(iv. 9), who, after addressing the moon, says: “The poisonous damp of
night disponge upon me.” And once more, in “Romeo and Juliet” (i. 4), we
read of the “moonshine’s watery beams.”

The same idea is frequently found in old writers. Thus, for instance, in
Newton’s “Direction for the Health of Magistrates and Studentes” (1574),
we are told that “the moone is ladye of moisture.” Bartholomæus, in “De
Proprietate Rerum,” describes the moon as “mother of all humours,
minister and ladye of the sea.”[117] In Lydgate’s prologue to his “Story
of Thebes” there are two lines not unlike those in “A Midsummer-Night’s
Dream,” already quoted:

    “Of Lucina the moone, moist and pale,
    That many shoure fro heaven made availe.”

    [117] See Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” 1839, p. 116.

Of course, the moon is thus spoken of as governing the tides, and from
its supposed influence on the weather.[118] In “1 Henry IV.” (i. 2)
Falstaff alludes to the sea being governed “by our noble and chaste
mistress, the moon;” and in “Richard III.” (ii. 2) Queen Elizabeth says:

    “That I, being govern’d by the watery moon,
    May send forth plenteous tears to drown the world.”

    [118] See Swainson’s “Weather-Lore,” 1873, pp. 182-192.

We may compare, too, what Timon says (“Timon of Athens,” iv. 3):

    “The sea’s a thief, whose liquid surge resolves
    The moon into salt tears.”

The expression of Hecate, in “Macbeth” (iii. 5):

    “Upon the corner of the moon
    There hangs a vaporous drop profound,”

seems to have been meant for the same as the _virus lunare_ of the
ancients, being a foam which the moon was supposed to shed on particular
herbs, when strongly solicited by enchantment. Lucan introduces Erictho
using it (“Pharsalia,” book vi. 669): “Et virus large lunare ministrat.”

By a popular astrological doctrine the moon was supposed to exercise
great influence over agricultural operations, and also over many “of the
minor concerns of life, such as the gathering of herbs, the killing of
animals for the table, and other matters of a like nature.” Thus the
following passage in the “Merchant of Venice” (v. 1), it has been
suggested, has reference to the practices of the old herbalists who
attributed particular virtues to plants gathered during particular
phases of the moon and hours of the night. After Lorenzo has spoken of
the moon shining brightly, Jessica adds:

                         “In such a night
    Medea gather’d the enchanted herbs,
    That did renew old Æson.”

And in “Hamlet” (iv. 7) the description which Laertes gives of the
weapon-poison refers to the same notion:

    “I bought an unction of a mountebank,
    So mortal that, but dip a knife in it,
    Where it draws blood no cataplasm so rare,
    Collected from all simples that have virtue
    Under the moon, can save the thing from death.”

The sympathy of growing and declining nature with the waxing and waning
moon is a superstition widely spread, and is as firmly believed in by
many as when Tusser, in his “Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry,”
under “February” gave the following advice:

    “Sow peason and beans in the wane of the moon,
    Who soweth them sooner, he soweth too soon,
    That they with the planet may rest and arise,
    And flourish, with bearing most plentifull wise.”

Warburton considers that this notion is alluded to by Shakespeare in
“Troilus and Cressida” (iii. 2), where Troilus, speaking of the
sincerity of his love, tells Cressida it is,

    “As true as steel, as plantage to the moon,
    As sun to day, as turtle to her mate.”

There is a little doubt as to the exact meaning of plantage in this
passage. Nares observes that it probably means anything that is planted;
but Mr. Ellacombe, in his “Plant-lore of Shakespeare” (1878, p. 165),
says “it is doubtless the same as plantain.”

It appears that, in days gone by, “neither sowing, planting, nor
grafting was ever undertaken without a scrupulous attention to the
increase or waning of the moon.”[119] Scot, in his “Discovery of
Witchcraft,” notes how “the poore husbandman perceiveth that the
increase of the moone maketh plants fruitful, so as in the full moone
they are in best strength; decaieing in the wane, and in the conjunction
do utterlie wither and vade.”

    [119] See Tylor’s “Primitive Culture,” 1873, vol. i. p. 130;
    “English Folk-Lore,” 1878, pp. 41, 42.

It was a prevailing notion that the moon had an attending star—Lilly
calls it “Lunisequa;” and Sir Richard Hawkins, in his “Observations in a
Voyage to the South Seas in 1593,” published in 1622, remarks: “Some I
have heard say, and others write, that there is a starre which never
separateth itself from the moon, but a small distance.” Staunton
considers that there is an allusion to this idea in “Love’s Labour’s
Lost” (iv. 3), where the king says:

    “My love, her mistress, is a gracious moon:
    She an attending star, scarce seen a light.”

The sharp ends of the new moon are popularly termed horns—a term which
occurs in “Coriolanus” (i. 1)—

                            “they threw their caps
    As they would hang them on the horns o’ the moon.”

It is made use of in Decker’s “Match me in London” (i.):

    “My lord, doe you see this change i’ the moone?
    Sharp hornes doe threaten windy weather.”

When the horns of the moon appear to point upwards the moon is said to
be like a boat, and various weather prognostications are drawn from this
phenomenon.[120] According to sailors, it is an omen of fine weather,
whereas others affirm it is a sign of rain—resembling a basin full of
water about to fall.

    [120] See Swainson’s “Weather-Lore,” pp. 182, 183.

Among other items of folk-lore connected with the moon we may mention
the moon-calf, a false conception, or fœtus imperfectly formed, in
consequence, as was supposed, of the influence of the moon. The best
account of this fabulous substance may be found in Drayton’s poem with
that title. Trinculo, in “The Tempest” (ii. 2), supposes Caliban to be a
moon-calf: “I hid me under the dead moon-calf’s gaberdine.” It has been
suggested that in calling Caliban a moon-calf Shakespeare alluded to a
superstitious belief formerly current, in the intercourse of demons and
other non-human beings with mankind. In the days of witchcraft, it was
supposed that a class of devils called Incubi and Succubi roamed the
earth with the express purpose of tempting people to abandon their
purity of life. Hence, all badly deformed children were suspected of
having had such an undesirable parentage.[121]

    [121] See Williams’s “Superstitions of Witchcraft,” pp.
    123-125; Scot’s “Discovery of Witchcraft,” bk. iv. p. 145.

A curious expression, “a sop o’ the moonshine,” occurs in “King Lear”
(ii. 2), which probably alludes to some dish so called. Kent says to the
steward, “Draw, you rogue; for, though it be night, yet the moon shines;
I’ll make a sop o’ the moonshine of you.”

There was a way of dressing eggs, called “eggs in moonshine,” of which
Douce[122] gives the following description: “Eggs were broken and boiled
in salad oil till the yolks became hard. They were eaten with slices of
onion fried in oil, butter, verjuice, nutmeg, and salt.” “A sop in the
moonshine” must have been a sippet in this dish.[123]

    [122] “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” 1839, p. 405.

    [123] Nares’s “Glossary,” 1872, vol. ii. p. 580.

_Planets._ The irregular motion of the planets was supposed to portend
some disaster to mankind. Ulysses, in “Troilus and Cressida” (i. 3),
declares how:

                     “when the planets
    In evil mixture, to disorder wander,
    What plagues and what portents! what mutiny!
    What raging of the sea! shaking of earth!
    Commotion in the winds! frights, changes, horrors,
    Divert and crack, rend and deracinate
    The unity and married calm of states
    Quite from their fixture.”

Indeed, the planets themselves were not thought, in days gone by, to be
confined in any fixed orbit of their own, but ceaselessly to wander
about, as the etymology of their name demonstrates. A popular name for
the planets was “wandering stars,” of which Cotgrave says, “they bee
also called wandering starres, because they never keep one certain place
or station in the firmament.” Thus Hamlet (v. 1), approaching the grave
of Ophelia, addresses Laertes:

                       “What is he, whose grief
    Bears such an emphasis? whose phrase of sorrow
    Conjures the wandering stars, and makes them stand
    Like wonder-wounded hearers?”

In Tomkis’s “Albumazar” (i. 1) they are called “wanderers:”

    “Your patron Mercury, in his mysterious character
    Holds all the marks of the other wanderers.”

According to vulgar astrology, the planets, like the stars, were
supposed to affect, more or less, the affairs of this world, a notion
frequently referred to by old writers. In “Winter’s Tale” (ii. 1),
Hermione consoles herself in the thought—

            “There’s some ill planet reigns:
    I must be patient till the heavens look
    With an aspect more favourable.”

In “1 Henry VI.” (i. 1), the Duke of Exeter asks:

    “What! shall we curse the planets of mishap
    That plotted thus our glory’s overthrow?”

Again, King Richard (“Richard III.,” iv. 4):

    “Be opposite all planets of good luck
    To my proceeding.”

And once more, in “Hamlet” (i. 1), Marcellus, speaking of the season of
our Saviour’s birth, says, “then no planets strike.”

That diseases, too, are dependent upon planetary influence is referred
to in “Timon of Athens” (iv. 3):

    “Be as a planetary plague, when Jove
    Will o’er some high-viced city hang his poison
    In the sick air: let not thy sword skip one.”

“Fiery Trigon” was a term in the old judicial astrology, when the three
upper planets met in a fiery sign—a phenomenon which was supposed to
indicate rage and contention. It is mentioned in “2 Henry IV.” (ii. 4):

    “_P. Hen._ Saturn and Venus this year in conjunction! what
    says the almanac to that?

    _Poins._ And, look, whether the fiery Trigon, his man, be not
    lisping to his master’s old tables.”

Dr. Nash, in his notes to Butler’s “Hudibras,” says: “The twelve signs
in astrology are divided into four _trigons_ or triplicities, each
denominated from the connatural element; so they are three fiery
[signs], three airy, three watery, and three earthy:”

  Fiery—Aries, Leo, Sagittarius.
  Airy—Gemini, Libra, Aquarius.
  Watery—Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces.
  Earthly—Taurus, Virgo, Capricornus.

Thus, when the three superior planets met in Aries, Leo, or Sagittarius,
they formed a _fiery trigon_; when in Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces, a
watery one.

_Charles’s Wain_ was the old name for the seven bright stars of the
constellation Ursa Major. The constellation was so named in honor of
Charlemagne; or, according to some, it is a corruption of chorles or
churl’s, _i. e._, rustic’s, wain. Chorl is frequently used for a
countryman, in old books, from the Saxon ceorl. In “1 Henry IV.” (ii.
1), the Carrier says, “Charles’ wain is over the new chimney.”

_Music of the spheres._ Pythagoras was the first who suggested this
notion, so beautifully expressed by Shakespeare in the “Merchant of
Venice” (v. 1):

    “There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st,
    But in his motion like an angel sings,
    Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins.”

Plato says that a siren sits on each planet, who carols a most sweet
song, agreeing to the motion of her own particular planet, but
harmonizing with the other seven. Hence Milton, in his “Arcades,” speaks
of the “celestial Sirens’ harmony, that sit upon the nine enfolded

_Stars._ An astrological doctrine, which has kept its place in modern
popular philosophy, asserts that mundane events are more or less
influenced by the stars. That astronomers should have divided the sun’s
course into imaginary signs of the Zodiac, was enough, says Mr.
Tylor,[124] to originate astrological rules “that these celestial signs
have an actual effect on real earthly rams, bulls, crabs, lions,
virgins.” Hence we are told that a child born under the sign of the Lion
will be courageous; but one born under the Crab will not go forth well
in life; one born under the Waterman is likely to be drowned, and so
forth. Shakespeare frequently alludes to this piece of superstition,
which, it must be remembered, was carried to a ridiculous height in his
day. In “Julius Cæsar” (i. 2), Cassius says:

    “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
    But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

    [124] “Primitive Culture,” vol. i. p. 131.

In the following passage in “Twelfth Night” (i. 3):

    “_Sir Tob._                Were we not born under Taurus?

    _Sir And._ Taurus! that’s sides and heart.

    _Sir Tob._ No, sir; it is legs and thighs.”

“Both the knights,” says Mr. Douce (“Illustrations of Shakespeare,” p.
54), “are wrong in their astrology, according to the almanacs of the
time, which make Taurus govern the neck and throat.”

Beatrice, in “Much Ado about Nothing” (ii. 1), says: “there was a star
danced, and under that was I born;” Kent, in “King Lear” (iv. 3),

                                  “It is the stars,
    The stars above us, govern our conditions;”

and once more, in “Pericles” (i. 1), King Antiochus, speaking of the
charming qualities of his daughter, says:

    “Bring in our daughter, clothed like a bride,
    For the embracements even of Jove himself:
    At whose conception, till Lucina reign’d,
    Nature this dowry gave, to glad her presence,
    The senate-house of planets all did sit,
    To knit in her their best perfections.”[125]

    [125] Cf. “Richard III.” (iv. 4); “1 Henry IV.” (i. 1, iii. 1);
    “Antony and Cleopatra” (iii. 13); “The Tempest” (i. 2);
    “Hamlet” (i. 4); “Cymbeline” (v. 4); “Winter’s Tale” (iii. 2);
    “Richard II.” (iv. 1).

Throughout the East, says Mr. Tylor,[126] “astrology even now remains a
science in full esteem. The condition of mediæval Europe may still be
perfectly realized by the traveller in Persia, where the Shah waits for
days outside the walls of his capital till the constellations allow him
to enter; and where, on the days appointed by the stars for letting
blood, it literally flows in streams from the barbers’ shops in the
streets. Professor Wuttke declares that there are many districts in
Germany where the child’s horoscope is still regularly kept with the
baptismal certificate in the family chest.” Astrology is ridiculed in a
masterly manner in “King Lear” (i. 2); and Warburton suggests that if
the date of the first performance of “King Lear” were well considered,
“it would be found that something or other had happened at that time
which gave a more than ordinary run to this deceit, as these words seem
to indicate—‘I am thinking, brother, of a prediction I read this other
day, what should follow these eclipses.’” Zouch,[127] speaking of Queen
Mary’s reign, tells us that “Judicial astrology was much in use long
after this time. Its predictions were received with reverential awe: and
even men of the most enlightened understandings were inclined to believe
that the conjunctions and oppositions of the planets had no little
influence in the affairs of the world.”

    [126] “Primitive Culture,” vol. i. p. 131; see Brand’s “Popular
    Antiquities,” 1849, vol. iii. pp. 341-348.

    [127] “Walton’s Lives,” 1796, p. 113, note.

The pretence, also, of predicting events, such as pestilence, from the
aspect of the heavenly bodies—one form of medical astrology—is noticed
in “Venus and Adonis:”

    “Long may they kiss each other, for this cure!
    O, never let their crimson liveries wear!
    And as they last, their verdure still endure,
    To drive infection from the dangerous year!
      That the star-gazers, having writ on death,
      May say, the plague is banish’d by thy breath!”

Heroes were in ancient times immortalized by being placed among the
stars, a custom to which Bedford refers in “1 Henry VI.” (i. 1):

    “A far more glorious star thy soul will make
    Than Julius Cæsar.”

And, again, “Pericles” (v. 3) exclaims:

    “Heavens make a star of him.”

On a medal of Hadrian, the adopted son of Trajan and Plotina, the
divinity of his parents is expressed by placing a star over their heads;
and in like manner the medals of Faustina the Elder exhibit her on an
eagle, her head surrounded with stars.[128]

    [128] Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” 1839, p. 397.

In “2 Henry IV.” (iv. 3) a ludicrous term for the stars is, “cinders of
the elements;” and in “Merchant of Venice” (v. 1) they are designated
“candles of the night.”

_Meteors._ An elegant description of a meteor well known to sailors is
given by Ariel in “The Tempest” (i. 2):

                     “sometime I’d divide
    And burn in many places; on the topmast,
    The yards, and bowsprit, would I flame distinctly,
    Then meet and join.”

It is called, by the French and Spaniards inhabiting the coasts of the
Mediterranean, St. Helme’s or St. Telme’s fire; by the Italians, the
fire of St. Peter and St. Nicholas. It is also known as the fire of St.
Helen, St. Herm, and St. Clare. Douce[129] tells us that whenever it
appeared as a single flame it was supposed by the ancients to be Helena,
the sister of Castor and Pollux, and in this state to bring ill luck,
from the calamities which this lady is known to have caused in the
Trojan war. When it came as a double flame it was called Castor and
Pollux, and accounted a good omen. It has been described as a little
blaze of fire, sometimes appearing by night on the tops of soldiers’
lances, or at sea on masts and sailyards, whirling and leaping in a
moment from one place to another. According to some, it never appears
but after a tempest, and is supposed to lead people to suicide by
drowning. Shakespeare in all probability consulted Batman’s “Golden
Books of the Leaden Goddes,” who, speaking of Castor and Pollux, says:
“They were figured like two lampes or cresset lightes—one on the toppe
of a maste, the other on the stemme or foreshippe.” He adds that if the
first light appears in the stem or foreship and ascends upwards, it is a
sign of good luck; if “either lights begin at the topmast, bowsprit,” or
foreship, and descends towards the sea, it is a sign of a tempest. In
taking, therefore, the latter position, Ariel had fulfilled the commands
of Prospero, and raised a storm.[130] Mr. Swainson, in his
“Weather-Lore” (1873, p. 193), quotes the following, which is to the
same purport:

    “Last night I saw Saint Elmo’s stars,
    With their glittering lanterns all at play,
    On the tops of the masts and the tips of the spars,
    And I knew we should have foul weather that day.”

    [129] Ibid. p. 3.

    [130] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. iii. p. 400.

Capell, in his “School of Shakespeare” (1779, iii. 7), has pointed out a
passage in Hakluyt’s “Voyages” (1598, iii. 450), which strikingly
illustrates the speech of Ariel quoted above: “I do remember that in the
great and boysterous storme of this foule weather, in the night, there
came vpon the toppe of our maine yarde and maine maste, a certaine
little light, much like unto the light of a little candle, which the
Spaniards called the Cuerpo-Santo, and said it was St. Elmo, whom they
take to bee the aduocate of sailers.... This light continued aboord our
ship about three houres, flying from maste to maste, and from top to
top; and sometimes it would be in two or three places at once.” This
meteor was by some supposed to be a spirit; and by others “an exhalation
of moyst vapours, that are ingendered by foul and tempestuous
weather.”[131] Mr. Thoms, in his “Notelets on Shakespeare” (1865, p.
59), says that, no doubt, Shakespeare had in mind the

    [131] Purchas, “His Pilgrimes” (1625, pt. i. lib. iii. p. 133),
    quoted by Mr. Aldis Wright in his “Notes to The Tempest,” 1875,
    p. 86.

    [132] See Puck as Will-o’-the-Wisp; chapter on “Fairy-Lore.”

_Fire-Drake_, which is jocularly used in “Henry VIII.” (v. 4) for a
man with a red face, was one of the popular terms for the
will-o’-the-wisp,[133] and Burton, in his “Anatomy of Melancholy,” says:
“Fiery spirits or devils are such as commonly work by fire-drakes, or
ignes fatui, which lead men often in flumina et præcipitia.” In
Bullokar’s “English Expositor” (1616), we have a quaint account of this
phenomenon: “Fire-drake; a fire sometimes seen flying in the night like
a dragon. Common people think it a spirit that keepeth some treasure
hid, but philosophers affirme it to be a great unequal exhalation
inflamed betweene two clouds, the one hot, the other cold, which is the
reason that it also smoketh, the middle part whereof, according to the
proportion of the hot cloud being greater than the rest, maketh it seem
like a bellie, and both ends like unto a head and taill.”[134] White,
however, in his “Peripateticall Institutions” (p. 156), calls the
fiery-dragon or fire-drake, “a weaker kind of lightning. Its livid
colors, and its falling without noise and slowly, demonstrate a great
mixture of watery exhalation in it.... ’Tis sufficient for its shape,
that it has some resemblance of a dragon, not the expresse figure.”

    [133] See “Notes and Queries,” 5th series, vol. x. p. 499;
    Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. iii. p. 410; Nares’s
    “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 309.

    [134] A “fire-drake” appears to have been also an artificial
    firework, perhaps what is now called a serpent. Thus, in
    Middleton’s “Your Five Gallants” (1607):

                            “But, like fire-drakes,
        Mounted a little, gave a crack and fell.”

Among other allusions to the will-o’-the-wisp by Shakespeare, Mr.
Hunter[135] notices one in “King Lear” (iii. 4), where Gloster’s torch
being seen in the distance, the fool says, “Look, here comes a walking
fire.” Whereupon Edgar replies, “This is the foul fiend,
Flibbertigibbet; he begins at curfew, and walks till the first cock.”
“From which,” observes Mr. Hunter, “Flibbertigibbet seems to be a name
for the will-o’-the-wisp. Hence the propriety of ‘He _begins at curfew_,
and walks till the crowing of the cock,’ that is, is seen in all the
dark of the night.” It appears that when Shakespeare wrote, “a walking
fire” was a common name for the _ignis fatuus_, as we learn from the
story of “How Robin Goodfellow lead a company of fellows out of their
way:” “A company of young men, having been making merry with their
sweethearts, were, at their coming home, to come over a heath; Robin
Goodfellow, knowing of it, met them, and to make some pastime hee led
them up and downe the heathe a whole night, so that they could not get
out of it, for hee went before them in the shape of a _walking fire_,
which they all saw and followed till the day did appeare; then Robin
left them, and at his departure spake these words:

    “‘Get you home, you merry lads,
    Tell your mammies and your dads,
    And all those that newes desire
    How you saw a walking fire,
    Wenches, that doe smile and lispe,
    Use to call me willy-wispe.’”

    [135] “New Illustrations of the Life, Studies, and Writings of
    Shakespeare,” vol. ii. p. 272.

Another allusion to this subject occurs in “The Tempest” (iv. 1), where
Stephano, after Ariel has led him and his drunken companions through
“tooth’d briers, sharp furzes, pricking goss and thorns,” and at last
“left them i’ the filthy mantled pool,” reproaches Caliban in these
words: “Monster, your fairy, which you say is a harmless fairy, has done
little better than played the Jack with us”—that is, to quote Dr.
Johnson’s explanation of this passage, “he has played
Jack-with-a-lanthorn, has led us about like an _ignis fatuus_, by which
travellers are decoyed into the mire.”[136] Once more, when Puck, in “A
Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (iii. 1), speaks of the various forms he
assumes in order to “mislead night wanderers, laughing at their harm,”
he says:

    “Sometime a horse I’ll be, sometime a hound,
    A hog, a headless bear, sometime a fire.”

    [136] See Thoms’s “Notelets on Shakespeare,” p. 59.

Shakespeare, no doubt, here alludes to the will-o’-the wisp, an opinion
shared by Mr. Joseph Ritson,[137] who says: “This Puck, or Robin
Goodfellow, seems likewise to be the illusory candle-holder, so fatal to
travellers, and who is more usually called ‘Jack-a-lantern,’[138] or
‘Will-with-a-wisp,’ and ‘Kit-with-the-candlestick.’” Milton, in
“Paradise Lost” (book ix.), alludes to this deceptive gleam in the
following lines:

                        “A wandering fire
    Compact of unctuous vapour, which the night
    Condenses, and the cold environs round,
    Kindled through agitation to a flame,
    Which oft, they say, some evil spirit attends,
    Hovering and blazing with delusive light,
    Misleads th’ amaz’d night-wanderer from his way
    To bogs and mires, and oft through pond and pool.”[139]

    [137] “Fairy Mythology,” edited by Hazlitt, 1875, p. 40.

    [138] Among the many other names given to this appearance may
    be mentioned the following: “Will-a-wisp,” “Joan-in-the-wad,”
    “Jacket-a-wad,” “Peg-a-lantern,” “Elf-fire,” etc. A
    correspondent of “Notes and Queries” (5th series, vol. x. p.
    499) says: “The wandering meteor of the moss or fell appears to
    have been personified as Jack, Gill, Joan, Will, or Robin,
    indifferently, according as the supposed spirit of the lamp
    seemed to the particular rustic mind to be a male or female
    apparition.” In Worcestershire it is called
    “Hob-and-his-lanthorn,” and “Hobany’s” or “Hobnedy’s Lanthorn.”

    [139] Mr. Ritson says that Milton “is frequently content to
    pilfer a happy expression from Shakespeare—on this occasion,
    ‘night-wanderer.’” He elsewhere calls it “the friar’s lantern.”

This appearance has given rise to a most extensive folk-lore, and is
embodied in many of the fairy legends and superstitions of this and
other countries. Thus, in Germany, Jack-o’-lanterns are said to be the
souls of unbaptized children, that have no rest in the grave, and must
hover between heaven and earth. In many places they are called
land-measurers, and are seen like figures of fire, running to and fro
with a red-hot measuring rod. These are said to be persons who have
falsely sworn away land, or fraudulently measured it, or removed
landmarks.[140] In the neighborhood of Magdeburg, they are known as
“Lüchtemannekens;” and to cause them to appear, it is sufficient to
call out “Ninove, Ninove.” In the South Altmark they are termed
“Dickepôten;” and if a person only prays as soon as he sees one, he
draws it to him; if he curses, it retires. In some parts, too, a popular
name is “Huckepôten,” and “Tuckbolde.” The Jack-o’-lanterns of
Denmark[141] are the spirits of unrighteous men, who, by a false
glimmer, seek to mislead the traveller, and to decoy him into bogs and
moors. The best safeguard against them, when they appear, is to turn
one’s cap inside out. A similar notion occurs in Devonshire with regard
to the Pixies, who delight in leading astray such persons as they find
abroad after nightfall; the only remedy to escape them being to turn
some part of the dress. In Normandy these fires are called “Feux
Follets,” and they are believed to be cruel spirits, whom it is
dangerous to encounter. Among the superstitions which prevail in
connection with them, two, says Mr. Thoms,[142] are deserving of notice:
“One is, that the _ignis fatuus_ is the spirit of some unhappy woman,
who is destined to run _en furolle_, to expiate her intrigues with a
minister of the church, and it is designated from that circumstance La
Fourlore, or La Fourolle.” Another opinion is, that Le Feu Follet is the
soul of a priest, who has been condemned thus to expiate his broken vows
of perpetual chastity; and it is very probable that it is to some
similar belief existing in this country, at the time when he wrote, that
Milton alludes in “L’Allegro,” when he says:

    “She was pinched and pulled, she said,
    And he by Friar’s Lanthorn led.”

    [140] Thorpe, “Northern Mythology,” 1852, vol. iii. pp. 85,
    158, 220.

    [141] “Notelets on Shakespeare,” pp. 64, 65.

    [142] Ibid.

In Brittany the “Porte-brandon” appears in the form of a child bearing a
torch, which he turns like a burning wheel; and with this, we are told,
he sets fire to the villages, which are suddenly, sometimes in the
middle of the night, wrapped in flames.

The appearance of meteors Shakespeare ranks among omens, as in “1 Henry
IV.” (ii. 4), where Bardolph says: “My lord, do you see these meteors?
do you behold these exhalations? What think you they portend?” And in
“King John” (iii. 4), Pandulph speaks of meteors as “prodigies and
signs.” The Welsh captain, in “Richard II.” (ii. 4), says:

    “’Tis thought the king is dead; we will not stay.
    The bay-trees in our country are all wither’d,
    And meteors fright the fixed stars of heaven.”

_Comet._ From the earliest times comets have been superstitiously
regarded, and ranked among omens. Thus Thucydides tells us that the
Peloponnesian war was heralded by an abundance of earthquakes and
comets; and Vergil, in speaking of the death of Cæsar, declares that at
no other time did comets and other supernatural prodigies appear in
greater numbers. It is probably to this latter event that Shakespeare
alludes in “Julius Cæsar” (ii. 2), where he represents Calpurnia as

    “When beggars die, there are no comets seen;
    The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.”

Again, in “1 Henry VI.” (i. 1), the play opens with the following words,
uttered by the Duke of Bedford:

    “Hung be the heavens with black, yield day to night!
    Comets, importing change of times and states,
    Brandish your crystal tresses in the sky,
    And with them scourge the bad revolting stars
    That have consented unto Henry’s death!”

In “Taming of the Shrew” (iii. 2), too, Petruchio, when he makes his
appearance on his wedding-day, says:

                 “Gentles, methinks you frown:
    And wherefore gaze this goodly company,
    As if they saw some wondrous monument,
    Some comet, or unusual prodigy?”

In “1 Henry IV.” (iii. 2), the king, when telling his son how he had
always avoided making himself “common-hackney’d in the eyes of men,”

    “By being seldom seen, I could not stir
    But, like a comet, I was wonder’d at.”

Arcite, in the “Two Noble Kinsmen” (v. 1), when addressing the altar of
Mars, says:

          “Whose approach
    Comets forewarn.”[143]

    [143] See Proctor’s “Myths of Astronomy;” Chambers’s “Domestic
    Annals of Scotland,” 1858, vol. ii. pp. 410-412; Douce’s
    “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” pp. 364, 365.

_Dew._ Among the many virtues ascribed to dew was its supposed power
over the complexion, a source of superstition which still finds many
believers, especially on May morning. All dew, however, does not appear
to have possessed this quality, some being of a deadly or malignant
quality. Thus Ariel, in “The Tempest” (i. 2), speaks of the “deep brook”
in the harbor:

                                “where once
    Thou call’dst me up at midnight to fetch dew
    From the still vex’d Bermoothes.”

And Caliban (i. 2), when venting his rage on Prospero and Miranda, can
find no stronger curse than the following:

    “As wicked dew as e’er my mother brush’d,
    With raven’s feather from unwholesome fen
    Drop on you both!”

It has been suggested that in “Antony and Cleopatra” (iii. 12)
Shakespeare may refer to an old notion whereby the sea was considered
the source of dews as well as rain. Euphronius is represented as saying:

    “Such as I am, I come from Antony:
    I was of late as petty to his ends
    As is the morn-dew on the myrtle leaf
    To his grand sea.”

According to an erroneous notion formerly current, it was supposed that
the air, and not the earth, drizzled dew—a notion referred to in “Romeo
and Juliet” (iii. 5):

    “When the sun sets, the air doth drizzle dew.”

And in “King John” (ii. 1):

    “Before the dew of evening fall.”

Then there is the celebrated honey-dew, a substance which has furnished
the poet with a touching simile, which he has put into the mouth of
“Titus Andronicus” (iii. 1):

    “When I did name her brothers, then fresh tears
    Stood on her cheeks; as doth the honey-dew
    Upon a gather’d lily almost wither’d.”

According to Pliny, “honey-dew” is the saliva of the stars, or a liquid
produced by the purgation of the air. It is, however, a secretion
deposited by a small insect, which is distinguished by the generic name
of aphis.[144]

    [144] See Patterson’s “Insects Mentioned by Shakespeare,” 1841,
    p. 145.

_Rainbow._ Secondary rainbows, the watery appearance in the sky
accompanying the rainbow, are in many places termed “water-galls”—a term
we find in the “Rape of Lucrece” (1586-89):

    “And round about her tear-distained eye
    Blue circles stream’d, like rainbows in the sky:
      These water-galls in her dim element
      Foretell new storms to those already spent.”

Horace Walpole several times makes use of the word: “False good news are
always produced by true good, like the water-gall by the rainbow;” and
again, “Thank heaven it is complete, and did not remain imperfect, like
a water-gall.”[145] In “The Dialect of Craven” we find “Water-gall, a
secondary or broken rainbow. _Germ._ Wasser-galle.”

    [145] “Letters,” vol. i. p. 310; vol. vi. pp. 1, 187.—Ed.

_Thunder._ According to an erroneous fancy the destruction occasioned by
lightning was effected by some solid body known as the thunder-stone or
thunder-bolt. Thus, in the beautiful dirge in “Cymbeline” (iv. 2):

    “_Guid._ Fear no more the lightning flash,

    _Arv._ Or the all-dreaded thunder-stone.”

Othello asks (v. 2):

              “Are there no stones in heaven
    But what serve for the thunder?”

And in “Julius Cæsar” (i. 3), Cassius says:

    “And, thus unbraced, Casca, as you see,
    Have bared my bosom to the thunder-stone.”

The thunder-stone is the imaginary product of the thunder, which the
ancients called _Brontia_, mentioned by Pliny (“Nat. Hist.” xxxvii. 10)
as a species of gem, and as that which, falling with the lightning, does
the mischief. It is the fossil commonly called the Belemnite, or
finger-stone, and now known to be a shell.

A superstitious notion prevailed among the ancients that those who were
stricken with lightning were honored by Jupiter, and therefore to be
accounted holy. It is probably to this idea that Shakespeare alludes in
“Antony and Cleopatra” (ii. 5):

    “Some innocents ’scape not the thunderbolt.”[146]

    [146] Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” 1839, p. 369.

The bodies of such were supposed not to putrefy; and, after having been
exhibited for a certain time to the people, were not buried in the usual
manner, but interred on the spot where the lightning fell, and a
monument erected over them. Some, however, held a contrary opinion. Thus
Persius (sat. ii. l. 27) says:

    “Triste jaces lucis evitandumque bidental.”

The ground, too, that had been smitten by a thunder-bolt was accounted
sacred, and afterwards enclosed; nor did any one even presume to walk on
it. Such spots were, therefore, consecrated to the gods, and could not
in future become the property of any one.

Among the many other items of folk-lore associated with thunder is a
curious one referred to in “Pericles” (iv. 3): “Thunder shall not so
awake the bed of eels.” The notion formerly being that thunder had the
effect of rousing eels from their mud, and so rendered them more easy to
be taken in stormy weather. Marston alludes to this superstition in his
satires (“Scourge of Villainie,” sat. vii.):

    “They are nought but eeles, that never will appeare
    Till that tempestuous winds or thunder teare
    Their slimy beds.”

The silence that often precedes a thunder-storm is thus graphically
described in “Hamlet” (ii. 2):

                “‘we often see, against some storm,
    A silence in the heavens, the rack stand still,
    The bold winds speechless, and the orb below
    As hush as death, anon the dreadful thunder
    Doth rend the region.’”

_Earthquakes_, around which so many curious myths and superstitions have
clustered,[147] are scarcely noticed by Shakespeare. They are mentioned
among the ominous signs of that terrible night on which Duncan is so
treacherously slain (“Macbeth,” ii. 3):

                                “the obscure bird
    Clamour’d the livelong night: some say, the earth
    Was feverous and did shake.”

    [147] See Tylor’s “Primitive Culture,” vol. i. pp. 364-367.

And in “1 Henry IV.” (iii. 1) Hotspur assigns as a reason for the
earthquakes the following theory:

    “Diseased nature oftentimes breaks forth
    In strange eruptions; oft the teeming earth
    Is with a kind of colic pinch’d and vex’d
    By the imprisoning of unruly wind
    Within her womb; which, for enlargement striving,
    Shakes the old beldam earth, and topples down
    Steeples, and moss-grown towers.”

_Equinox._ The storms that prevail in spring at the vernal equinox are
aptly alluded to in “Macbeth” (i. 2):

    “As whence the sun ’gins his reflection
    Shipwrecking storms and direful thunders break,
    So from that spring, whence comfort seem’d to come,
    Discomfort swells.”

—the meaning being: the beginning of the reflection of the sun is the
epoch of his passing from the severe to the milder season, opening,
however, with storms.

_Wind._ An immense deal of curious weather-lore[148] has been associated
with the wind from the earliest period; and in our own and foreign
countries innumerable proverbs are found describing the future state of
the weather from the position of the wind, for, according to an old
saying, “every wind has its weather.” Shakespeare has introduced some of
these, showing how keen an observer he was of those every-day sayings
which have always been much in use, especially among the lower classes.
Thus the proverbial wet which accompanies the wind when in the south is
mentioned in “As You Like It” (iii. 5):

    “Like foggy south, puffing with wind and rain.”

    [148] See Swainson’s “Weather-Lore.”

And again, in “1 Henry IV.” (v. 1):

                            “The southern wind
    Doth play the trumpet to his [_i. e._, the sun’s] purposes;
    And by his hollow whistling in the leaves
    Foretells a tempest, and a blustering day.”

A popular saying to the same effect, still in use, tells us that:

    “When the wind is in the south,
    It is in the rain’s mouth.”

Again, in days gone by, the southerly winds were generally supposed to
be bearers of noxious fogs and vapors, frequent allusions to which are
given by Shakespeare. Thus, in “The Tempest” (i. 2), Caliban says:

                 “a south-west blow on ye
    And blister you all o’er.”

A book,[149] too, with which, as already noticed, Shakespeare appears to
have been familiar, tells us, “This southern wind is hot and moist.
Southern winds corrupt and destroy; they heat, and make men fall into
the sickness.” Hence, in “Troilus and Cressida” (v. 1), Thersites
speaks of “the rotten diseases of the south;” and in “Coriolanus” (i.
4), Marcius exclaims:

    “All the contagion of the south light on you.”

    [149] Batman upon Bartholomæus—“De Proprietatibus Rerum,” lib.
    xi. c. 3.

Once more, in “Cymbeline” (ii. 3), Cloten speaks in the same strain:
“The south fog rot him.”

_Flaws._ These are sudden gusts of wind. It was the opinion, says
Warburton, “of some philosophers that the vapors being congealed in the
air by cold (which is the most intense in the morning), and being
afterwards rarefied and let loose by the warmth of the sun, occasion
those sudden and impetuous gusts of wind which were called ‘flaws.’”
Thus he comments on the following passage in “2 Henry IV.” (iv. 4):

    “As humorous as winter, and as sudden
    As flaws congealed in the spring of day.”

In “2 Henry VI.” (iii. 1) these outbursts of wind are further alluded

    “And this fell tempest shall not cease to rage
    Until the golden circuit on my head,
    Like to the glorious sun’s transparent beams,
    Do calm the fury of this mad-bred flaw.”

Again, in “Venus and Adonis” (425), there is an additional reference:

    “Like a red morn, that ever yet betoken’d
    Wreck to the seaman, tempest to the field,
      Sorrow to shepherds, woe unto the birds,
      Gusts and foul flaws to herdmen and to herds.”

In the Cornish dialect a _flaw_ signifies primitively a cut.[150] But it
is also there used in a secondary sense for those sudden or cutting
gusts of wind.[151]

    [150] Polwhele’s “Cornish Vocabulary.”

    [151] Cf. “Macbeth,” iii. 4, “O, these flaws and starts.”

_Squalls._ There is a common notion that “the sudden storm lasts not
three hours,” an idea referred to by John of Gaunt in “Richard II.” (ii.

    “Small showers last long, but sudden storms are short.”

Thus, in Norfolk, the peasantry say that “the faster the rain, the
quicker the hold up,” which is only a difference in words from the
popular adage, “after a storm comes a calm.”

_Clouds._ In days gone by, clouds floating before the wind, like a reek
or vapor, were termed racking clouds. Hence in “3 Henry VI.” (ii. 1),
Richard speaks of:

    “Three glorious suns, each one a perfect sun;
    Not separated with the racking clouds.”

This verb, though now obsolete, was formerly in common use; and in “King
Edward III.,” 1596, we read:

                  “Like inconstant clouds,
    That, rack’d upon the carriage of the winds,
    Increase,” etc.

At the present day one may often hear the phrase, the rack of the
weather, in our agricultural districts; many, too, of the items of
weather-lore noticed by Shakespeare being still firmly credited by our



In the present chapter we have not only a striking proof of
Shakespeare’s minute acquaintance with natural history, but of his
remarkable versatility as a writer. While displaying a most extensive
knowledge of ornithology, he has further illustrated his subject by
alluding to those numerous legends, popular sayings, and superstitions
which have, in this and other countries, clustered round the feathered
race. Indeed, the following pages are alone sufficient to show, if it
were necessary, how fully he appreciated every branch of antiquarian
lore; and what a diligent student he must have been in the pursuit of
that wide range of information, the possession of which has made him one
of the most many-sided writers that the world has ever seen. The
numerous incidental allusions, too, by Shakespeare, to the folk-lore of
bygone days, while showing how deeply he must have read and gathered
knowledge from every available source, serve as an additional proof of
his retentive memory, and marvellous power of embellishing his ideas by
the most apposite illustrations. Unfortunately, however, these have,
hitherto, been frequently lost sight of through the reader’s
unacquaintance with that extensive field of folk-lore which was so well
known to the poet. For the sake of easy reference, the birds with which
the present chapter deals are arranged alphabetically.

_Barnacle-Goose._ There was a curious notion, very prevalent in former
times, that this bird (_Anser bernicla_) was generated from the barnacle
(_Lepas anatifera_), a shell-fish, growing on a flexible stem, and
adhering to loose timber, bottoms of ships, etc., a metamorphosis to
which Shakespeare alludes in “The Tempest” (iv. 1), where he makes
Caliban say:

          “we shall lose our time,
    And all be turn’d to barnacles.”

This vulgar error, no doubt, originated in mistaking the fleshy peduncle
of the shell-fish for the neck of a goose, the shell for its head, and
the tentacula for a tuft of feathers. These shell-fish, therefore,
bearing, as seen out of the water, a resemblance to the goose’s neck,
were ignorantly, and without investigation, confounded with geese
themselves. In France, the barnacle-goose may be eaten on fast days, by
virtue of this old belief in its fishy origin.[152] Like other fictions
this one had its variations,[153] for sometime the barnacles were
supposed to grow on trees, and thence to drop into the sea, and become
geese, as in Drayton’s account of Furness (“Polyolb.” 1622, song 27, l.
1190). As early as the 12th century this idea[154] was promulgated by
Giraldus Cambrensis in his “Topographia Hiberniæ.” Gerarde, who in the
year 1597 published his “Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes,”
narrates the following: “There are found in the north parts of Scotland,
and the isles adjacent called Orcades, certain trees, whereon do grow
certain shell-fishes, of a white color, tending to russet, wherein are
contained little living creatures; which shells in time of maturity do
open, and out of them grow those little living things which, falling
into the water, do become fowls, whom we call barnacles, in the north of
England brant geese, and in Lancashire tree geese; but the others that
do fall upon the land perish, and do come to nothing. Thus much of the
writings of others, and also from the mouths of people of those parts,
which may very well accord with truth. But what our eyes have seen and
hands have touched, we shall declare. There is a small island in
Lancashire called the Pile of Foulders, wherein are found the broken
pieces of old ships, some whereof have been cast thither by shipwreck,
and also the trunks or bodies, with the branches, of old rotten trees,
cast up there likewise, whereon is found a certain spume or froth, that
in time breedeth into certain shells, in shape like those of the mussel,
but sharper pointed, and of a whitish color: wherein is contained a
thing in form like a lace of silk, one end whereof is fastened unto the
inside of the shell, even as the fish of oysters and mussels are. The
other end is made fast unto the belly of a rude mass or lump, which in
time cometh to the shape and form of a bird; when it is perfectly formed
the shell gapeth open, and the first thing that appeareth is the
foresaid lace or string; next come the legs of the bird hanging out, and
as it groweth greater it openeth the shell by degrees, till at length it
is all come forth and hangeth only by the bill. In short space after it
cometh to full maturity, and falleth into the sea, where it gathereth
feathers and groweth to a fowl, bigger than a mallard, and lesser than a
goose; having black legs and bill, or beak, and feathers black and
white, spotted in such a manner as is our magpie, which the people of
Lancashire call by no other name than a tree goose.” An interesting cut
of these birds so growing is given by Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps from a
manuscript of the 14th century, who is of opinion that the barnacle
mentioned by Caliban was the tree-goose. It is not to be supposed,
however, that there were none who doubted this marvellous story, or who
took steps to refute it. Belon, so long ago as 1551, says Mr.
Harting,[155] and others after him, treated it with ridicule, and a
refutation may be found in Willughby’s “Ornithology,” which was edited
by Ray in 1678.[156] This vulgar error is mentioned by many of the old
writers. Thus Bishop Hall, in his “Virgidemiarum” (lib. iv. sat. 2),

    “The Scottish barnacle, if I might choose,
    That of a worme doth waxe a winged goose.”

    [152] See Harland and Wilkinson’s “Lancashire Folk-Lore,” 1867,
    pp. 116-121; “Notes and Queries,” 1st series, vol. viii. p.
    224; “Penny Cyclopædia,” vol. vii. p. 206, article “Cirripeda.”

    [153] Nares’s “Glossary,” 1872, vol. i. p. 56.

    [154] See Harting’s “Ornithology of Shakespeare,” 1871, pp.

    [155] “Ornithology of Shakespeare,” 1871, p. 252.

    [156] See “Philosophical Transactions” for 1835; Darwin’s
    “Monograph of the Cirrhipedia,” published by the Ray Society; a
    paper by Sir J. Emerson Tennent in “Notes and Queries,” 1st
    series, vol. viii. p. 223; Brand’s “Popular Antiquities,” 1849,
    vol. iii. pp. 361, 362; Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,”
    1839, p. 14.

Butler, too, in his “Hudibras” (III. ii. l. 655), speaks of it; and
Marston, in his “Malecontent” (1604), has the following: “Like your
Scotch barnacle, now a block, instantly a worm, and presently a great

_Blackbird._ This favorite is called, in the “Midsummer-Night’s Dream”
(iii. 1) an ousel (old French, _oisel_), a term still used in the
neighborhood of Leeds:

    “The ousel cock, so black of hue,
       With orange-tawny bill.”

In “2 Henry IV.” (iii. 2) when Justice Shallow inquires of Justice
Silence, “And how doth my cousin?” he is answered: “Alas, a black
ousel,[157] cousin Shallow,” a phrase which, no doubt, corresponded to
our modern one, “a black sheep.” In Spenser’s “Epithalamium” (l. 82),
the word occurs:

    “The ousel shrills, the ruddock warbles soft.”

    [157] See Yarrell’s “History of British Birds,” 2d edition,
    vol. i. p. 218; “Dialect of Leeds,” 1862, p. 329. In “Hamlet”
    (iii. 2), some modern editions read “ouzle;” the old editions
    all have _weasel_, which is now adopted.

_Buzzard._ Mr. Staunton suggests that in the following passage of the
“Taming of the Shrew” (ii. 1) a play is intended upon the words, and
that in the second line “buzzard” means a beetle, from its peculiar
buzzing noise:

    “_Pet._ O slow-wing’d turtle! shall a buzzard take thee?

    _Kath._ Ay, for a turtle, as he takes a buzzard.”

The beetle was formerly called a buzzard; and in Staffordshire, a
cockchafer is termed a hum-buz. In Northamptonshire we find a proverb,
“I’m between a hawk and a buzzard,” which means, “I don’t know what to
do, or how to act.”[158]

    [158] Miss Baker’s “Northamptonshire Glossary,” 1854, vol. i.
    p. 94. See Nares’s “Glossary,” 1872, vol. i. p. 124; and
    “Richard III.,” i. 1.

_Chaffinch._ Some think that this bird is alluded to in the song in the
“Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (iii. 1), where the expression “finch” is
used; the chaffinch having always been a favorite cage-bird with the
lower classes.[159] In “Troilus and Cressida” (v. 1) Thersites calls
Patroclus a “finch-egg,” which was evidently meant as a term of
reproach. Others, again, consider the phrase as equivalent to coxcomb.

    [159] Harting’s “Ornithology of Shakespeare,” p. 144;
    Halliwell-Phillipps’s “Handbook Index to Shakespeare,” 1866, p.
    187. The term finch, also, according to some, may mean either
    the bullfinch or goldfinch.

_Chough._ In using this word Shakespeare probably, in most cases, meant
the jackdaw;[160] for in “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (iii. 2) he says:

          “russet-pated choughs, many in sort,
    Rising and cawing at the gun’s report;”

the term russet-pated being applicable to the jackdaw, but not to the
real chough. In “1 Henry IV.” (v. 1). Prince Henry calls Falstaff
_chewet_—“Peace, chewet, peace”—in allusion, no doubt, to the chough or
jackdaw, for common birds have always had a variety of names.[161] Such
an appellation would be a proper reproach to Falstaff, for his meddling
and impertinent talk. Steevens and Malone, however, finding that
_chewets_ were little round pies made of minced meat, thought that the
Prince compared Falstaff, for his unseasonable chattering, to a minced
pie. Cotgrave[162] describes the French _chouette_ as an owlet; also, a
“chough,” which many consider to be the simple and satisfactory
explanation of _chewet_. Belon, in his “History of Birds” (Paris, 1855),
speaks of the _chouette_ as the smallest kind of chough or crow. Again,
in “1 Henry IV.” (ii. 2), in the amusing scene where Falstaff, with the
Prince and Poins, meet to rob the travellers at Gadshill, Falstaff
calls the victims “fat chuffs,” probably, says Mr. Harting, who connects
the word with chough, from their strutting about with much noise.
Nares,[163] too, in his explanation of _chuff_, says, that some suppose
it to be from chough, which is similarly pronounced, and means a kind of
sea-bird, generally esteemed a stupid one. Various other meanings are
given. Thus, Mr. Gifford[164] affirms that _chuff_ is always used in a
bad sense, and means “a coarse, unmannered clown, at once sordid and
wealthy;” and Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps explains it as spoken in contempt
for a fat person.[165] In Northamptonshire,[166] we find the word chuff
used to denote a person in good condition, as in Clare’s “Village

    “His chuff cheeks dimpling in a fondling smile.”

    [160] See Yarrell’s “History of British Birds,” 2d edition,
    vol. ii. p. 58.

    [161] Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 156; Singer’s
    “Shakespeare,” 1875, vol. v. p. 115; Dyce’s “Glossary,” 1876,
    p. 77.

    [162] Mr. Dyce says that if Dr. Latham had been acquainted with
    the article “Chouette,” in Cotgrave, he would not probably have
    suggested that Shakespeare meant here the lapwing or pewit.
    Some consider the magpie is meant. See Halliwell-Phillipps’s
    “Handbook Index to Shakespeare,” 1866, p. 83. Professor Newton
    would read “russet-patted,” or “red-legged,” thinking that
    Shakespeare meant the chough.

    [163] “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 162; Singer’s “Notes to
    Shakespeare,” 1875, vol. v. p. 42.

    [164] Massinger’s Works, 1813, vol. i. p. 281.

    [165] “Handbook Index to Shakespeare,” 1866, p. 86.

    [166] Miss Baker’s “Northamptonshire Glossary,” 1854, vol. i.
    p. 116.

Shakespeare alludes to the practice of teaching choughs to talk,
although from the following passages he does not appear to have esteemed
their talking powers as of much value; for in “All’s Well That Ends
Well” (iv. 1), he says: “Choughs’ language, gabble enough, and good
enough.” And in “The Tempest” (ii. 1), he represents Antonio as saying:

                        “There be that can rule Naples
    As well as he that sleeps; lords that can prate
    As amply and unnecessarily
    As this Gonzalo; I myself could make
    A chough of as deep chat.”

Shakespeare always refers to the jackdaw as the “daw.”[167] The chough
or jackdaw was one of the birds considered ominous by our forefathers,
an allusion to which occurs in “Macbeth” (iii. 4):

    “Augurs and understood relations have,
    By magot-pies and choughs and rooks brought forth
    The secret’st man of blood.”

    [167] “Coriolanus,” iv. 5; “Troilus and Cressida,” i. 2; “Much
    Ado About Nothing,” ii. 3; “Twelfth Night,” iii. 4; “Love’s
    Labour’s Lost,” v. 2, song; “1 Henry VI.” ii. 4.

At the present day this bird is not without its folk-lore, and there is
a Norwich rhyme to the following effect:[168]

    “When three daws are seen on St. Peter’s vane together,
    Then we’re sure to have bad weather.”

In the north of England,[169] too, the flight of jackdaws down the
chimney is held to presage death.

    [168] Swainson’s “Weather-Lore,” 1873, p. 240.

    [169] Henderson’s “Folk-Lore of Northern Counties,” 1879, p. 48.

_Cock._ The beautiful notion which represents the cock as crowing all
night long on Christmas Eve, and by its vigilance dispelling every kind
of malignant spirit[170] and evil influence is graphically mentioned in
“Hamlet” (i. 1), where Marcellus, speaking of the ghost, says:

    “It faded on the crowing of the cock.
    Some say, that ever ’gainst that season comes
    Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,
    The bird of dawning singeth all night long.
    And then, they say, no spirit dares stir abroad;
    The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
    No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
    So hallow’d and so gracious is the time.”

    [170] See Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” p. 438.

In short, there is a complete prostration of the powers of darkness; and
thus, for the time being, mankind is said to be released from the
influence of all those evil forces which otherwise exert such sway. The
notion that spirits fly at cock-crow is very ancient, and is mentioned
by the Christian poet Prudentius, who flourished in the beginning of the
fourth century. There is also a hymn, said to have been composed by St.
Ambrose, and formerly used in the Salisbury Service, which so much
resembles the following speech of Horatio (i. 1), that one might almost
suppose Shakespeare had seen it:[171]

    “The cock, that is the trumpet to the morn,
    Doth with his lofty and shrill-sounding throat
    Awake the god of day; and, at his warning,
    Whether in sea or fire, in earth or air,
    The extravagant and erring spirit hies
    To his confine.”

    [171] See Ibid.

This disappearance of spirits at cock-crow is further alluded to (i.

                 “the morning cock crew loud,
    And at the sound it shrunk in haste away,
    And vanished from our sight.”

    [172] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. ii. pp. 51-57;
    Hampson’s “Medii Œvi Kalendarium,” vol. i. p. 84.

Blair, too, in his “Grave,” has these graphic words:

                                  “the tale
    Of horrid apparition, tall and ghastly,
    That walks at dead of night, or takes his stand
    O’er some new-open’d grave, and, strange to tell,
    Evanishes at crowing of the cock.”

This superstition has not entirely died out in England, and a
correspondent of “Notes and Queries”[173] relates an amusing legend
current in Devonshire: “Mr. N. was a squire who had been so unfortunate
as to sell his soul to the devil, with the condition that after his
funeral the fiend should take possession of his skin. He had also
persuaded a neighbor to be present on the occasion of the flaying. On
the death of Mr. N. this man went, in a state of great alarm, to the
parson of the parish, and asked his advice. By him he was told to fulfil
his engagement, but he must be sure and carry a cock into the church
with him. On the night after the funeral the man proceeded to the
church, armed with the cock, and, as an additional security, took up his
position in the parson’s pew. At twelve o’clock the devil arrived,
opened the grave, took the corpse from the coffin, and flayed it. When
the operation was concluded, he held the skin up before him and
remarked, ‘Well, ’twas not worth coming for after all, for it is all
full of holes!’ As he said this the cock crew, whereupon the fiend,
turning round to the man, exclaimed, ‘If it had not been for the bird
you have got there under your arm, I would have your skin too!’ But,
thanks to the cock, the man got home safe again.” Various origins have
been assigned to this superstition, which Hampson[174] regards as a
misunderstood tradition of some Sabæan fable. The cock, he adds, which
seems by its early voice to call forth the sun, was esteemed a sacred
solar bird; hence it was also sacred to Mercury, one of the
personifications of the sun.

    [173] 1st series, vol. iii. p. 404.

    [174] “Medii Œvi Kalendarium,” vol. i. p. 85.

A very general amusement, up to the end of the last century, was
cock-fighting, a diversion of which mention is occasionally made by
Shakespeare, as in “Antony and Cleopatra” (ii. 3):

    “His cocks do win the battle still of mine,
    When it is all to nought.”

And again Hamlet says (v. 2):

                           “O, I die, Horatio;
    The potent poison quite o’er-crows my spirit”—

meaning, the poison triumphs over him, as a cock over his beaten
antagonist. Formerly, cock-fighting entered into the occupations of the
old and young.[175] Schools had their cock-fights. Travellers agreed
with coachmen that they were to wait a night if there was a cock-fight
in any town through which they passed. When country gentlemen had sat
long at table, and the conversation had turned upon the relative merits
of their several birds, a cock-fight often resulted, as the birds in
question were brought for the purpose into the dining-room.
Cock-fighting was practised on Shrove Tuesday to a great extent, and in
the time of Henry VII. seems to have been practised within the precincts
of court. The earliest mention of this pastime in England is by
Fitzstephens, in 1191. Happily, nowadays, cock-fighting is, by law, a
misdemeanor, and punishable by penalty. One of the popular terms for a
cock beaten in a fight was “a craven,” to which we find a reference in
the “Taming of the Shrew” (ii. 1):

    “No cock of mine; you crow too like a craven.”

    [175] Roberts’s “Social History of Southern Counties of
    England,” 1856, p. 421; see “British Popular Customs,” 1876, p. 65.

We may also compare the expression in “Henry V.” (iv. 7): “He is a
craven and a villain else.” In the old appeal or wager of battle,[176]
in our common law, we are told, on the authority of Lord Coke, that the
party who confessed himself wrong, or refused to fight, was to pronounce
the word _cravent_, and judgment was at once given against him.
Singer[177] says the term may be satisfactorily traced from _crant_,
_creant_, the old French word for an act of submission. It is so written
in the old metrical romance of “Ywaine and Gawaine” (Ritson, i. 133):

    “Or yelde the til us als creant.”

    [176] Nares’s “Glossary,” 1872, vol. i. p. 203.

    [177] Singer’s “Shakespeare,” 1875, vol. ix. p. 256;
    Halliwell-Phillipps’s “Handbook Index to Shakespeare,” p. 112.

And in “Richard Cœur de Lion” (Weber, ii. 208):

    “On knees he fel down, and cryde, crêaunt.”

It then became _cravant_, _cravent_, and at length _craven_.

In the time of Shakespeare the word _cock_ was used as a vulgar
corruption or purposed disguise of the name of God, an instance of which
occurs in “Hamlet” (iv. 5): “By cock, they are to blame.” This
irreverent alteration of the sacred name is found at least a dozen
times[178] in Heywood’s “Edward the Fourth,” where one passage is,

    “_Herald._ Sweare on this booke, King Lewis, so help you God,
    You mean no otherwise then you have said.

    _King Lewis._ So helpe me Cock as I dissemble not.”

    [178] Dyce’s “Glossary to Shakespeare,” p. 85.

We find, too, other allusions to the sacred name, as in “cock’s
passion,” “cock’s body;” as in “Taming of the Shrew” (iv. 1): “Cock’s
passion, silence!” A not uncommon oath, too, in Shakespeare’s time was
“Cock and pie”—_cock_ referring to God, and _pie_ being supposed to mean
the service-book of the Romish Church; a meaning which, says Mr. Dyce,
seems much more probable than Douce’s[179] supposition that this oath
was connected with the making of solemn vows by knights in the days of
chivalry, during entertainments at which a roasted peacock was served
up. It is used by Justice Shallow (“2 Henry IV.,” v. 1): “By cock and
pye, sir, you shall not away to-night.” We may also compare the
expression in the old play of “Soliman and Perseda” (1599): “By cock and
pye and mousefoot.” Mr. Harting[180] says the “Cock and Pye” (_i. e._,
magpie) was an ordinary ale-house sign, and may have thus become a
subject for the vulgar to swear by.

    [179] “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” 1839, p. 290.

    [180] “Ornithology of Shakespeare,” p. 171.

The phrase, “Cock-a-hoop”[181]—which occurs in “Romeo and Juliet” (i.

    “You’ll make a mutiny among my guests!
    You will set cock-a-hoop! you’ll be the man!”

—no doubt refers to a reckless person, who takes the cock or tap out of
a cask, and lays it on the top or hoop of the barrel, thus letting all
the contents of the cask run out. Formerly, a quart pot was called a
hoop, being formed of staves bound together with hoops like barrels.
There were generally three hoops to such a pot; hence, in “2 Henry VI.”
(iv. 2), one of Jack Cade’s popular reformations was to increase their
number: “the three-hooped pot shall have ten hoops; and I will make it
felony to drink small beer.” Some, however, consider the term
Cock-a-hoop[182] refers to the boastful crowing of the cock.

    [181] It is also an ale-house sign.

    [182] See Dyce’s “Glossary to Shakespeare,” p. 85.

In “King Lear” (iii. 2) Shakespeare speaks of the “cataracts and
hurricanoes” as having

    “drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!”

Vanes on the tops of steeples were in days gone by made in the form of
a cock—hence weathercocks—and put up, in papal times, to remind the
clergy of watchfulness.[183] Apart, too, from symbolism, the large tail
of the cock was well adapted to turn with the wind.[184]

    [183] See “Book of Days,” 1863, vol. i. p. 157.

    [184] In “King Lear” (iv. 6), where Edgar says:

                      “Yond tall anchoring bark,
        Diminish’d to her cock; her cock, a buoy
        Almost too small for sight.”

    the word “cock” is an abbreviation for cock-boat.

_Cormorant._ The proverbial voracity of this bird[185] gave rise to a
man of large appetite being likened to it, a sense in which Shakespeare
employs the word, as in “Coriolanus” (i. 1): “the cormorant belly;” in
“Love’s Labour’s Lost” (i. 1): “cormorant devouring Time;” and in
“Troilus and Cressida” (ii. 2): “this cormorant war.” “Although,” says
Mr. Harting,[186] “Shakespeare mentions the cormorant in several of his
plays, he has nowhere alluded to the sport of using these birds, when
trained, for fishing; a fact which is singular, since he often speaks of
the then popular pastime of hawking, and he did not die until some years
after James I. had made fishing with cormorants a fashionable

    [185] For superstitions associated with this bird, see Brand’s
    “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. iii. p. 218.

    [186] “Ornithology of Shakespeare,” p. 260.

_Crow._ This has from the earliest times been reckoned a bird of bad
omen; and in “Julius Cæsar” (v. 1), Cassius, on the eve of battle,
predicted a defeat, because, to use his own words:

                            “crows and kites
    Fly o’er our heads and downward look on us,
    As we were sickly prey: their shadows seem
    A canopy most fatal, under which
    Our army lies, ready to give up the ghost.”

Allusions to the same superstition occur in “Troilus and Cressida” (i.
2); “King John” (v. 2), etc. Vergil (“Bucolic,” i. 18) mentions the
croaking of the crow as a bad omen:

    “Sæpe sinistra cava prædixit ab ilice cornix.”

And Butler, in his “Hudibras” (part ii. canto 3), remarks:

    “Is it not ominous in all countries,
    When crows and ravens croak upon trees.”

Even children, nowadays, regard with no friendly feelings this bird of
ill-omen;[187] and in the north of England there is a rhyme to the
following effect:

    “Crow, crow, get out of my sight,
    Or else I’ll eat thy liver and lights.”

    [187] See “Folk-Lore Record,” 1879, vol. i. p. 52; Henderson’s
    “Folk-Lore of Northern Counties,” 1879, pp. 25, 126, 277.

Among other allusions made by Shakespeare to the crow may be noticed the
crow-keeper—a person employed to drive away crows from the fields. At
present,[188] in all the midland counties, a boy set to drive away the
birds is said to keep birds; hence, a stuffed figure, now called a
_scarecrow_, was also called a crow-keeper, as in “King Lear” (iv. 6):
“That fellow handles his bow like a crow-keeper.”

    [188] Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 208.

One of Tusser’s directions for September is:

    “No sooner a-sowing, but out by-and-by,
    With mother or boy that alarum can cry:
    And let them be armed with a sling or a bow,
    To scare away pigeon, the rook, or the crow.”

In “Romeo and Juliet” (i. 4) a scarecrow seems meant:

    “Bearing a Tartar’s painted bow of lath,
    Scaring the ladies like a crow-keeper.”

Among further references to this practice is that in “1 Henry VI.” (i.
4), where Lord Talbot relates that, when a prisoner in France, he was
publicly exhibited in the market-place:

    “Here, said they, is the terror of the French,
    The scarecrow that affrights our children so.”[189]

    [189] Cf. “Henry IV.,” iv. 2.

And once more, in “Measure for Measure” (ii. 1):

    “We must not make a scarecrow of the law,
    Setting it up to fear the birds of prey,
    And let it keep one shape, till custom make it
    Their perch and not their terror.”

The phrase “to pluck a crow” is to complain good-naturedly, but
reproachfully, and to threaten retaliation.[190] It occurs in “Comedy of
Errors” (iii. 1): “We’ll pluck a crow together.” Sometimes the word
_pull_ is substituted for pluck, as in Butler’s “Hudibras” (part ii.
canto 2):

    “If not, resolve before we go
    That you and I must pull a crow.”

    [190] Miss Baker’s “Northamptonshire Glossary,” vol. ii. p.
    161; Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. iii. p. 393.

The crow has been regarded as the emblem of darkness, which has not
escaped the notice of Shakespeare, who, in “Pericles” (iv. introd.),
speaking of the white dove, says:

    “With the dove of Paphos might the crow
    Vie feathers white.”[191]

    [191] Cf. “Romeo and Juliet,” i. 5.

_Cuckoo._ Many superstitions have clustered round the cuckoo, and both
in this country and abroad it is looked upon as a mysterious bird, being
supposed to possess the gift of second-sight, a notion referred to in
“Love’s Labour’s Lost” (v. 2):

    “Cuckoo, cuckoo:[192] O word of fear,
    Unpleasing to a married ear.”

    [192] “A cuckold being called from the cuckoo, the note of that
    bird was supposed to prognosticate that destiny.”—Nares’s
    “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 212.

And again, in “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (iii. 1), Bottom sings:

      “The plain-song cuckoo gray,
    Whose note full many a man doth mark,
      And dares not answer nay.”

It is still a common idea that the cuckoo, if asked, will tell any one,
by the repetition of its cries, how long he has to live. The country
lasses in Sweden count the cuckoo’s call to ascertain how many years
they have to remain unmarried, but they generally shut their ears and
run away on hearing it a few times.[193] Among the Germans the notes of
the cuckoo, when heard in spring for the first time, are considered a
good omen. Cæsarius (1222) tells us of a convertite who was about to
become a monk, but changed his mind on hearing the cuckoo’s call, and
counting twenty-two repetitions of it. “Come,” said he, “I have
certainly twenty-two years still to live, and why should I mortify
myself during all that time? I will go back to the world, enjoy its
delights for twenty years, and devote the remaining two to
penitence.”[194] In England the peasantry salute the cuckoo with the
following invocation:

       “Cuckoo, cherry-tree,
        Good bird, tell me,
    How many years have I to live”—

the allusion to the cherry-tree having probably originated in the
popular fancy that before the cuckoo ceases its song it must eat three
good meals of cherries. Pliny mentions the belief that when the cuckoo
came to maturity it devoured the bird which had reared it, a
superstition several times alluded to by Shakespeare. Thus, in “King
Lear” (i. 4), the Fool remarks:

    “The hedge-sparrow fed the cuckoo so long,
    That it had its head bit off by its young.”

    [193] Engel’s “Musical Myths and Facts,” 1876, vol. i. p. 9.

    [194] See Kelly’s “Indo-European Folk-Lore,” 1863, p. 99;
    “English Folk-Lore,” 1879, pp. 55-62.

Again, in “1 Henry IV.” (v. 1), Worcester says:

    “And being fed by us you used us so
    As that ungentle gull, the cuckoo’s bird,
    Useth the sparrow; did oppress our nest;
    Grew by our feeding to so great a bulk
    That even our love durst not come near your sight
    For fear of swallowing.”

Once more, the opinion that the cuckoo made no nest of its own, but
laid its eggs in that of another bird, is mentioned in “Antony and
Cleopatra” (ii. 6):

    “Thou dost o’er-count me of my father’s house;
    But, since the cuckoo builds not for himself,
    Remain in’t as thou may’st.”

It has been remarked,[195] however, in reference to the common idea that
the young cuckoo ill-treats its foster-mother, that if we watch the
movements of the two birds, when the younger is being fed, we cannot
much wonder at this piece of folk-lore. When the cuckoo opens its great
mouth, the diminutive nurse places her own head so far within its
precincts that it has the exact appearance of a voluntary surrender to

    [195] See Mary Howitt’s “Pictorial Calendar of the Seasons,” p.
    155; Knight’s “Pictorial Shakespeare,” vol. i. pp. 225, 226.

The notion[196] “which couples the name of the cuckoo with the character
of the man whose wife is unfaithful to him appears to have been derived
from the Romans, and is first found in the Middle Ages in France, and in
the countries of which the modern language is derived from the Latin.
But the ancients more correctly gave the name of the bird, not to the
husband of the faithless wife, but to her paramour, who might justly be
supposed to be acting the part of the cuckoo. They applied the name of
the bird in whose nest the cuckoo’s eggs were usually
deposited—‘carruca’—to the husband. It is not quite clear how, in the
passage from classic to mediæval, the application of the term was
transferred to the husband.” In further allusion to this bird, we may
quote the following from “All’s Well That Ends Well” (i. 3):

    “For I the ballad will repeat,
      Which men full true shall find,
    Your marriage comes by destiny,
      Your cuckoo sings by kind.”

    [196] Chambers’s “Book of Days,” vol. i. p. 531.

The cuckoo has generally been regarded as the harbinger of spring, and,
according to a Gloucester rhyme:

    “The cuckoo comes in April,
      Sings a song in May;
    Then in June another tune,
      And then she flies away.”

Thus, in “1 Henry IV.” (iii. 2), the king, alluding to his predecessor,

    “So, when he had occasion to be seen,
    He was but as the cuckoo is in June,
    Heard, not regarded.”

In “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (v. 2) spring is maintained by the cuckoo, in
those charming sonnets descriptive of the beauties of the country at
this season.

The word cuckoo has, from the earliest times, been used as a term of
reproach;[197] and Plautus[198] has introduced it on more than one
occasion. In this sense we find it quoted by Shakespeare in “1 Henry
IV.” (ii. 4): “O’ horseback, ye cuckoo.” The term _cuckold_, too, which
so frequently occurs throughout Shakespeare’s plays, is generally
derived from cuculus,[199] from the practice already alluded to of
depositing its eggs in other birds’ nests.

    [197] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. ii. p. 201.

    [198] “Asinaria,” v. 1.

    [199] Nares, in his “Glossary” (vol. i. p. 212), says:
    “Cuckold, perhaps, _quasi_ cuckoo’d, _i. e._, one served; _i.
    e._, forced to bring up a brood that is not his own.”

_Domestic Fowl._ In “The Tempest” (v. 1), the word chick is used as a
term of endearment: “My Ariel; chick,” etc.; and in “Macbeth” (iv. 3)
Macduff speaks of his children as “all my pretty chickens.” In
“Coriolanus” (v. 3), hen is applied to a woman: “poor hen, fond of no
second brood;” and in “Taming of the Shrew” (ii. 1), Petruchio says: “so
Kate will be my hen;” and, once more, “1 Henry IV.” (iii. 3), Falstaff
says, “How now, Dame Partlet the hen?” In “Othello” (i. 3) Iago applies
the term “guinea-hen” to Desdemona, a cant phrase in Shakespeare’s day
for a fast woman.

_Dove._ Among the many beautiful allusions to this bird we may mention
one in “Hamlet” (v. 1), where Shakespeare speaks of the dove only laying
two eggs:[200]

             “as patient as the female dove
    When that her golden couplets are disclosed.”

    [200] Singer’s “Shakespeare,” 1875, vol. ix. p. 294.

The young nestlings, when first disclosed, are only covered with a
yellow down, and the mother rarely leaves the nest, in consequence of
the tenderness of her young; hence the dove has been made an emblem of
patience. In “2 Henry IV.” (iv. 1), it is spoken of as the symbol of

    “The dove and very blessed spirit of peace.”

Its love, too, is several times referred to, as in “Romeo and Juliet”
(ii. 1), “Pronounce but—love and dove;” and in “1 Henry VI.” (ii. 2),
Burgundy says:

    “Like to a pair of loving turtle-doves,
    That could not live asunder, day or night.”

This bird has also been regarded as the emblem of fidelity, as in the
following graphic passage in “Troilus and Cressida” (iii. 2):

    “As true as steel, as plantage to the moon,
    As sun to day, as turtle to her mate,
    As iron to adamant, as earth to the centre;”

and in “Winter’s Tale” (iv. 4) we read:

                  “turtles pair,
    That never mean to part.”

Its modesty is alluded to in the “Taming of the Shrew” (ii. 1): “modest
as the dove;” and its innocence in “2 Henry VI.” (iii. 1) is mentioned,
where King Henry says:

    “Our kinsman Gloster is as innocent
    From meaning treason to our royal person
    As is the sucking lamb or harmless dove:
    The duke is virtuous, mild and too well given
    To dream on evil, or to work my downfall.”

The custom of giving a pair of doves or pigeons as a present or
peace-offering is alluded to in “Titus Andronicus” (iv. 4), where the
clown says, “God and Saint Stephen give you good den: I have brought you
a letter and a couple of pigeons here;” and when Gobbo tried to find
favor with Bassanio, in “Merchant of Venice” (ii. 2), he began by
saying, “I have here a dish of doves, that I would bestow upon your
worship.” Shakespeare alludes in several places to the “doves of Venus,”
as in “Venus and Adonis:”

    “Thus weary of the world, away she [Venus] hies,
    And yokes her silver doves; by whose swift aid
    Their mistress, mounted, through the empty skies
    In her light chariot quickly is conveyed;
    Holding their course to Paphos, where their queen
    Means to immure herself and not be seen;”

and in “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (i. 1), where Hermia speaks of “the
simplicity of Venus’ doves.” This will also explain, says Mr.
Harting,[201] the reference to “the dove of Paphos,” in “Pericles” (iv.
Introd.). The towns of Old and New Paphos are situated on the southwest
extremity of the coast of Cyprus. Old Paphos is the one generally
referred to by the poets, being the peculiar seat of the worship of
Venus, who was fabled to have been wafted thither after her birth amid
the waves. The “dove of Paphos” may therefore be considered as
synonymous with the “dove of Venus.”

    [201] “Ornithology of Shakespeare,” pp. 190, 191.

Mahomet, we are told, had a dove, which he used to feed with wheat out
of his ear; when hungry, the dove lighted on his shoulder, and thrust
its bill in to find its breakfast, Mahomet persuading the rude and
simple Arabians that it was the Holy Ghost, that gave him advice.[202]
Hence, in “1 Henry VI.” (i. 2), the question is asked:

    “Was Mahomet inspired with a dove?”

    [202] Sir W. Raleigh’s “History of the World,” bk. i. pt. i.
    ch. 6.

_Duck._ A barbarous pastime in Shakespeare’s time was hunting a tame
duck in the water with spaniels. For the performance of this
amusement[203] it was necessary to have recourse to a pond of water
sufficiently extensive to give the duck plenty of room for making its
escape from the dogs when closely pursued, which it did by diving as
often as any of them came near it, hence the following allusion in
“Henry V.” (ii. 3):

    “And hold-fast is the only dog, my duck.”[204]

    [203] Strutt’s “Sports and Pastimes,” 1876, p. 329.

    [204] There is an allusion to the proverbial saying, “Brag is a
    good dog, but Hold-fast is a better.”

“To swim like a duck” is a common proverb, which occurs in “The Tempest”
(ii. 2), where Trinculo, in reply to Stephano’s question how he escaped,
says: “Swam ashore, man, like a duck; I can swim like a duck, I’ll be

_Eagle._ From the earliest time this bird has been associated with
numerous popular fancies and superstitions, many of which have not
escaped the notice of Shakespeare. A notion of very great antiquity
attributes to it the power of gazing at the sun undazzled, to which
Spenser, in his “Hymn of Heavenly Beauty” refers:

    “And like the native brood of eagle’s kind,
    On that bright sun of glory fix thine eyes.”

In “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (iv. 3) Biron says of Rosaline:

    “What peremptory eagle-sighted eye
    Dares look upon the heaven of her brow,
    That is not blinded by her majesty?”[205]

    [205] In the same scene we are told,

        “A lover’s eyes will gaze an eagle blind.”

    Cf. “Romeo and Juliet,” iii. 5; “Richard II.,” iii. 3.

And in “3 Henry VI.” (ii. 1) Richard says to his brother Edward:

    “Nay, if thou be that princely eagle’s bird,
    Show thy descent by gazing ’gainst the sun.”

The French naturalist, Lacepede,[206] has calculated that the clearness
of vision in birds is nine times more extensive than that of the
farthest-sighted man. The eagle, too, has always been proverbial for its
great power of flight, and on this account has had assigned to it the
sovereignty of the feathered race. Aristotle and Pliny both record the
legend of the wren disputing for the crown, a tradition which is still
found in Ireland:[207] “The birds all met together one day, and settled
among themselves that whichever of them could fly highest was to be the
king of them all. Well, just as they were starting, the little rogue of
a wren perched itself on the eagle’s tail. So they flew and flew ever so
high, till the eagle was miles above all the rest, and could not fly
another stroke, for he was so tired. Then says he, ‘I’m the king of the
birds,’ says he; ‘hurroo!’ ‘You lie,’ says the wren, darting up a perch
and a half above the big fellow. The eagle was so angry to think how he
was outwitted by the wren, that when the latter was coming down he gave
him a stroke of his wing, and from that day the wren has never been able
to fly higher than a hawthorn bush.” The swiftness of the eagle’s flight
is spoken of in “Timon of Athens,” (i. 1):

             “an eagle flight, bold, and forth on,
    Leaving no tract behind.”[208]

    [206] Quoted by Harting, in “Ornithology of Shakespeare,” p. 24.

    [207] Kelly’s “Indo-European Folk-Lore,” pp. 75, 79.

    [208] Cf. “Antony and Cleopatra,” ii. 2: “This was but as a fly
    by an eagle.”

The great age, too, of the eagle is well known; and the words of the
Psalmist are familiar to most readers:

    “His youth shall be renewed like the eagle’s.”

Apemantus, however, asks of Timon (“Timon of Athens,” iv. 3):

                     “will these moss’d trees,
    That have outlived the eagle, page thy heels,
    And skip when thou point’st out?”

Turbervile, in his “Booke of Falconrie,” 1575, says that the great age
of this bird has been ascertained from the circumstance of its always
building its eyrie or nest in the same place. The Romans considered the
eagle a bird of good omen, and its presence in time of battle was
supposed to foretell victory. Thus, in “Julius Cæsar” (v. 1) we read:

    “Coming from Sardis, on our former ensign
    Two mighty eagles fell; and there they perch’d,
    Gorging and feeding from our soldiers’ hands.”

It was selected for the Roman legionary standard,[209] through being the
king and most powerful of all birds. As a bird of good omen it is
mentioned also in “Cymbeline” (i. 1):

                     “I chose an eagle,
    And did avoid a puttock;”

and in another scene (iv. 2) the Soothsayer relates how

    “Last night the very gods show’d me a vision,
                             ... thus:—
    I saw Jove’s bird, the Roman eagle, wing’d
    From the spungy south to this part of the west,
    There vanish’d in the sunbeams: which portends
    (Unless my sins abuse my divination),
    Success to the Roman host.”

    [209] Josephus, “De Bello Judico,” iii. 5.

The conscious superiority[210] of the eagle is depicted by Tamora in
“Titus Andronicus” (iv. 4):

    “The eagle suffers little birds to sing,
    And is not careful what they mean thereby,
    Knowing that with the shadow of his wing,
    He can at pleasure stint their melody.”

    [210] Harting’s “Ornithology of Shakespeare,” p. 33.

_Goose._ This bird was the subject[211] of many quaint proverbial
phrases often used in the old popular writers. Thus, a _tailor’s goose_
was a jocular name for his pressing-iron, probably from its being often
roasting before the fire, an allusion to which occurs in “Macbeth” (ii.
3): “come in, tailor; here you may roast your goose.” The “wild-goose
chase,” which is mentioned in “Romeo and Juliet” (ii. 4)—“Nay, if thy
wits run the wild-goose chase, I have done”—was a kind of horse-race,
which resembled the flight of wild geese. Two horses were started
together, and whichever rider could get the lead, the other was obliged
to follow him over whatever ground the foremost jockey chose to go. That
horse which could distance the other won the race. This reckless sport
is mentioned by Burton, in his “Anatomy of Melancholy,” as a recreation
much in vogue in his time among gentlemen. The term “Winchester goose”
was a cant phrase for a certain venereal disease, because the stews in
Southwark were under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Winchester, to
whom Gloster tauntingly applies the term in the following passage (“1
Henry VI.,” i. 3):

    “Winchester goose! I cry—a rope! a rope!”

    [211] Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 378.

In “Troilus and Cressida” (v. 10) there is a further allusion:

    “Some galled goose of Winchester would hiss.”

Ben Jonson[212] calls it:

                 “the Winchestrian goose,
    Bred on the banke in time of Popery,
    When Venus there maintain’d the mystery.”

    [212] “Execration against Vulcan,” 1640, p. 37.

“Plucking geese” was formerly a barbarous sport of boys (“Merry Wives of
Windsor,” v. 1), which consisted in stripping a living goose of its

    [213] Singer’s “Notes,” 1875, vol. i. p. 283.

In “Coriolanus” (i. 4), the goose is spoken of as the emblem of
cowardice. Marcius says:

                       “You souls of geese,
    That bear the shapes of men, how have you run
    From slaves that apes would beat!”

_Goldfinch._ The Warwickshire name[214] for this bird is “Proud Tailor,”
to which, some commentators think, the words in “1 Henry IV.” (iii. 1)

    “_Lady P._ I will not sing.

    _Hotsp._ ’Tis the next way to turn tailor, or be red-breast teacher.”

    [214] See “Archæologia,” vol. iii. p. 33.

It has, therefore, been suggested that the passage should be read thus:
“’Tis the next way to turn tailor, or red-breast teacher,” _i. e._, “to
turn teacher of goldfinches or redbreasts.”[215] Singer,[216] however,
explains the words thus: “Tailors, like weavers, have ever been
remarkable for their vocal skill. Percy is jocular in his mode of
persuading his wife to sing; and this is a humorous turn which he gives
to his argument, ‘Come, sing.’ ‘I will not sing.’ ‘’Tis the next [_i.
e._, the readiest, nearest] way to turn tailor, or redbreast
teacher’—the meaning being, to sing is to put yourself upon a level with
tailors and teachers of birds.”

    [215] Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 693. Some think that the
    bullfinch is meant.

    [216] Singer’s “Notes,” 1875, vol. v. p. 82; see Dyce’s
    “Glossary,” p. 433.

_Gull._ Shakespeare often uses this word as synonymous with fool. Thus
in “Henry V.” (iii. 6) he says:

    “Why, ’tis a gull, a fool.”

The same play upon the word occurs in “Othello” (v. 2), and in “Timon of
Athens” (ii. 1). In “Twelfth Night” (v. 1) Malvolio asks:

    “Why have you suffer’d me to be imprison’d,
    Kept in a dark house, visited by the priest,
    And made the most notorious geck and gull
    That e’er invention played on? tell me why.”

It is also used to express a trick or imposition, as in “Much Ado About
Nothing” (ii. 3): “I should think this a gull, but that the
white-bearded fellow speaks it.”[217] “Gull-catchers,” or
“gull-gropers,” to which reference is made in “Twelfth Night” (ii. 5),
where Fabian, on the entry of Maria, exclaims: “Here comes my noble
gull-catcher,” were the names by which sharpers[218] were known in
Shakespeare’s time.[219] The “gull-catcher” was generally an old
usurer, who lent money to a gallant at an ordinary, who had been
unfortunate in play.[220] Decker devotes a chapter to this character in
his “Lanthorne and Candle-light,” 1612. According to him, “the
gull-groper is commonly an old mony-monger, who having travailed through
all the follyes of the world in his youth, knowes them well, and shunnes
them in his age, his whole felicitie being to fill his bags with golde
and silver.” The person so duped was termed a gull, and the trick also.
In that disputed passage in “The Tempest” (ii. 2), where Caliban,
addressing Trinculo, says:

                “sometimes I’ll get thee
    Young scamels from the rock.”

some think that the sea-mew, or sea-gull, is intended,[221] sea-mall, or
sea-mell, being still a provincial name for this bird. Mr. Stevenson, in
his “Birds of Norfolk” (vol. ii. p. 260), tells us that “the female
bar-tailed godwit is called a ‘scammell’ by the gunners of Blakeney. But
as this bird is not a rock-breeder,[222] it cannot be the one intended
in the present passage, if we regard it as an accurate description from
a naturalist’s point of view.” Holt says that “scam” is a limpet, and
scamell probably a diminutive. Mr. Dyce[223] reads “scamels,” _i. e._,
the kestrel, stannel, or windhover, which breeds in rocky situations and
high cliffs on our coasts. He also further observes that this accords
well with the context “from the rock,” and adds that staniel or stannyel
occurs in “Twelfth Night” (ii. 5), where all the old editions exhibit
the gross misprint “stallion.”

    [217] Some doubt exists as to the derivation of _gull_. Nares
    says it is from the old French _guiller_. Tooke holds that
    gull, guile, wile, and guilt are all from the Anglo-Saxon
    “wiglian, gewiglian,” that by which any one is deceived.
    Harting’s “Ornithology of Shakespeare,” p. 267.

    [218] See D’Israeli’s “Curiosities of Literature,” vol. iii. p. 84.

    [219] See Thornbury’s “Shakespeare’s England,” vol. i. pp. 311-322.

    [220] Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 394.

    [221] Harting’s “Ornithology of Shakespeare,” p. 269.

    [222] Aldis Wright’s “Notes to ‘The Tempest’,” 1875, pp. 120, 121.

    [223] See Dyce’s “Shakespeare,” vol. i. p. 245.

_Hawk._ The diversion of catching game with hawks was very popular in
Shakespeare’s time,[224] and hence, as might be expected, we find many
scattered allusions to it throughout his plays. The training of a hawk
for the field was an essential part of the education of a young Saxon
nobleman; and the present of a well-trained hawk was a gift to be
welcomed by a king. Edward the Confessor spent much of his leisure time
in either hunting or hawking; and in the reign of Edward III. we read
how the Bishop of Ely attended the service of the church at Bermondsey,
Southwark, leaving his hawk in the cloister, which in the meantime was
stolen—the bishop solemnly excommunicating the thieves. On one occasion
Henry VIII. met with a serious accident when pursuing his hawk at
Hitchin, in Hertfordshire. In jumping over a ditch his pole broke, and
he fell headlong into the muddy water, whence he was with some
difficulty rescued by one of his followers. Sir Thomas More, writing in
the reign of Henry VIII., describing the state of manhood, makes a young
man say:

    “Man-hod I am, therefore I me delyght
    To hunt and hawke, to nourish up and fede
    The greyhounde to the course, the hawke to th’ flight,
    And to bestryde a good and lusty stede.”

    [224] See Strutt’s “Sports and Pastimes,” 1876, pp. 60-97, and
    “Book of Days,” 1863, vol. ii. pp. 211-213; Smith’s “Festivals,
    Games, and Amusements,” 1831, p. 174.

In noticing, then, Shakespeare’s allusions to this sport, we have a good
insight into its various features, and also gain a knowledge of the
several terms associated with it. Thus frequent mention is made of the
word “haggard”—a wild, untrained hawk—and in the following allegory
(“Taming of the Shrew,” iv. 1), where it occurs, much of the knowledge
of falconry is comprised:

    “My falcon now is sharp, and passing empty;
    And, till she stoop, she must not be full-gorged,[225]
    For then she never looks upon her lure.
    Another way I have to man my haggard,
    To make her come, and know her keeper’s call;
    That is, to watch her, as we watch these kites
    That bate, and beat, and will not be obedient.
    She eat no meat to-day, nor none shall eat;
    Last night she slept not, nor to-night she shall not.”[226]

    [225] “A hawk full-fed was untractable, and refused the
    lure—the lure being a thing stuffed to look like the game the
    hawk was to pursue; its lure was to tempt him back after he had

    [226] In the same play (iv. 2) Hortensio describes Bianca as
    “this proud disdainful haggard.” See Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 197;
    Cotgrave’s “French and English Dictionary,” sub. “Hagard;” and
    Latham’s “Falconry,” etc., 1658.

Further allusions occur in “Twelfth Night” (iii. 1), where Viola says of
the Clown:

    “This fellow is wise enough to play the fool;
    And to do that well craves a kind of wit:
    He must observe their mood on whom he jests,
    The quality of persons, and the time;
    And, like the haggard, check at every feather
    That comes before his eye.”

In “Much Ado About Nothing” (iii. 1), Hero, speaking of Beatrice, says

             “her spirits are as coy and wild
    As haggards of the rock.”

And Othello (iii. 3), mistrusting Desdemona, and likening her to a hawk,

              “if I do prove her haggard,—
    I’d whistle her off.”[227]

    [227] “To whistle off,” or dismiss by a whistle; a hawk seems
    to have been usually sent off in this way against the wind when
    sent in pursuit of prey.

The word “check” alluded to above was a term in falconry applied to a
hawk when she forsook her proper game and followed some other of
inferior kind that crossed her in her flight[228]—being mentioned again
in “Hamlet” (iv. 7), where the king says:

                “If he be now return’d
    As checking at his voyage.”[229]

    [228] Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 77; see “Twelfth Night,” ii. 5.

    [229] The use of the word is not quite the same here, because
    the voyage was Hamlet’s “proper game,” which he abandons.
    “Notes to Hamlet,” Clark and Wright, 1876, p. 205.

Another common expression used in falconry is “tower,” applied to
certain hawks, etc., which tower aloft, soar spirally to a height in the
air, and thence swoop upon their prey. In “Macbeth” (ii. 4) we read of

    “A falcon, towering in her pride of place;”

in “2 Henry VI.” (ii. 1) Suffolk says,

    “My lord protector’s hawks do tower so well;”

and in “King John” (v. 2) the Bastard says,

    “And like an eagle o’er his aery[230] towers.”

    [230] See Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 456; Harting’s “Ornithology of
    Shakespeare,” p. 39; Tuberville’s “Booke of Falconrie,” 1611,
    p. 53.

The word “quarry,” which occurs several times in Shakespeare’s plays, in
some instances means the “game or prey sought.” The etymology has, says
Nares, been variously attempted, but with little success. It may,
perhaps, originally have meant the square, or enclosure (_carrée_), into
which the game was driven (as is still practised in other countries),
and hence the application of it to the game there caught would be a
natural extension of the term. Randle Holme, in his “Academy of Armory”
(book ii. c. xi. p. 240), defines it as “the fowl which the hawk flyeth
at, whether dead or alive.” It was also equivalent to a heap of
slaughtered game, as in the following passages. In “Coriolanus” (i. 1),
Caius Marcius says:

                    “I’d make a quarry
    With thousands of these quarter’d slaves.”

In “Macbeth” (iv. 3)[231] we read “the quarry of these murder’d deer;”
and in “Hamlet” (v. 2), “This quarry cries on havock.”

    [231] Also in i. 2 we read:

        “And fortune, on his damned quarrel smiling,
        Show’d like a rebel’s whore.”

    Some read “quarry;” see “Notes to Macbeth.” Clark and Wright,
    p. 77. It denotes the square-headed bolt of a cross-bow; see
    Douce’s “Illustrations,” 1839, p. 227; Nares’s “Glossary,” vol.
    ii. p. 206.

Another term in falconry is “stoop,” or “swoop,” denoting the hawk’s
violent descent from a height upon its prey. In “Taming of the Shrew”
(iv. 1) the expression occurs, “till she stoop, she must not be
full-gorged.” In “Henry V.” (iv. 1), King Henry, speaking of the king,
says, “though his affections are higher mounted than ours, yet, when
they stoop, they stoop with the like wing.” In “Macbeth” (iv. 3), too,
Macduff, referring to the cruel murder of his children, exclaims, “What!
... at one fell swoop?”[232] Webster, in the “White Devil,”[233] says:

    “If she [_i. e._, Fortune] give aught, she deals it in small parcels,
    That she may take away all at one swoop.”

    [232] See Spenser’s “Fairy Queen,” book i. canto xi. l. 18:

        “Low stooping with unwieldy sway.”

    [233] Ed. Dyce, 1857, p. 5.

Shakespeare gives many incidental allusions to the hawk’s trappings.
Thus, in “Lucrece” he says:

    “Harmless Lucretia, marking what he tells
    With trembling fear, as fowl hear falcon’s bells.”

And in “As You Like It” (iii. 3),[234] Touchstone says, “As the ox hath
his bow, sir, the horse his curb, and the falcon her bells, so man hath
his desires.” The object of these bells was to lead the falconer to the
hawk when in a wood or out of sight. In Heywood’s play entitled “A Woman
Killed with Kindness,” 1617, is a hawking scene, containing a striking
allusion to the hawk’s bells. The dress of the hawk consisted of a
close-fitting hood of leather or velvet, enriched with needlework, and
surmounted with a tuft of colored feathers, for use as well as ornament,
inasmuch as they assisted the hand in removing the hood when the birds
for the hawk’s attack came in sight. Thus in “Henry V.” (iii. 7), the
Constable of France, referring to the valor of the Dauphin, says, “’Tis
a hooded valour; and when it appears, it will bate.”[235] And again, in
“Romeo and Juliet” (iii. 2), Juliet says:

    “Hood my unmann’d[236] blood, bating in my cheeks.”

    [234] See “3 Henry VI.” i. 1.

    [235] A quibble is perhaps intended between bate, the term of
    falconry, and abate, _i. e._, fall off, dwindle. “Bate is a
    term in falconry, to flutter the wings as preparing for flight,
    particularly at the sight of prey.” In ‘1 Henry IV.’ (iv. 1):

        “‘All plumed like estridges, that with the wind
        Bated, like eagles having lately bathed.’”

    —Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 60.

    [236] “Unmann’d” was applied to a hawk not tamed.

The “jesses” were two short straps of leather or silk, which were
fastened to each leg of a hawk, to which was attached a swivel, from
which depended the leash or strap which the falconer[237] twisted round
his hand. Othello (iii. 3) says:

    “Though that her jesses were my dear heart-strings.”

    [237] See Singer’s “Notes to Shakespeare,” 1875, vol. x. p. 86;
    Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 448.

We find several allusions to the training of hawks.[238] They were
usually trained by being kept from sleep, it having been customary for
the falconers to sit up by turns and “watch” the hawk, and keep it from
sleeping, sometimes for three successive nights. Desdemona, in “Othello”
(iii. 3), says:

                      “my lord shall never rest;
    I’ll watch him tame and talk him out of patience;
    His bed shall seem a school, his board a shrift;
    I’ll intermingle everything he does
    With Cassio’s suit.”

    [238] See passage in “Taming of the Shrew,” iv. 1, already
    referred to, p. 122.

So, in Cartwright’s “Lady Errant” (ii. 2):

    “We’ll keep you as they do hawks,
    Watching until you leave your wildness.”

In “The Merry Wives of Windsor” (v. 5), where Page says,

    “Nay, do not fly: I think we have watch’d you now,”

the allusion is, says Staunton, to this method employed to tame or
“reclaim” hawks.

Again, in “Othello” (iii. 3),[239] Iago exclaims:

    “She that, so young, could give out such a seeming,
    To seel her father’s eyes up close as oak;”

in allusion to the practice of seeling a hawk, or sewing up her eyelids,
by running a fine thread through them, in order to make her tractable
and endure the hood of which we have already spoken.[240] King Henry (“2
Henry IV.” iii. 1), in his soliloquy on sleep, says:

    “Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast
    Seal up the ship-boy’s eyes, and rock his brains
    In cradle of the rude imperious surge.”

    [239] Also in same play, i. 3.

    [240] Turbervile, in his “Booke of Falconrie,” 1575, gives some
    curious directions as “how to seele a hawke;” we may compare
    similar expressions in “Antony and Cleopatra,” iii. 13; v. 2.

In Spenser’s “Fairy Queen” (I. vii. 23), we read:

    “Mine eyes no more on vanity shall feed,
    But sealed up with death, shall have their deadly meed.”

It was a common notion that if a dove was let loose with its eyes so
closed it would fly straight upwards, continuing to mount till it fell
down through mere exhaustion.[241]

    [241] Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. pp. 777, 778; cf. Beaumont
    and Fletcher, “Philaster,” v. 1.

In “Cymbeline” (iii. 4), Imogen, referring to Posthumus, says:

                          “I grieve myself
    To think, when thou shalt be disedged by her
    That now thou tir’st on,”—

this passage containing two metaphorical expressions from falconry. A
bird was said to be _disedged_ when the keenness of its appetite was
taken away by _tiring_, or feeding upon some tough or hard substance
given to it for that purpose. In “3 Henry VI.” (i. 1), the king says:

                          “that hateful duke,
    Whose haughty spirit, winged with desire,
    Will cost my crown, and like an empty eagle
    Tire on the flesh of me and of my son.”

In “Timon of Athens” (iii. 6), one of the lords says: “Upon that were
my thoughts tiring, when we encountered.”

In “Venus and Adonis,” too, we find a further allusion:

    “Even as an empty eagle, sharp by fast,
    Tires with her beak on feathers, flesh, and bone,” etc.

Among other allusions to the hawk may be mentioned one in “Measure for
Measure” (iii. 1):

                    “This outward-sainted deputy,
    Whose settled visage and deliberate word
    Nips youth i’ the head, and follies doth _emmew_,
    As falcon doth the fowl”

—the word “emmew” signifying the place where hawks were shut up during
the time they moulted. In “Romeo and Juliet” (iii. 4), Lady Capulet says
of Juliet:

    “To-night she’s mew’d up to her heaviness;”

and in “Taming of the Shrew” (i. 1), Gremio, speaking of Bianca to
Signor Baptista, says: “Why will you mew her?”

When the wing or tail feathers of a hawk were dropped, forced out, or
broken, by any accident, it was usual to supply or repair as many as
were deficient or damaged, an operation called “to imp[242] a hawk.”
Thus, in “Richard II.” (ii. 1), Northumberland says:

    “If, then, we shall shake off our slavish yoke,
    Imp out our drooping country’s broken wing.”

    [242] Imp, from Anglo-Saxon, _impan_, to graft. Turbervile has
    a whole chapter on “The way and manner how to ympe a hawke’s
    feather, howsoever it be broken or bruised.”

So Massinger, in his “Renegado” (v. 8), makes Asambeg say:

                                 “strive to imp
    New feathers to the broken wings of time.”

Hawking was sometimes called birding.[243] In the “Merry Wives of
Windsor” (iii. 3) Master Page says: “I do invite you to-morrow morning
to my house to breakfast; after, we’ll a-birding together, I have a
fine hawk for the bush.” In the same play (iii. 5) Dame Quickly,
speaking of Mistress Ford, says: “Her husband goes this morning
a-birding;” and Mistress Ford says (iv. 2): “He’s a-birding, sweet Sir
John.” The word hawk, says Mr. Harting, is invariably used by
Shakespeare in its generic sense; and in only two instances does he
allude to a particular species. These are the kestrel and sparrow-hawk.
In “Twelfth Night” (ii. 5) Sir Toby Belch, speaking of Malvolio, as he
finds the letter which Maria has purposely dropped in his path, says:

    “And with what wing the staniel[244] checks at it”

—staniel being a corruption of stangdall, a name for the kestrel
hawk.[245] “Gouts” is the technical term for the spots on some parts of
the plumage of a hawk, and perhaps Shakespeare uses the word in allusion
to a phrase in heraldry. Macbeth (ii. 1), speaking of the dagger, says:

                             “I see thee still,
    And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood.”

    [243] Harting’s “Ornithology of Shakspeare,” p. 72.

    [244] The reading of the folios here is stallion; but the word
    wing, and the falconer’s term _checks_, prove that the bird
    must be meant. See Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 832.

    [245] See kestrel and sparrow-hawk.

_Heron._ This bird was frequently flown at by falconers. Shakespeare, in
“Hamlet” (ii. 2), makes Hamlet say, “I am but mad north-north-west; when
the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw;” handsaw being a
corruption of “heronshaw,” or “hernsew,” which is still used, in the
provincial dialects, for a heron. In Suffolk and Norfolk it is
pronounced “harnsa,” from which to “handsaw” is but a single step.[246]
Shakespeare here alludes to a proverbial saying, “He knows not a hawk
from a handsaw.”[247] Mr. J. C. Heath[248] explains the passage thus:
“The expression obviously refers to the sport of hawking. Most birds,
especially one of heavy flight like the heron, when roused by the
falconer or his dog, would fly down or with the wind, in order to
escape. When the wind is from the north the heron flies towards the
south, and the spectator may be dazzled by the sun, and be unable to
distinguish the hawk from the heron. On the other hand, when the wind is
southerly the heron flies towards the north, and it and the pursuing
hawk are clearly seen by the sportsman, who then has his back to the
sun, and without difficulty knows the hawk from the hernsew.”

    [246] “Notes to Hamlet,” Clark and Wright, 1876, p. 159.

    [247] Ray’s “Proverbs,” 1768, p. 196.

    [248] Quoted in “Notes to Hamlet,” by Clark and Wright, p. 159;
    see Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 416.

_Jay._ From its gay and gaudy plumage this bird has been used for a
loose woman, as “Merry Wives of Windsor” (iii. 3): “we’ll teach him to
know turtles from jays,” _i. e._, to distinguish honest women from loose
ones. Again, in “Cymbeline” (iii. 4), Imogen says:

                               “Some jay of Italy,
    Whose mother was her painting,[249] hath betray’d him.”

    [249] That is, made by art: the creature not of nature, but of
    painting; cf. “Taming of the Shrew,” iv. 3; “The Tempest,” ii. 2.

_Kestrel._ A hawk of a base, unserviceable breed,[250] and therefore
used by Spenser, in his “Fairy Queen” (II. iii. 4), to signify base:

    “Ne thought of honour ever did assay
    His baser breast, but in his kestrell kynd
    A pleasant veine of glory he did fynd.”

    [250] Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 482.

By some[251] it is derived from “coystril,” a knave or peasant, from
being the hawk formerly used by persons of inferior rank. Thus, in
“Twelfth Night” (i. 3), we find “coystrill,” and in “Pericles” (iv. 6)
“coystrel.” The name kestrel, says Singer,[252] for an inferior kind of
hawk, was evidently a corruption of the French _quercelle_ or
_quercerelle_, and originally had no connection with coystril, though in
later times they may have been confounded. Holinshed[253] classes
coisterels with lackeys and women, the unwarlike attendants on an army.
The term was also given as a nickname to the emissaries employed by the
kings of England in their French wars. Dyce[254] also considers kestrel
distinct from coistrel.

    [251] Harting’s “Ornithology of Shakespeare,” p. 74.

    [252] “Notes,” vol. iii. pp. 357, 358.

    [253] “Description of England,” vol. i. p. 162.

    [254] “Glossary to Shakespeare,” p. 88.

_Kingfisher._ It was a common belief in days gone by that during the
days the halcyon or kingfisher was engaged in hatching her eggs, the sea
remained so calm that the sailor might venture upon it without incurring
risk of storm or tempest; hence this period was called by Pliny and
Aristotle “the halcyon days,” to which allusion is made in “1 Henry VI.”
(i. 2):

    “Expect Saint Martin’s summer, halcyon days.”

Dryden also refers to this notion:

    “Amidst our arms as quiet you shall be,
    As halcyons brooding on a winter’s sea.”

Another superstition connected with this bird occurs in “King Lear” (ii.
2), where the Earl of Kent says:

                    “turn their halcyon beaks
    With every gale and vary of their masters;”

the prevalent idea being that a dead kingfisher, suspended from a cord,
would always turn its beak in that direction from whence the wind blew.
Marlowe, in his “Jew of Malta” (i. 1), says:

    “But now how stands the wind?
    Into what corner peers my halcyon’s bill?”

Occasionally one may still see this bird hung up in cottages, a remnant,
no doubt, of this old superstition.[255]

    [255] Sir Thomas Browne’s “Vulgar Errors,” bk. iii. chap. 10.

_Kite._ This bird was considered by the ancients to be unlucky. In
“Julius Cæsar” (v. 1) Cassius says:

                    “ravens, crows, and kites,
    Fly o’er our heads, and downward look on us.”

In “Cymbeline” (i. 2), too, Imogen says,

                        “I chose an eagle,
    And did avoid a puttock,”

puttock, here, being a synonym sometimes applied to the kite.[256]
Formerly the kite became a term of reproach from its ignoble habits.
Thus, in “Antony and Cleopatra” (iii. 13), Antony exclaims, “you kite!”
and King Lear (i. 4) says to Goneril, “Detested kite! thou liest.” Its
intractable disposition is alluded to in “Taming of the Shrew,” by
Petruchio (iv. 1). A curious peculiarity of this bird is noticed in
“Winter’s Tale” (iv. 3), where Autolycus says: “My traffic is sheets;
when the kite builds, look to lesser linen”—meaning that his practice
was to steal sheets; leaving the smaller linen to be carried away by the
kites, who will occasionally carry it off to line their nests.[257] Mr.
Dyce[258] quotes the following remarks of Mr. Peck on this passage:
“Autolycus here gives us to understand that he is a thief of the first
class. This he explains by an allusion to an odd vulgar notion. The
common people, many of them, think that if any one can find a kite’s
nest when she hath young, before they are fledged, and sew up their back
doors, so as they cannot mute, the mother-kite, in compassion to their
distress, will steal lesser linen, as caps, cravats, ruffles, or any
other such small matters as she can best fly with, from off the hedges
where they are hanged to dry after washing, and carry them to her nest,
and there leave them, if possible to move the pity of the first comer,
to cut the thread and ease them of their misery.”

    [256] Also to the buzzard, which see, p. 100.

    [257] Singer’s “Shakespeare,” vol. iv. p. 67.

    [258] “Glossary,” p. 243.

_Lapwing._ Several interesting allusions are made by Shakespeare to this
eccentric bird. It was a common notion that the young lapwings ran out
of the shell with part of it sticking on their heads, in such haste were
they to be hatched. Horatio (“Hamlet,” v. 2) says of Osric: “This
lapwing runs away with the shell on his head.”

It was, therefore, regarded as the symbol of a forward fellow.
Webster,[259] in the “White Devil” (1857, p. 13), says:

                      “forward lapwing!
    He flies with the shell on’s head.”

    [259] “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 495; see Yarrell’s “History of
    British Birds,” 2d edition, vol. ii. p. 482.

The lapwing, like the partridge, is also said to draw pursuers from her
nest by fluttering along the ground in an opposite direction or by
crying in other places. Thus, in the “Comedy of Errors” (iv. 2),
Shakespeare says:

    “Far from her nest the lapwing cries away.”

Again, in “Measure for Measure” (i. 4), Lucio exclaims:

               “though ’tis my familiar sin,
    With maids to seem the lapwing, and to jest,
    Tongue far from heart.”

Once more, in “Much Ado About Nothing” (iii. 1), we read:

    “For look where Beatrice, like a lapwing, runs,
    Close by the ground, to hear our conference.”

Several, too, of our older poets refer to this peculiarity. In Ben
Jonson’s “Underwoods” (lviii.) we are told:

    “Where he that knows will like a lapwing fly,
    Farre from the nest, and so himself belie.”

Through thus alluring intruders from its nest, the lapwing became a
symbol of insincerity; and hence originated the proverb, “The lapwing
cries tongue from heart,” or, “The lapwing cries most, farthest from her

    [260] Ray’s “Proverbs,” 1768, p. 199.

_Lark._ Shakespeare has bequeathed to us many exquisite passages
referring to the lark, full of the most sublime pathos and lofty
conceptions. Most readers are doubtless acquainted with that superb song
in “Cymbeline” (ii. 3), where this sweet songster is represented as
singing “at heaven’s gate;” and again, as the bird of dawn, it is
described in “Venus and Adonis,” thus:

    “Lo, here the gentle lark, weary of rest,
    From his moist cabinet mounts up on high,
    And wakes the morning, from whose silver breast
    The sun ariseth in his majesty.”[261]

    [261] Cf. “Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (iv. 1). “the morning
    lark;” “Romeo and Juliet” (iii. 5), “the lark, the herald of
    the morn.”

In “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (v. 2, song) we have a graphic touch of
pastoral life:

    “When shepherds pipe on oaten straws,
      And merry larks are ploughmen’s clocks.”

The words of Portia, too, in “Merchant of Venice” (v. 1), to sing “as
sweetly as the lark,” have long ago passed into a proverb.

It was formerly a current saying that the lark and toad changed eyes, to
which Juliet refers in “Romeo and Juliet” (iii. 5):

    “Some say, the lark and loathed toad change eyes;”

Warburton says this popular fancy originated in the toad having very
fine eyes, and the lark very ugly ones. This tradition was formerly
expressed in a rustic rhyme:

                       “to heav’n I’d fly,
    But that the toad beguil’d me of mine eye.”

In “Henry VIII.” (iii. 2) the Earl of Surrey, in denouncing Wolsey,
alludes to a curious method of capturing larks, which was effected by
small mirrors and red cloth. These, scaring the birds, made them crouch,
while the fowler drew his nets over them:

                 “let his grace go forward,
    And dare us with his cap, like larks.”

In this case the cap was the scarlet hat of the cardinal, which it was
intended to use as a piece of red cloth. The same idea occurs in
Skelton’s “Why Come Ye not to Court?” a satire on Wolsey:

    “The red hat with his lure
    Bringeth all things under cure.”

The words “tirra-lirra” (“Winter’s Tale,” iv. 3) are a fanciful
combination of sounds,[262] meant to imitate the lark’s note; borrowed,
says Nares, from the French _tire-lire_. Browne, “British Pastorals”
(bk. i. song 4), makes it “teery-leery.” In one of the Coventry pageants
there is the following old song sung by the shepherds at the birth of
Christ, which contains the expression:

    “As I out rode this endenes night,
    Of three joli sheppards I sawe a syght,
    And all aboute there fold a stare shone bright,
    They sang terli terlow,
    So mereli the sheppards their pipes can blow.”

    [262] Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 886; Douce’s
    “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” 1839, p. 217.

In Scotland[263] and the north of England the peasantry say that if one
is desirous of knowing what the lark says, he must lie down on his back
in the field and listen, and he will then hear it say:

    “Up in the lift go we,
    Tehee, tehee, tehee, tehee!
    There’s not a shoemaker on the earth
    Can make a shoe to me, to me!
    Why so, why so, why so?
    Because my heel is as long as my toe.”

    [263] Chambers’s “Popular Rhymes of Scotland,” 1870, p. 192.

_Magpie._ It was formerly known as magot-pie, probably from the French
_magot_, a monkey, because the bird chatters and plays droll tricks like
a monkey. It has generally been regarded with superstitious awe as a
mysterious bird,[264] and is thus alluded to in “Macbeth” (iii. 4):

    “Augurs and understood relations, have
    By magot-pies, and choughs, and rooks, brought forth
    The secret’st man of blood.”

    [264] See “English Folk-Lore,” p. 81.

And again, in “3 Henry VI.” (v. 6), it is said:

    “chattering pies in dismal discords sung.”

There are numerous rhymes[265] relating to the magpie, of which we
subjoin, as a specimen, one prevalent in the north of England:

    “One is sorrow, two mirth,
    Three a wedding, four a birth,
    Five heaven, six hell,
    Seven the de’il’s ain sell.”

    [265] Henderson’s “Folk-Lore of Northern Counties,” p. 127.

In Devonshire, in order to avert the ill-luck from seeing a magpie, the
peasant spits over his right shoulder three times, and in Yorkshire
various charms are in use. One is to raise the hat as a salutation, and
then to sign the cross on the breast; and another consists in making the
same sign by crossing the thumbs. It is a common notion in Scotland that
magpies flying near the windows of a house portend a speedy death to one
of its inmates. The superstitions associated with the magpie are not
confined to this country, for in Sweden[266] it is considered the
witch’s bird, belonging to the evil one and the other powers of night.
In Denmark, when a magpie perches on a house it is regarded as a sign
that strangers are coming.

    [266] Thorpe’s “Northern Mythology,” vol. ii. p. 34; Brand’s
    “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, pp. 215, 216; see also Harland and
    Wilkinson’s “Lancashire Folk-Lore,” 1867, pp. 143, 145.

_Martin._ The martin, or martlet, which is called in “Macbeth” (i. 6)
the “guest of summer,” as being a migratory bird, has been from the
earliest times treated with superstitious respect—it being considered
unlucky to molest or in any way injure its nest. Thus, in the “Merchant
of Venice” (ii. 9), the Prince of Arragon says:

                                   “the martlet
    Builds in the weather, on the outward wall,
    Even in the force and road of casualty.”

Forster[267] says that the circumstance of this bird’s nest being built
so close to the habitations of man indicates that it has long enjoyed
freedom from molestation. There is a popular rhyme still current in the
north of England:

    “The martin and the swallow
    Are God Almighty’s bow and arrow.”

    [267] “Atmospherical Researches,” 1823, p. 262.

_Nightingale._ The popular error that the nightingale sings with its
breast impaled upon a thorn is noticed by Shakespeare, who makes Lucrece

    “And whiles against a thorn thou bear’st thy part
    To keep thy sharp woes waking.”

In the “Passionate Pilgrim” (xxi.) there is an allusion:

    “Everything did banish moan,
    Save the nightingale alone.
    She, poor bird, as all forlorn,
    Lean’d her breast up-till a thorn,
    And there sung the dolefull’st ditty,
    That to hear it was great pity.”

Beaumont and Fletcher, in “The Faithful Shepherdess” (v. 3), speak of

    “The nightingale among the thick-leaved spring,
    That sits alone in sorrow, and doth sing
    Whole nights away in mourning.”

Sir Thomas Browne[268] asks “Whether the nightingale’s sitting with her
breast against a thorn be any more than that she placeth some prickles
on the outside of her nest, or roosteth in thorny, prickly places, where
serpents may least approach her?”[269] In the “Zoologist” for 1862 the
Rev. A. C. Smith mentions “the discovery, on two occasions, of a strong
thorn projecting upwards in the centre of the nightingale’s nest.”
Another notion is that the nightingale never sings by day; and thus
Portia, in “Merchant of Venice” (v. 1), says:

                                  “I think,
    The nightingale, if she should sing by day,
    When every goose is cackling, would be thought
    No better a musician than the wren.”

    [268] Sir Thomas Browne’s Works, 1852, vol. i. p. 378.

    [269] See “Book of Days,” vol. i. p. 515.

Such, however, is not the case, for this bird often sings as sweetly in
the day as at night-time. There is an old superstition[270] that the
nightingale sings all night, to keep itself awake, lest the glow-worm
should devour her. The classical fable[271] of the unhappy Philomela
turned into a nightingale, when her sister Progne was changed to a
swallow, has doubtless given rise to this bird being spoken of as _she_;
thus Juliet tells Romeo (iii. 5):

    “It was the nightingale, and not the lark,
    That pierc’d the fearful hollow of thine ear;
    Nightly she sings on yon pomegranate tree;
    Believe me, love, it was the nightingale.”

    [270] Southey’s “Commonplace Book.” 5th series. 1851, p. 305.

    [271] Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” bk. vi. ll. 455-676; “Titus
    Andronicus,” iv. 1.

Sometimes the nightingale is termed Philomel, as in “Midsummer-Night’s
Dream” (ii. 2, song):[272]

    “Philomel, with melody,
    Sing in our sweet lullaby.”

    [272] Cf. “Lucrece,” ll. 1079, 1127.

_Osprey._ This bird,[273] also called the sea-eagle, besides having a
destructive power of devouring fish, was supposed formerly to have a
fascinating influence, both which qualities are alluded to in the
following passage in “Coriolanus” (iv. 7):

                 “I think he’ll be to Rome,
    As is the osprey to the fish, who takes it
    By sovereignty of nature.”

    [273] See Yarrell’s “History of British Birds,” 1856, vol. i.
    p. 30; Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 620; also Pennant’s
    “British Zoology;” see Peele’s Play of the “Battle of Alcazar”
    (ii. 3), 1861, p. 28.

Drayton, in his “Polyolbion” (song xxv.), mentions the same fascinating
power of the osprey:

    “The osprey, oft here seen, though seldom here it breeds,
    Which over them the fish no sooner do espy,
    But, betwixt him and them by an antipathy,
    Turning their bellies up, as though their death they saw,
    They at his pleasure lie, to stuff his gluttonous maw.”

_Ostrich._ The extraordinary digestion of this bird[274] is said to be
shown by its swallowing iron and other hard substances.[275] In “2 Henry
VI.” (iv. 10), the rebel Cade says to Alexander Iden: “Ah, villain, thou
wilt betray me, and get a thousand crowns of the king by carrying my
head to him; but I’ll make thee eat iron like an ostrich, and swallow my
sword like a great pin, ere thou and I part.” Cuvier,[276] speaking of
this bird, says, “It is yet so voracious, and its senses of taste and
smell are so obtuse, that it devours animal and mineral substances
indiscriminately, until its enormous stomach is completely full. It
swallows without any choice, and merely as it were to serve for ballast,
wood, stones, grass, iron, copper, gold, lime, or, in fact, any other
substance equally hard, indigestible, and deleterious.” Sir Thomas
Browne,[277] writing on this subject, says, “The ground of this conceit
in its swallowing down fragments of iron, which men observing, by a
forward illation, have therefore conceived it digesteth them, which is
an inference not to be admitted, as being a fallacy of the consequent.”
In Loudon’s “Magazine of Natural History” (No. 6, p. 32) we are told of
an ostrich having been killed by swallowing glass.

    [274] Called _estridge_ in “1 Henry IV.” iv. 1.

    [275] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. iii. p. 365.

    [276] “Animal Kingdom,” 1829, vol. viii. p. 427.

    [277] See Sir Thomas Browne’s Works, 1852, vol. i. pp. 334-337.

_Owl._ The dread attached to this unfortunate bird is frequently spoken
of by Shakespeare, who has alluded to several of the superstitions
associated with it. At the outset, many of the epithets ascribed to it
show the prejudice with which it was regarded—being in various places
stigmatized as “the vile owl,” in “Troilus and Cressida” (ii. I); and
the “obscure bird,” in “Macbeth” (ii. 3), etc. From the earliest period
it has been considered a bird of ill-omen, and Pliny tells us how, on
one occasion, even Rome itself underwent a lustration, because one of
them strayed into the Capitol. He represents it also as a funereal bird,
a monster of the night, the very abomination of human kind. Vergil[278]
describes its death-howl from the top of the temple by night, a
circumstance introduced as a precursor of Dido’s death. Ovid,[279] too,
constantly speaks of this bird’s presence as an evil omen; and indeed
the same notions respecting it may be found among the writings of most
of the ancient poets. This superstitious awe in which the owl is held
may be owing to its peculiar look, its occasional and uncertain
appearance, its loud and dismal cry,[280] as well as to its being the
bird of night.[281] It has generally been associated with calamities and
deeds of darkness.[282] Thus, its weird shriek pierces the ear of Lady
Macbeth (ii. 2), while the murder is being committed:

    It was the owl that shriek’d, the fatal bellman,
    Which gives the stern’st good night.”

    [278] “Æneid,” bk. iv. l. 462.

    [279] “Metamorphoses,” bk. v. l. 550; bk. vi. l. 432; bk. x. l.
    453; bk. xv. l. 791.

    [280] “2 Henry VI.” iii. 2; iv. 1.

    [281] “Titus Andronicus,” ii. 3.

    [282] Cf. “Lucrece,” l. 165; see Yarrell’s “History of British
    Birds,” vol. i. p. 122.

And when the murderer rushes in, exclaiming,

    “I have done the deed. Didst thou not hear a noise?”

she answers:

    “I heard the owl scream.”

Its appearance at a birth has been said to foretell ill-luck to the
infant, a superstition to which King Henry, in “3 Henry VI.” (v. 6),
addressing Gloster, refers:

    “The owl shriek’d at thy birth, an evil sign.”

Its cries[283] have been supposed to presage death, and, to quote the
words of the _Spectator_, “a screech-owl at midnight has alarmed a
family more than a band of robbers.” Thus, in “A Midsummer-Night’s
Dream” (v. 1), we are told how

      “the screech-owl, screeching loud,
    Puts the wretch that lies in woe
      In remembrance of a shroud;”

and in “1 Henry VI.” (iv. 2), it is called the “ominous and fearful owl
of death.” Again, in “Richard III.” (iv. 4), where Richard is
exasperated by the bad news, he interrupts the third messenger by

    “Out on ye, owls! nothing but songs of death?”

    [283] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. iii. p. 209.

The owl by day is considered by some equally ominous, as in “3 Henry
VI.” (v. 4):

                       “the owl by day,
    If he arise, is mock’d and wonder’d at.”

And in “Julius Cæsar” (i. 3), Casca says:

    “And yesterday the bird of night did sit,
    Even at noon-day, upon the market-place,
    Hooting and shrieking. When these prodigies
    Do so conjointly meet, let not men say,
    ‘These are their reasons,—they are natural;’
    For, I believe, they are portentous things
    Unto the climate that they point upon.”

Considering, however, the abhorrence with which the owl is generally
regarded, it is not surprising that the “owlet’s wing”[284] should form
an ingredient of the caldron in which the witches in “Macbeth” (iv. 1)
prepared their “charm of powerful trouble.” The owl is, too, in all
probability, represented by Shakespeare as a witch,[285] a companion of
the fairies in their moonlight gambols. In “Comedy of Errors” (ii. 2),
Dromio of Syracuse says:

    “This is the fairy land: O, spite of spites!
    We talk with goblins, owls, and elvish sprites.
    If we obey them not, this will ensue,
    They’ll suck our breath, or pinch us black and blue!”

    [284] The spelling of the folios is “howlets.” In Holland’s
    translation of Pliny (chap. xvii. book x.), we read “of owlls
    or howlets.” Cotgrave gives “Hulotte.”

    [285] Halliwell-Phillipps’s, “Handbook Index,” 1866, p. 354.

Singer, in his Notes on this passage (vol. ii. p. 28) says: “It has been
asked, how should Shakespeare know that screech-owls were considered by
the Romans as witches?” Do these cavillers think that Shakespeare never
looked into a book? Take an extract from the Cambridge Latin Dictionary
(1594, 8vo), probably the very book he used: “Strix, a _scritche owle_;
an unluckie kind of bird (as they of olde time said) which sucked out
the blood of infants lying in their cradles; a witch, that changeth the
favour of children; an hagge or fairie.” So in the “London Prodigal,” a
comedy, 1605: “Soul, I think I am sure crossed or witch’d with an
owl.”[286] In “The Tempest” (v. 1) Shakespeare introduces Ariel as

    “Where the bee sucks, there suck I,
    In a cowslip’s bell I lie,
    There I couch when owls do cry.”

    [286] See Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 302.

Ariel,[287] who sucks honey for luxury in the cowslip’s bell, retreats
thither for quiet when owls are abroad and screeching. According to an
old legend, the owl was originally a baker’s daughter, to which allusion
is made in “Hamlet” (iv. 5), where Ophelia exclaims: “They say the owl
was a baker’s daughter. Lord! we know what we are, but know not what we
may be.” Douce[288] says the following story was current among the
Gloucestershire peasantry: “Our Saviour went into a baker’s shop where
they were baking, and asked for some bread to eat; the mistress of the
shop immediately put a piece of dough into the oven to bake for him; but
was reprimanded by her daughter, who, insisting that the piece of dough
was too large, reduced it to a very small size; the dough, however,
immediately began to swell, and presently became a most enormous size,
whereupon the baker’s daughter cried out, ‘Heugh, heugh, heugh!’ which
owl-like noise probably induced our Saviour to transform her into that
bird for her wickedness.” Another version of the same story, as formerly
known in Herefordshire, substitutes a fairy in the place of our Saviour.
Similar legends are found on the Continent.[289]

    [287] See Singer’s “Notes to The Tempest,” 1875, vol. i. p. 82.

    [288] See _Gentleman’s Magazine_, November, 1804, pp. 1083,
    1084. Grimm’s “Deutsche Mythologie.”

    [289] See Dasent’s “Tales of the Norse,” 1859, p. 230.

_Parrot._ The “popinjay,” in “1 Henry IV.” (i. 3), is another name for
the parrot—from the Spanish _papagayo_—a term which occurs in Browne’s
“Pastorals” (ii. 65):

    “Or like the mixture nature dothe display
    Upon the quaint wings of the popinjay.”

Its supposed restlessness before rain is referred to in “As You Like It”
(iv. 1): “More clamorous than a parrot against rain.” It was formerly
customary to teach the parrot unlucky words, with which, when any one
was offended, it was the standing joke of the wise owner to say, “Take
heed, sir, my parrot prophesies”—an allusion to which custom we find in
“Comedy of Errors” (iv. 4), where Dromio of Ephesus says: “prophesy like
the parrot, _beware the rope’s end_.” To this Butler hints, where,
speaking of Ralpho’s skill in augury, he says:[290]

    “Could tell what subtlest parrots mean,
    That speak and think contrary clean;
    What member ’tis of whom they talk,
    When they cry _rope_, and _walk, knave, walk_.”

    [290] “Hudibras,” pt. i. ch. i.

The rewards given to parrots to encourage them to speak are mentioned in
“Troilus and Cressida” (v. 2):[291] “the parrot will not do more for an
almond.” Hence, a proverb for the greatest temptation that could be put
before a man seems to have been “An almond for a parrot.” To “talk like
a parrot” is a common proverb, a sense in which it occurs in “Othello”
(ii. 3).

    [291] In “Much Ado About Nothing” (i. 1), Benedick likens
    Beatrice to a “parrot-teacher,” from her talkative powers.

_Peacock._ This bird was as proverbially used for a proud, vain fool as
the lapwing for a silly one. In this sense some would understand it in
the much-disputed passage in “Hamlet” (iii. 2):

    “For thou dost know, O Damon dear,
      This realm dismantled was
    Of Jove himself; and now reigns here
      A very, very—peacock.”[292]

    [292] This is the reading adopted by Singer.

The third and fourth folios read _pajock_,[293] the other editions have
“paiock,” “paiocke,” or “pajocke,” and in the later quartos the word was
changed to “paicock” and “pecock,” whence Pope printed peacock.

    [293] “Notes to Hamlet,” Clark and Wright, 1876, pp. 179, 180.

Dyce says that in Scotland the peacock is called the peajock. Some have
proposed to read _paddock_, and in the last scene Hamlet bestows this
opprobrious name upon the king. It has been also suggested to read
_puttock_, a kite.[294] The peacock has also been regarded as the emblem
of pride and arrogance, as in “1 Henry VI.” (iii. 3):[295]

    “Let frantic Talbot triumph for a while,
    And, like a peacock, sweep along his tail;
    We’ll pull his plumes, and take away his train.”

    [294] See Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 645; Singer’s
    “Notes,” vol. ix. p. 228.

    [295] Cf. “Troilus and Cressida,” iii. 3.

_Pelican._ There are several allusions by Shakespeare to the pelican’s
piercing her own breast to feed her young. Thus, in “Hamlet” (iv. 5),
Laertes says:

    “To his good friends thus wide I’ll ope my arms;
    And like the kind life-rendering pelican,
    Repast them with my blood.”

And in “King Lear,” where the young pelicans are represented as piercing
their mother’s breast to drink her blood, an illustration of filial
impiety (iii. 4), the king says:

    “Is it the fashion, that discarded fathers
    Should have thus little mercy on their flesh?
    Judicious punishment! ’Twas this flesh begot
    Those pelican daughters.”[296]

    [296] Cf. “Richard II.” i. 1.

It is a common notion that the fable here alluded to is a classical one,
but this is an error. Shakespeare, says Mr. Harting, “was content to
accept the story as he found it, and to apply it metaphorically as the
occasion required.” Mr. Houghton, in an interesting letter to “Land and
Water”[297] on this subject, remarks that the Egyptians believed in a
bird feeding its young with its blood, and this bird is none other than
the vulture. He goes on to say that the fable of the pelican doubtless
originated in the Patristic annotations on the Scriptures. The
ecclesiastical Fathers transferred the Egyptian story from the vulture
to the pelican, but magnified the story a hundredfold, for the blood of
the parent was not only supposed to serve as food for the young, but was
also able to reanimate the dead offspring. Augustine, commenting on
Psalm cii. 6—“I am like a pelican of the wilderness”—remarks: “These
birds [male pelicans] are said to kill their offspring by blows of their
beaks, and then to bewail their death for the space of three days. At
length, however, it is said that the mother inflicts a severe wound on
herself, pouring the flowing blood over the dead young ones, which
instantly brings them to life.” To the same effect write Eustathius,
Isidorus, Epiphanius, and a host of other writers.[298]

    [297] Mr. Harting, in his “Ornithology of Shakespeare,” quotes
    an interesting correspondence from “Land and Water” (1869), on
    the subject.

    [298] See Sir Thomas Browne’s Works, 1852, vol. ii. pp. 1-4.

According to another idea[299] pelicans are hatched dead, but the cock
pelican then wounds his breast, and lets one drop of blood fall upon
each, and this quickens them.

    [299] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. iii. pp. 366, 367.

_Pheasant._ This bird is only once alluded to, in “Winter’s Tale” (iv.
4), where the Clown jokingly says to the Shepherd, “Advocate’s the
court-word for a pheasant; say, you have none.”

_Phœnix._ Many allusions are made to this fabulous bird, which is said
to rise again from its own ashes. Thus, in “Henry VIII.” (v. 4), Cranmer
tells how

    The bird of wonder dies, the maiden phœnix,
    Her ashes new create another heir,
    As great in admiration as herself.”

Again, in “3 Henry VI.” (i. 4), the Duke of York exclaims:

    “My ashes, as the phœnix, may bring forth
    A bird that will revenge upon you all.”

Once more, in “1 Henry VI.” (iv. 7), Sir William Lucy, speaking of
Talbot and those slain with him, predicts that

                “from their ashes shall be rear’d
    A phœnix that shall make all France afeard.”[300]

    [300] Cf. “The Tempest,” iii. 3; “All’s Well that Ends Well,”
    i. 1; “Antony and Cleopatra,” iii. 2; “Cymbeline,” i. 6.

Sir Thomas Browne[301] tells us that there is but one phœnix in the
world, “which after many hundred years burns herself, and from the ashes
thereof ariseth up another.” From the very earliest times there have
been countless traditions respecting this wonderful bird. Thus, its
longevity has been estimated from three hundred to fifteen hundred
years; and among the various localities assigned as its home are
Ethiopia, Arabia, Egypt, and India. In “The Phœnix and Turtle,” it is

    “Let the bird of loudest lay
    On the sole Arabian tree,
    Herald sad and trumpet be.”

    [301] Works, 1852, vol. i. pp. 277-284.

Pliny says of this bird, “Howbeit, I cannot tell what to make of him;
and first of all, whether it be a tale or no, that there is never but
one of them in the whole world, and the same not commonly seen.”
Malone[302] quotes from Lyly’s “Euphues and his England” (p. 312, ed.
Arber): “For as there is but one phœnix in the world, so is there but
one tree in Arabia wherein she buyldeth;” and Florio’s “New Worlde of
Wordes” (1598), “Rasin, a tree in Arabia, whereof there is but one
found, and upon it the phœnix sits.”

    [302] See Aldis Wright’s “Notes to The Tempest,” 1875, p. 129.

_Pigeon._ As carriers, these birds have been used from a very early
date, and the Castle of the Birds, at Bagdad, takes its name from the
pigeon-post which the old monks of the convent established. The building
has crumbled into ruins long ago by the lapse of time, but the bird
messengers of Bagdad became celebrated as far westward as Greece, and
were a regular commercial institution between the distant parts of Asia
Minor, Arabia, and the East.[303] In ancient Egypt, also, the carrier
breed was brought to great perfection, and, between the cities of the
Nile and the Red Sea, the old traders used to send word of their
caravans to each other by letters written on silk, and tied under the
wings of trained doves. In “Titus Andronicus” (iv. 3) Titus, on seeing a
clown enter with two pigeons, says:

    “News, news from heaven! Marcus, the post is come.
    Sirrah, what tidings? have you any letters?”

    [303] _Daily Telegraph_, January 31, 1880; see Southey’s
    “Commonplace Book,” 1849, 2d series, p. 447.

From the same play we also learn that it was customary to give a pair of
pigeons as a present. The Clown says to Saturninus (iv. 4), “I have
brought you a letter and a couple of pigeons here.”[304]

    [304] See _Dove_, pp. 114, 115.

In “Romeo and Juliet” (i. 3) the dove is used synonymously for pigeon,
where the nurse is represented as

    “Sitting in the sun under the dove-house wall.”

Mr. Darwin, in his “Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication”
(vol. i. pp. 204, 205), has shown that from the very earliest times
pigeons have been kept in a domesticated state. He says: “The earliest
record of pigeons in a domesticated condition occurs in the fifth
Egyptian dynasty, about 3000 B.C.; but Mr. Birch, of the British Museum,
informs me that the pigeon appears in a bill of fare in the previous
dynasty. Domestic pigeons are mentioned in Genesis, Leviticus, and
Isaiah. Pliny informs us that the Romans gave immense prices for
pigeons; ‘nay, they are come to this pass that they can reckon up their
pedigree and race.’ In India, about the year 1600, pigeons were much
valued by Akbar Khan; 20,000 birds were carried about with the court.”
In most countries, too, the breeding and taming of pigeons has been a
favorite recreation. The constancy of the pigeon has been proverbial
from time immemorial, allusions to which occur in “Winter’s Tale” (iv.
3), and in “As You Like It” (iii. 3).

_Quail._ The quail was thought to be an amorous bird, and hence was
metaphorically used to denote people of a loose character.[305] In this
sense it is generally understood in “Troilus and Cressida” (v. 1):
“Here’s Agamemnon, an honest fellow enough, and one that loves quails.”
Mr. Harting,[306] however, thinks that the passage just quoted refers to
the practice formerly prevalent of keeping quails, and making them fight
like game-cocks. The context of the passage would seem to sanction the
former meaning. Quail fighting[307] is spoken of in “Antony and
Cleopatra” (ii. 3), where Antony, speaking of the superiority of Cæsar’s
fortunes to his own, says:

                “if we draw lots, he speeds;
    His cocks do win the battle still of mine,
    When it is all to nought; and his quails ever
    Beat mine, inhoop’d, at odds.”

    [305] Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 704;
    Halliwell-Phillipps’s “Handbook Index to Shakespeare,” 1866, p.
    398; Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 345; Singer’s “Shakespeare,” vol.
    vii. p. 264.

    [306] “Ornithology of Shakespeare,” p. 218.

    [307] Strutt’s “Sports and Pastimes,” 1876, pp. 19, 97, 677;
    Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. ii. pp. 59, 60.

It appears that cocks as well as quails were sometimes made to fight
within a broad hoop—hence the term _inhoop’d_—to keep them from quitting
each other. Quail-fights were well known among the ancients, and
especially at Athens.[308] Julius Pollux relates that a circle was made,
in which the birds were placed, and he whose quail was driven out of
this circle lost the stake, which was sometimes money, and occasionally
the quails themselves. Another practice was to produce one of these
birds, which being first smitten with the middle finger, a feather was
then plucked from its head. If the quail bore this operation without
flinching, his master gained the stake, but lost it if he ran away. Some
doubt exists as to whether quail-fighting prevailed in the time of
Shakespeare. At the present day[309] the Sumatrans practise these quail
combats, and this pastime is common in some parts of Italy, and also in
China. Mr. Douce has given a curious print, from an elegant Chinese
miniature painting, which represents some ladies engaged at this
amusement, where the quails are actually inhooped.

    [308] Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” 1839, p. 367.

    [309] Marsden’s “History of Sumatra,” 1811, p. 276.

_Raven._ Perhaps no bird is so universally unpopular as the raven, its
hoarse croak, in most countries, being regarded as ominous. Hence, as
might be expected, Shakespeare often refers to it, in order to make the
scene he depicts all the more vivid and graphic. In “Titus Andronicus”
(ii. 3), Tamora, describing “a barren detested vale,” says:

    “The trees, though summer, yet forlorn and lean,
    O’ercome with moss and baleful mistletoe:
    Here never shines the sun; here nothing breeds,
    Unless the nightly owl or fatal raven.”

And in “Julius Cæsar” (v. 1), Cassius tells us how ravens

    “Fly o’er our heads, and downward look on us,
    As we were sickly prey.”[310]

    [310] Cf. “2 Henry VI.” iii. 2; “Troilus and Cressida,” v. 2.

It seems that the superstitious dread[311] attaching to this bird has
chiefly arisen from its supposed longevity,[312] and its frequent
mention and agency in Holy Writ. By the Romans it was consecrated to
Apollo, and was believed to have a prophetic knowledge—a notion still
very prevalent. Thus, its supposed faculty[313] of “smelling death”
still renders its presence, or even its voice, ominous. Othello (iv. 1)

                 “O, it comes o’er my memory,
    As doth the raven o’er the infected house,
    Boding to all.”

    [311] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. iii. pp. 211, 212.

    [312] “English Folk-lore,” 1878, p. 78.

    [313] See Hunt’s “Popular Romances of West of England,” 1881, p. 380.

There is no doubt a reference here to the fanciful notion that it was a
constant attendant on a house infected with the plague. Most readers,
too, are familiar with that famous passage in “Macbeth” (i. 5) where
Lady Macbeth, having heard of the king’s intention to stay at the
castle, exclaims,

                     “the raven himself is hoarse
    That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
    Under my battlements. Come, you spirits
    That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
    And fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full
    Of direst cruelty!”

We may compare Spenser’s language in the “Fairy Queen” (bk. ii. c. vii.
l. 23):

    “After him owles and night ravens flew,
    The hateful messengers of heavy things,
    Of death and dolor telling sad tidings.”

And once more the following passage from Drayton’s “Barons’ Wars” (bk.
v. stanza 42) illustrates the same idea:

    “The ominous raven often he doth hear,
    Whose croaking him of following horror tells.”

In “Much Ado About Nothing” (ii. 3), the “night-raven” is mentioned.
Benedick observes to himself: “I had as lief have heard the night-raven,
come what plague could have come after it.” This inauspicious bird,
according to Steevens, is the owl; but this conjecture is evidently
wrong, “being at variance with sundry passages in our early writers, who
make a distinction between it and the night-raven.”[314]

    [314] Dyce’s “Glossary,” 1876, p. 288.

Thus Johnson, in his “Seven Champions of Christendom” (part i.), speaks
of “the dismal cry of night-ravens, ... and the fearefull sound of
schriek owles.” Cotgrave regarded the “night-crow” and the “night-raven”
as synonymous; and Mr. Yarrell considered them only different names for
the night-heron.[315] In “3 Henry VI.” (v. 6) King Henry says:

    “The night-crow cried, aboding luckless time.”

    [315] See Harting’s “Ornithology of Shakespeare,” pp. 101, 102;
    Yarrell’s “History of British Birds,” vol. ii. p. 581.

Goldsmith, in his “Animated Nature,” calls the bittern the night-raven,
and says: “I remember, in the place where I was a boy, with what terror
the bird’s note affected the whole village; they consider it as the
presage of some sad event, and generally found or made one to succeed
it. If any person in the neighborhood died, they supposed it could not
be otherwise, for the night-raven had foretold it; but if nobody
happened to die, the death of a cow or a sheep gave completion to the

According to an old belief the raven deserts its own young, to which
Shakespeare alludes in “Titus Andronicus” (ii. 3):

    “Some say that ravens foster forlorn children,
    The whilst their own birds famish in their nests.”

“It was supposed that when the raven,” says Mr. Harting,[316] “saw its
young ones newly hatched and covered with down, it conceived such an
aversion that it forsook them, and did not return to the nest until a
darker plumage had shown itself.” To this belief the commentators
consider the Psalmist refers, when he says, “He giveth to the beast his
food, and to the young ravens which cry” (Psalm cxlvii. 9). We are told,
too, in Job, “Who provideth for the raven his food? when his young ones
cry unto God, they wander for lack of meat” (xxxviii. 41). Shakespeare,
in “As You Like It” (ii. 3), probably had the words of the Psalmist in
his mind:

              “He that doth the ravens feed,
    Yea, providently caters for the sparrow.”

    [316] “Ornithology of Shakespeare,” p. 107.

The raven has from earliest times been symbolical of blackness, both in
connection with color and character. In “Romeo and Juliet” (iii. 2),
Juliet exclaims:

    “O serpent heart, hid with a flowering face!
    Did ever dragon keep so fair a cave?
    Beautiful tyrant! fiend angelical!
    Dove-feather’d raven!”[317]

    [317] Cf. “Midsummer-Night’s Dream,” ii. 2; “Twelfth Night,” v. 1.

Once more, ravens’ feathers were formerly used by witches, from an old
superstition that the wings of this bird carried with them contagion
wherever they went. Hence, in “The Tempest” (i. 2), Caliban says:

    “As wicked dew as e’er my mother brush’d
    With raven’s feather from unwholesome fen
    Drop on you both!”

_Robin Redbreast._ According to a pretty notion,[318] this little bird
is said to cover with leaves any dead body it may chance to find
unburied; a belief which probably, in a great measure, originated in the
well-known ballad of the “Children in the Wood,” although it seems to
have been known previously. Thus Singer quotes as follows from
“Cornucopia, or Divers Secrets,” etc. (by Thomas Johnson, 1596): “The
robin redbreast, if he finds a man or woman dead, will cover all his
face with moss; and some think that if the body should remain unburied
that he would cover the whole body also.” In Dekker’s “Villaines
Discovered by Lanthorn and Candlelight” (1616), quoted by Douce, it is
said, “They that cheere up a prisoner but with their sight, are robin
redbreasts that bring strawes in their bills to cover a dead man in
extremitie.” Shakespeare, in a beautiful passage in “Cymbeline” (iv. 2),
thus touchingly alludes to it, making Arviragus, when addressing the
supposed dead body of Imogen, say:

                              “With fairest flowers,
    Whilst summer lasts, and I live here, Fidele,
    I’ll sweeten thy sad grave: thou shalt not lack
    The flower that’s like thy face, pale primrose, nor
    The azured harebell, like thy veins; no, nor
    The leaf of eglantine, whom not to slander
    Out-sweeten’d not thy breath: the ruddock would,
    With charitable bill,—O bill, sore-shaming
    Those rich-left heirs, that let their fathers lie
    Without a monument!—bring thee all this;
    Yea, and furr’d moss besides, when flowers are none
    To winter-ground thy corse”—

the “ruddock”[319] being one of the old names for the redbreast, which
is nowadays found in some localities. John Webster, also, refers to the
same idea in “The White Devil” (1857, ed. Dyce, p. 45):

    “Call for the robin redbreast and the wren
      Since o’er shady groves they hover,
      And with leaves and flowers do cover
    The friendless bodies of unburied men.”

    [318] “English Folk-Lore,” pp. 62-64; Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,”
    1849, vol. iii. p. 191; Singer’s “Shakespeare,” vol. x. p. 424;
    Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” 1839, p. 380.

    [319] Cf. Spenser’s “Epithalamium,” v. 8:

        “The thrush replies, the mavis descant plays,
        The ouzell shrills, the ruddock warbles soft.”

Drayton, too, in “The Owl,” has the following lines:

    “Cov’ring with moss the dead’s unclosed eye,
    The little redbreast teaching charitie.”

_Rook._ As an ominous bird this is mentioned in “Macbeth” (iii. 4).
Formerly the nobles of England prided themselves in having a
rookery[320] in the neighborhood of their castles, because rooks were
regarded as “fowls of good omen.” On this account no one was permitted
to kill them, under severe penalties. When rooks desert a rookery[321]
it is said to foretell the downfall of the family on whose property it
is. A Northumbrian saying informs us that the rooks left the rookery of
Chipchase before the family of Reed left that place. There is also a
notion that when rooks haunt a town or village “mortality is supposed to
await its inhabitants, and if they feed in the street it shows that a
storm is at hand.”[322]

    [320] _Standard_, January 26, 1877.

    [321] “English Folk-Lore,” p. 76.

    [322] Henderson’s “Folk-Lore of Northern Counties,” 1879, p. 122.

The expression “bully-rook,” in “Merry Wives of Windsor” (i. 3), in
Shakespeare’s time, says Mr. Harting,[323] had the same meaning as
“jolly dog” nowadays; but subsequently it became a term of reproach,
meaning a cheating sharper. It has been suggested that the term derives
its origin from the _rook_ in the game of chess; but Douce[324]
considers it very improbable that this noble game, “never the amusement
of gamblers, should have been ransacked on this occasion.”

    [323] “Ornithology of Shakespeare,” p. 121.

    [324] “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” 1839, p. 36; the term
    “bully-rook” occurs several times in Shadwell’s “Sullen
    Lovers;” see Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 58.

_Snipe._ This bird was in Shakespeare’s time proverbial for a foolish
man.[325] In “Othello” (i. 3), Iago, speaking of Roderigo, says:

    “For I mine own gain’d knowledge should profane,
    If I would time expend with such a snipe,
    But for my sport and profit.”

    [325] In Northamptonshire the word denotes an icicle, from its
    resemblance to the long bill of the bird so-called.—Baker’s
    “Northamptonshire Glossary,” 1854, vol. ii. p. 260.

_Sparrow._ A popular name for the common sparrow was, and still is,
Philip, perhaps from its note, “Phip, phip.” Hence the allusion to a
person named Philip, in “King John” (i. 1):

    _Gurney._ Good leave, good Philip.

    _Bastard._                          Philip?—sparrow!

Staunton says perhaps Catullus alludes to this expression in the
following lines:

    “Sed circumsiliens, modo huc, modo illuc,
    Ad solam dominam usque pipilabat.”

Skelton, in an elegy upon a sparrow, calls it “Phyllyp Sparowe;” and
Gascoigne also writes “The praise of Philip Sparrow.”

In “Measure for Measure” (iii. 2), Lucio, speaking of Angelo, the
deputy-duke of Vienna, says: “Sparrows must not build in his
house-eaves, because they are lecherous.”[326]

    [326] See Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 653; Dyce’s
    “Glossary,” p. 320.

_Sparrow-hawk._ A name formerly given to a young sparrow-hawk was
eyas-musket,[327] a term we find in “Merry Wives of Windsor” (iii. 3):
“How now, my eyas-musket! what news with you?” It was thus
metaphorically used as a jocular phrase for a small child. As the
invention, too, of fire-arms took place[328] at a time when hawking was
in high fashion, some of the new weapons were named after those birds,
probably from the idea of their fetching their prey from on high.
_Musket_ has thus become the established name for one sort of gun. Some,
however, assert that the musket was invented in the fifteenth century,
and owes its name to its inventors.

    [327] Derived from the French _mouschet_, of the same meaning.

    [328] Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 593: Douce’s
    “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” 1839, p. 46. Turbervile tells
    us “the first name and terme that they bestowe on a falcon is
    an eyesse, and this name doth laste as long as she is an eyrie
    and for that she is taken from the eyrie.”

_Starling._ This was one of the birds that was in days gone by trained
to speak. In “1 Henry IV.” (i. 3), Hotspur says:

       “I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak
    Nothing but ‘Mortimer,’ and give it him,
    To keep his anger still in motion.”

Pliny tells us how starlings were taught to utter both Latin and Greek
words for the amusement of the young Cæsars; and there are numerous
instances on record of the clever sentences uttered by this amusing

_Swallow._ This bird has generally been honored as the harbinger of
spring, and Athenæus relates that the Rhodians had a solemn song to
welcome it. Anacreon has a well-known ode. Shakespeare, in the “Winter’s
Tale” (iv. 3), alludes to the time of the swallow’s appearance in the
following passage:

    That come before the swallow dares, and take
    The winds of March with beauty.”

And its departure is mentioned in “Timon of Athens” (iii. 6): “The
swallow follows not summer more willing than we your lordship.”

We may compare Tennyson’s notice of the bird’s approach and migration in
“The May Queen:”

    “And the swallow ’ll come back again with summer o’er the wave.”

It has been long considered lucky for the swallow to build its nest on
the roof of a house, but just as unlucky for it to forsake a place which
it has once tenanted. Shakespeare probably had this superstition in his
mind when he represents Scarus as saying, in “Antony and Cleopatra” (iv.

                          “Swallows have built
    In Cleopatra’s sails their nests: the augurers
    Say, they know not,—they cannot tell;—look grimly,
    And dare not speak their knowledge.”

_Swan._ According to a romantic notion, dating from antiquity, the swan
is said to sing sweetly just before its death, many pretty allusions to
which we find scattered here and there throughout Shakespeare’s plays.
In “Merchant of Venice” (iii. 2), Portia says:

                   “he makes a swan-like end,
    Fading in music.”

Emilia, too, in “Othello” (v. 2), just before she dies, exclaims:

                      “I will play the swan,
    And die in music.”

In “King John” (v. 7), Prince Henry, at his father’s death-bed, thus
pathetically speaks:

        “’Tis strange that death should sing.
    I am the cygnet to this pale faint swan,
    Who chants a doleful hymn to his own death,
    And from the organ-pipe of frailty sings
    His soul and body to their lasting rest.”

Again, in “Lucrece” (1611), we have these touching lines:

    “And now this pale swan in her watery nest,
    Begins the sad dirge of her certain ending.”

And once more, in “The Phœnix and Turtle:”

    “Let the priest in surplice white,
    That defunctive music can,
    Be the death-divining swan,
    Lest the requiem lack his right.”

This superstition, says Douce,[329] “was credited by Plato, Chrysippus,
Aristotle, Euripides, Philostratus, Cicero, Seneca, and Martial. Pliny,
Ælian, and Athenæus, among the ancients, and Sir Thomas More, among the
moderns, treat this opinion as a vulgar error. Luther believed in it.”
This notion probably originated in the swan being identified with
Orpheus. Sir Thomas Browne[330] says, we read that, “after his death,
Orpheus, the musician, became a swan. Thus was it the bird of Apollo,
the bird of music by the Greeks.” Alluding to this piece of folk-lore,
Carl Engel[331] remarks: “Although our common swan does not produce
sounds which might account for this tradition, it is a well-known fact
that the wild swan (_Cygnus ferus_), also called the ‘whistling swan,’
when on the wing emits a shrill tone, which, however harsh it may sound
if heard near, produces a pleasant effect when, emanating from a large
flock high in the air, it is heard in a variety of pitches of sound,
increasing or diminishing in loudness according to the movement of the
birds and to the current of the air.” Colonel Hawker[332] says, “The
only note which I ever heard the wild swan make, in winter, is his
well-known ‘whoop.’”[333]

    [329] “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” 1839, p. 161.

    [330] Works, 1852, vol. i. p. 357.

    [331] “Musical Myths and Facts,” 1876, vol. i. p. 89.

    [332] “Instructions to Young Sportsmen,” 11th ed., p. 269.

    [333] See Baring-Gould’s “Curious Myths of the Middle Ages,”
    1877, p. 561; Thorpe’s “Northern Mythology,” 1852, vol. iii.
    pp. 302-328.

_Tassel-Gentle._[334] The male of the goshawk was so called on account
of its tractable disposition, and the facility with which it was tamed.
The word occurs in “Romeo and Juliet” (ii. 2):

                “O, for a falconer’s voice
    To lure this tassel-gentle back again!”

    [334] Properly “tiercel gentle,” French, _tiercelet_; cf.
    “Troilus and Cressida,” iii. 2, “the falcon as the tercel.”

Spenser, in his “Fairy Queen” (bk. iii. c. iv. l. 49), says:

    “Having far off espied a tassel-gent
    Which after her his nimble wings doth straine.”

This species of hawk was also commonly called a “falcon-gentle,” on
account of “her familiar, courteous disposition.”[335]

    [335] “Gentleman’s Recreation,” p. 19, quoted in Nares’s
    “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 867.

_Turkey._ This bird, so popular with us at Christmas-tide, is mentioned
in “1 Henry IV.” (ii. 1), where the First Carrier says: “God’s body! the
turkeys in my pannier are quite starved.” This, however, is an
anachronism on the part of Shakespeare, as the turkey was unknown in
this country until the reign of Henry VIII. According to a rhyme written
in 1525, commemorating the introduction of this bird, we are told how:

    “Turkies, carps, hoppes, piccarell, and beere,
    Came into England all in one yeare.”

The turkey is again mentioned by Shakespeare in “Twelfth Night” (ii. 5),
where Fabian says of Malvolio: “Contemplation makes a rare turkey-cock
of him: how he jets under his advanced plumes!”

_Vulture._ In several passages Shakespeare has most forcibly introduced
this bird to deepen the beauty of some of his exquisite passages. Thus,
in “King Lear” (ii. 4), when he is complaining of the unkindness of a
daughter, he bitterly exclaims:

                        “O Regan, she hath tied
    Sharp-tooth’d unkindness, like a vulture, here.”

What, too, can be more graphic than the expression of Tamora in “Titus
Andronicus” (v. 2):

    “I am Revenge, sent from the infernal kingdom,
    To ease the gnawing vulture of thy mind.”

Equally forcible, too, are Pistol’s words in “The Merry Wives of
Windsor” (i. 3): “Let vultures gripe thy guts.”

Johnson considers that “the vulture of sedition” in “2 Henry VI.” (iv.
3) is in allusion to the tale of Prometheus, but of this there is a
decided uncertainty.

_Wagtail._ In “King Lear” (ii. 2), Kent says, “Spare my grey beard, you
wagtail?” the word being used in an opprobrious sense, to signify an
officious person.

_Woodcock._ In several passages this bird is used to denote a fool or
silly person; as in “Taming of the Shrew” (i. 2): “O this woodcock! what
an ass it is!” And again, in “Much Ado About Nothing” (v. 1), where
Claudio, alluding to the plot against Benedick, says: “Shall I not find
a woodcock too?” In “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (iv. 3) Biron says:

                        “O heavens, I have my wish!
    Dumain transformed: four woodcocks in a dish.”

The woodcock has generally been proverbial as a foolish bird—perhaps
because it is easily caught in springes or nets.[336] Thus the popular
phrase “Springes to catch woodcocks” meant arts to entrap
simplicity,[337] as in “Hamlet” (i. 3):

    “Aye, springes to catch woodcocks.”

    [336] Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 508.

    [337] Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 971.

A similar expression occurs in Beaumont and Fletcher’s “Loyal Subject”
(iv. 4):

                “Go like a woodcock,
    And thrust your neck i’ th’ noose.”

“It seems,” says Nares, “that woodcocks are now grown wiser by time, for
we do not now hear of their being so easily caught. If they were
sometimes said to be without brains, it was only founded on their
character, certainly not on any examination of the fact.”[338] Formerly,
one of the terms for twilight[339] was “cock-shut time,” because the net
in which cocks, _i. e._, woodcocks, were shut in during the twilight,
was called a “cock-shut.” It appears that a large net was stretched
across a glade, and so suspended upon poles as to be easily drawn
together. Thus, in “Richard III.” (v. 3), Ratcliff says:

    “Thomas the Earl of Surrey, and himself,
    Much about cock-shut time, from troop to troop,
    Went through the army, cheering up the soldiers.”

    [338] See Willughby’s “Ornithology,” iii. section 1.

    [339] Minsheu’s “Guide into Tongues,” ed. 1617.

In Ben Jonson’s “Masque of Gypsies” we read:

    “Mistress, this is only spite;
    For you would not yesternight
    Kiss him in the cock-shut light.”

Sometimes it was erroneously written “cock-shoot.” “Come, come away
then, a fine cock-shoot evening.” In the “Two Noble Kinsmen” (iv. 1) we
find the term “cock-light.”

_Wren._ The diminutive character of this bird is noticed in “A
Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (iii. 1, song):

    “The wren with little quill.”

In “Macbeth” (iv. 2), Lady Macbeth says:

                        “the poor wren,
    The most diminutive of birds, will fight,
    Her young ones in her nest, against the owl.”

Considering, too, that as many as sixteen young ones have been found in
this little bird’s nest, we can say with Grahame, in his poem on the
birds of Scotland:

    “But now behold the greatest of this train
    Of miracles, stupendously minute;
    The numerous progeny, claimant for food
    Supplied by two small bills, and feeble wings
    Of narrow range, supplied—ay, duly fed—
    Fed in the dark, and yet not one forgot.”

The epithet “poor,” applied to the wren by Lady Macbeth, was certainly
appropriate in days gone by, when we recollect how it was cruelly hunted
in Ireland on St. Stephen’s day—a practice which prevailed also in the
Isle of Man.[340]

    [340] See Yarrell’s “History of British Birds,” vol. ii. p. 178.



As in the case of the birds considered in the previous chapter,
Shakespeare has also interwoven throughout his plays an immense deal of
curious folk-lore connected with animals. Not only does he allude with
the accuracy of a naturalist to the peculiarities and habits of certain
animals, but so true to nature is he in his graphic descriptions of them
that it is evident his knowledge was in a great measure acquired from
his own observation. It is interesting, also, to note how carefully he
has, here and there, worked into his narrative some old proverb or
superstition, thereby adding a freshness to the picture which has, if
possible, imbued it with an additional lustre. In speaking of the dog,
he has introduced many an old hunting custom, and his references to the
tears of the deer are full of sweet pathos, as, for instance, where
Hamlet says (iii. 2), “Let the stricken deer go weep.” It is not
necessary, however, to add further illustrations, as these will be found
in the following pages.

_Ape._ In addition to Shakespeare’s mention of this animal as a common
term of contempt, there are several other allusions to it. There is the
well-known phrase, “to lead apes in hell,” applied to old maids,
mentioned in the “Taming of the Shrew” (ii. 1)—the meaning of this term
not having been yet satisfactorily explained.[341] (It is further
discussed in the chapter on Marriage.)

    [341] See page 165.

In “2 Henry IV.” (ii. 4), the word is used as a term of endearment,
“Alas, poor ape, how thou sweat’st.”

_Ass._ Beyond the proverbial use of this much ill-treated animal to
denote a silly, foolish person, Shakespeare has said little about it.
In “Troilus and Cressida” (ii. 1), Thersites uses the word _assinego_, a
Portuguese expression for a young ass, “Thou hast no more brain than I
have in mine elbows; an assinego may tutor thee.” It is used by Beaumont
and Fletcher in the “Scornful Lady” (v. 4): “All this would be forsworn,
and I again an assinego, as your sister left me.”[342] Dyce[343] would
spell the word “asinico,” because it is so spelled in the old editions
of Shakespeare, and is more in accordance with the Spanish word.[344] In
“King Lear” (i. 4), the Fool alludes to Æsop’s celebrated fable of the
old man and his ass: “thou borest thine ass on thy back o’er the dirt.”

    [342] Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 38.

    [343] “Glossary to Shakespeare,” 1876, p. 20.

    [344] “Asinico, a little ass,” Connelly’s “Spanish and English
    Dictionary,” Madrid, 4to.

_Bat._ The bat, immortalized by Shakespeare (“The Tempest,” v. 1) as the
“delicate Ariel’s” steed—

    “On the bat’s back I do fly,”

—has generally been an object of superstitious dread, and proved to the
poet and painter a fertile source of images of gloom and terror.[345] In
Scotland[346] it is still connected with witchcraft, and if, while
flying, it rise and then descend again earthwards, it is a sign that the
witches’ hour is come—the hour in which they are supposed to have power
over every human being who is not specially shielded from their
influence. Thus, in “Macbeth” (iv. 1) the “wool of bat” forms an
ingredient in the witches’ caldron. One of its popular names is
“rere-mouse,” which occurs in “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (ii. 2), where
Titania says:

    “Some, war with rere-mice for their leathern wings,
    To make my small elves coats.”

    [345] “English Folk-Lore,” p. 115; cf. “Macbeth,” iii. 2.

    [346] Henderson’s “Folk-Lore of Northern Counties,” 1879, pp.
    125, 126.

This term is equivalent to the Anglo-Saxon, _hrére-mús_, from _hreran_,
to stir, agitate, and so the same as the old name “flitter-mouse.”[347]
The early copies spell the word _reremise_.[348] It occurs in the
Wicliffite version of Leviticus xi. 19, and the plural in the form
“reremees” or “rere-myis” is found in Isaiah ii. 20. At Polperro,
Cornwall,[349] the village boys call it “airy-mouse,” and address it in
the following rhyme:

    “Airy mouse, airy mouse! fly over my head,
    And you shall have a crust of bread;
    And when I brew, and when I bake,
    You shall have a piece of my wedding-cake.”

    [347] It has been speciously derived from the English word
    _rear_, in the sense of being able to raise itself in the air,
    but this is erroneous. Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 726.

    [348] Aldis Wright’s “Notes to A Midsummer-Night’s Dream,”
    1877, p. 101.

    [349] “Folk-Lore Record,” 1879, p. 201.

In Scotland[350] it is known as the Backe or Bakie bird. An immense deal
of folk-lore has clustered round this curious little animal.[351]

    [350] Jamieson’s “Scottish Dictionary,” 1879, vol. i p. 106.

    [351] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. iii. p. 189;
    Harting’s “Ornithology of Shakespeare,” 1871, pp. 13, 14.

_Bear._ According to an old idea, the bear brings forth unformed lumps
of animated flesh, and then licks them into shape—a vulgar error,
referred to in “3 Henry VI.” (iii. 2), where Gloster, bemoaning his
deformity, says of his mother:

    “She did corrupt frail nature with some bribe,

       *       *       *       *       *

    To disproportion me in every part,
    Like to a chaos, or an unlick’d bear-whelp,
    That carries no impression like the dam.”

This erroneous notion, however, was long ago confuted by Sir Thomas
Browne.[352] Alexander Ross, in his “Arcana Microcosmi,” nevertheless
affirms that bears bring forth their young deformed and misshapen, by
reason of the thick membrane in which they are wrapped, that is covered
over with a mucous matter. This, he says, the dam contracts in the
winter-time, by lying in hollow caves without motion, so that to the
eye the cub appears like an unformed lump. The above mucilage is
afterwards licked away by the dam, and the membrane broken, whereby that
which before seemed to be unformed appears now in its right shape. This,
he contends, is all that the ancients meant.[353] Ovid (Metamorphoses,
bk. xv. l. 379) thus describes this once popular fancy:

    “Nec catulus, partu quem reddidit ursa recenti,
    Sed male viva caro est: lambendo mater in artus
    Fingit, et in formam, quantam capit ipsa, reducit.”

    [352] “Vulgar Errors,” 1852, vol. i. p. 247.

    [353] See Bartholomæus, “De Proprietate Rerum,” lib. xviii. c.
    112; Aristotle, “History of Animals,” lib. vi. c. 31; Pliny’s
    “Natural History,” lib. viii. c. 54.

Bears, in days gone by, are reported to have been surprised by means of
a mirror, which they would gaze on, affording their pursuers an
opportunity of taking the surer aim. In “Julius Cæsar” (ii. I), this
practice is mentioned by Decius:

      “unicorns may be betray’d with trees,
    And bears with glasses.”[354]

    [354] Steevens on this passage.

Batman, “On Bartholomæus” (1582), speaking of the bear, says, “And when
he is taken he is made blinde with a bright basin, and bound with
chaynes, and compelled to playe.” This, however, says Mr. Aldis
Wright,[355] probably refers to the actual blinding of the bear.

    [355] “Notes on Julius Cæsar,” 1878, p. 134.

A favorite amusement with our ancestors was bear-baiting. As early as
the reign of Henry II. the baiting of bears by dogs was a popular game
in London,[356] while at a later period “a royal bear-ward” was an
officer regularly attached to the royal household. In “2 Henry VI.” (v.
1), this personage is alluded to by Clifford, who says:

    “Are these thy bears? We’ll bait thy bears to death,
    And manacle the bear-ward in their chains,
    If thou dar’st bring them to the baiting place.”

    [356] “Notices Illustrative of the Drama and other Popular
    Amusements,” incidentally illustrating Shakespeare and his
    contemporaries, extracted from the MSS. of Leicester, by W.
    Kelly, 1865, p. 152.

And again, in “Much Ado About Nothing” (ii. 1), Beatrice says, “I will
even take sixpence in earnest of the bear-ward, and lead his apes into
hell.” The synonymous term, “bear-herd,” occurs in “Taming of the Shrew”
(Ind. scene 2), where Sly speaks of himself as “by transmutation a
bear-herd;” and in “2 Henry IV.” (i. 2), Sir John Falstaff remarks how
“true valor is turned bear-herd.” Among the Harleian MSS.[357] is
preserved the original warrant of Richard III. appointing John Brown to
this office, and which recites “the diligent service he had done the
king” as the ground for granting him the privilege of wandering about
the country with his bears and apes, and receiving the “loving
benevolence and favors of the people.”[358] In the time of Queen
Elizabeth bear-baiting was still a favorite pastime, being considered a
fashionable entertainment for ladies of the highest rank.[359] James I.
encouraged this sport. Nichols[360] informs us that on one occasion the
king, accompanied by his court, took the queen, the Princess Elizabeth,
and the two young princes to the Tower to witness a fight between a lion
and a bear, and by the king’s command the bear (which had killed a child
that had been negligently left in the bear-house) was afterwards “baited
to death upon a stage in the presence of many spectators.” Popular, says
Mr. Kelly, as bear-baiting was in the metropolis and at court, it was
equally so among all classes of the people.[361] It is on record that at
Congleton, in Cheshire, “the town-bear having died, the corporation in
1601 gave orders to sell their Bible, in order to purchase another,
which was done, and the town no longer without a bear.” This event is
kept up in a popular rhyme:

    “Congleton rare, Congleton rare,
    Sold the Bible to pay for a bear.”

    [357] No. 433. The document is given at length in Collier’s
    “Annals of the Stage,” vol. i. p. 35, note.

    [358] Kelly’s “Notices of Leicester,” p. 152.

    [359] Wright’s “Domestic Manners,” p. 304.

    [360] “Progresses and Processions,” vol. ii. p. 259.

    [361] About 1760 it was customary to have a bear baited at the
    election of the mayor. Corry, “History of Liverpool,” 1810, p.

The same legend attaches to Clifton, a village near Rugby:

    “Clifton-upon-Dunsmore, in Warwickshire,
    Sold the Church Bible to buy a bear.”

In Pulleyn’s “Etymological Compendium,”[362] we are told that “this
cruel amusement is of African origin, and was introduced into Europe by
the Romans.” It is further alluded to by Shakespeare in “Twelfth Night”
(i. 3), “dancing and bear-baiting;” and further on in the same play (ii.
5) Fabian says, “he brought me out o’ favor with my lady about a
bear-baiting here;” and Macbeth (v. 7) relates:

    “They have tied me to a stake; I cannot fly,
    But, bear-like, I must fight the course.”[363]

    [362] Edited by M. A. Thorns, 1853, p. 170.

    [363] For further information on this subject consult Strutt’s
    “Sports and Pastimes,” 1876; Kelly’s “Notices of Leicester,”
    pp. 152-159.

And in “Julius Cæsar” (iv. 1), Octavius says:

                        “we are at the stake,
    And bay’d about with many enemies.”

_Boar._ It appears that in former times boar-hunting was a favorite
recreation; many allusions to which we find in old writers. Indeed, in
the Middle Ages, the destruction of a wild boar ranked among the deeds
of chivalry,[364] and “won for a warrior almost as much renown as the
slaying an enemy in the open field.” So dangerous, too, was boar-hunting
considered, that Shakespeare represents Venus as dissuading Adonis from
the perilous practice:

    “‘O be advised! thou know’st not what it is,
    With javelin’s point a churlish swine to gore,
      Whose tushes never sheathed he whetteth still,
      Like to a mortal butcher, bent to kill.

       *       *       *       *       *

    His brawny sides, with hairy bristles arm’d,
    Are better proof than thy spear’s point can enter;
    His short thick neck cannot be easily harm’d;
    Being ireful, on the lion he will venture.’”

    [364] Chambers’s “Book of Days,” 1864, vol. ii. pp. 518, 519.

Such hunting expeditions were generally fatal to some of the dogs, and
occasionally to one or more of the hunters. An old tradition of Grimsby,
in Lincolnshire,[365] asserts that every burgess, at his admission to
the freedom of the borough, anciently presented to the mayor a boar’s
head, or an equivalent in money, when the animal could not be procured.
The old seal of the mayor of Grimsby represents a boar hunt. The lord,
too, of the adjacent manor of Bradley, was obliged by his tenure to keep
a supply of these animals in his wood, for the entertainment of the
mayor and burgesses.[366] A curious triennial custom called the “Rhyne
Toll,” is observed at Chetwode, a small village about five miles from
Buckingham.[367] According to tradition, it originated in the
destruction of an enormous wild boar—the terror of the surrounding
county—by one of the lords of Chetwode; who, after fighting with it for
four hours on a hot summer’s day, eventually killed it:

    “Then Sir Ryalas he drawed his broad sword with might,
      Wind well thy horn, good hunter;
    And he fairly cut the boar’s head off quite,
      For he was a jovial hunter.”

    [365] Hampson’s “Œvi Medii Kalendarium,” vol. i. p. 96.

    [366] See _Gentleman’s Magazine_, vol. xcviii. pp. 401, 402.

    [367] See “Book of Days,” vol. ii. pp. 517-519.

As a reward, it is said, the king “granted to him and to his heirs
forever, among other immunities and privileges, the full right to levy
every year the Rhyne Toll.” This is still kept up, and consists of a
yearly tax on all cattle found within the manor of Chetwode between the
30th of October and the 7th of November, inclusive. In “Antony and
Cleopatra” (iv. 13) Cleopatra alludes to the famous boar killed by

             “the boar of Thessaly
    Was never so emboss’d.”[368]

    [368] “Embossed” is a hunting term, properly applied to a deer
    when foaming at the mouth from fatigue, see p. 179; also Dyce’s
    “Glossary to Shakespeare,” p. 142; see Nares’s “Glossary,” vol.
    i. p. 275.

_Bull._ Once upon a time there was scarcely a town or village of any
magnitude which had not its bull-ring.[369] Indeed, it was not until the
year 1835 that baiting was finally put down by an act of Parliament,
“forbidding the keeping of any house, pit, or other place for baiting or
fighting any bull, bear, dog, or other animal;” and, after an existence
of at least seven centuries, this ceased to rank among the amusements of
the English people.[370] This sport is alluded to in “Merry Wives of
Windsor” (v. 5), “Remember, Jove, thou wast a bull for thy Europa.” We
may, too, compare the expressions in “Troilus and Cressida” (v. 7),
“Now, bull, now, dog!... The bull has the game.”[371]

    [369] Wright’s “Domestic Manners,” p. 304; see Strutt’s “Sports
    and Pastimes;” Smith’s “Festivals, Games, and Amusements,”
    1831, pp. 192-229.

    [370] “Book of Days,” vol. ii. p. 59.

    [371] Cf. “2 Henry IV.” ii. 2, “the town-bull.”

_Cat._ Few animals, in times past, have been more esteemed than the cat,
or been honored with a wider folk-lore. Indeed, among the Egyptians this
favored animal was held sacred to Isis, or the moon, and worshipped with
great ceremony. In the mythology of all the Indo-European nations the
cat holds a prominent place; and its connection with witches is well
known. “The picture of a witch,” says Mr. Henderson,[372] “is incomplete
without her cat, by rights a black one.” In “Macbeth” (iv. 1) the first
witch says:

    “Thrice the brinded cat hath mew’d”—

it being a common superstition that the form most generally assumed by
the familiar spirits of witches was the cat. Thus, in another passage of
the same play (i. 1), the first witch says: “I come, Graymalkin”—the
word otherwise spelled Grimalkin,[373] meaning a gray cat. Numerous
stories are on record of witches having disguised themselves as cats,
in order to carry out their fiendish designs. A woodman out working in
the forest has his dinner every day stolen by a cat. Exasperated at the
continued repetition of the theft, he lies in wait for the aggressor,
and succeeds in cutting off her paw, when lo! on his return home he
finds his wife minus a hand.[374] An honest Yorkshireman,[375] who bred
pigs, often lost the young ones. On applying to a certain wise man of
Stokesley, he was informed that they were bewitched by an old woman who
lived near. The owner of the pigs, calling to mind that he had often
seen a cat prowling about his yard, decided that this was the old woman
in disguise. He watched for her, and, as soon as she made her
appearance, flung at her a poker with all his might. The cat
disappeared, and, curiously enough, the poor old woman in question that
night fell and broke her leg. This was considered as conclusive that she
was the witch that had simulated the form of a cat. This notion is very
prevalent on the Continent. It is said that witch-cats have a great
hankering after beer.[376] Witches are adepts in the art of brewing, and
therefore fond of tasting what their neighbors brew. On these occasions
they always masquerade as cats, and what they steal they consume on the
spot. There was a countryman whose beer was all drunk up by night
whenever he brewed, so that at last he resolved for once to sit up all
night and watch. As he was standing by his brewing pan, a number of cats
made their appearance, and calling to them, he said; “Come, puss, puss,
come, warm you a bit.” So in a ring they all sat round the fire as if to
warm themselves. After a time, he asked them “if the water was hot.”
“Just on the boil,” said they; and as he spoke he dipped his
long-handled pail in the wort, and soused the whole company with it.
They all vanished at once, but on the following day his wife had a
terribly scalded face, and then he knew who it was that had always drunk
his beer. This story is widely prevalent, and is current among the
Flemish-speaking natives of Belgium. Again, a North German
tradition[377] tells us of a peasant who had three beautiful large cats.
A neighbor begged to have one of them, and obtained it. To accustom it
to the place, he shut it up in the loft. At night, the cat, popping its
head through the window, said, “What shall I bring to-night?” “Thou
shalt bring mice,” answered the man. The cat then set to work, and cast
all it caught on the floor. Next morning the place was so full of dead
mice that it was hardly possible to open the door, and the man was
employed the whole day in throwing them away by bushels. At night the
cat again asked, “What shall I bring to-night?” “Thou shalt bring rye,”
answered the peasant. The cat was now busily employed in shooting down
rye, so that in the morning the door could not be opened. The man then
discovered that the cat was a witch, and carried it back to his
neighbor. A similar tradition occurs in Scandinavian mythology.[378]
Spranger[379] relates that a laborer, on one occasion, was attacked by
three young ladies in the form of cats, and that they were wounded by
him. On the following day they were found bleeding in their beds. In
Vernon,[380] about the year 1566, “the witches and warlocks gathered in
great multitudes under the shape of cats. Four or five men were attacked
in a lone place by a number of these beasts. The men stood their ground,
and succeeded in slaying one cat and wounding many others. Next day a
number of wounded women were found in the town, and they gave the judge
an accurate account of all the circumstances connected with their
wounding.” It is only natural, then, that Shakespeare, in his
description of the witches in “Macbeth,” should have associated them
with the popular superstition which represents the cat as their agent—a
notion that no doubt originated in the classic story of Galanthis being
turned into a cat, and becoming, through the compassion of Hecate, her
priestess. From their supposed connection with witchcraft, cats were
formerly often tormented by the ignorant vulgar. Thus it appears[381]
that, in days gone by, they (occasionally fictitious ones) were hung up
in baskets and shot at with arrows. In some counties, too, they were
enclosed, with a quantity of soot, in wooden bottles suspended on a
line, and he who could beat out the bottom of the bottle as he ran under
it, and yet escape its contents, was the hero of the sport.[382]
Shakespeare alludes to this practice in “Much Ado About Nothing” (i. 1),
where Benedick says: “Hang me in a bottle like a cat, and shoot at me.”

    [372] “Folk-Lore of Northern Counties,” p. 267; Brand’s “Pop.
    Antiq.,” 1849, vol. iii. p. 7.

    [373] Malkin is a diminutive of “Mary;” “Maukin,” the same
    word, is still used in Scotland for a hare. “Notes to Macbeth,”
    by Clark and Wright, 1877, p. 75.

    [374] Sternberg’s “Dialect and Folk-Lore of Northamptonshire,”
    1851, p. 148.

    [375] Henderson’s “Folk-Lore of Northern Counties” 1879, p. 206.

    [376] Kelly’s “Indo-European Folk-Lore,” 1863, p. 238.

    [377] Thorpe’s “Northern Mythology,” 1851, vol. iii. p. 32.

    [378] Ibid., vol. ii. p. 32; vol. iii. pp. 26-236.

    [379] See Baring-Gould’s “Book of Werewolves,” 1869, p. 65.

    [380] Ibid., p. 66.

    [381] Dyce’s “Glossary to Shakespeare,” p. 70.

    [382] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. iii. p. 39; also
    Wright’s “Essays on the Superstitions of the Middle Ages,”

Percy, in his “Reliques of Ancient English Poetry” (1794, vol. i. p.
155), says: “It is still a diversion in Scotland to hang up a cat in a
small cask or firkin, half filled with soot; and then a parcel of clowns
on horseback try to beat out the ends of it, in order to show their
dexterity in escaping before the contents fall upon them.”

This practice was once kept up at Kelso, in Scotland, according to
Ebenezer Lazarus, who, in his “Description of Kelso” (1789, p. 144), has
given a graphic description of the whole ceremony. He says, “This is a
sport which was common in the last century at Kelso on the Tweed. A
large concourse of men, women, and children assembled in a field about
half a mile from the town, and a cat having been put into a barrel
stuffed full of soot, was suspended on a crossbeam between two high
poles. A certain number of the whipmen, or husbandmen, who took part in
this savage and unmanly amusement, then kept striking, as they rode to
and fro on horseback, the barrel in which the unfortunate animal was
confined, until at last, under the heavy blows of their clubs and
mallets, it broke, and allowed the cat to drop. The victim was then
seized and tortured to death.” He justly stigmatizes it, saying:

    “The cat in the barrel exhibits such a farce,
    That he who can relish it is worse than an ass.”

Cats, from their great powers of resistance, are said to have nine
lives;[383] hence Mercutio, in “Romeo and Juliet” (iii. 1), says: “Good
king of cats, nothing but one of your nine lives.” Ben Jonson, in “Every
Man in His Humour” (iii. 2), makes Edward Knowell say to Bobadil, “’Twas
pity you had not ten; a cat’s and your own.” And in Gay’s fable of the
“Old Woman and her Cats,” one of these animals is introduced, upbraiding
the witch:

    “’Tis infamy to serve a hag,
    Cats are thought imps, her broom a nag;
    And boys against our lives combine,
    Because ’tis said, your cats have nine.”

    [383] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” vol. iii. p. 42.

In Marston’s “Dutch Courtezan” we read:

    “Why then, thou hast nine lives like a cat.”

And in Dekker’s “Strange Horse-Race” (1613): “When the grand Helcat had
gotten these two furies with nine lives.” This notion, it may be noted,
is quite the reverse of the well-known saying, “Care will kill a cat,”
mentioned in “Much Ado About Nothing” (v. 1), where Claudio says: “What
though care killed a cat.”

For some undiscovered reason a cat was formerly called Tybert or
Tybalt;[384] hence some of the insulting remarks of Mercutio, in “Romeo
and Juliet” (iii. 1), who calls Tybalt “rat-catcher” and “king of cats.”
In the old romance of “Hystorye of Reynard the Foxe” (chap. vi.), we are
told how “the king called for Sir Tibert, the cat, and said to him, Sir
Tibert, you shall go to Reynard, and summon him the second time.”[385] A
popular term for a wild cat was “cat-o’-mountain,” an expression[386]
borrowed from the Spaniards, who call the wild cat “gato-montes.” In the
“Merry Wives of Windsor” (ii. 2), Falstaff says of Pistol, “Your
cat-a-mountain looks.”

    [384] Dyce’s “Glossary to Shakespeare,” p. 466.

    [385] From Tibert, Tib was also a common name for a cat.

    [386] Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” 1839, p. 41.

The word cat was used as a term of contempt, as in “The Tempest” (ii. 1)
and “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (iii. 2), where Lysander says, “Hang
off, thou cat.” Once more, too, in “Coriolanus” (iv. 2), we find it in
the same sense:

              “’Twas you incensed the rabble;
    Cats, that can judge as fitly of his worth,
    As I can of those mysteries which heaven
    Will not have earth to know.”

A gib, or a gib cat, is an old male cat[387]—gib being the contraction
of Gilbert,[388] and is, says Nares, an expression exactly analogous to
that of jackass.[389] Tom-cat is now the usual term. The word was
certainly not bestowed upon a cat early in life, as is evident from the
melancholy character ascribed to it in Shakespeare’s allusion in “1
Henry IV.” (i. 2): “I am as melancholy as a gib cat.” Ray gives “as
melancholy as a gib’d [a corruption of gib] cat.” The term occurs again
in “Hamlet” (iii. 4). It is improperly applied to a female by Beaumont
and Fletcher, in the “Scornful Lady” (v. 1): “Bring out the cat-hounds!
I’ll make you take a tree, whore; then with my tiller bring down your
gib-ship, and then have you cased and hung up in the warren.”

    [387] Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 183.

    [388] A gibbe (an old male cat), Macou, Cotgrave’s “French and
    English Dictionary.”

    [389] “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 360.

_Chameleon._ This animal was popularly believed to feed on air, a notion
which Sir Thomas Browne[390] has carefully discussed. He has assigned,
among other grounds for this vulgar opinion, its power of abstinence,
and its faculty of self-inflation. It lives on insects, which it catches
by its long, gluey tongue, and crushes between its jaws. It has been
ascertained by careful experiment that the chameleon can live without
eating for four months. It can inflate not only its lungs, but its whole
body, including even the feet and tail. In allusion to this supposed
characteristic, Shakespeare makes Hamlet say (iii. 2), “Of the
chameleon’s dish: I eat the air, promise-crammed; you cannot feed capons
so;” and in the “Two Gentlemen of Verona” (ii. 1) Speed says: “Though
the chameleon, Love, can feed on the air, I am one that am nourished by
my victuals, and would fain have meat.” There is, too, a popular notion
that this animal undergoes frequent changes of color, according to that
of the bodies near it. This, however, depends on the volition of the
animal, or the state of its feelings, on its good or bad health, and is
subordinate to climate, age, and sex.[391] In “3 Henry VI.” (iii. 2)
Gloster boasts:

    “I can add colours to the chameleon,
    Change shapes, with Proteus, for advantages.”

    [390] “Vulgar Errors,” bk. iii. p. 21, 1852; bk. i. p. 321,

    [391] Ovid (“Metamorphoses,” bk. xv. l. 411) speaks of its
    changes of color.

_Cockatrice._ This imaginary creature, also called a basilisk, has been
the subject of extraordinary prejudice. It was absurdly said to proceed
from the eggs of old cocks. It has been represented as having eight
feet, a crown on the head, and a hooked and recurved beak.[392] Pliny
asserts that the basilisk had a voice so terrible that it struck terror
into all other species. Sir Thomas Browne,[393] however, distinguishes
the cockatrice from the ancient basilisk. He says, “This of ours is
generally described with legs, wings, a serpentine and winding tail, and
a crest or comb somewhat like a cock. But the basilisk of elder times
was a proper kind of serpent, not above three palms long, as some
account; and different from other serpents by advancing his head and
some white marks, or coronary spots upon the crown, as all authentic
writers have delivered.” No other animal, perhaps, has given rise to so
many fabulous notions. Thus, it was supposed to have so deadly an eye as
to kill by its very look, to which Shakespeare often alludes. In “Romeo
and Juliet” (iii. 2), Juliet says:

                        “say thou but ‘I,’
    And that bare vowel, ‘I,’ shall poison more
    Than the death-darting eye of cockatrice.”

    [392] Cuvier’s “Animal Kingdom,” 1831, vol. ix. p. 226.

    [393] “Vulgar Errors,” bk. iii. p. 7.

In “Richard III.” (iv. 1) the Duchess exclaims:

    “O my accursed womb, the bed of death!
    A cockatrice hast thou hatch’d to the world,
    Whose unavoided eye is murderous!”

In “Lucrece” (l. 540) we read:

    “Here with a cockatrice’ dead-killing eye
    He rouseth up himself, and makes a pause.”

Once more,[394] in “Twelfth Night” (iii. 4), Sir Toby Belch affirms:
“This will so fright them both that they will kill one another by the
look, like cockatrices.” It has also been affirmed that this animal
could not exercise this faculty unless it first perceived the object of
its vengeance; if first seen, it died. Dryden has alluded to this

    “Mischiefs are like the cockatrice’s eye,
    If they see first they kill, if seen, they die.”

    [394] See “Cymbeline,” ii. 4; “Winter’s Tale,” i. 2.

Cockatrice was a popular phrase for a loose woman, probably from the
fascination of the eye.[395] It appears, too, that basilisk[396] was the
name of a huge piece of ordnance carrying a ball of very great weight.
In the following passage in “Henry V.” (v. 2), there is no doubt a
double allusion—to pieces of ordnance, and to the fabulous creature
already described:

    “The fatal balls of murdering basilisks.”

    [395] Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. i. p 173.

    [396] Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 29; see “1 Henry IV.,” ii. 3, “of
    basilisks, of cannon, culverin.”

_Colt._ From its wild tricks the colt was formerly used to designate,
according to Johnson, “a witless, heady, gay youngster.” Portia mentions
it with a quibble in “The Merchant of Venice” (i. 2), referring to the
Neapolitan prince. “Ay, that’s a colt, indeed.” The term “to colt”
meant to trick, or befool; as in the phrase in “1 Henry IV.” (ii. 2):
“What a plague mean ye to colt me thus?” Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps[397]
explains the expression in “Henry VIII.” (i. 3), “Your colt’s tooth is
not cast yet,” to denote a love of youthful pleasure. In “Cymbeline”
(ii. 4) it is used in a coarser sense: “She hath been colted by him.”

    [397] “Handbook Index to Shakespeare.”

_Crocodile._ According to fabulous accounts the crocodile was the most
deceitful of animals; its tears being proverbially fallacious. Thus
Othello (iv. 1) says:

                               “O devil, devil!
    If that the earth could teem with woman’s tears,
    Each drop she falls would prove a crocodile.—
    Out of my sight!”

We may also compare the words of the queen in “2 Henry VI.” (iii. 1):

    “Henry my lord is cold in great affairs,
    Too full of foolish pity; and Gloster’s show
    Beguiles him, as the mournful crocodile
    With sorrow snares relenting passengers.”

It is said that this treacherous animal weeps over a man’s head when it
has devoured the body, and will then eat up the head too. In Bullokar’s
“Expositor,” 1616, we read: “Crocodile lachrymæ, crocodiles teares, do
signify such teares as are feigned, and spent only with intent to
deceive or do harm.” In Quarles’s “Emblems” there is the following

    “O what a crocodilian world is this,
      Compos’d of treachries and ensnaring wiles!
    She cloaths destruction in a formal kiss,
      And lodges death in her deceitful smiles.”

In the above passage from “Othello,” Singer says there is, no doubt, a
reference to the doctrine of equivocal generation, by which new animals
were supposed to be producible by new combinations of matter.[398]

    [398] Singer’s “Shakespeare,” 1875, vol. x. p. 118.

_Deer._ In “King Lear” (iii. 4) Edgar uses deer for wild animals in

    “But mice, and rats, and such small deer,
    Have been Tom’s food for seven long year.”

Shakespeare frequently refers to the popular sport of hunting the
deer;[399] and by his apt allusions shows how thoroughly familiar he was
with the various amusements of his day.[400] In “Winter’s Tale” (i. 2)
Leontes speaks of “the mort o’ the deer:” certain notes played on the
horn at the death of the deer, and requiring a deep-drawn breath.[401]
It was anciently, too, one of the customs of the chase for all to stain
their hands in the blood of the deer as a trophy. Thus, in “King John”
(ii. 1), the English herald declares to the men of Angiers how

       “like a jolly troop of huntsmen, come
    Our lusty English, all with purpled hands,
    Dyed in the dying slaughter of their foes.”

    [399] See Strutt’s “Sports and Pastimes,” 1876, pp. 66, 75, 79,
    80, 113, 117.

    [400] See “As You Like It,” iv. 2; “All’s Well That Ends Well,”
    v. 2; “Macbeth,” iv. 3; “1 Henry IV.,” v. 4; “1 Henry VI.,” iv.
    2; “2 Henry VI.,” v. 2; “Titus Andronicus,” iii. 1, etc.

    [401] Singer’s “Shakespeare,” vol. viii. p. 421

The practice is again alluded to in “Julius Cæsar” (iii. 1):

                         “here thy hunters stand,
    Sign’d in thy spoil, and crimson’d in thy lethe.”

Old Turbervile gives us the details of this custom: “Our order is, that
the prince, or chief, if so please them, do alight, and take assay of
the deer, with a sharp knife, the which is done in this manner—the deer
being laid upon his back, the prince, chief, or such as they do appoint,
comes to it, and the chief huntsman, kneeling if it be a prince, doth
hold the deer by the forefoot, whilst the prince, or chief, do cut a
slit drawn along the brisket of the deer.”

In “Antony and Cleopatra” (v. 2), where Cæsar, speaking of Cleopatra’s
death, says:

                         “bravest at the last,
    She levell’d at our purposes, and, being royal,
    Took her own way”—

there is possibly an allusion to the _hart royal_, which had the
privilege of roaming unmolested, and of taking its own way to its lair.

Shooting with the cross-bow at deer was an amusement of great ladies.
Buildings with flat roofs, called stands, partly concealed by bushes,
were erected in the parks for the purpose. Hence the following dialogue
in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (iv. 1):

    “_Princess._ Then forester, my friend, where is the bush
    That we must stand and play the murderer in?

    _Forester._ Hereby, upon the edge of yonder coppice;
    A stand where you may make the fairest shoot.”

Among the hunting terms to which Shakespeare refers may be mentioned the

“To draw” meant to trace the steps of the game, as in “Comedy of Errors”
(iv. 2):

    “A hound that runs counter, and yet draws dry-foot well.”

The term “to run counter” was to mistake the course of the game, or to
turn and pursue the backward trail.

The “recheat” denoted certain notes sounded on the horn, properly and
more usually employed to recall the dogs from a wrong scent. It is used
in “Much Ado About Nothing” (i. 1): “I will have a recheat winded in my
forehead.” We may compare Drayton’s “Polyolbion” (xiii.):

    “Recheating with his horn, which then the hunter cheers.”

The phrase “to recover the wind of me,” used by Hamlet (iii. 2), is
borrowed from hunting, and means to get the animal pursued to run with
the wind, that it may not scent the toil or its pursuers. Again, when
Falstaff, in “2 Henry IV.” (ii. 4), speaks of “fat rascals,” he alludes
to the phrase of the forest—“rascall,” says Puttenham, “being properly
the hunting term given to a young deer leane and out of season.”

The phrase “a hunts-up” implied any song intended to arouse in the
morning—even a love song—the name having been derived from a tune or
song employed by early hunters.[402] The term occurs in “Romeo and
Juliet” (iii. 5), where Juliet says to Romeo, speaking of the lark:

    “Since arm from arm that voice doth us affray,
    Hunting thee hence with hunts-up to the day.”

    [402] Chappell’s “Popular Music of the Olden Time,” 2d ed. vol.
    i. p. 61; see Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” p. 432;
    see, too, Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 440.

In Drayton’s “Polyolbion” (xiii.) it is used:

    “No sooner doth the earth her flowery bosom brave,
    At such time as the year brings on the pleasant spring,
    But hunts-up to the morn the feather’d sylvans sing.”

In Shakespeare’s day it was customary to hunt as well after dinner as
before, hence, in “Timon of Athens” (ii. 2), Timon says:

    “So soon as dinner’s done, we’ll forth again.”

The word “embossed” was applied to a deer when foaming at the mouth from
fatigue. In “Taming of the Shrew” (Ind. scene 1) we read: “the poor cur
is embossed,” and in “Antony and Cleopatra” (iv. 13):

              “the boar of Thessaly
    Was never so emboss’d.”

It was usual to call a pack of hounds “a cry,” from the French _meute de
chiens_. The term is humorously applied to any troop or company of
players, as by Hamlet (iii. 2), who speaks of “a fellowship in a cry of
players.” In “Coriolanus” (iv. 6) Menenius says,

            “You have made
    Good work, you and your cry.”

Antony, in “Julius Cæsar” (iii. 1), alludes to the technical phrase to
“let slip a dog,” employed in hunting the hart. This consisted in
releasing the hounds from the leash or _slip_ of leather by which they
were held in hand until it was judged proper to let them pursue the
animal chased.[403] In “1 Henry IV.” (i. 3) Northumberland tells

    “Before the game’s afoot, thou still let’st slip.”

    [403] See Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 401.

In “Taming of the Shrew” (v. 2) Tranio says:

    “O, sir, Lucentio slipp’d me like his greyhound,
    Which runs himself, and catches for his master.”

A sportsman’s saying, applied to hounds, occurs in “2 Henry IV.” (v. 3):
“a’ will not out; he is true bred,” serving to expound Gadshill’s
expression, “such as can hold in,” “1 Henry IV.” (ii. 1).

The severity of the game laws under our early monarchs was very
stringent; and a clause in the “Forest Charter”[404] grants “to an
archbishop, bishop, earl, or baron, when travelling through the royal
forests, at the king’s command, the privilege to kill one deer or two in
the sight of the forester, if he was at hand; if not, they were
commanded to cause a horn to be sounded, that it might not appear as if
they had intended to steal the game.” In “Merry Wives of Windsor” (v.
5), Falstaff, using the terms of the forest, alludes to the perquisites
of the keeper. Thus he speaks of the “shoulders for the fellow of this
walk,” _i. e._, the keeper.

    [404] See Strutt’s “Sports and Pastimes,” 1876, p. 65.

Shakespeare has several pretty allusions to the tears of the deer, this
animal being said to possess a very large secretion of tears. Thus
Hamlet (iii. 2) says: “let the strucken deer go weep;” and in “As You
Like It” (ii. 1) we read of the “sobbing deer,” and in the same scene
the first lord narrates how, at a certain spot,

                   “a poor sequester’d stag
    That from the hunter’s aim had ta’en a hurt
    Did come to languish; ...
    ... and the big round tears
    Coursed one another down his innocent nose
    In piteous chase.”

Bartholomæus[405] says, that “when the hart is arered, he fleethe to a
ryver or ponde, and roreth cryeth and wepeth when he is take.”[406] It
appears that there were various superstitions connected with the tears
of the deer. Batman[407] tells us that “when the hart is sick, and hath
eaten many serpents for his recoverie, he is brought unto so great a
heate that he hasteth to the water, and there covereth his body unto the
very eares and eyes, at which time distilleth many tears from which the
[Bezoar] stone is gendered.”[408] Douce[409] quotes the following
passage from the “Noble Art of Venerie,” in which the hart thus
addresses the hunter:

    “O cruell, be content, to take in worth my tears,
    Which growe to gumme, and fall from me: content thee with my heares,
    Content thee with my hornes, which every year I new,
    Since all these three make medicines, some sickness to eschew.
    My tears congeal’d to gumme, by peeces from me fall,
    And thee preserve from pestilence, in pomander or ball.
    Such wholesome tears shedde I, when thou pursewest me so.”

    [405] “De Proprietate Rerum,” lib. xviii. c. 30.

    [406] Cf. Vergil’s description of the wounded stag in “Æneid,”
    bk. vii.

    [407] Commentary on Bartholomæus’s “De Proprietate Rerum.”

    [408] The drops which fall from their eyes are not tears from
    the lachrymal glands, but an oily secretion from the inner
    angle of the eye close to the nose.—Brewer’s “Dictionary of
    Phrase and Fable,” p. 217.

    [409] “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” p. 183.

_Dog._ As the favorite of our domestic animals, the dog not unnaturally
possesses an extensive history, besides entering largely into those
superstitions which, more or less, are associated with every stage of
human life. It is not surprising, therefore, that Shakespeare frequently
speaks of the dog, making it the subject of many of his illustrations.
Thus he has not omitted to mention the fatal significance of its howl,
which is supposed either to foretell death or misfortune. In “2 Henry
VI.” (i. 4) he makes Bolingbroke say:

    “The time when screech-owls cry, and ban-dogs howl,[410]
    And spirits walk, and ghosts break up their graves.”

    [410] These dogs were kept for baiting bears, when that
    amusement was in vogue, and “from their terrific howling they
    are occasionally introduced to heighten the horror of the
    picture.” Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 50.

And, again, in “3 Henry VI.” (v. 6), King Henry, speaking of Gloster,

    “The owl shriek’d at thy birth,—an evil sign;
    The night-crow cried, aboding luckless time;
    Dogs howl’d, and hideous tempests shook down trees.”

The same superstition prevails in France and Germany,[411] and various
charms are resorted to for averting the ill-consequences supposed to
attach to this sign of ill-omen. Several of these, too, are practised in
our own country. Thus, in Staffordshire, when a dog howls, the following
advice is given: “Take off your shoe from the left foot, and spit upon
the sole, place it on the ground bottom upwards, and your foot upon the
place you sat upon, which will not only preserve you from harm, but stop
the howling of the dog.”[412] A similar remedy is recommended in
Norfolk:[413] “Pull off your left shoe, and turn it, and it will quiet
him. A dog won’t howl three times after.” We are indebted to antiquity
for this superstition, some of the earliest writers referring to it.
Thus, Pausanias relates how, previous to the destruction of the
Messenians, the dogs pierced the air by raising a louder barking than
usual; and it is on record how, before the sedition in Rome, about the
dictatorship of Pompey, there was an extraordinary howling of dogs.
Vergil[414] (“Georgics,” lib. i. l. 470), speaking of the Roman
misfortunes, says:

    “Obscenæque canes, importunæque volucres
    Signa dabant.”

    [411] See Kelly’s “Indo-European Folk-Lore,” p. 109.

    [412] Henderson’s “Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties,” p. 48.

    [413] See “English Folk-Lore,” p. 101.

    [414] See Hardwick’s “Traditions, Superstitions, and
    Folk-Lore,” p. 171.

Capitolinus narrates, too, how the dogs, by their howling, presaged the
death of Maximinus. The idea which associates the dog’s howl with the
approach of death is probably derived from a conception in Aryan
mythology, which represents a dog as summoning the departing soul.
Indeed, as Mr. Fiske[415] remarks, “Throughout all Aryan mythology, the
souls of the dead are supposed to ride on the night-wind, with their
howling dogs, gathering into their throng the souls of those just dying
as they pass by their houses.”

    [415] “Myths and Mythmakers,” 1873, p. 36.

Another popular superstition—in all probability derived from the
Egyptians—refers to the setting and rising of Sirius, or the dog-star,
as infusing madness into the canine race. Hence the name of the
“dog-days” was given by the Romans to the period between the 3d of July
and the 11th of August, to which Shakespeare alludes in “Henry VIII.”
(v. 3): “the dog-days now reign.” We may, too, compare the words of
Benvolio, in “Romeo and Juliet” (iii. 1):

    “For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.”

It is obvious, however, that this superstition is utterly groundless,
for not only does the star vary in its rising, but is later and later
every year. The term “dog-day” is still a common phrase, and it is
difficult to say whether it is from superstitious adherence to old
custom, or from a belief in the injurious effect of heat upon dogs, that
the magistrates, often unwisely, at this season of the year order them
to be muzzled or tied up. It was the practice to put them to death; and
Ben Jonson, in his “Bartholomew Fair,” speaks of “the dog-killer” in
this month of August. Lord Bacon, too, in his “Sylva Sylvarum,” tells us
that “it is a common experience that dogs know the dog-killer, when, as
in times of infection, some petty fellow is sent out to kill them.
Although they have never seen him before, yet they will all come forth
and bark and fly at him.”

A “curtal dog,” to which allusion is made in “Merry Wives of Windsor”
(ii. 1), by Pistol—

    “Hope is a curtal dog in some affairs,”

denoted “originally the dog of an unqualified person, which, by the
forest laws, must have its tail cut short, partly as a mark, and partly
from a notion that the tail of a dog is necessary to him in running.” In
later usage, _curtail dog_ means either a common dog, not meant for
sport, or a dog that missed the game, which latter sense it has in the
passage above.[416]

    [416] “Nares’s Glossary,” vol. i. p. 218.

_Dragon._ As the type and embodiment of the spirit of evil, the dragon
has been made the subject of an extensive legendary lore. The well-known
myth of St. George and the Dragon, which may be regarded as a grand
allegory representing the hideous and powerful monster against whom the
Christian soldier is called to fight, has exercised a remarkable
influence for good in times past, over half-instructed people. It has
been truly remarked that “the dullest mind and hardest heart could not
fail to learn from it something of the hatefulness of evil, the beauty
of self-sacrifice, and the all-conquering might of truth.” This graceful
conception is alluded to by Shakespeare, in his “King John” (ii. 1),
where, according to a long-established custom, it is made a subject for

    “St. George, that swinged the dragon, and e’er since,
    Sits on his horseback at mine hostess’ door,
    Teach us some fence!”

    [417] For the various versions of this myth consult
    Baring-Gould’s “Curious Myths of the Middle Ages,” 1877, pp.

In ancient mythology the task of drawing the chariot of night was
assigned to dragons, on account of their supposed watchfulness. In
“Cymbeline” (ii. 2) Iachimo, addressing them, says:

    “Swift, swift, you dragons of the night, that dawning
    May bare the raven’s eye!”[418]

    [418] Cf. “Troilus and Cressida,” v. 8; “Midsummer-Night’s
    Dream,” iii. 2.

Milton, in his “Il Penseroso,” mentions the dragon yoke of night, and in
his “Comus” (l. 130):

                     “the dragon womb
    Of Stygian darkness.”

It may be noticed that the whole tribe of serpents sleep with their
eyes open, and so appear to exert a constant watchfulness.[419]

    [419] Singer’s “Shakespeare,” vol. x. p. 363.

In devising loathsome ingredients for the witches’ mess, Shakespeare
(“Macbeth,” iv. 1) speaks of “the scale of dragon,” alluding to the
horror in which this mythical being was held. Referring, also, to the
numerous legends associated with its dread form, he mentions “the spleen
of fiery dragons” (“Richard III.,” v. 3), “dragon’s wings” (“1 Henry
VI.,” i. 1), and (“Pericles,” i. 1), “death-like dragons.” Mr.
Conway[420] has admirably summed up the general views respecting this
imaginary source of terror: “Nearly all the dragon forms, whatever their
original types and their region, are represented in the conventional
monster of the European stage, which meets the popular conception. The
dragon is a masterpiece of the popular imagination, and it required many
generations to give it artistic shape. Every Christmas he appears in
some London pantomime, with aspect similar to that which he has worn for
many ages. His body is partly green, with the memories of the sea and of
slime, and partly brown or dark, with lingering shadow of storm clouds.
The lightning flames still in his red eyes, and flashes from his
fire-breathing mouth. The thunder-bolt of Jove, the spear of Wodan, are
in the barbed point of his tail. His huge wings—bat-like, spiked—sum up
all the mythical life of extinct harpies and vampires. Spine of
crocodile is on his neck, tail of the serpent, and all the jagged ridges
of rocks and sharp thorns of jungles bristle around him, while the ice
of glaciers and brassy glitter of sunstrokes are in his scales. He is
ideal of all that is hard, obstructive, perilous, loathsome, horrible in
nature; every detail of him has been seen through and vanquished by man,
here or there, but in selection and combination they rise again as
principles, and conspire to form one great generalization of the forms
of pain—the sum of every creature’s worst.”[421]

    [420] “Demonology and Devil-Lore,” 1880, vol. i. p. 383.

    [421] The dragon formerly constituted a part of the

_Elephant._ According to a vulgar error, current in bygone times, the
elephant was supposed to have no joints—a notion which is said to have
been first recorded from tradition by Ctesias the Cnidian.[422] Sir
Thomas Browne has entered largely into this superstition, arguing, from
reason, anatomy, and general analogy with other animals, the absurdity
of the error. In “Troilus and Cressida” (ii. 3), Ulysses says: “The
elephant hath joints, but none for courtesy: his legs are legs for
necessity, not for flexure.” Steevens quotes from “The Dialogues of
Creatures Moralized”—a curious specimen of our early natural history—the
following: “the olefawnte that bowyth not the kneys.” In the play of
“All Fools,” 1605, we read: “I hope you are no elephant—you have
joints.” In a note to Sir Thomas Browne’s Works,[423] we are told, “it
has long been the custom for the exhibitors of itinerant collections of
wild animals, when showing the elephant, to mention the story of its
having no joints, and its consequent inability to kneel; and they never
fail to think it necessary to demonstrate its untruth by causing the
animal to bend one of its fore-legs, and to kneel also.”

    [422] Sir Thomas Browne’s Works, 1852, vol. i. pp. 220-232.

    [423] Edited by Simon Wilkin, 1852, vol. i. p. 226.

In “Julius Cæsar” (ii. 1) the custom of seducing elephants into
pitfalls, lightly covered with hurdles and turf, on which a proper bait
to tempt them was exposed, is alluded to.[424] Decius speaks of
elephants being betrayed “with holes.”

    [424] See Pliny’s “Natural History,” bk. viii.

_Fox._ It appears that the term fox was a common expression for the old
English weapon, the broadsword of Jonson’s days, as distinguished from
the small (foreign) sword. The name was given from the circumstance that
Andrea Ferrara adopted a fox as the blade-mark of his weapons—a
practice, since his time, adopted by other foreign sword-cutlers. Swords
with a running fox rudely engraved on the blades are still occasionally
to be met with in the old curiosity shops of London.[425] Thus, in
“Henry V.” (iv. 4), Pistol says:

    “O Signieur Dew, thou diest on point of fox,
    Except, O signieur, thou do give to me
    Egregious ransom.”

    [425] Staunton’s “Shakespeare,” 1864, vol. ii. p. 367; Nares’s
    “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 331.

In Ben Jonson’s “Bartholomew Fair” (ii. 6) the expression occurs: “What
would you have, sister, of a fellow that knows nothing but a
basket-hilt, and an old fox in it?”

The tricks and artifices of a hunted fox were supposed to be very
extraordinary; hence Falstaff makes use of this expression in “1 Henry
IV.” (iii. 3): “No more truth in thee than in a drawn fox.”

_Goat._ It is curious that the harmless goat should have had an evil
name, and been associated with devil-lore. Thus, there is a common
superstition in England and Scotland that it is never seen for
twenty-four hours together; and that once in this space it pays a visit
to the devil, in order to have its beard combed. It was, formerly, too,
a popular notion that the devil appeared frequently in the shape of a
goat, which accounted for his horns and tail. Sir Thomas Browne observes
that the goat was the emblem of the sin-offering, and is the emblem of
sinful men at the day of judgment. This may, perhaps, account for
Shakespeare’s enumerating the “gall of goat” (“Macbeth,” iv. 1) among
the ingredients of the witches’ caldron. His object seems to have been
to include the most distasteful and ill-omened things imaginable—a
practice shared, indeed, by other poets contemporary with him.

_Hare._ This was formerly esteemed a melancholy animal, and its flesh
was supposed to engender melancholy in those who ate it. This idea was
not confined to our own country, but is mentioned by La Fontaine in one
of his “Fables” (liv. ii. fab. 14):

    “Dans un profond ennui ce lievre se plongeoit,
    Cet animal est triste, et la crainte le rounge;”

and later on he says: “Le melancolique animal.” Hence, in “1 Henry IV.”
(i. 2), Falstaff is told by Prince Henry that he is as melancholy as a
hare. This notion was not quite forgotten in Swift’s time; for in his
“Polite Conversation,” Lady Answerall, being asked to eat hare, replies:
“No, madam; they say ’tis melancholy meat.” Mr. Staunton quotes the
following extract from Turbervile’s book on Hunting and Falconry: “The
hare first taught us the use of the hearbe called wyld succory, which is
very excellent for those which are disposed to be melancholicke. She
herself is one of the most melancholicke beasts that is, and to heale
her own infirmitie, she goeth commonly to sit under that hearbe.”

The old Greek epigram relating to the hare—

    “Strike ye my body, now that life is fled;
    So hares insult the lion when he’s dead,”

—is alluded to by the Bastard in “King John” (ii. 1):

    “You are the hare of whom the proverb goes,
    Whose valour plucks dead lions by the beard.”

A familiar expression among sportsmen for a hare is “Wat,” so called,
perhaps, from its long ears or wattles. In “Venus and Adonis” the term

    “By this, poor Wat, far off upon a hill,
    Stands on his hinder legs, with listening ear.”

In Drayton’s “Polyolbion” (xxiii.) we read:

    “The man whose vacant mind prepares him to the sport,
    The finder sendeth out, to seek out nimble Wat,
    Which crosseth in the field, each furlong, every flat,
    Till he this pretty beast upon the form hath found.”

_Hedgehog._ The urchin or hedgehog, like the toad, for its solitariness,
the ugliness of its appearance, and from a popular belief that it sucked
or poisoned the udders of cows, was adopted into the demonologic system;
and its shape was sometimes supposed to be assumed by mischievous
elves.[426] Hence, in “The Tempest” (i. 2), Prospero says:

    Shall, for that vast of night that they may work,
    All exercise on thee;”

and later on in the same play (ii. 2) Caliban speaks of being frighted
with “urchin shows.” In the witch scene in “Macbeth” (iv. 1) the
hedge-pig is represented as one of the witches’ familiars; and in the
“Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (ii. 2), in the incantation of the fairies,
“thorny hedgehogs” are exorcised. For the use of urchins in similar
associations we may quote “Merry Wives of Windsor” (iv. 4), “like
urchins, ouphes, and fairies;” and “Titus Andronicus” (ii. 3), “ten
thousand swelling toads, as many urchins.”[427] In the phrase still
current, of “little urchin” for a child, the idea of the fairy also
remains. In various legends we find this animal holding a prominent
place. Thus, for example, it was in the form of a hedgehog[428] that the
devil is said to have made his attempt to let the sea in through the
Brighton Downs, which was prevented by a light being brought, though the
seriousness of the scheme is still attested in the Devil’s Dyke. There
is an ancient tradition that when the devil had smuggled himself into
Noah’s Ark he tried to sink it by boring a hole; but this scheme was
defeated, and the human race saved, by the hedgehog stuffing himself
into the hole. In the Brighton story, as Mr. Conway points out, the
devil would appear to have remembered his former failure in drowning
people, and to have appropriated the form which defeated him. In
“Richard III.” (i. 2), the hedgehog is used as a term of reproach by
Lady Anne, when addressing Gloster.

    [426] Singer’s “Shakespeare,” vol. ix. p. 75.

    [427] See Wright’s Notes to “The Tempest,” 1875, p. 94.

    [428] Conway’s “Demonology and Devil-Lore,” 1880, vol. i. p. 122.

_Horse._ Although Shakespeare’s allusions to the horse are most
extensive, yet he has said little of the many widespread superstitions,
legends, and traditional tales that have been associated from the
earliest times with this brave and intellectual animal. Indeed, even
nowadays, both in our own country and abroad, many a fairy tale is told
and credited by the peasantry in which the horse occupies a prominent
place. It seems to have been a common notion that, at night-time,
fairies in their nocturnal revels played various pranks with horses,
often entangling in a thousand knots their hair—a superstition to which
we referred in our chapter on Fairies, where Mercutio, in “Romeo and
Juliet” (i. 4), says:

                          “This is that very Mab
    That plats the manes of horses in the night,
    And bakes the elf-locks in foul sluttish hairs,
    Which, once untangled, much misfortune bodes.”

In “King Lear” (ii. 3), Edgar says: “I’ll ... elf all my hair in knots.”

Mr. Hunt, in his “Popular Romances of the West of England” (1871, p.
87), tells us that, when a boy, he was on a visit at a farmhouse near
Fowey River, and well remembers the farmer, with much sorrow, telling
the party one morning at breakfast, how “the piskie people had been
riding Tom again.” The mane was said to be knotted into fairy stirrups,
and the farmer said he had no doubt that at least twenty small people
had sat upon the horse’s neck. Warburton[429] considers that this
superstition may have originated from the disease called “Plica
Polonica.” Witches, too, have generally been supposed to harass the
horse, using it in various ways for their fiendish purposes. Thus, there
are numerous local traditions in which the horse at night-time has been
ridden by the witches, and found in the morning in an almost prostrate
condition, bathed in sweat.

    [429] Warburton on “Romeo and Juliet,” i. 4.

It was a current notion that a horse-hair dropped into corrupted water
would soon become an animal. The fact, however, is that the hair moves
like a living thing because a number of animalculæ cling to it.[430]
This ancient vulgar error is mentioned in “Antony and Cleopatra” (i. 2):

                           “much is breeding,
    Which, like the courser’s hair, hath yet but life,
    And not a serpent’s poison.”

    [430] Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 104.

Steevens quotes from Churchyard’s “Discourse of Rebellion,” 1570:

    “Hit is of kinde much worse than horses heare,
    That lyes in donge, where on vyle serpents brede.”

Dr. Lister, in the “Philosophical Transactions,” says that these
animated horse-hairs are real thread-worms. It was asserted that these
worms moved like serpents, and were poisonous to swallow. Coleridge
tells us it was a common experiment with boys in Cumberland and
Westmoreland to lay a horse-hair in water, which, when removed after a
time, would twirl round the finger and sensibly compress it—having
become the supporter of an immense number of small, slimy water-lice.

A horse is said to have a “cloud in his face” when he has a dark-colored
spot in his forehead between his eyes. This gives him a sour look, and,
being supposed to indicate an ill-temper, is generally considered a
great blemish. This notion is alluded to in “Antony and Cleopatra” (iii.
2), where Agrippa, speaking of Cæsar, says:

    “He has a cloud in’s face,”

whereupon Enobarbus adds:

    “He were the worse for that, were he a horse;
    So is he, being a man.”

Burton, in his “Anatomy of Melancholy,” uses the phrase for the look of
a woman: “Every lover admires his mistress, though she be very deformed
of herselfe—thin, leane, chitty face, have clouds in her face,” etc.

“To mose in the chine,” a phrase we find in “Taming of the Shrew” (iii.
2)—“Possessed with the glanders, and like to mose in the chine”—refers
to a disorder in horses, also known as “mourning in the chine.”

Alluding to the custom associated with horses, we may note that a
stalking-horse, or stale, was either a real or artificial one, under
cover of which the fowler approached towards and shot at his game. It is
alluded to in “As You Like It” (v. 4) by the Duke, who says of
Touchstone: “He uses his folly like a stalking-horse, and under the
presentation of that he shoots his wit.” In “Much Ado About Nothing”
(ii. 3), Claudio says: “Stalk on, stalk on; the fowl sits.”[431] In
“Comedy of Errors” (ii. 1), Adriana says: “I am but his stale,” upon
which Malone remarks: “Adriana undoubtedly means to compare herself to a
stalking-horse, behind whom Antipholus shoots at such game as he
selects.” In “Taming of the Shrew,” Katharina says to her father (i. 1):

                            “is it your will
    To make a stale of me amongst these mates?”

which, says Singer, means “make an object of mockery.” So in “3 Henry
VI.” (iii. 3), Warwick says:

    “Had he none else to make a stale but me?”

    [431] See Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” p. 106;
    Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 830.

That it was also a hunting term might be shown, adds Dyce,[432] by
quotations from various old writers. In the inventories of the wardrobe
belonging to King Henry VIII. we frequently find the allowance of
certain quantities of stuff for the purpose of making “stalking-coats
and stalking-hose for the use of his majesty.”[433]

    [432] “Glossary,” p. 412.

    [433] See Strutt’s “Sports and Pastimes,” p. 48.

Again, the forehorse of a team was generally gayly ornamented with tufts
and ribbons and bells. Hence, in “All’s Well That Ends Well” (ii. 1),
Bertram complains that, bedizened like one of these animals, he will
have to squire ladies at the court, instead of achieving honor in the

    “I shall stay here the forehorse to a smock,
    Creaking my shoes on the plain masonry,
    Till honour be bought up, and no sword worn
    But one to dance with.”

A familiar name for a common horse was “Cut”—either from its being
docked or gelded—a name occasionally applied to a man as a term of
contempt. In “Twelfth Night” (ii. 3), Sir Toby Belch says: “Send for
money, knight; if thou hast her not i’ the end, call me cut.” In “1
Henry IV.” (ii. 1), the first carrier says: “I prithee, Tom, beat Cut’s
saddle.” We may compare, too, what Falstaff says further on in the same
play (ii. 4): “I tell thee what, Hal, if I tell thee a lie, spit in my
face, call me horse.” Hence, _call me cut_ is the same as _call me
horse_—both expressions having been used.

In Shakespeare’s day a _race_ of horses was the term for what is now
called a stud. So in “Macbeth” (ii. 4), Rosse says:

    “And Duncan’s horses—a thing most strange and certain—
    Beauteous and swift, the minions of their race,
    Turn’d wild in nature.”

The words “minions of their race,” according to Steevens, mean the
favorite horses on the race-ground.

_Lion._ The traditions and stories of the darker ages abounded with
examples of the lion’s generosity. “Upon the supposition that these acts
of clemency were true, Troilus, in the passage below, reasons not
improperly (‘Troilus and Cressida,’ v. 3) that to spare against reason,
by mere instinct and pity, became rather a generous beast than a wise

    “Brother, you have a vice of mercy in you,
    Which better fits a lion than a man.”

    [434] Singer’s “Shakespeare,” 1875, vol. vii. p. 277.

It is recorded by Pliny[435] that “the lion alone of all wild animals is
gentle to those that humble themselves before him, and will not touch
any such upon their submission, but spareth what creature soever lieth
prostrate before him.” Hence Spenser’s Una, attended by a lion; and
Perceval’s lion, in “Morte d’Arthur” (bk. xiv. c. 6). Bartholomæus says
the lion’s “mercie is known by many and oft ensamples: for they spare
them that lie on the ground.” Shakespeare again alludes to this notion
in “As You Like It” (iv. 3):

                                  “for ’tis
    The royal disposition of that beast
    To prey on nothing that doth seem as dead.”

    [435] “Natural History,” bk. viii. c. 19.

It was also supposed that the lion would not injure a royal prince.
Hence, in “1 Henry IV.” (ii. 4) the Prince says: “You are lions too, you
ran away upon instinct, you will not touch the true prince; no, fie!”
The same notion is alluded to by Beaumont and Fletcher in “The Mad
Lover” (iv. 5):

    “Fetch the Numidian lion I brought over;
    If she be sprung from royal blood, the lion
    He’ll do you reverence, else—

       *       *       *       *       *

    He’ll tear her all to pieces.”

According to some commentators there is an allusion in “3 Henry VI.” (i.
3) to the practice of confining lions and keeping them without food that
they may devour criminals exposed to them:

    “So looks the pent-up lion o’er the wretch
    That trembles under his devouring paws.”

_Mole._ The eyes of the mole are so extremely minute, and so perfectly
hid in its hair, that our ancestors considered it blind—a vulgar error,
to which reference is made by Caliban in “The Tempest” (iv. 1):

    “Pray you, tread softly, that the blind mole may not
    Hear a foot fall.”

And again by Pericles (i. 1):

                   “The blind mole casts
    Copp’d hills towards heaven.”

Hence the expression “blind as a mole.” Alexander Ross[436] absurdly
speaks of the mole’s eyes as only the “forms of eyes,” given by nature
“rather for ornament than for use; as wings are given to the ostrich,
which never flies, and a long tail to the rat, which serves for no other
purpose but to be catched sometimes by it.” Sir Thomas Browne, however,
in his “Vulgar Errors” (bk. iii. c. xviii.),[437] has, with his usual
minuteness, disproved this idea, remarking “that they have eyes in their
head is manifested unto any that wants them not in his own.” A popular
term for the mole was the “moldwarp” or “mouldiwarp,”[438] so called
from the Anglo-Saxon, denoting turning the mould. Thus, in “1 Henry IV.”
(iii. 1) Hotspur says:

                     “sometime he angers me
    With telling me of the moldwarp and the ant.”

    [436] “Arcana Microcosmi,” p. 151.

    [437] 1852, vol. i. pp. 312-315.

    [438] See Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 577; Singer’s
    “Shakespeare,” vol. v. p. 77.

_Mouse._ This word was formerly used as a term of endearment, from
either sex to the other. In this sense it is used by Rosaline in “Love’s
Labour’s Lost” (v. 2):

    “What’s your dark meaning, mouse, of this light word?”

and again in “Hamlet” (iii. 4).

Some doubt exists as to the exact meaning of “Mouse-hunt,” by Lady
Capulet, in “Romeo and Juliet” (iv. 4):

    “Ay, you have been a mouse-hunt in your time,
    But I will watch you from such watching now.”

According to some, the expression implies “a hunter of gay women,” mouse
having been used in this signification.[439] Others are of opinion that
the stoat[440] is meant, the smallest of the weasel tribe, and others
again the polecat. Mr. Staunton[441] tells us that the mouse-hunt is the
marten, an animal of the weasel tribe which prowls about for its prey at
night, and is applied to any one of rakish propensities.

    [439] Halliwell-Phillipps’s “Handbook Index to Shakespeare,”
    1866, p. 331.

    [440] Forby’s “Vocabulary of East Anglia,” vol. ii. p. 222.

    [441] See Staunton’s “Shakespeare,” vol. i. p. 278.

Holinshed, in his “History of Scotland” (1577, p. 181), quotes from the
laws of Kenneth II., King of Scotland: “If a sowe eate her pigges, let
hyr be stoned to death and buried, that no man eate of hyr fleshe.” This
offence is probably alluded to by Shakespeare in “Macbeth” (iv. 1),
where the witch says:

    “Pour in sow’s blood, that hath eaten
    Her nine farrow.”

_Polecat_, or _Fitchew_. This animal is supposed to be very amorous; and
hence its name, Mr. Steevens says, was often applied to ladies of easy
or no virtue. In “Othello” (iv. 1) Cassio calls Bianca a “fitchew,” and
in “Troilus and Cressida” (v. 1) Thersites alludes to it.[442]

    [442] Cf. “King Lear,” iv. 6.

_Porcupine._ Another name for this animal was the porpentine, which
spelling occurs in “Hamlet” (i. 5):

    “Like quills upon the fretful porpentine.”

And again, in “2 Henry VI.” (iii. 1) York speaks of “a sharp-quill’d
porpentine.” Ajax, too, in “Troilus and Cressida” (ii. 1), applies the
term to Thersites: “do not, porpentine.” In the above passages, however,
and elsewhere, the word has been altered by editors to porcupine.
According to a popular error, the porcupine could dart his quills. They
are easily detached, very sharp, and slightly barbed, and may easily
stick to a person’s legs, when he is not aware that he is near enough to
touch them.[443]

    [443] See Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 673.

_Rabbit._ In “2 Henry IV.” (ii. 2) this animal is used as a term of
reproach, a sense in which it was known in Shakespeare’s day. The phrase
“cony-catch,” which occurs in “Taming of the Shrew” (v. 1)—“Take heed,
Signior Baptista, lest you be cony-catched in this business”—implied the
act of deceiving or cheating a simple person—the cony or rabbit being
considered a foolish animal.[444] It has been shown, from Dekker’s
“English Villanies,” that the system of cheating was carried to a great
length in the early part of the seventeenth century, that a collective
society of sharpers was called “a warren,” and their dupes
“rabbit-suckers,” _i. e._, young rabbit or conies.[445] Shakespeare has
once used the term to express harmless roguery, in the “Taming of the
Shrew” (iv. 1). When Grumio will not answer his fellow-servants, except
in a jesting way, Curtis says to him: “Come, you are so full of

    [444] Ibid., vol. ii. p. 189.

    [445] See D’Israeli’s “Curiosities of Literature,” vol. iii. p. 78.

_Rat._ The fanciful idea that rats were commonly rhymed to death, in
Ireland, is said to have arisen from some metrical charm or incantation,
used there for that purpose, to which there are constant allusions in
old writers. In the “Merchant of Venice” (iv. 1) Shylock says:

    “What if my house be troubled with a rat,
    And I be pleased to give ten thousand ducats
    To have it baned?”

And in “As You Like It” (iii. 2), Rosalind says: “I was never so
be-rhymed since Pythagoras’ time, that I was an Irish rat, which I can
hardly remember.” We find it mentioned by Ben Jonson in the “Poetaster”
(v. 1):

    “Rhime them to death, as they do Irish rats,
    In drumming tunes.”

“The reference, however, is generally referred, in Ireland,” says Mr.
Mackay, “to the supposed potency of the verses pronounced by the
professional rhymers of Ireland, which, according to popular
superstition, could not only drive rats to destruction, but could
absolutely turn a man’s face to the back of his head.”[446]

    [446] “The strange phrase and the superstition that arose out
    of it seem to have been produced by a mistranslation, by the
    English-speaking population of a considerable portion of
    Ireland, of two Celtic or Gaelic words, _ran_, to _roar_, to
    shriek, to bellow, to make a great noise on a wind instrument;
    and _rann_, to versify, to rhyme. It is well known that rats
    are scared by any great and persistent noise in the house which
    they infest. The Saxon English, as well as Saxon Irish, of
    Shakespeare’s time, confounding _rann_, a rhyme, with _ran_, a
    _roar_, fell into the error which led to the English phrase as
    used by Shakespeare.”—_Antiquarian Magazine and Bibliographer_,
    1882, vol. ii. p. 9. “On Some Obscure Words and Celtic Phrases
    in Shakespeare,” by Charles Mackay.

Sir W. Temple, in his “Essay on Poetry,” seems to derive the idea from
the Runic incantations, for, after speaking of them in various ways, he
adds, “and the proverb of rhyming rats to death, came, I suppose, from
the same root.”

According to a superstitious notion of considerable antiquity, rats
leaving a ship are considered indicative of misfortune to a vessel,
probably from the same idea that crows will not build upon trees that
are likely to fall. This idea is noticed by Shakespeare in “The Tempest”
(i. 2), where Prospero, describing the vessel in which himself and
daughter had been placed, with the view to their certain destruction at
sea, says:

                “they hurried us aboard a bark,
    Bore us some leagues to sea; where they prepared
    A rotten carcass of a boat, not rigg’d,
    Nor tackle, sail, nor mast; the very rats
    Instinctively have quit it.”

The _Shipping Gazette_ of April, 1869, contained a communication
entitled, “A Sailor’s Notion about Rats,” in which the following passage
occurs: “It is a well-authenticated fact that rats have often been known
to leave ships in the harbor previous to their being lost at sea. Some
of those wiseacres who want to convince us against the evidence of our
senses will call this superstition. As neither I have time, nor you
space, to cavil with such at present, I shall leave them alone in their
glory.” The fact, however, as Mr. Hardwick has pointed out in his
“Traditions, Superstitions, and Folk-lore” (1872, p. 251), that rats do
sometimes migrate from one ship to another, or from one barn or
corn-stack to another, from various causes, ought to be quite sufficient
to explain such a superstition. Indeed, a story is told of a cunning
Welsh captain who wanted to get rid of rats that infested his ship, then
lying in the Mersey, at Liverpool. Having found out that there was a
vessel laden with cheese in the basin, and getting alongside of her
about dusk, he left all his hatches open, and waited till all the rats
were in his neighbor’s ship, and then moved off.

_Snail._ A common amusement among children consists in charming snails,
in order to induce them to put out their horns—a couplet, such as the
following, being repeated on the occasion:

    “Peer out, peer out, peer out of your hole,
    Or else I’ll beat you as black as a coal.”

In Scotland, it is regarded as a token of fine weather if the snail obey
the command and put out its horn:[447]

    “Snailie, snailie, shoot out your horn,
    And tell us if it will be a bonnie day the morn.”

    [447] See “English Folk-Lore,” 1878, p. 120.

Shakespeare alludes to snail-charming in the “Merry Wives of Windsor”
(iv. 2), where Mrs. Page says of Mrs. Ford’s husband, he “so buffets
himself on the forehead, crying, _Peer out! peer out!_ that any madness
I ever yet beheld seemed but tameness, civility, and patience, to this
his distemper he is in now.” In “Comedy of Errors” (ii. 2), the snail is
used to denote a lazy person.

_Tiger._ It was an ancient belief that this animal roared and raged most
furiously in stormy and high winds—a piece of folk-lore alluded to in
“Troilus and Cressida” (i. 3), by Nestor, who says:

    “The herd hath more annoyance by the breese
    Than by the tiger; but when the splitting wind
    Makes flexible the knees of knotted oaks,
    And flies fled under shade, why then, the thing of courage,
    As roused with rage, with rage doth sympathize.”

_Unicorn._ In “Julius Cæsar” (ii. 1) Decius tells how “unicorns may be
betray’d with trees,” alluding to their traditionary mode of capture.
They are reported to have been taken by one who, running behind a tree,
eluded the violent push the animal was making at him, so that his horn
spent its force on the trunk, and stuck fast, detaining the animal till
he was despatched by the hunter.[448] In Topsell’s “History of Beasts”
(1658, p. 557), we read of the unicorn: “He is an enemy to the lions,
wherefore, as soon as ever a lion seeth a unicorn, he runneth to a tree
for succour, that so when the unicorn maketh force at him, he may not
only avoid his horn, but also destroy him; for the unicorn, in the
swiftness of his course, runneth against the tree, wherein his sharp
horn sticketh fast, that when the lion seeth the unicorn fastened by the
horn, without all danger he falleth upon him and killeth him.” With this
passage we may compare the following from Spenser’s “Fairy Queen” (bk.
ii. canto 5):

    “Like as a lyon, whose imperiall power
    A prowd rebellious unicorn defyes,
    T’ avoide the rash assault and wrathful stowre
    Of his fiers foe, him to a tree applyes,
    And when him ronning in full course he spyes,
    He slips aside: the whiles that furious beast
    His precious horne, sought of his enimyes
    Strikes in the stocke, ne thence can be releast,
    But to the mighty victor yields a bounteous feast.”

    [448] See Brewer’s “Dictionary of Phrase and Fable,” p. 922.

_Weasel._ To meet a weasel was formerly considered a bad omen.[449] That
may be a tacit allusion to this superstition in “Lucrece” (l. 307):

    “Night-wandering weasels shriek to see him there;
    They fright him, yet he still pursues his fear.”

    [449] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. iii. p. 283.

It appears that weasels were kept in houses, instead of cats, for the
purpose of killing vermin. Phædrus notices this their feline office in
the first and fourth fables of his fourth book. The supposed
quarrelsomeness of this animal is spoken of by Pisanio in “Cymbeline”
(iii. 4), who tells Imogen that she must be “as quarrelous as the
weasel;” and in “1 Henry IV.” (ii. 3), Lady Percy says to Hotspur:

    “A weasel hath not such a deal of spleen
    As you are toss’d with.”

This character of the weasel is not, however, generally mentioned by



That Shakespeare possessed an extensive knowledge of the history and
superstitions associated with flowers is evident, from even only a
slight perusal of his plays. Apart from the extensive use which he has
made of these lovely objects of nature for the purpose of embellishing,
or adding pathos to, passages here and there, he has also, with a master
hand, interwoven many a little legend or superstition, thereby infusing
an additional force into his writings. Thus we know with what effect he
has made use of the willow in “Othello,” in that touching passage where
Desdemona (iv. 3), anticipating her death, relates how her mother had a
maid called Barbara:

    “She was in love; and he she lov’d prov’d mad,
    And did forsake her; she had a song of willow,
    An old thing ’twas, but it expressed her fortune,
    And she died singing it: that song, to-night,
    Will not go from my mind.”

In a similar manner Shakespeare has frequently introduced flowers with a
wonderful aptness, as in the case of poor Ophelia. Those, however,
desirous of gaining a good insight into Shakespeare’s knowledge of
flowers, as illustrated by his plays, would do well to consult Mr.
Ellacombe’s exhaustive work on the “Plant-Lore of Shakespeare,” a book
to which we are much indebted in the following pages, as also to Mr.
Beisly’s “Shakespeare’s Garden.”

_Aconite._[450] This plant, from the deadly virulence of its juice,
which, Mr. Turner says, “is of all poysones the most hastie poysone,”
is compared by Shakespeare to gunpowder, as in “2 Henry IV.” (iv. 4):

      “the united vessel of their blood,
    Mingled with venom of suggestion,
    As, force perforce, the age will pour it in,
    Shall never leak, though it do work as strong
    As aconitum, or rash gunpowder.”

    [450] _Aconitum napellus_, Wolf’s-bane or Monk’s-hood.

It is, too, probably alluded to in the following passage in “Romeo and
Juliet” (v. 1), where Romeo says:

                                   “let me have
    A dram of poison; such soon-speeding gear
    As will disperse itself through all the veins,
    That the life-weary taker may fall dead;
    And that the trunk may be discharg’d of breath
    As violently, as hasty powder fir’d
    Doth hurry from the fatal cannon’s womb.”

According to Ovid, it derived its name from growing upon rock
(Metamorphoses, bk. vii. l. 418):

    “Quæ, quia nascuntur, dura vivacia caute,
    Agrestes aconita vocant.”

It is probably derived from the Greek ἀκόνιτος, “without a struggle,” in
allusion to the intensity of its poisonous qualities. Vergil[451] speaks
of it, and tells us how the aconite deceives the wretched gatherers,
because often mistaken for some harmless plant.[452] The ancients fabled
it as the invention of Hecate,[453] who caused the plant to spring from
the foam of Cerberus, when Hercules dragged him from the gloomy regions
of Pluto. Ovid pictures the stepdame as preparing a deadly potion of
aconite (Metamorphoses, bk. i. l. 147):

    “Lurida terribiles miscent aconita novercæ.”

    [451] “Miseros fallunt aconita legentis” (Georgics, bk. ii. l. 152).

    [452] See Ellacombe’s “Plant-Lore of Shakespeare,” 1878, pp. 7, 8.

    [453] Dr. Prior’s “Popular Names of British Plants,” 1870, pp.
    1, 2.

In hunting, the ancients poisoned their arrows with this venomous plant,
as “also when following their mortal brutal trade of slaughtering their
fellow-creatures.”[454] Numerous instances are on record of fatal
results through persons eating this plant. In the “Philosophical
Transactions” (1732, vol. xxxvii.) we read of a man who was poisoned in
that year, by eating some of it in a salad, instead of celery. Dr.
Turner mentions the case of some Frenchmen at Antwerp, who, eating the
shoots of this plant for masterwort, all died, with the exception of
two, in forty-eight hours. The aconitum is equally pernicious to

    [454] Phillips, “Flora Historica,” 1829, vol. ii. pp. 122, 128.

_Anemone._ This favorite flower of early spring is probably alluded to
in the following passage of “Venus and Adonis:”

    “By this, the boy that by her side lay kill’d
    Was melted like a vapour from her sight;
    And in his blood, that on the ground lay spill’d,
    A purple flower sprung up, chequer’d with white,
      Resembling well his pale cheeks, and the blood
      Which in round drops upon their whiteness stood.”

According to Bion, it is said to have sprung from the tears that Venus
wept over the body of Adonis:

    “Alas, the Paphian! fair Adonis slain!
    Tears plenteous as his blood she pours amain,
    But gentle flowers are born, and bloom around;
    From every drop that falls upon the ground
    Where streams his blood, there blushing springs the rose,
    And where a tear has dropp’d a wind-flower blows.”

Other classical writers make the anemone to be the flower of Adonis. Mr.
Ellacombe[455] says that although Shakespeare does not actually name the
anemone, yet the evidence is in favor of this plant. The “purple color,”
he adds, is no objection, for purple in Shakespeare’s time had a very
wide signification, meaning almost any bright color, just as “purpureus”
had in Latin.[456]

    [455] “Plant-Lore of Shakespeare,” pp. 10, 11.

    [456] Phillips, “Flora Historica,” 1829, vol. i. p. 104.

_Apple._ Although Shakespeare has so frequently introduced the apple
into his plays, yet he has abstained from alluding to the extensive
folk-lore associated with this favorite fruit. Indeed, beyond mentioning
some of the popular nicknames by which the apple was known in his day,
little is said about it. The term apple was not originally confined to
the fruit now so called, but was a generic name applied to any fruit, as
we still speak of the love-apple, pine-apple, etc.[457] So when
Shakespeare (Sonnet xciii.) makes mention of Eve’s apple, he simply
means that it was some fruit that grew in Eden:

    “How like Eve’s apple doth thy beauty grow,
    If thy sweet virtue answer not thy show.”

    [457] Ellacombe’s “Plant-Lore of Shakespeare,” p. 13.

(_a_) The “apple-John,” called in France _deux-années_ or _deux-ans_,
because it will keep two years, and considered to be in perfection when
shrivelled and withered,[458] is evidently spoken of in “1 Henry IV.”
(iii. 3), where Falstaff says: “My skin hangs about me like an old
lady’s loose gown; I am withered like an old apple-John.” In “2 Henry
IV.” (ii. 4) there is a further allusion:

    “_1st Drawer._ What the devil hast thou brought there?
    apple-Johns? thou know’st Sir John cannot endure an

    _2d Drawer._ Mass, thou sayest true. The prince once set a
    dish of apple-Johns before him, and told him there were five
    more Sir Johns, and, putting off his hat, said, ‘I will now
    take my leave of these six dry, round, old, withered

    [458] Dyce’s “Glossary to Shakespeare,” p. 15.

This apple, too, is well described by Phillips (“Cider,” bk. i.):

    “Nor John Apple, whose wither’d rind, entrench’d
    By many a furrow, aptly represents
    Decrepit age.”

In Ben Jonson’s “Bartholomew Fair” (i. 1), where Littlewit encourages
Quarlus to kiss his wife, he says: “she may call you an apple-John if
you use this.” Here apple-John[459] evidently means a procuring John,
besides the allusion to the fruit so called.[460]

    [459] See Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 29; probably
    synonymous with the term “apple-Squire,” which formerly
    signified a pimp.

    [460] Forby, in his “Vocabulary of East Anglia,” says of this
    apple, “we retain the name, but whether we mean the same
    variety of fruit which was so called in Shakespeare’s time, it
    is not possible to ascertain.”

(_b_) The “bitter-sweet, or sweeting,” to which Mercutio alludes in
“Romeo and Juliet” (ii. 4): “Thy wit is a very bitter sweeting; it is a
most sharp sauce;” was apparently a favorite apple, which furnished many
allusions to poets. Gower, in his “Confessio Amantis” (1554, fol. 174),
speaks of it:

    “For all such time of love is lore
    And like unto the _bitter swete_,
    For though it thinke a man first sweete,
    He shall well felen atte laste
    That it is sower, and maie not laste.”

The name is “now given to an apple of no great value as a table fruit,
but good as a cider apple, and for use in silk dyeing.”[461]

    [461] Ellacombe’s “Plant-Lore of Shakespeare,” p. 16; Dyce’s
    “Glossary,” p. 430; Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 81; Coles’s
    “Latin and English Dictionary.” “A bitter-suete

(_c_) The “crab,” roasted before the fire and put into ale, was a very
favorite indulgence, especially at Christmas, in days gone by, and is
referred to in the song of winter in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (v. 2):

    “When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl
    Then nightly sings the staring owl.”

The beverage thus formed was called “Lambs-wool,” and generally
consisted of ale, nutmeg, sugar, toast, and roasted crabs, or apples. It
formed the ingredient of the wassail-bowl;[462] and also of the gossip’s
bowl[463] alluded to in “Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (ii. 1), where Puck

    “And sometime lurk I in a gossip’s bowl,
    In very likeness of a roasted crab,
    And when she drinks, against her lips I bob,
    And on her wither’d dewlap pour the ale.”

    [462] See chapter xi., Customs connected with the Calendar.

    [463] See chapter on Customs connected with Birth and Baptism.

In Peele’s “Old Wives’ Tale,” it is said:

    “Lay a crab in the fire to roast for lamb’s wool.”[464]

    [464] Edited by Dyce, 1861, p. 446. Many fanciful derivations
    for this word have been thought of, but it was no doubt named
    from its smoothness and softness, resembling the wool of lambs.

And in Herrick’s “Poems:”

        “Now crowne the bowle
         With gentle lamb’s wooll,
    Add sugar, and nutmegs, and ginger.”

(_d_) The “codling,” spoken of by Malvolio in “Twelfth Night” (i.
5)—“Not yet old enough for a man, nor young enough for a boy; as a
squash is before ’tis a peascod, or a codling when ’tis almost an
apple”—is not the variety now so called, but was the popular term for an
immature apple, such as would require cooking to be eaten, being derived
from “coddle,” to stew or boil lightly—hence it denoted a boiling apple,
an apple for coddling or boiling.[465] Mr. Gifford[466] says that
codling was used by our old writers for that early state of vegetation
when the fruit, after shaking off the blossom, began to assume a
globular and determinate form.

    [465] Dr. Prior’s “Popular Names of British Plants,” 1870, p. 50.

    [466] Note on Jonson’s Works, vol. iv. p. 24.

(_e_) The “leather-coat” was the apple generally known as “the golden
russeting.”[467] Davy, in “2 Henry IV.” (v. 3), says: “There is a dish
of leather-coats for you.”

    [467] Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 242.

(_f_) The “pippin” was formerly a common term for an apple, to which
reference is made in “Hudibras Redivivus” (1705):

    “A goldsmith telling o’er his cash,
    A pipping-monger selling trash.”

In Taylor’s “Workes”[468] (1630) we read:

    “Lord, who would take him for a pippin squire,
    That’s so bedaub’d with lace and rich attire?”

    [468] Quoted by Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 662.

Mr. Ellacombe[469] says the word “pippin” denoted an apple raised from
pips and not from grafts, and “is now, and probably was in Shakespeare’s
time, confined to the bright-colored long-keeping apples of which the
golden pippin is the type.” Justice Shallow, in “2 Henry IV.” (v. 3),
says: “Nay, you shall see my orchard, where, in an arbour, we will eat a
last year’s pippin of my own graffing.”

    [469] “Plant-Lore of Shakespeare,” p. 16.

(_g_) The “pomewater” was a species of apple evidently of a juicy
nature, and hence of high esteem in Shakespeare’s time; for in “Love’s
Labour’s Lost” (iv. 2) Holofernes says: “The deer was, as you know,
_sanguis_—in blood; ripe as the pomewater, who now hangeth like a jewel
in the ear of _cœlo_—the sky, the welkin, the heaven; and anon falleth
like a crab on the face of _terra_—the soil, the land, the earth.”

Parkinson[470] tells us the “pomewater” is an excellent, good, and great
whitish apple, full of sap or moisture, somewhat pleasant, sharp, but a
little bitter withal; it will not last long, the winter’s frost soon
causing it to rot and perish.

    [470] “Theatrum Botanicum,” 1640.

It appears that apples and caraways were formerly always eaten together;
and it is said that they are still served up on particular days at
Trinity College, Cambridge. This practice is probably alluded to by
Justice Shallow, in the much-disputed passage in “2 Henry IV.” (v. 3),
when he speaks of eating “a last year’s pippin, ... with a dish of
carraways.” The phrase, too, seems further explained by the following
quotations from Cogan’s “Haven of Health” (1599). After stating the
virtues of the seed, and some of its uses, he says: “For the same
purpose _careway seeds_ are used to be made in comfits, and to be eaten
with apples, and surely very good for that purpose, for all such things
as breed wind would be eaten with other things that break wind.” Again,
in his chapter on Apples, he says: “Howbeit wee are wont to eat
carrawaies or biskets, or some other kind of comfits, or seeds together
with apples, thereby to breake winde ingendred by them, and surely this
is a verie good way for students.” Mr. Ellacombe,[471] however,
considers that in “the dish of carraways,” mentioned by Justice Shallow,
neither caraway seeds, nor cakes made of caraways, are meant, but the
caraway or caraway-russet apple. Most of the commentators are in favor
of one of the former explanations. Mr. Dyce[472] reads caraways in the
sense of comfits or confections made with caraway-seeds, and quotes from
Shadwell’s “Woman-Captain” the following: “The fruit, crab-apples,
sweetings, and horse-plumbs; and for confections, a few carraways in a
small sawcer, as if his worship’s house had been a lousie inn.”

    [471] “Plant-Lore of Shakespeare,” pp. 17, 37.

    [472] “Glossary,” pp. 65, 66.

_Apricot._ This word, which is spelled by Shakespeare “apricock,” occurs
in “Richard II.” (iii. 4), where the gardener says:

    “Go, bind thou up yond dangling apricocks,
    Which, like unruly children, make their sire
    Stoop with oppression of their prodigal weight.”

And in “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (iii. 1) Titania gives directions:

    “Be kind and courteous to this gentleman,

       *       *       *       *       *

    Feed him with apricocks, and dewberries.”

The spelling “apricock”[473] is derived from the Latin _præcox_, or
_præcoquus_; and it was called “the precocious tree,” because it
flowered and fruited earlier than the peach. The term “apricock” is
still in use in Northamptonshire.

    [473] See “Notes and Queries,” 2d series, bk. i. p. 420.

_Aspen._ According to a mediæval legend, the perpetual motion of this
tree dates from its having supplied the wood of the Cross, and that its
leaves have trembled ever since at the recollection of their guilt. De
Quincey, in his essay on “Modern Superstition,” says that this belief is
coextensive with Christendom. The following verses,[474] after telling
how other trees were passed by in the choice of wood for the Cross,
describe the hewing down of the aspen, and the dragging of it from the
forest to Calvary:

    “On the morrow stood she, trembling
      At the awful weight she bore,
    When the sun in midnight blackness
      Darkened on Judea’s shore.

    “Still, when not a breeze is stirring,
      When the mist sleeps on the hill,
    And all other trees are moveless,
      Stands the aspen, trembling still.”

    [474] See Henderson’s “Folk-Lore of Northern Counties,” 1879,
    pp. 151, 152.

The Germans, says Mr. Henderson, have a theory of their own, embodied in
a little poem, which may be thus translated:

    “Once, as our Saviour walked with men below,
      His path of mercy through a forest lay;
    And mark how all the drooping branches show,
      What homage best a silent tree may pay.

    “Only the aspen stands erect and free,
      Scorning to join that voiceless worship pure;
    But see! He casts one look upon the tree,
      Struck to the heart she trembles evermore!”

Another legend tells us[475] that the aspen was said to have been the
tree on which Judas hanged himself after the betrayal of his Master, and
ever since its leaves have trembled with shame. Shakespeare twice
alludes to the trembling of the aspen. In “Titus Andronicus” (ii. 4)
Marcus exclaims:

    “O, had the monster seen those lily hands
    Tremble, like aspen leaves, upon a lute;”

and in “2 Henry IV.” (ii. 4) the hostess says: “Feel, masters, how I
shake. Yea, in very truth, do I, an ’twere an aspen leaf.”

    [475] Napier’s “Folk-Lore of West of Scotland,” 1879, p. 124.

_Bachelor’s Buttons._ This was a name given to several flowers, and
perhaps in Shakespeare’s time was more loosely applied to any flower in
bud. It is now usually understood to be a _double variety_ of
ranunculus; according to others, the _Lychnis sylvestris_; and in some
counties it is applied to the _Scabiosa succisa_.[476] According to
Gerarde, this plant was so called from the similitude of its flowers “to
the jagged cloathe buttons, anciently worne in this kingdome.” It was
formerly supposed, by country people, to have some magical effect upon
the fortunes of lovers. Hence it was customary for young people to carry
its flowers in their pockets, judging of their good or bad success in
proportion as these retained or lost their freshness. It is to this sort
of divination that Shakespeare probably refers in “Merry Wives of
Windsor” (iii. 2), where he makes the hostess say, “What say you to
young Master Fenton? he capers, he dances, he has eyes of youth, he
writes verses, he speaks holiday, he smells April and May; he will carry
’t, he will carry ’t; ’tis in his buttons; he will carry ’t.” Mr.
Warter, in one of his notes in Southey’s “Commonplace Book” (1851, 4th
series, p. 244), says that this practice was common in his time, in
Shropshire and Staffordshire. The term “to wear bachelor’s buttons”
seems to have grown into a phrase for being unmarried.[477]

    [476] Dr. Prior’s “Popular Names of British Plants,” p. 13.

    [477] Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 45.

_Balm._ From very early times the balm, or balsam, has been valued for
its curative properties, and, as such, is alluded to in “Troilus and
Cressida” (i. 1):

    “But, saying thus, instead of oil and balm,
    Thou lay’st in every gash that love hath given me
    The knife that made it.”

In “3 Henry VI.” (iv. 8) King Henry says:[478]

    “My pity hath been balm to heal their wounds.”

    [478] See “Richard III.,” i. 2; “Timon of Athens,” iii. 5.

Alcibiades, in “Timon of Athens” (iii. 5), says:

    “Is this the balsam, that the usuring senate
    Pours into captains’ wounds? Banishment!”

Macbeth, too, in the well-known passage ii. 2, introduces it:

    “Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleave of care,
    The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath,
    Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
    Chief nourisher in life’s feast.”

As the oil of consecration[479] it is spoken of by King Richard
(“Richard II.,” iii. 2):

    “Not all the water in the rough rude sea
    Can wash the balm from an anointed king.”

    [479] See “2 Henry IV.,” iv. 5.

And again, in “3 Henry VI.” (iii. 1), King Henry, when in disguise,
speaks thus:

    “Thy place is fill’d, thy sceptre wrung from thee,
    Thy balm wash’d off wherewith thou wast anointed:
    No bending knee will call thee Cæsar now.”

The origin of balsam, says Mr. Ellacombe,[480] “was for a long time a
secret, but it is now known to have been the produce of several
gum-bearing trees, especially the _Pistacia lentiscus_ and the
_Balsamodendron Gileadense_, and now, as then, the name is not strictly
confined to the produce of any one plant.”

    [480] “Plant-Lore of Shakespeare,” p. 22.

_Barley._ The barley broth, of which the Constable, in “Henry V.” (iii.
5), spoke so contemptuously as the food of English soldiers, was
probably beer,[481] which long before the time of Henry was so
celebrated that it gave its name to the plant (barley being simply the

                              “Can sodden water,
    A drench for sur-rein’d jades, their barley broth,
    Decoct their cold blood to such valiant heat?”

    [481] Ellacombe’s “Plant-Lore of Shakespeare,” p. 23.

_Bay-tree._ The withering and death of this tree were reckoned a
prognostic of evil, both in ancient and modern times, a notion[482] to
which Shakespeare refers in “Richard II.” (ii. 4):

    “’Tis thought, the king is dead; we will not stay.
    The bay-trees in our country are all wither’d”

—having obtained it probably from Holinshed, who says: “In this yeare,
in a manner throughout all the realme of Englande, old baie trees
withered.” Lupton, in his “Syxt Booke of Notable Things,” mentions this
as a bad omen: “Neyther falling-sickness, neyther devyll, wyll infest or
hurt one in that place whereas a bay-tree is. The Romaynes call it the
plant of the good angel.”[483]

    [482] See Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 32.

    [483] See also Evelyn’s “Sylva,” 1776, p. 396.

_Camomile._ It was formerly imagined that this plant grew the more
luxuriantly for being frequently trodden or pressed down; a notion
alluded to in “1 Henry IV.” (ii. 4) by Falstaff: “For though the
camomile, the more it is trodden on the faster it grows, yet youth, the
more it is wasted, the sooner it wears.” Nares[484] considers that the
above was evidently written in ridicule of the following passage, in a
book very fashionable in Shakespeare’s day, Lyly’s “Euphues,” of which
it is a parody: “Though the camomile, the more it is trodden and pressed
down, the more it spreadeth; yet the violet, the oftener it is handled
and touched, the sooner it withereth and decayeth,” etc.

    [484] “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 150; see Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 63.

_Clover._ According to Johnson, the “honey-stalks” in the following
passage (“Titus Andronicus,” iv. 4) are “clover-flowers, which contain a
sweet juice.” It is not uncommon for cattle to overcharge themselves
with clover, and die, hence the allusion by Tamora:

    “I will enchant the old Andronicus
    With words more sweet, and yet more dangerous,
    Than baits to fish, or honey-stalks to sheep.”

_Columbine._ This was anciently termed “a thankless flower,” and was
also emblematical of forsaken lovers. It is somewhat doubtful to what
Ophelia alludes in “Hamlet” (iv. 5), where she seems to address the
king: “There’s fennel for you, and columbines.” Perhaps she regarded it
as symbolical of ingratitude.

_Crow-flowers._ This name, which in Shakespeare’s time was applied to
the “ragged robin,” is now used for the buttercup. It was one of the
flowers that poor Ophelia wove into her garland (“Hamlet,” iv. 7):

    “There with fantastic garlands did she come
    Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples.”

_Cuckoo-buds._ Commentators are uncertain to what flower Shakespeare
refers in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (v. 2):

    “When daisies pied and violets blue,
      And lady-smocks all silver-white,
    And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
      Do paint the meadows with delight.”

Mr. Miller, in his “Gardener’s Dictionary,” says that the flower here
alluded to is the _Ranunculus bulbosus_; but Mr. Beisly, in his
“Shakespeare’s Garden,” considers it to be the _Ranunculus ficaria_
(lesser celandine), or pile-wort, as this flower appears earlier in
spring, and is in bloom at the same time as the other flowers named in
the song. Mr. Swinfen Jervis, however, in his “Dictionary of the
Language of Shakespeare” (1868), decides in favor of cowslips:[485] and
Dr. Prior suggests the buds of the crowfoot. At the present day the
nickname cuckoo-bud is assigned to the meadow cress (_Cardamine

    [485] See Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 212.

_Cuckoo-flowers._ By this flower, Mr. Beisly[486] says, the ragged robin
is meant, a well-known meadow and marsh plant, with rose-colored flowers
and deeply-cut, narrow segments. It blossoms at the time the cuckoo
comes, hence one of its names. In “King Lear” (iv. 4) Cordelia narrates

                         “he was met even now
    As mad as the vex’d sea; singing aloud;
    Crown’d with rank fumiter, and furrow weeds,
    With burdocks, hemlock, nettles, cuckoo-flowers,
    Darnel, and all the idle weeds that grow
    In our sustaining corn.”

    [486] “Shakespeare’s Garden,” p. 143.

_Cypress._ From the earliest times the cypress has had a mournful
history, being associated with funerals and churchyards, and as such is
styled by Spenser “cypress funereal.”

In Quarles’s “Argalus and Parthenia” (1726, bk. iii.) a knight is
introduced, whose

                           “horse was black as jet,
    His furniture was round about beset
    With branches slipt from the sad cypress tree.”

Formerly coffins were frequently made of cypress wood, a practice to
which Shakespeare probably alludes in “Twelfth Night” (ii. 4), where the
Clown says: “In sad cypress let me be laid.” Some, however, prefer[487]
understanding cypress to mean “a shroud of cyprus or cypress”—a fine,
transparent stuff, similar to crape, either white or black, but more
commonly the latter.[488] Douce[489] thinks that the expression “laid”
seems more applicable to a coffin than to a shroud, and also adds that
the shroud is afterwards expressly mentioned by itself.

    [487] See “Winter’s Tale,” iv. 4:

        “Lawn as white as driven snow;
        Cyprus black as e’er was crow.”

    Its transparency is alluded to in “Twelfth Night,” iii. 1:

                   “a cyprus, not a bosom,
        Hides my heart.”

    [488] See Dyce’s “Glossary,” 1872, p. 113.

    [489] Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” 1839, p. 56. See
    Mr. Gough’s “Introduction to Sepulchral Monuments,” p. lxvi.;
    also Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 221.

_Daffodil._ The daffodil of Shakespeare is the wild daffodil which grows
so abundantly in many parts of England. Perdita, in “Winter’s Tale” (iv.
4), mentions a little piece of weather-lore, and tells us how

    That come before the swallow dares, and take
    The winds of March with beauty.”

And Autolycus, in the same play (iv. 3), sings thus:

    “When daffodils begin to peer,—
      With, heigh! the doxy over the dale,
    Why, then comes in the sweet o’ the year.”

_Darnel._ This plant, like the cockle, was used in Shakespeare’s day to
denote any hurtful weed. Newton,[490] in his “Herbal to the Bible,” says
that “under the name of cockle and darnel is comprehended all vicious,
noisome, and unprofitable graine, encombring and hindering good corne.”
Thus Cordelia, in “King Lear” (iv. 4), says:

    “Darnel, and all the idle weeds that grow
    In our sustaining corn.”

    [490] See Dr. Prior’s “Popular Names of British Plants,” 1870,
    p. 63.

According to Gerarde, “darnel hurteth the eyes, and maketh them dim, if
it happen either in corne for breade or drinke.” Hence, it is said,
originated the old proverb, “lolio victitare”—applied to such as were
dim-sighted. Steevens considers that Pucelle, in the following passage
from “1 Henry VI.” (iii. 2), alludes to this property of the
darnel—meaning to intimate that the corn she carried with her had
produced the same effect on the guards of Rouen, otherwise they would
have seen through her disguise and defeated her stratagem:

    “Good morrow, gallants! want ye corn for bread?
    I think the Duke of Burgundy will fast,
    Before he’ll buy again at such a rate:
    ’Twas full of darnel: do you like the taste?”

_Date._ This fruit of the palm-tree was once a common ingredient in all
kinds of pastry, and some other dishes, and often supplied a pun for
comedy, as, for example, in “All’s Well That Ends Well” (i. 1), where
Parolles says: “Your date is better in your pie and your porridge, than
in your cheek.” And in “Troilus and Cressida” (i. 2): “Ay, a minced man;
and then to be baked with no date in the pie; for then the man’s date’s

_Ebony._ The wood of this tree was regarded as the typical emblem of
darkness; the tree itself, however, was unknown in this country in
Shakespeare’s time. It is mentioned in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (iv. 3):

      “_King._ By heaven, thy love is black as ebony.

      _Biron._ Is ebony like her? O wood divine!
    A wife of such wood were felicity.”

In the same play we read of “the ebon-coloured ink” (i. 1), and in
“Venus and Adonis” (948) of “Death’s ebon dart.”

_Elder._ This plant, while surrounded by an extensive folk-lore, has
from time immemorial possessed an evil reputation, and been regarded as
one of bad omen. According to a popular tradition “Judas was hanged on
an elder,” a superstition mentioned by Biron in “Love’s Labour’s Lost”
(v. 2); and also by Ben Jonson in “Every Man Out of His Humour” (iv. 4):
“He shall be your Judas, and you shall be his elder-tree to hang on.” In
“Piers Plowman’s Vision” (ll. 593-596) we are told how

    “Judas, he japed
    With jewen silver,
    And sithen on an eller
    Hanged hymselve.”

So firmly rooted was this belief in days gone by that Sir John
Mandeville tells us in his Travels, which he wrote in 1364, that he was
actually shown the identical tree at Jerusalem, “And faste by is zit,
the tree of Elder that Judas henge himself upon, for despeyr that he
hadde when he solde and betrayed oure Lord.” This tradition no doubt, in
a great measure, helped to give it its bad fame, causing it to be spoken
of as “the stinking elder.” Shakespeare makes it an emblem of grief. In
“Cymbeline” (iv. 2) Arviragus says:

                            “Grow, patience!
    And let the stinking elder, grief, untwine
    His perishing root with the increasing vine!”

The dwarf elder[491] (_Sambucus ebulus_) is said only to grow where
blood has been shed either in battle or in murder. The Welsh call it
“Llysan gward gwyr,” or “plant of the blood of man.” Shakespeare,
perhaps, had this piece of folk-lore in mind when he represents
Bassianus, in “Titus Andronicus” (ii. 4), as killed at a pit beneath an

    “This is the pit and this the elder tree.”

    [491] “Flower-Lore,” p. 35.

_Eringoes._ These were formerly said to be strong provocatives, and as
such are mentioned by Falstaff in “Merry Wives of Windsor” (v. 5): “Let
the sky rain potatoes; let it thunder to the tune of Green Sleeves, hail
kissing comfits, and snow eringoes.” Mr. Ellacombe[492] thinks that in
this passage the globe artichoke is meant, “which is a near ally of the
eryngium, and was a favorite dish in Shakespeare’s time.”

    [492] “Plant-Lore of Shakespeare,” p. 66.

_Fennel._ This was generally considered as an inflammatory herb; and to
eat “conger and fennel” was “to eat two high and hot things together,”
which was an act of libertinism.[493] Thus in “2 Henry IV.” (ii. 4)
Falstaff says of Poins, he “eats conger and fennel.” Mr. Beisly
states[494] that fennel was used as a sauce with fish hard of digestion,
being aromatic, and as the old writers term it, “hot in the third
degree.” One of the herbs distributed by poor Ophelia, in her
distraction, is fennel, which she offers either as a cordial or as an
emblem of flattery: “There’s fennel for you, and columbines.”

    [493] Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 302; Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 159.

    [494] “Shakspere’s Garden,” p. 158.

Mr. Staunton, however, considers that fennel here signifies _lust_,
while Mr. Beisly thinks its reputed property of clearing the sight is
alluded to. It is more probable that it denotes flattery; especially as,
in Shakespeare’s time, it was regarded as emblematical of flattery. In
this sense it is often quoted by old writers. In Greene’s “Quip for an
Upstart Courtier,” we read, “Fennell I meane for flatterers.” In “Phyala
Lachrymarum”[495] we find:

    “Nor fennel-finkle bring for flattery,
    Begot of his, and fained courtesie.”

    [495] Quoted in Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 303.

_Fern._ According to a curious notion fern-seed was supposed to possess
the power of rendering persons invisible. Hence it was a most important
object of superstition, being gathered mystically, especially on
Midsummer Eve. It was believed at one time to have neither flower nor
seed; the seed, which lay on the back of the leaf, being so small as to
escape the detection of the hasty observer. On this account, probably,
proceeding on the fantastic doctrine of signatures, our ancestors
derived the notion that those who could obtain and wear this invisible
seed would be themselves invisible: a belief which is referred to in “1
Henry IV.” (ii. 1):

    “_Gadshill._ We have the receipt of fern-seed, we walk

    _Chamberlain._ Nay, by my faith, I think you are more
    beholding to the night, than to fern-seed, for your walking

This superstition is mentioned by many old writers; a proof of its
popularity in times past. It is alluded to in Beaumont and Fletcher’s
“Fair Maid of the Inn” (i. 1):

    “Did you think that you had Gyges’ ring?
    Or the herb that gives invisibility?”

Again, in Ben Jonson’s “New Inn” (i. 1):

                          “I had
    No medicine, sir, to go invisible,
    No fern-seed in my pocket.”

As recently as Addison’s day, we are told in the _Tatler_ (No. 240) that
“it was impossible to walk the streets without having an advertisement
thrust into your hand of a doctor who had arrived at the knowledge of
the green and red dragon, and had discovered the female fern-seed.”[496]

    [496] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. i. pp. 314-316.

_Fig._ Formerly the term fig served as a common expression of contempt,
and was used to denote a thing of the least importance. Hence the
popular phrase, “not to care a fig for one;” a sense in which it is
sometimes used by Shakespeare, who makes Pistol say, in “Merry Wives of
Windsor” (i. 3), “a fico for the phrase!” and in “Henry V.” (iii. 6)
Pistol exclaims, “figo for thy friendship!” In “Othello” (i. 3) Iago
says, “Virtue! a fig!”

The term “to give or make the fig,” as an expression of insult, has for
many ages been very prevalent among the nations of Europe, and,
according to Douce,[497] was known to the Romans. It consists in
thrusting the thumb between two of the closed fingers, or into the
mouth, a practice, as some say,[498] in allusion to a contemptuous
punishment inflicted on the Milanese, by the Emperor Frederic
Barbarossa, in 1162, when he took their city. This, however, is
altogether improbable, the real origin, no doubt, being a coarse
representation of a disease, to which the name of _ficus_ or fig has
always been given.[499]

    [497] “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” pp. 302-308.

    [498] See Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 305.

    [499] See Gifford’s note on Jonson’s Works, vol. i. p. 52;
    Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 161; Du Cange’s “Glossary;” Connelly’s
    “Spanish and English Dictionary,” 4to.

The “fig of Spain,” spoken of in “Henry V.” (iii. 6), may either allude
to the poisoned fig employed in Spain as a secret way of destroying an
obnoxious person, as in Webster’s “White Devil:”[500]

    “I do look now for a Spanish fig, or an Italian salad, daily;”

and in Shirley’s “Brothers:”[501]

          “I must poison him;
    One fig sends him to Erebus;”

or it may, as Mr. Dyce remarks,[502] simply denote contempt or insult in
the sense already mentioned.

    [500] Edited by Dyce, 1857, p. 30.

    [501] Edited by Gifford and Dyce, vol. i. p. 231.

    [502] “Glossary,” p. 161.

_Flower-de-luce._ The common purple iris which adorns our gardens is now
generally agreed upon as the fleur-de-luce, a corruption of fleur de
Louis—being spelled either fleur-de-lys or fleur-de-lis. It derives its
name from Louis VII., King of France, who chose this flower as his
heraldic emblem when setting forth on his crusade to the Holy Land. It
had already been used by the other French kings, and by the emperors of
Constantinople; but it is still a matter of dispute among antiquarians
as to what it was originally intended to represent. Some say a flower,
some a toad, some a halbert-head. It is uncertain what plant is referred
to by Shakespeare when he alludes to the flower-de-luce in the following
passage[503] in “2 Henry VI.” (v. 1), where the Duke of York says:

    “A sceptre shall it have,—have I a soul,—
    On which I’ll toss the flower-de-luce of France.”

    [503] See “Winter’s Tale,” iv. 3; “Henry V.,” v. 2; “1 Henry
    VI.,” i. 1.

In “1 Henry VI.” (i. 2) Pucelle declares:

    “I am prepared; here is my keen-edged sword,
    Deck’d with five flower-de-luces on each side.”

Some think the lily is meant, others the iris. For the lily theory, says
Mr. Ellacombe,[504] “there are the facts that Shakespeare calls it one
of the lilies, and that the other way of spelling is fleur-de-lys.”

    [504] “Plant-Lore of Shakespeare,” p. 73.

Chaucer seems to connect it with the lily (“Canterbury Tales,” Prol.

    “Her nekke was white as the flour-de-lis.”

On the other hand, Spenser separates the lilies from the flower-de-luces
in his “Shepherd’s Calendar;” and Ben Jonson mentions “rich carnations,
flower-de-luces, lilies.”

The fleur-de-lis was not always confined to royalty as a badge. Thus, in
the square of La Pucelle, in Rouen, there is a statue of Jeanne D’Arc
with fleurs-de-lis sculptured upon it, and an inscription as follows:

    “The maiden’s sword protects the royal crown;
    Beneath the maiden’s sword the lilies safely blow.”

St. Louis conferred upon the Chateaubriands the device of a
fleur-de-lis, and the motto, “Mon sang teint les bannièrs de France.”
When Edward III. claimed the crown of France, in the year 1340, he
quartered the ancient shield of France with the lions of England. It
disappeared, however, from the English shield in the first year of the
present century.

_Gillyflower._ This was the old name for the whole class of carnations,
pinks, and sweet-williams, from the French _girofle_, which is itself
corrupted from the Latin _caryophyllum_.[505] The streaked gillyflowers,
says Mr. Beisly,[506] noticed by Perdita in “Winter’s Tale” (iv. 4)—

             “the fairest flowers o’ the season
    Are our carnations and streak’d gillyvors,
    Which some call nature’s bastards”—

“are produced by the flowers of one kind being impregnated by the pollen
of another kind, and this art (or law) in nature Shakespeare alludes to
in the delicate language used by Perdita, as well as to the practice of
increasing the plants by slips.” Tusser, in his “Five Hundred Points of
Good Husbandry,” says:

    “The gilloflower also the skilful doe know,
    Doth look to be covered in frost and in snow.”

    [505] “Nares’s Glossary,” vol. i. p. 363.

    [506] “Shakespeare’s Garden,” p. 82; see Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 184.

_Harebell._ This flower, mentioned in “Cymbeline” (iv. 2), is no doubt
another name for the wild hyacinth.

Arviragus says of Imogen:

                              “thou shalt not lack
    The flower that’s like thy face, pale primrose; nor
    The azured harebell, like thy veins.”

_Hemlock._ In consequence of its bad and poisonous character, this plant
was considered an appropriate ingredient for witches’ broth. In
“Macbeth” (iv. 1) we read of

    “Root of hemlock, digged i’ the dark.”

Its scientific name, _conium_, is from the Greek word meaning cone or
top, whose whirling motion resembles the giddiness produced on the
constitution by its poisonous juice. It is by most persons supposed to
be the death-drink of the Greeks, and the one by which Socrates was put
to death.

_Herb of Grace_ or _Herb Grace_. A popular name in days gone by for rue.
The origin of the term is uncertain. Most probably it arose from the
extreme bitterness of the plant, which, as it had always borne the name
_rue_ (to be sorry for anything), was not unnaturally associated with
repentance. It was, therefore, the herb of repentance,[507] “and this
was soon changed into ‘herb of grace,’ repentance being the chief sign
of grace.” The expression is several times used by Shakespeare. In
“Richard II.” (iii. 4) the gardener narrates:

    “Here did she fall a tear; here, in this place
    I’ll set a bank of rue, sour herb of grace:
    Rue, even for ruth, here shortly shall be seen,
    In the remembrance of a weeping queen.”

    [507] Ellacombe’s “Plant-Lore of Shakespeare,” p. 204; Prior’s
    “Popular Names of British Plants,” 1870, p. 111.

In “Hamlet” (iv. 5), Ophelia, when addressing the queen, says, “There’s
rue for you; and here’s some for me: we may call it herb-grace o’
Sundays: O, you must wear your rue with a difference.”[508]

    [508] Cf. “All’s Well that Ends Well,” iv. 5; “Antony and
    Cleopatra,” iv. 2; “Romeo and Juliet,” ii. 3, where Friar
    Laurence says:

        “In man as well as herbs, grace and rude will.”

Malone observes that there is no ground for supposing that rue was
called “herb of grace” from its being used in exorcisms in churches on
Sunday, a notion entertained by Jeremy Taylor, who says, referring to
the _Flagellum Dæmonum_, “First, they (the Romish exorcisers) are to try
the devil by holy water, incense, sulphur, rue, which from thence, as we
suppose, came to be called ‘herb of grace.’”[509] Rue was also a common
subject of puns, from being the same word which signified sorrow or pity
(see “Richard II.,” iii. 4, cited above).

    [509] “A Dissuasive from Popery,” pt. i. chap. ii. sec. 9; see
    Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 371.

_Holy Thistle._ The Carduus Benedictus, called also “blessed thistle,”
was so named, like other plants which bear the specific name of
“blessed,” from its supposed power of counteracting the effect of
poison.[510] Cogan, in his “Haven of Health,” 1595, says, “This herbe
may worthily be called _Benedictus_, or _Omnimorbia_, that is, a salve
for every sore, not known to physitians of old time, but lately revealed
by the special providence of Almighty God.” It is alluded to in “Much
Ado About Nothing” (iii. 4):

    “_Margaret._ Get you some of this distilled Carduus
    Benedictus, and lay it to your heart; it is the only thing for
    a qualm.

    _Hero._ There thou prickest her with a thistle.

    _Beatrice._ Benedictus! why Benedictus? you have some moral in
    this Benedictus.

    _Margaret._ Moral? no, by my troth, I have no moral meaning. I
    meant, plain holy-thistle.”

    [510] Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 464.

_Insane Root._ There is much doubt as to what plant is meant by Banquo
in “Macbeth” (i. 3):

           “have we eaten on the insane root
    That takes the reason prisoner?”

The origin of this passage is probably to be found in North’s
“Plutarch,” 1579 (“Life of Antony,” p. 990), where mention is made of a
plant which “made them out of their wits.” Several plants have been
suggested—the hemlock, belladonna, mandrake, henbane, etc. Douce
supports the last, and cites the following passage:[511] “Henbane ... is
called insana, mad, for the use thereof is perillous; for if it be eate
or dronke, it breedeth madness, or slow lykenesse of sleepe.” Nares[512]
quotes from Ben Jonson (“Sejanus,” iii. 2), in support of hemlock:

                  “well, read my charms,
    And may they lay that hold upon thy senses
    As thou hadst snufft up hemlock.”

    [511] Batman’s “Upon Bartholomæus de Proprietate Rerum,” lib.
    xvii. chap. 87.

    [512] “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 465.

_Ivy._ It was formerly the general custom in England, as it is still in
France and the Netherlands, to hang a bush of ivy at the door of a
vintner.[513] Hence the allusion in “As You Like It” (v. 4, Epilogue),
where Rosalind wittily remarks: “If it be true that good wine needs no
bush, ’tis true that a good play needs no epilogue.” This custom is
often referred to by our old writers, as, for instance, in Nash’s
“Summer’s Last Will and Testament,” 1600:

    “Green ivy bushes at the vintner’s doors.”

And in the “Rival Friends,” 1632:

    “’Tis like the ivy bush unto a tavern.”

    [513] See Hotten’s “History of Sign Boards.”

This plant was no doubt chosen from its being sacred to Bacchus. The
practice was observed at statute hirings, wakes, etc., by people who
sold ale at no other time. The manner, says Mr. Singer,[514] in which
they were decorated appears from a passage in Florio’s “Italian
Dictionary,” in _voce tremola_, “Gold foile, or thin leaves of gold or
silver, namely, thinne plate, as our vintners adorn their bushes with.”
We may compare the old sign of “An owl in an ivy bush,” which perhaps
denoted the union of wisdom or prudence with conviviality, with the
phrase “be merry and wise.”

    [514] “Shakespeare,” vol. iii. p. 112.

_Kecksies._ These are the dry, hollow stalks of hemlock. In “Henry V.”
(v. 2) Burgundy makes use of the word:

                          “and nothing teems,
    But hateful docks, rough thistles, kecksies, burs,
    Losing both beauty and utility.”

It has been suggested[515] that kecksies may be a mistaken form of the
plural kex; and that kex may have been formed from keck, something so
dry that the eater would keck at it, or be unable to swallow it. The
word is probably derived from the Welsh “cecys,” which is applied to
several plants of the umbelliferous kind. Dr. Prior,[516] however, says
that kecksies is from an old English word keek, or kike, retained in the
northern counties in the sense of “peep” or “spy.”

    [515] See Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 482.

    [516] “Popular Names of British Plants,” 1879, p. 128.

_Knotgrass._[517] The allusion to this plant in “A Midsummer-Night’s
Dream” (iii. 2)—

                      “Get you gone, you dwarf!
    You minimus, of hindering knot-grass made;
    You bead, you acorn!”—

refers to its supposed power of hindering the growth of any child or
animal, when taken in an infusion, a notion alluded to by Beaumont and
Fletcher (“Coxcombe,” ii. 2):

    “We want a boy extremely for this function,
    Kept under for a year with milk and knot-grass.”

    [517] _Polygonum aviculare._

In “The Knight of the Burning Pestle” (ii. 2) we read: “The child’s a
fatherless child, and say they should put him into a strait pair of
gaskins, ’twere worse than knot-grass; he would never grow after it.”

_Lady-smocks._ This plant is so called from the resemblance of its white
flowers to little smocks hung out to dry (“Love’s Labour’s Lost,” v. 2),
as they used to be at that season of the year especially

    “When daisies pied, and violets blue,
      And lady-smocks all silver white,
    And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue,
      Do paint the meadows with delight.

       *       *       *       *       *

    When shepherds pipe on oaten straws,

       *       *       *       *       *

    And maidens bleach their summer smocks.”

According to another explanation, the lady-smock is a corruption of “Our
Lady’s Smock,” so called from its first flowering about Lady-tide. This
plant has also been called cuckoo-flower, because, as Gerarde says, “it
flowers in April and May, when the cuckoo doth begin to sing her
pleasant notes without stammering.”

_Laurel._ From the very earliest times this classical plant has been
regarded as symbolical of victory, and used for crowns. In “Titus
Andronicus” (i. 1) Titus says:

    “Cometh Andronicus, bound with laurel boughs.”

And in “Antony and Cleopatra” (i. 3) the latter exclaims:

                     “upon your sword
    Sit laurelled victory.”[518]

    [518] See “3 Henry VI.,” iv. 6; “Troilus and Cressida,” i. 3.

_Leek._ The first of March is observed by the Welsh in honor of St.
David, their patron saint, when, as a sign of their patriotism, they
wear a leek. Much doubt exists as to the origin of this custom.
According to the Welsh, it is because St. David ordered his Britons to
place leeks in their caps, that they might be distinguished in fight
from their Saxon foes. Shakespeare, in “Henry V.” (iv. 7), alludes to
the custom when referring to the battle of Cressy. Fluellen says, “If
your majesties is remembered of it, the Welshmen did good service in a
garden where leeks did grow, wearing leeks in their Monmouth caps, which
your majesty know to this hour is an honourable badge of the service;
and I do believe your majesty takes no scorn to wear the leek upon Saint
Tavy’s day.”[519] Dr. Owen Pughe[520] supposes the custom arose from the
practice of every farmer contributing his leek to the common repast when
they met at the Cymmortha, an association by which they reciprocated
assistance in ploughing the land. Anyhow, the subject is one involved in
complete uncertainty, and the various explanations given are purely
conjectural (see p. 303).

    [519] See “Henry V.,” iv. 1.

    [520] “Cambrian Biography,” 1803, p. 86; see Brand’s “Pop.
    Antiq.,” 1849, vol. i. pp. 102-108.

_Lily._ Although so many pretty legends and romantic superstitions have
clustered round this sweet and favorite flower, yet they have escaped
the notice of Shakespeare, who, while attaching to it the choicest
epithets, has simply made it the type of elegance and beauty, and the
symbol of purity and whiteness.

_Long Purples._ This plant, mentioned by Shakespeare in “Hamlet” (iv. 7)
as forming part of the nosegay of poor Ophelia, is generally considered
to be the early purple orchis (_Orchis mascula_), which blossoms in
April or May. It grows in meadows and pastures, and is about ten inches
high. Tennyson (“A Dirge”) uses the name:

    “Round thee blow, self-pleached deep,
    Bramble roses, faint and pale,
    And long purples of the dale.”

Another term applied by Shakespeare to this flower was “Dead Men’s
Fingers,” from the pale color and hand-like shape of the palmate tubers:

    “Our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them.”

In “Flowers from Stratford-on-Avon,” it is said, “there can be no doubt
that the wild arum is the plant alluded to by Shakespeare,” but there
seems no authority for this statement.

_Love-in-Idleness_, or, with more accuracy, _Love-in-Idle_,[521] is one
of the many nicknames of the pansy or heart’s-ease—a term said to be
still in use in Warwickshire. It occurs in “Midsummer-Night’s Dream”
(ii. 1),[522] where Oberon says:

    “Yet mark’d I where the bolt of Cupid fell:
    It fell upon a little western flower,
    Before milk-white, now purple with love’s wound,
    And maidens call it love-in-idleness.”

    [521] See Dr. Prior’s “Popular Names of British Plants,” 1870,
    p. 139.

    [522] Cf. “Taming of the Shrew,” i. 1.

The phrase literally signifies love in vain, or to no purpose, as Taylor
alludes to it in the following couplet:

    “When passions are let loose without a bridle,
    Then precious time is turned to _love and idle_.”

That flowers, and pansies especially, were used as love-philters,[523]
or for the object of casting a spell over people, in Shakespeare’s day,
is shown in the passage already quoted. where Puck and Oberon amuse
themselves at Titania’s expense. Again, a further reference occurs (iv.
1), where the fairy king removes the spell:

    “But first I will release the fairy queen.
           Be as thou wast wont to be:
           See as thou wast wont to see:
           Dian’s bud[524] o’er Cupid’s flower[525]
           Hath such force and blessed power.
    Now, my Titania; wake you, my sweet queen.”

    [523] Cf. what Egeus says (i. 1) when speaking of Lysander:

        “This man hath bewitch’d the bosom of my child;
        Thou, thou Lysander, thou hast given her rhymes
        And interchanged love-tokens with my child.”

    [524] Dian’s bud is the bud of the _Agnus castus_, or chaste
    tree. “The virtue this herbe is, that he will kepe man and
    woman chaste.” “Macer’s Herbal,” 1527.

    [525] Cupid’s flower, another name for the pansy.

“It has been suggested,” says Mr. Aldis Wright,[526] “that the device
employed by Oberon to enchant Titania by anointing her eyelids with the
juice of a flower, may have been borrowed by Shakespeare from the
Spanish romance of ‘Diana’ by George of Montemayor. But apart from the
difficulty which arises from the fact that no English translation of
this romance is known before that published by Young in 1598, there is
no necessity to suppose that Shakespeare was indebted to any one for
what must have been a familiar element in all incantations at a time
when a belief in witchcraft was common.” Percy (“Reliques,” vol. iii.
bk. 2) quotes a receipt by the celebrated astrologer, Dr. Dee, for “an
ungent to anoynt under the eyelids, and upon the eyelids eveninge and
morninge, but especially when you call,” that is, upon the fairies. It
consisted of a decoction of various flowers.

    [526] Notes to “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream,” 1877. Preface, p. xx.

_Mandragora_ or _Mandrake_. No plant, perhaps, has had, at different
times, a greater share of folk-lore attributed to it than the mandrake;
partly owing, probably, to the fancied resemblance of its root to the
human figure, and the accidental circumstance of _man_ being the first
syllable of the word. An inferior degree of animal life was assigned to
it; and it was commonly supposed that, when torn from the ground, it
uttered groans of so pernicious a character, that the person who
committed the violence either went mad or died. In “2 Henry VI.” (iii.
2) Suffolk says:

    “Would curses kill, as doth the mandrake’s groan,
    I would invent,” etc.

And Juliet (“Romeo and Juliet,” iv. 3) speaks of

      “shrieks like mandrakes’ torn out of the earth,
    That living mortals, hearing them, run mad.”

To escape this danger, it was recommended to tie one end of a string to
the plant and the other to a dog, upon whom the fatal groan would
discharge its whole malignity. The ancients, it appears, were equally
superstitious with regard to this mysterious plant, and Columella, in
his directions for the site of gardens, says they may be formed where

                        “the mandrake’s flowers
    Produce, whose root shows half a man, whose juice
    With madness strikes.”

Pliny[527] informs us that those who dug up this plant paid particular
attention to stand so that the wind was at their back; and, before they
began to dig, they made three circles round the plant with the point of
the sword, and then, proceeding to the west, commenced digging it up. It
seems to have been well known as an opiate in the time of Shakespeare,
who makes Iago say in “Othello” (iii. 3):

                “Not poppy, nor mandragora,
    Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world,
    Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep
    Which thou ow’dst yesterday.”

    [527] “Natural History,” bk. xxv. chap. 94.

In “Antony and Cleopatra” (i. 5), the queen pathetically says:

            “Give me to drink mandragora.

    _Char._                               Why, madam?

    _Cleo._ That I might sleep out this great gap of time,
            My Antony is away.”

Lyte, in his translation of “Dodoens” (1578), p. 438, tells us that
“the leaves and fruit be also dangerous, for they cause deadly sleepe,
and peevish drowsiness, like opium.” It was sometimes regarded as an
emblem of incontinence, as in “2 Henry IV.” (iii. 2): “yet lecherous as
a monkey, and the whores called him—mandrake.” A very diminutive figure
was, too, often compared to a mandrake. In “2 Henry IV.” (i. 2),
Falstaff says: “Thou whoreson mandrake, thou art fitter to be worn in my
cap, than to wait at my heels.” Tracing back the history of this plant
into far-distant times, it is generally believed that it is the same as
that which the ancient Hebrews called Dudain.[528] That these people
held it in the highest esteem in the days of Jacob is evident from its
having been found by Reuben, who carried the plant to his mother; and
the inducement which tempted Leah to part with it proves the value then
set upon this celebrated plant. According to a curious superstition,
this plant was thought to possess the properties of making childless
wives become mothers, and hence, some suppose, Rachel became so desirous
of possessing the mandrakes which Reuben had found. Among the many other
items of folk-lore associated with the mandrake, there is one which
informs us that “it is perpetually watched over by Satan, and if it be
pulled up at certain holy times, and with certain invocations, the evil
spirit will appear to do the bidding of the practitioner.”[529] In
comparatively recent times, quacks and impostors counterfeited with the
root briony figures resembling parts of the human body, which were sold
to the credulous as endued with specific virtues.[530] The Germans, too,
equally superstitious, formed little idols of the roots of the mandrake,
which were regularly dressed every day, and consulted as oracles—their
repute being such that they were manufactured in great numbers, and sold
in cases. They were, also, imported into this country during the time of
Henry VIII., it being pretended that they would, with the assistance of
some mystic words, increase whatever money was placed near them. In
order, too, to enhance the value of these so-called miracle-workers, it
was said that the roots of this plant were produced from the flesh of
criminals which fell from the gibbet, and that it only grew in such a

    [528] Phillips’s “Flora Historica,” 1829, vol. i. pp. 324, 325;
    see Smith’s “Dictionary of the Bible,” 1869, vol. ii. p. 1777.

    [529] “Mystic Trees and Flowers,” by M. D. Conway; _Fraser’s
    Magazine_, 1870, vol. ii. p. 705.

    [530] Singer’s “Shakespeare,” 1875, vol. v. p. 153.

    [531] See Sir Thomas Browne’s “Vulgar Errors,” 1852, vol. ii. p. 6.

_Marigold._ This flower was a great favorite with our old writers, from
a curious notion that it always opened or shut its flowers at the sun’s
bidding; in allusion to which Perdita remarks, in “Winter’s Tale” (iv.

    “The marigold, that goes to bed wi’ the sun,
    And with him rises weeping.”

It was also said, but erroneously, to turn its flowers to the sun, a
quality attributed to the sunflower (_Helianthus annuus_), and thus
described by Moore:

    “The sunflower turns on her god when he sets
       The same look which she turn’d when he rose.”

A popular name for the marigold was “mary-bud,” mention of which we find
in “Cymbeline” (ii. 3):

      “winking Mary-buds begin
    To ope their golden eyes.”

_Medlar._ This fruit, which Shakespeare describes as only fit to be
eaten when rotten, is applied by Lucio to a woman of loose character, as
in “Measure for Measure” (iv. 3): “they would else have married me to
the rotten medlar.”

Chaucer, in the “Reeve’s Prologue,” applies the same name to it:

    “That ilke fruit is ever lenger the wers,
    Till it be roten in mullok, or in stre.
    We olde men, I drede, so faren we,
    Till we be roten can we not be ripe.”

_Mistletoe._ This plant, which, from the earliest times, has been an
object of interest to naturalists, on account of its curious growth,
deriving its subsistence entirely from the branch to which it annexes
itself, has been the subject of widespread superstition. In “Titus
Andronicus” (ii. 3), Tamora describes it in the graphic passage below as
the “baleful mistletoe,” an epithet which, as Mr. Douce observes, is
extremely appropriate, either conformably to an ancient, but erroneous,
opinion, that the berries of the mistletoe were poisonous, or on account
of the use made of this plant by the Druids during their detestable
human sacrifices.[532]

      “_Demetrius._ How now, dear sovereign, and our gracious mother,
    Why doth your highness look so pale and wan?

      _Tamora._ Have I not reason, think you, to look pale?
    These two have ’tic’d me hither to this place:—
    A barren detested vale, you see, it is;
    The trees, though summer, yet forlorn and lean,
    O’ercome with moss and baleful mistletoe:
    Here never shines the sun; here nothing breeds,
    Unless the nightly owl, or fatal raven.”

    [532] “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” p. 386.

_Mushroom._ Besides his notice of the mushroom in the following
passages, Shakespeare alludes to the fairy rings[533] which are formed
by fungi, though, as Mr. Ellacombe[534] points out, he probably knew
little of this. In “The Tempest” (v. 1), Prospero says of the fairies:

                     “you demi-puppets, that
    By moonshine do the green-sour ringlets make,
    Whereof the ewe not bites; and you, whose pastime
    Is to make midnight mushrooms;”

the allusion in this passage being to the superstition that sheep will
not eat the grass that grows on fairy rings.

    [533] See page 15.

    [534] “Plant-Lore of Shakespeare,” p. 131.

_Mustard._ Tewksbury mustard, to which reference is made in “2 Henry
IV.” (ii. 4), where Falstaff speaks of “wit as thick as Tewksbury
mustard,” was formerly very famous. Shakespeare speaks only of its
thickness, but others have celebrated its pungency. Coles, writing in
1657, says: “In Gloucestershire, about Teuxbury, they grind mustard and
make it into balls, which are brought to London, and other remote
places, as being the best that the world affords.”

_Narcissus._ The old legend attached to this flower is mentioned by
Emilia in “The Two Noble Kinsmen” (ii. 1):

    “That was a fair boy certain, but a fool,
    To love himself; were there not maids enough?”

_Nutmeg._ A gilt nutmeg was formerly a common gift at Christmas and on
other festive occasions, a notice of which occurs in “Love’s Labour’s
Lost” (v. 2), in the following dialogue:[535]

    “_Armado._ ‘The armipotent Mars, of lances the almighty,
    Gave Hector a gift,—’

    _Dumain._ A gilt nutmeg.”

    [535] Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 612.

_Oak._ A crown of oak was considered by the Romans worthy of the highest
emulation of statesmen and warriors. To him who had saved the life of a
Roman soldier was given a crown of oak-leaves; one, indeed, which was
accounted more honorable than any other. In “Coriolanus” (ii. 1),
Volumnia says: “he comes the third time home with the oaken garland.”
And again (i. 3): “To a cruel war I sent him; from whence he returned,
his brows bound with oak.” Montesquieu, indeed, said that it was with
two or three hundred crowns of oak that Rome conquered the world.
Although so much historical and legendary lore have clustered round the
oak, yet scarcely any mention is made of this by Shakespeare. The legend
of Herne the Hunter, which seems to have been current at Windsor, is
several times alluded to, as, for instance, in “Merry Wives of Windsor”
(iv. 4):

      “_Mrs. Page._ There is an old tale goes, that Herne the hunter,
    Sometime a keeper here in Windsor forest,
    Doth all the winter time, at still midnight,
    Walk round about an oak, with great ragg’d horns.

       *       *       *       *       *

      _Page._ ... there want not many, that do fear
    In deep of night to walk by this Herne’s oak.”

Herne’s Oak, so long an object of much curiosity and enthusiasm, is now
no more. According to one theory, the old tree was blown down August 31,
1863; and a young oak was planted by her Majesty, September 12, 1863, to
mark the spot where Herne’s Oak stood.[536] Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps,
however, tells us, “the general opinion is that it was accidentally
destroyed in the year 1796, through an order of George III. to the
bailiff Robinson, that all the unsightly trees in the vicinity of the
castle should be removed; an opinion confirmed by a well-established
fact, that a person named Grantham, who contracted with the bailiff for
the removal of the trees, fell into disgrace with the king for having
included the oak in his gatherings.”[537]

    [536] See “Windsor Guide,” p. 5.

    [537] See “Notes and Queries,” 3d series, vol. xii. p. 160.

_Olive._ This plant, ever famous from its association with the return of
the dove to the ark, has been considered typical of peace. It was as an
emblem of peace that a garland of olive was given to Judith when she
restored peace to the Israelites by the death of Holofernes (Judith, xv.
13). It was equally honored by Greeks and Romans. It is, too, in this
sense that Shakespeare speaks of it when he makes Viola, in “Twelfth
Night” (i. 5), say: “I bring no overture of war, no taxation of homage;
I hold the olive in my hand, my words are as full of peace as matter.”
In Sonnet CVII. occurs the well-known line:[538]

    “And peace proclaims olives of endless age.”

    [538] See also “3 Henry VI.,” iv. 6; “Timon of Athens,” v. 4;
    “Antony and Cleopatra,” iv. 6; “2 Henry IV.,” iv. 4.

_Palm._ As the symbol of victory, this was carried before the conqueror
in triumphal processions. Its classical use is noticed by Shakespeare in
“Coriolanus” (v. 3). Volumnia says:[539]

    “And bear the palm, for having bravely shed
    Thy wife and children’s blood.”

    [539] See “As You Like It,” iii. 2; “Timon of Athens,” v. 1;
    cf. “Henry VIII.,” iv. 2.

In “Julius Cæsar” (i. 2), Cassius exclaims:

                “Ye gods, it doth amaze me,
    A man of such a feeble temper should
    So get the start of the majestic world,
    And bear the palm alone.”

Pilgrims were formerly called “palmers,” from the staff or bough of palm
they were wont to carry. So, in “All’s Well That Ends Well” (iii. 5),
Helena asks:

    “Where do the palmers lodge, I do beseech you?”

_Pear._ In his few notices of the pear Shakespeare only mentions two by
name, the warden and the poperin: the former was chiefly used for
roasting or baking, and is mentioned by the clown in the “Winter’s Tale”
(iv. 3):

    “I must have saffron, to colour the warden pies.”

Hence Ben Jonson makes a pun upon Church-warden pies. According to some
antiquarians, the name warden is from the Anglo-Saxon _wearden_, to
preserve, as it keeps for a long time; but it is more probable that the
word had its origin from the horticultural skill of the Cistercian monks
of Wardon Abbey, in Bedfordshire, founded in the 12th century. Three
warden pears appeared on the armorial bearings of the abbey.[540] It is
noticeable that the warden pies of Shakespeare’s day, colored with
saffron, have been replaced by stewed pears colored with cochineal.

    [540] See “Archæological Journal,” vol. v. p. 301.

The poperin pear was probably introduced from Flanders by the antiquary
Leland, who was made rector of Popering by Henry VIII. It is alluded to
by Mercutio in “Romeo and Juliet” (ii. 1), where he wishes that Romeo
were “a poperin pear.” In the old dramas there is much attempt at wit on
this pear.

_Peas._ A practice called “peascod wooing” was formerly a common mode of
divination in love affairs. The cook, when shelling green peas, would,
if she chanced to find a pod having nine, lay it on the lintel of the
kitchen-door, and the first man who entered was supposed to be her
future husband. Another way of divination by peascod consisted in the
lover selecting one growing on the stem, snatching it away quickly, and
if the good omen of the peas remaining in the husk were preserved, in
then presenting it to the lady of his choice. Touchstone, in “As You
Like It” (ii. 4), alludes to this piece of popular suggestion: “I
remember the wooing of a peascod[541] instead of her.” Gay, who has
carefully chronicled many a custom of his time, says, in his “Fourth

    “As peascods once I pluck’d, I chanc’d to see,
    One that was closely fill’d with three times three,
    Which when I cropp’d I safely home convey’d,
    And o’er my door the spell in secret laid.”

    [541] The cod was what we now call the pod.

We may quote, as a further illustration, the following stanza from
Browne’s “Pastorals” (bk. ii. song 3):

    “The peascod greene, oft with no little toyle,
    He’d seek for in the fattest, fertil’st soile,
    And rende it from the stalke to bring it to her,
    And in her bosom for acceptance wooe her.”[542]

    [542] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. ii. p. 99.

_Plantain._ The leaves of this plant were carefully valued by our
forefathers for their supposed efficacy in healing wounds, etc. It was
also considered as a preventive of poison; and to this supposed virtue
we find an allusion in “Romeo and Juliet” (i. 2):

    “_Benvolio._ Take thou some new infection to thy eye,
    And the rank poison of the old will die.

    _Romeo._ Your plantain leaf is excellent for that.

    _Benvolio._                       For what, I pray thee?

    _Romeo._ For your broken shin.”[543]

    [543] See “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” iii. 1.

In the “Two Noble Kinsmen” (i. 2) Palamon says:

              “These poor slight sores
    Need not a plantain.”

_Poppy._ The plant referred to by Shakespeare in “Othello” (iii. 3) is
the opium poppy, well known in his day for its deadly qualities. It is
described by Spenser in the “Fairy Queen” (ii. 7, 52) as the
“dead-sleeping poppy,” and Drayton (“Nymphidia,” v.) enumerates it among
the flowers that procure “deadly sleeping.”

_Potato._ It is curious enough, says Nares,[544] to find that excellent
root, which now forms a regular portion of the daily nutriment of every
individual, and is the chief or entire support of multitudes in Ireland,
spoken of continually as having some powerful effect upon the human
frame, in exciting the desires and passions; yet this is the case in all
the writings contemporary with Shakespeare. Thus Falstaff, in “Merry
Wives of Windsor” (v. 5), says: “Let the sky rain potatoes; let it
thunder to the tune of ‘Green Sleeves,’ hail kissing comfits,” etc. In
“Troilus and Cressida” (v. 2), Thersites adds: “How the devil luxury,
with his fat rump and potato finger, tickles these together.”[545] It
appears, too, that the medical writers of the times countenanced this
fancy. Mr. Ellacombe[546] observes that the above passages are of
peculiar interest, inasmuch as they contain almost the earliest notice
of potatoes after their introduction into England.

    [544] “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 677.

    [545] See Beaumont and Fletcher, “Elder Brother,” iv. 4;
    Massinger, “New Way to Pay Old Debts,” ii. 2; Ben Jonson,
    “Cynthia’s Revels,” ii. 1, etc.

    [546] “Plant-Lore of Shakespeare,” p. 173.

_Primrose._ Although the early primrose has always been such a popular
and favorite flower, yet it seems to have been associated with
sadness,[547] or even worse than sadness; for, in the following
passages, the “primrose paths” and “primrose way” are meant to be
suggestive of sinful pleasures. Thus, in “Hamlet” (i. 3), Ophelia says:

          “like a puff’d and reckless libertine,
    Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads,
    And recks not his own rede.”

    [547] Ibid., p. 179.

And in “Macbeth” (ii. 3), the Porter declares: “I had thought to have
let in some of all professions, that go the primrose way to the
everlasting bonfire.” Curious to say, too, Shakespeare’s only epithets
for this fair flower are, “pale,” “faint,” “that die unmarried.” Nearly
all the poets of that time spoke of it in the same strain, with the
exception of Ben Jonson and the two Fletchers.

_Reed._ Among the uses to which the reed was formerly applied were the
thatching of houses and the making of shepherds’ pipes. The former is
alluded to in the “Tempest” (v. 1):

    “His tears run down his beard, like winter’s drops
    From eaves of reeds;”

and the latter in “Merchant of Venice” (iii. 4), where Portia speaks of
“a reed voice.” It has generally been regarded as the emblem of
weakness, as in “Antony and Cleopatra” (ii. 7): “a reed that will do me
no service.”

_Rose._ As might be expected, the rose is the flower most frequently
mentioned by Shakespeare, a symbol, in many cases, of all that is fair
and lovely. Thus, for instance, in “Hamlet” (iii. 4), Hamlet says:

    “Such an act ... takes off the rose
    From the fair forehead of an innocent love,
    And sets a blister there.”

And Ophelia (iii. 1) describes Hamlet as,

    “The expectancy and rose of the fair state.”

In days gone by the rose entered largely into the customs and
superstitions of most nations, and even nowadays there is an extensive
folk-lore associated with it.

It appears that, in Shakespeare’s time, one of the fashions of the day
was the wearing of enormous roses on the shoes, of which full-length
portraits afford striking examples.[548] Hamlet (iii. 2) speaks of “two
Provincial roses on my razed shoes;” meaning, no doubt, rosettes of
ribbon in the shape of roses of Provins or Provence. Douce favors the
former, Warton the latter locality. In either case, it was a large
rose. The Provence, or damask rose, was probably the better known.
Gerarde, in his “Herbal,” says that the damask rose is called by some
_Rosa Provincialis_.[549] Mr. Fairholt[550] quotes, from “Friar Bacon’s
Prophecy” (1604), the following, in allusion to this fashion:

    “When roses in the gardens grew,
    And not in ribbons on a shoe:
    Now ribbon roses take such place
    That garden roses want their grace.”

    [548] Singer’s “Shakespeare,” 1875, vol. ix. p. 227.

    [549] “Notes to Hamlet,” Clark and Wright, 1876, p. 179.

    [550] “Costume in England,” p. 238. At p. 579 the author gives
    several instances of the extravagances to which this fashion led.

Again, in “King John” (i. 1), where the Bastard alludes to the
three-farthing silver pieces of Queen Elizabeth, which were extremely
thin, and had the profile of the sovereign, with a rose on the back of
her head, there doubtless is a fuller reference to the court fashion of
sticking roses in the ear:[551]

                                “my face so thin,
    That in mine ear I durst not stick a rose,
    Lest men should say, ‘Look, where three-farthings goes.’”

    [551] Some gallants had their ears bored, and wore their
    mistresses’ silken shoe-strings in them. See Singer’s “Notes,”
    vol. iv. p. 257.

Shakespeare also mentions the use of the rose in rose-cakes and
rose-water, the former in “Romeo and Juliet” (v. 1), where Romeo speaks
of “old cakes of roses,” the latter in “Taming of the Shrew” (Induction,

    “Let one attend him with a silver basin
    Full of rose-water and bestrew’d with flowers.”

Referring to its historical lore, we may mention its famous connection
with the Wars of the Roses. In the fatal dispute in the Temple Gardens,
Somerset, on the part of Lancaster, says (“1 Henry VI.” ii. 4):

    “Let him that is no coward, nor no flatterer,
    But dare maintain the party of the truth,
    Pluck a red rose from off this thorn with me.”

Warwick, on the part of York, replies:

    “I love no colours, and, without all colour
    Of base insinuating flattery,
    I pluck this white rose with Plantagenet.”

The trailing white dog-rose is commonly considered to have been the one
chosen by the House of York. A writer, however, in the _Quarterly
Review_ (vol. cxiv.) has shown that the white rose has a very ancient
interest for Englishmen, as, long before the brawl in the Temple
Gardens, the flower had been connected with one of the most ancient
names of our island. The elder Pliny, in discussing the etymology of the
word Albion, suggests that the land may have been so named from the
white roses which abounded in it. The York and Lancaster rose, with its
pale striped flowers, is a variety of the French rose known as _Rosa
Gallica_. It became famous when the two emblematical roses, in the
persons of Henry VII. and Elizabeth of York, at last brought peace and
happiness to the country which had been so long divided by internal
warfare. The canker-rose referred to by Shakespeare is the wild
dog-rose, a name occasionally applied to the common red poppy.

_Rosemary._ This plant was formerly in very high esteem, and was devoted
to various uses. It was supposed to strengthen the memory; hence it was
regarded as a symbol of remembrance, and on this account was often given
to friends. Thus, in “Hamlet” (iv. 5), where Ophelia seems to be
addressing Laertes, she says: “There’s rosemary, that’s for
remembrance.” In the “Winter’s Tale” (iv. 4) rosemary and rue are
beautifully put together:

    “For you there’s rosemary and rue; these keep
    Seeming and savour all the winter long:
    Grace and remembrance be to you both,
    And welcome to our shearing!”

Besides being used at weddings, it was also in request at funerals,
probably for its odor, and as a token of remembrance of the deceased.
Thus the Friar, in “Romeo and Juliet” (iv. 5), says:

    “Dry up your tears, and stick your rosemary
    On this fair corse.”

This practice is thus touchingly alluded to by Gay, in his “Pastorals:”

    “To shew their love, the neighbours far and near
    Followed, with wistful look, the damsel’s bier:
    Sprigg’d rosemary the lads and lasses bore,
    While dismally the parson walk’d before.”

Rosemary, too, was one of the evergreens with which dishes were
anciently garnished during the season of Christmas, an allusion to which
occurs in “Pericles” (iv. 6): “Marry, come up, my dish of chastity with
rosemary and bays.”

_Rush._ Before the introduction of carpets, the floors of churches and
houses were strewed with rushes, a custom to which Shakespeare makes
several allusions. In “Taming of the Shrew” (iv. 1), Grumio asks: “Is
supper ready, the house trimmed, rushes strewed, cobwebs swept?” and
Glendower, in “1 Henry IV.” (iii. 1), says:

    “She bids you on the wanton rushes lay you down,
    And rest your gentle head upon her lap.”

At the coronation of Henry V. (“2 Henry IV.,” v. 5), when the procession
is coming, the grooms cry, “More rushes! more rushes!” which seems to
have been the usual cry for rushes to be scattered on a pavement or a
platform when a procession was approaching.[552] Again, in “Richard II.”
(i. 3), the custom is further alluded to by John of Gaunt, who speaks of
“the presence strew’d,” referring to the presence-chamber. So, too, in
“Cymbeline” (ii. 2), Iachimo soliloquizes:

                            “Tarquin thus
    Did softly press the rushes, ere he waken’d
    The chastity he wounded.”

    [552] Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 373.

And in “Romeo and Juliet” (i. 4), Romeo says:

                “Let wantons, light of heart,
    Tickle the senseless rushes with their heels;”

an expression which Middleton has borrowed in his “Blunt Master
Constable,” 1602:

    “Bid him, whose heart no sorrow feels,
    Tickle the rushes with his wanton heels,
    I have too much lead at mine.”

In the “Two Noble Kinsmen” (ii. 1) the Gaoler’s Daughter is represented
carrying “strewings” for the two prisoners’ chamber.

Rush-bearings were a sort of rural festival, when the parishioners
brought rushes to strew the church.[553]

    [553] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. ii. pp. 13, 14.

The “rush-ring” appears to have been a kind of token for plighting of
troth among rustic lovers. It was afterwards vilely used, however, for
mock-marriages, as appears from one of the Constitutions of Salisbury.
In “All’s Well that Ends Well” (ii. 2) there seems a covert allusion to
the rush-ring: “As Tib’s rush for Tom’s fore-finger.” Spenser, in the
“Shepherd’s Kalendar,” speaks of

    “The knotted rush-rings and gilt Rosemarie.”

Du Breul, in his “Antiquities of Paris,”[554] mentions the rush-ring as
“a kind of espousal used in France by such persons as meant to live
together in a state of concubinage; but in England it was scarcely ever
practised except by designing men, for the purpose of corrupting those
young women to whom they pretended love.”

    [554] Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” 1839, p. 194.

The “rush candle,” which, in times past, was found in nearly every
house, and served as a night-light for the rich and candle for the poor,
is mentioned in “Taming of the Shrew” (iv. 5):

      “be it moon, or sun, or what you please:
    An if you please to call it a rush candle,
    Henceforth, I vow, it shall be so for me.”

_Saffron._ In the following passage (“All’s Well that Ends Well,” iv.
5) there seems to be an allusion[555] by Lafeu to the fashionable and
fantastic custom of wearing yellow, and to that of coloring paste with
saffron: “No, no, no, your son was misled with a snipt-taffeta fellow
there, whose villanous saffron would have made all the unbaked and
doughy youth of a nation in his colour.”

    [555] Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 381.

_Spear-grass._ This plant—perhaps the common reed—is noticed in “1 Henry
IV.” (ii. 4) as used for tickling the nose and making it bleed. In
Lupton’s “Notable Things” it is mentioned as part of a medical recipe:
“Whoever is tormented with sciatica or the hip-gout, let them take an
herb called spear-grass, and stamp it, and lay a little thereof upon the
grief.” Mr. Ellacombe[556] thinks that the plant alluded to is the
common couch-grass (_Triticum repens_), which is still known in the
eastern counties as spear-grass.

    [556] “Plant-Lore of Shakespeare,” p. 319.

_Stover._ This word, which is often found in the writings of
Shakespeare’s day, denotes fodder and provision of all sorts for cattle.
In Cambridgeshire stover signifies hay made of coarse, rank grass, such
as even cows will not eat while it is green. In “The Tempest” (iv. 1),
Iris says:

    “Thy turfy mountains, where live nibbling sheep,
    And flat meads thatch’d with stover, them to keep.”

According to Steevens, stover was used as a thatch for cart-lodges and
other buildings that required but cheap coverings.

_Strawberry._ Shakespeare’s mention of the strawberry in connection with
the nettle, in “Henry V.” (i. 1),

    “The strawberry grows underneath the nettle,
    And wholesome berries thrive and ripen best
    Neighbour’d by fruit of baser quality,”

deserves, says Mr. Ellacombe, a passing note. “It was the common opinion
in his day that plants were affected by the neighborhood of other plants
to such an extent that they imbibed each others virtues and faults. Thus
sweet flowers were planted near fruit-trees with the idea of improving
the flavor of the fruit, and evil-smelling trees, like the elder, were
carefully cleared away from fruit-trees, lest they should be tainted.
But the strawberry was supposed to be an exception to the rule, and was
said to thrive in the midst of ‘evil communications, without being

_Thorns._ The popular tradition, which represents the marks on the
moon[557] to be that of a man carrying a thorn-bush on his head, is
alluded to in “Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (v. 1), in the Prologue:

    “This man, with lanthorn, dog, and bush of thorn,
    Presenteth Moonshine.”

    [557] See p. 68.

Little else is mentioned by Shakespeare with regard to thorns, save that
they are generally used by him as the emblems of desolation and trouble.

_Violets._ An old superstition is alluded to by Shakespeare when he
makes Laertes wish that violets may spring from the grave of Ophelia
(“Hamlet,” v. 1):

                “Lay her i’ the earth:
    And from her fair and unpolluted flesh
    May violets spring!”

an idea which occurs in Persius’s “Satires” (i. 39):

                 “E tumulo fortunataque favilla
    Nascentur violæ.”

The violet has generally been associated with early death. This, Mr.
Ellacombe considers,[558] “may have arisen from a sort of pity for
flowers that were only allowed to see the opening year, and were cut off
before the first beauty of summer had come, and so were looked upon as
apt emblems of those who enjoyed the bright springtide of life, and no
more.” Thus, the violet is one of the flowers which Marina carries to
hang “as a carpet on the grave” in “Pericles” (iv. 1):

                         “the yellows, blues,
    The purple violets, and marigolds,
    Shall, as a carpet, hang upon thy grave,
    While summer days do last.”

    [558] “Plant-Lore of Shakespeare,” p. 248.

Again, in that exquisite passage in the “Winter’s Tale” (iv. 4), where
Perdita enumerates the flowers of spring, she speaks of,

                            “violets, dim,
    But sweeter than the lids of Juno’s eyes,
    Or Cytherea’s breath;”

upon which Mr. Singer[559] thus comments: “The eyes of Juno were as
remarkable as those of Pallas, and

    ‘Of a beauty never yet
    Equalled in height of tincture.’”

    [559] “Shakespeare,” vol. iv. p. 76.

The beauties of Greece and other Asiatic nations tinged their eyes of an
obscure violet color, by means of some unguent, which was doubtless
perfumed, like those for the hair, etc., mentioned by Athenæus.

_Willow._ From time immemorial the willow has been regarded as the
symbol of sadness. Hence it was customary for those who were forsaken in
love to wear willow garlands, a practice to which Shakespeare makes
several allusions. In “Othello” (iv. 3), Desdemona, anticipating her
death, says:

    “My mother had a maid call’d Barbara;
    She was in love; and he she lov’d prov’d mad,
    And did forsake her: she had a song of—Willow;
    An old thing ’twas, but it express’d her fortune,
    And she died singing it: that song, to-night,
    Will not go from my mind.”

The following is the song:[560]

    “The poor soul sat sighing by a sycamore tree,
          Sing all a green willow:
    Her hand on her bosom, her head on her knee,
          Sing willow, willow, willow:
    The fresh streams ran by her, and murmur’d her moans,
          Sing willow, willow, willow:
    Her salt tears fell from her, and soften’d the stones,
          Sing willow, willow, willow:
    Sing all a green willow must be my garland.”

    [560] “The old ballad on which Shakespeare formed this song is
    given in Percy’s ‘Reliques of Ancient Poetry’ (1794, vol. i. p.
    208), from a copy in the Pepysian collection. A different
    version of it may be seen in Chappell’s ‘Popular Music of the
    Olden Time’ (2d edition, vol. i. p. 207). The original ditty is
    the lamentation of a lover for the inconstancy of his
    mistress.”—Dyce’s “Shakespeare,” vol. vii. p. 450.

And further on Emilia says (v. 2):

                           “I will play the swan,
    And die in music.—[_Singing_] ‘Willow, willow, willow.’”

And, again, Lorenzo, in “Merchant of Venice” (v. 1), narrates:

                        “In such a night
    Stood Dido, with a willow in her hand,
    Upon the wild sea-banks.”

It was, too, in reference to this custom that Shakespeare, in “Hamlet”
(iv. 7), represented poor Ophelia hanging her flowers on the “willow
aslant a brook.” “This tree,” says Douce,[561] “might have been chosen
as the symbol of sadness from the cxxxvii. Psalm (verse 2): ‘We hanged
our harps upon the willows;’ or else from a coincidence between the
_weeping_-willow and falling tears.” Another reason has been assigned.
The _Agnus castus_ was supposed to promote chastity, and “the willow
being of a much like nature,” says Swan, in his “Speculum Mundi” (1635),
“it is yet a custom that he which is deprived of his love must wear a
willow garland.” Bona, the sister of the King of France, on receiving
news of Edward the Fourth’s marriage with Elizabeth Grey, exclaimed,

           “in hope he’ll prove a widower shortly,
    I’ll wear the willow garland for his sake.”

    [561] “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” p. 105.

_Wormwood._ The use of this plant in weaning infants is alluded to in
“Romeo and Juliet” (i. 3), by Juliet’s nurse, in the following passage:

    “For I had then laid wormwood to my dug,

       *       *       *       *       *

    When it did taste the wormwood on the nipple
    Of my dug, and felt it bitter, pretty fool.”

_Yew._ This tree, styled by Shakespeare “the dismal yew” (“Titus
Andronicus,” ii. 3), apart from the many superstitions associated with
it, has been very frequently planted in churchyards, besides being used
at funerals. Paris, in “Romeo and Juliet” (v. 3), says:

    “Under yond yew-trees lay thee all along,
    Holding thine ear close to the hollow ground;
    So shall no foot upon the churchyard tread,
    Being loose, unfirm, with digging up of graves,
    But thou shalt hear it.”

Although various reasons have been assigned for planting the yew-tree in
churchyards, it seems probable that the practice had a superstitious
origin. As witches were supposed to exercise a powerful influence over
the winds, they were believed occasionally to exert their formidable
power against religious edifices. Thus Macbeth says (iv. 1):

    “Though you untie the winds, and let them fight
    Against the churches.”

To counteract, therefore, this imaginary danger, our ancestors may have
planted the yew-tree in their churchyards, not only on account of its
vitality as an evergreen, but as connected in some way, in heathen
times, with the influence of evil powers.[562] In a statute made in the
latter part of Edward I.’s reign, to prevent rectors from cutting down
trees in churchyards, we find the following: “Verum arbores ipsæ,
propter ventorum impetus ne ecclesiis noceant, sæpe plantantur.”[563]

    [562] Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” p. 244.

    [563] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. ii. pp. 255-266.

The custom of sticking yew in the shroud is alluded to in the following
song in “Twelfth Night” (ii. 4):

    “My shroud of white, stuck all with yew,
                O, prepare it!
    My part of death, no one so true
                Did share it.”

Through being reckoned poisonous, it is introduced in “Macbeth” (iv. 1)
in connection with the witches:

    “Gall of goat, and slips of yew,
    Sliver’d in the moon’s eclipse.”

“How much the splitting or tearing off of the slip had to do with magic
we learn from a piece of Slavonic folk-lore. It is unlucky to use for a
beam a branch or a tree broken by the wind. The devil, or storm-spirit,
claims it as his own, and, were it used, the evil spirit would haunt the
house. It is a broken branch the witches choose; a sliver’d slip the
woodman will have none of.”[564]

    [564] “Notes and Queries,” 5th series, vol. xii. p. 468.

Its epithet, “double-fatal” (“Richard II.,” iii. 2), no doubt refers to
the poisonous quality of the leaves, and on account of its wood being
employed for instruments of death. Sir Stephen Scroop, when telling
Richard of Bolingbroke’s revolt, declares that

    “Thy very beadsmen learn to bend their bows
    Of double-fatal yew against thy state.”

It has been suggested that the poison intended by the Ghost in “Hamlet”
(i. 5), when he speaks of the “juice of cursed hebenon,” is that of the
yew, and is the same as Marlowe’s “juice of hebon” (“Jew of Malta,” iii.
4). The yew is called hebon by Spenser and by other writers of
Shakespeare’s age; and, in its various forms of eben, eiben, hiben,
etc., this tree is so named in no less than five different European
languages. From medical authorities, both of ancient and modern times,
it would seem that the juice of the yew is a rapidly fatal poison; next,
that the symptoms attendant upon yew-poisoning correspond, in a very
remarkable manner, with those which follow the bites of poisonous
snakes; and, lastly, that no other poison but the yew produces the
“lazar-like” ulcerations on the body upon which Shakespeare, in this
passage, lays so much stress.[565]

    [565] Extract of a paper read by Rev. W. A. Harrison, New
    Shakespeare Society, 12th May. 1882.

Among the other explanations of this passage is the well-known one which
identifies “hebenon” with henbane. Mr. Beisly suggests that nightshade
may be meant, while Nares considers that ebony is meant.[566]

    [566] See Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare;” Nares’s
    “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 412; Beisly’s “Shakespeare’s Garden,” p. 4.

From certain ancient statutes it appears that every Englishman, while
archery was practised, was obliged to keep in his house either a bow of
yew or some other wood.[567]

    [567] Singer’s “Shakespeare,” vol. iv. p. 427. See a paper in
    the “Antiquary” (1882, vol. vi. p. 13), by Mr. George Black, on
    the yew in Shakespearian folk-lore.



As Dr. Johnson has truly remarked, Shakespeare is “the poet of nature,”
for “his attention was not confined to the actions of men; he was an
exact surveyor of the inanimate world; his descriptions have always some
peculiarity, gathered by contemplating things as they really exist.
Whether life or nature be his subject, Shakespeare shows plainly that he
has seen with his own eyes.” So, too, he was in the habit of taking
minute observation of the popular notions relating to natural history,
so many of which he has introduced into his plays, using them to no
small advantage. In numerous cases, also, the peculiarities of certain
natural objects have furnished the poet with many excellent metaphors.
Thus, in “Richard II.” (ii. 3), Bolingbroke speaks of “the caterpillars
of the commonwealth;” and in “2 Henry VI.” (iii. 1) the Duke of York’s
reflection on the destruction of his hopes is,

    “Thus are my blossoms blasted in the bud,
    And caterpillars eat my leaves away,”

their destructive powers being familiar.

_Ant._ An ancient name for the ant is “pismire,” probably a Danish word,
from _paid_ and _myre_, signifying such ants as live in hillocks. In “1
Henry IV.” (i. 3) Hotspur says:

    “Why, look you, I am whipp’d and scourg’d with rods,
    Nettled, and stung with pismires, when I hear
    Of this vile politician, Bolingbroke.”

_Blue-bottle._ This well-known insect has often been used as a term of
reproach. Thus, in “2 Henry IV.” (v. 4), it furnishes an epithet applied
by the abusive tongue of Doll Tearsheet to the beadle who had her in
custody. She reviles him as a “blue-bottle rogue,” a term, says Mr.
Patterson,[568] “evidently suggested by the similarity of the colors of
his costume to that of the insect.”

    [568] “Insects Mentioned by Shakespeare,” 1841, p. 181.

_Bots._ Our ancestors imagined that poverty or improper food engendered
these worms, or that they were the offspring of putrefaction. In “1
Henry IV.” (ii. 1), one of the carriers says: “Peas and beans are as
dank here as a dog, and that is the next way to give poor jades the
bots.” And one of the misfortunes of the miserable nag of Petruchio
(“Taming of the Shrew,” iii. 2), is that he is so “begnawn with the

_Cricket._ The presence of crickets in a house has generally been
regarded as a good omen, and said to prognosticate cheerfulness and
plenty. Thus, Poins, in answer to the Prince’s question in “1 Henry IV.”
(ii. 4), “Shall we be merry?” replies, “As merry as crickets.” By many
of our poets the cricket has been connected with cheerfulness and mirth.
Thus, in Milton, “Il Penseroso” desires to be

    “Far from all resort of mirth,
    Save the cricket on the hearth.”

It has not always, however, been regarded in the same light, for Gay, in
his “Pastoral Dirge,” among the rural prognostications of death, gives
the following:

    “And shrilling crickets in the chimney cry’d.”

And in Dryden’s “Œdipus” occurs the subjoined:

    “Owls, ravens, crickets, seem the watch of death.”

Lady Macbeth, also (“Macbeth,” ii. 2), in replying to the question of
her husband after the murder of Duncan, says:

    “I heard the owl scream, and the crickets cry.”

In “Cymbeline” (ii. 2), also, when Iachimo, at midnight, commences his
survey of the chamber where Imogen lies sleeping, his first words refer
to the chirping of crickets, rendered all the more audible by the
repose which at that moment prevailed throughout the palace:

    “The crickets sing, and man’s o’er-labour’d sense
    Repairs itself by rest.”

Gilbert White, in his “History of Selborne” (1853, p. 174), remarks that
“it is the housewife’s barometer, foretelling her when it will rain; and
is prognostic, sometimes, she thinks, of ill or good luck, of the death
of a near relation, or the approach of an absent lover. By being the
constant companion of her solitary home, it naturally becomes the object
of her superstition.”[569]

    [569] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. iii. pp. 190, 191.

Its supposed keen sense of hearing is referred to in the “Winter’s Tale”
(ii. 1) by Mamillius, who, on being asked by Hermione to tell a tale,

           “I will tell it softly;
    Yond crickets shall not hear it.”

_Frog._ In the “Two Noble Kinsmen” (iii. 4), the Gaoler’s Daughter says:

    “Would I could find a fine frog! he would tell me
    News from all parts o’ the world; then would I make
    A carack of a cockle-shell, and sail
    By east and north-east to the King of Pigmies,
    For he tells fortunes rarely.”

In days gone by frogs were extensively used for the purpose of

_Gad-fly._ A common name for this fly is the “brize” or “breese,”[570]
an allusion to which occurs in “Troilus and Cressida” (i. 3), where
Nestor, speaking of the sufferings which cattle endure from this insect,

    “The herd hath more annoyance by the breese
    Than by the tiger.”

    [570] See Patterson’s “Insects Mentioned by Shakespeare,” 1841,
    pp. 104, 105.

And in “Antony and Cleopatra” (iii. 10) Shakespeare makes the excited
Scarus draw a comparison between the effect which this insect produces
on a herd of cattle and the abruptness and sudden frenzy of Cleopatra’s
retreat from the naval conflict:

                    “Yon ribaudred nag of Egypt,
    Whom leprosy o’ertake! i’ the midst o’ the fight,
    When vantage like a pair of twins appear’d,
    Both as the same, or rather ours the elder,—
    The breese upon her, like a cow in June,—
    Hoists sails, and flies.”

It is said that the terror this insect causes in cattle proceeds solely
from the alarm occasioned by “a peculiar sound it emits while hovering
for the purpose of oviposition.”[571]

    [571] “Linnæan Transactions,” vol. xv. p. 407; cf. Virgil’s
    “Georgics,” iii. l. 148.

_Lady-bird._ This is used in “Romeo and Juliet” (i. 3) as a term of
endearment. Lady Capulet having inquired after her daughter Juliet, the
Nurse replies:

    “I bade her come. What, lamb! What, lady-bird!
    God forbid! Where’s this girl? What, Juliet!”

Mr. Staunton regards this passage as an exquisite touch of nature. “The
old nurse,” he says, “in her fond garrulity, uses ‘lady-bird’ as a term
of endearment; but, recollecting its application to a female of loose
manners, checks herself—‘God forbid!’ her darling should prove such a
one.” Mr. Dyce,[572] however, considers this explanation incorrect, and
gives the subjoined note: “The nurse says that she has already bid
Juliet come; she then calls out, ‘What, lamb! What, lady-bird!’ and
Juliet not yet making her appearance, she exclaims, ‘God forbid! Where’s
this girl?’ The words ‘God forbid’ being properly an ellipsis of ‘God
forbid that any accident should keep her away,’ but used here merely as
an expression of impatience.”

    [572] “Glossary,” 1876, p. 238.

_Lizard._ It was a common superstition in the time of Shakespeare that
lizards were venomous, a notion which probably originated in their
singular form. Hence the lizard’s leg was thought a suitable ingredient
for the witches’ caldron in “Macbeth” (iv. 1). Suffolk, in “2 Henry VI.”
(iii. 2), refers to this idea:

    “Their chiefest prospect murdering basilisks!
    Their softest touch as smart as lizards’ stings.”

Again, in “3 Henry VI.” (ii. 2), Queen Margaret speaks of

    “venom toads, or lizards’ dreadful stings.”

In “Troilus and Cressida” (v. 1) it is classed with the toad and owl.

_Moth._ This term, as Mr. Patterson remarks in his “Insects Mentioned by
Shakespeare” (1841, p. 164), does not awaken many pleasing associations.
In the minds of most people it stands for an insect either contemptible
from its size and inertness, or positively obnoxious from its attacks on
many articles of clothing. Thus Shakespeare, he says, employs the
expression “moth” to denote something trifling or extremely minute. And
in “King John” (iv. 1) we have the touching appeal of Prince Arthur to
Hubert, in which, for mote, he would substitute moth:

    “_Arthur._ Is there no remedy?

    _Hubert._                      None, but to lose your eyes.

    _Arthur._ O heaven!—that there were but a mote in yours,
    A grain, a dust, a gnat, a wandering hair,
    Any annoyance in that precious sense!
    Then, feeling what small things are boisterous there,
    Your vile intent must needs seem horrible.”

See also “Henry V.” (iv. 1). In these two passages, however, the correct
reading is probably “mote.”[573]

    [573] Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 973.

_Serpent._ A term used by our old writers to signify a serpent was “a
worm,” which is still found in the north of England in the same sense.
It is used several times by Shakespeare; as, for instance, in “Measure
for Measure” (iii. 1), where the Duke, addressing Claudio, says:

                 “Thou’rt by no means valiant;
    For thou dost fear the soft and tender fork
    Of a poor worm.”

This passage also illustrates an error very prevalent in days gone by,
that the forked tongue of the serpent tribe was their instrument of
offence, without any thought of the teeth or fangs, which are its real
weapons.[574] Again, the “blind-worm” or “slow-worm”—a little snake with
very small eyes, falsely supposed to be venomous—is spoken of in “A
Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (ii. 2), in that charming passage where the
fairies are represented as singing to their queen, Titania:

    “You spotted snakes, with double tongue,
      Thorny hedgehogs, be not seen;
    Newts, and blind-worms, do no wrong,
      Come not near our fairy queen.”

    [574] Cf. “Macbeth” (iii. 4):

        “There the grown serpent lies: the worm, that’s fled,
        Hath nature that in time will venom breed.”

In “Macbeth” (iv. 1), among the ingredients of the witches’ caldron are

    “Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting.”

To quote a further allusion, Shakespeare, in “Timon of Athens” (iv. 3),
speaks of

    “The gilded newt and eyeless venom’d worm.”

Massinger employs the same term in his “Parliament of Love” (iv. 2):

                               “The sad father
    That sees his son stung by a snake to death,
    May, with more justice, stay his vengeful hand,
    And let the worm escape, than you vouchsafe him
    A minute to repent.”[575]

    [575] Worm is used for serpent or viper, in the Geneva version
    of the New Testament, in Acts xxvii. 4, 5.

There was an old notion that the serpent caused death without pain, a
popular fancy which Shakespeare has introduced in his “Antony and
Cleopatra” (v. 2):

    “Hast thou the pretty worm of Nilus there,
    That kills and pains not?”

The term “worm” was also occasionally used to signify a “poor creature,”
as also was the word “snake.” Thus, in the “Taming of the Shrew” (v. 2),
Katharina says:

    “Come, come, you froward and unable worms!
    My mind hath been as big as one of yours,
    My heart as great, my reason, haply, more.”

So, in “As You Like It” (iv. 3), Rosalind uses “snake” in the sense of
reproach: “Well, go your way to her, for I see love hath made thee a
tame snake.”

The serpent, as the emblem of ingratitude, is alluded to by King Lear
(ii. 4), who, referring to his daughter, says how she

                    “struck me with her tongue,
    Most serpent-like, upon the very heart:—
    All the stor’d vengeances of heaven fall
    On her ingrateful top!”

According to a popular belief, still credited, a poisonous bite could be
cured by the blood of the viper which darted the poison. Thus, in
“Richard II.” (i. 1), Mowbray says:

    “I am disgrac’d, impeach’d, and baffled here,
    Pierc’d to the soul with slander’s venom’d spear,
    The which no balm can cure, but his heart-blood
    Which breath’d this poison.”

In Cornwall it is still believed that the dead body of a serpent,
bruised on the wound it has occasioned, is an infallible remedy for its
bite.[576] Hence has originated the following rhyme:

    “The beauteous adder hath a sting,
      Yet bears a balsam too.”

    [576] See Hunt’s “Popular Romances of the West of England,”
    1871, p. 415; and Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. iii. p. 270.

The old notion that the snake, in casting off its slough, or skin,
annually, is supposed to regain new vigor and fresh youth, is alluded to
by King Henry (“Henry V.,” iv. 1), who speaks of “casted slough and
fresh legerity”—legerity meaning lightness, nimbleness. In “Twelfth
Night” (ii. 5), in the letter which Malvolio finds, there is this
passage: “to inure thyself to what thou art like to be, cast thy humble
slough and appear fresh.” One of the most useful miracles which St.
Patrick is reported to have performed was his driving the venomous
reptiles out of Ireland, and forbidding them to return. This tradition
is probably alluded to by King Richard (“Richard II.,” ii. 1):

                      “Now for our Irish wars:
    We must supplant those rough rug-headed kerns,
    Which live like venom, where no venom else,
    But only they, hath privilege to live.”

The way, we are told, by which the saint performed this astounding feat
of his supernatural power was by means of a drum. Even spiders, too,
runs the legend, were included in this summary process of
excommunicating the serpent race. One of the customs, therefore,
observed on St. Patrick’s day, is visiting Croagh Patrick. This sacred
hill is situated in the county of Mayo, and is said to have been the
spot chosen by St. Patrick for banishing the serpents and other noxious
animals into the sea.

In “Julius Cæsar” (ii. 1), where Brutus says,

    “It is the bright day that brings forth the adder;
    And that craves wary walking.”

we may compare the popular adage,

    “March wind
    Wakes the ether (_i. e._, adder) and blooms the whin.”[577]

    [577] Denham’s “Weather Proverbs,” 1842.

_Spider._ This little creature, which, in daily life, is seldom noticed
except for its cobweb, the presence of which in a house generally
betokens neglect, has, however, an interesting history, being the
subject of many a curious legend and quaint superstition. Thus, it has
not escaped the all-pervading eye of Shakespeare, who has given us many
curious scraps of folk-lore concerning it. In days gone by the web of
the common house-spider was much in request for stopping the effusion of
blood; and hence Bottom, in addressing one of his fairy attendants in “A
Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (iii. 1), says: “I shall desire you of more
acquaintance, good Master Cobweb: if I cut my finger, I shall make bold
with you.”

Its medicinal virtues, however, do not end here, for, in Sussex[578] it
is used in cases of jaundice, many an old doctress prescribing “a live
spider rolled up in butter.” It is stated, too, that the web is
narcotic, and has been administered internally in certain cases of
fever, with success.[579] As a remedy for ague it has been considered
most efficacious. Some years ago a lady in the south of Ireland was
celebrated far and near for her cure of this disorder. Her remedy was a
large house-spider taken alive, enveloped in treacle or preserve. Of
course, the parties were carefully kept in ignorance of what the
wonderful remedy was.[580]

    [578] “Folk-Lore Record,” 1878, vol. i. p. 45.

    [579] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” vol. iii. pp. 223, 287, 381.

    [580] See article on “Spider-Lore,” in _Graphic_, November 13, 1880.

According to a universal belief, spiders were formerly considered highly
venomous, in allusion to which notion King Richard II. (iii. 2), in
saluting the “dear earth” on which he stands, after “late tossing on the
breaking seas,” accosts it thus:

    “Feed not thy sovereign’s foe, my gentle earth,
    Nor with thy sweets comfort his ravenous sense;
    But let thy spiders, that suck up thy venom,
    And heavy-gaited toads, lie in their way,
    Doing annoyance to the treacherous feet,
    Which with usurping steps do trample thee.”

Again, Leontes, in the “Winter’s Tale” (ii. 1), remarks:

                  “There may be in the cup
    A spider steep’d.”

In “Cymbeline” (iv. 2) and “Richard III.” (i. 2) Shakespeare classes it
with adders and toads; and in the latter play (i. 3), when Queen
Margaret is hurling imprecations on her enemies, she is turned from her
encounter with Gloster by a remark made by Queen Elizabeth; and while a
pitying spirit seems for a minute to supplant her rage, she addresses
her successor in these words:

    “Poor painted queen, vain flourish of my fortune!
    Why strew’st thou sugar on that bottled spider,
    Whose deadly web ensnareth thee about?”

In another part of the same play (iv. 4) the epithet “bottled” is again
applied in a similar manner by Queen Elizabeth:

    “That bottled spider, that foul bunch-back’d toad!”

Ritson, on these two passages, has the following remarks on the term,
bottled spider: “A large, bloated, glossy spider, supposed to contain
venom proportionate to its size.”

The origin of the silvery threads of gossamer which are so frequently
seen extending from bush to bush was formerly unknown. Spenser, for
instance, speaks of them as “scorched dew;” and Thomson, in his
“Autumn,” mentions “the filmy threads of dew evaporate;” which probably,
says Mr. Patterson,[581] refers to the same object. The gossamer is now,
however, known to be the production of a minute spider. It is twice
mentioned by Shakespeare, but not in connection with the little being
from which it originates. One of the passages is in “Romeo and Juliet”
(ii. 6):

    “A lover may bestride the gossamer
    That idles in the wanton summer air,
    And yet not fall; so light is vanity.”

    [581] “Insects Mentioned by Shakespeare,” 1841, p. 220.

The other occurs in “King Lear” (iv. 6), where Edgar accosts his father,
after his supposed leap from that

        “cliff, whose high and bending head
    Looks fearfully in the confined deep.”

He says:

    “Hadst thou been aught but gossamer, feathers, air,
    So many fathom down precipitating,
    Thou’dst shiver’d like an egg.”

In each case it is expressive of extreme lightness. Nares, in his
“Glossary” (vol. i. p. 378), considers that the term “gossamer”
originally came from the French _gossampine_, the cotton-tree, and is
equivalent to cotton-wool. He says that it also means any light, downy
matter, such as the flying seeds of thistles and other plants, and, in
poetry, is not unfrequently used to denote the long, floating cobwebs
seen in fine weather. In the above passage from “King Lear” he thinks it
has the original sense, and in the one from “Romeo and Juliet” probably
the last. Some are of opinion that the word is derived from _goss_, the
gorse or furze.[582] In Germany the popular belief attributes the
manufacture of the gossamer to the dwarfs and elves. Of King Oberon, it
may be remembered, we are told,

    “A rich mantle he did wear,
    Made of tinsel gossamer,
    Bestarred over with a few
    Diamond drops of morning dew.”

    [582] See Croker’s “Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South
    of Ireland,” edited by T. Wright, 1862, p. 215.

Hogg, too, introduces it as a vehicle fit for the fairy bands, which he
describes as

                 “sailing ’mid the golden air
    In skiffs of yielding gossamer.”

_Toad._ Among the vulgar errors of Shakespeare’s day was the belief that
the head of the toad contained a stone possessing great medicinal
virtues. In “As You Like It,” (ii. 1), the Duke says:

    “Sweet are the uses of adversity;
    Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
    Wears yet a precious jewel in his head.”

Lupton, in his “One Thousand Notable Things,” says that “a toad-stone,
called _Crepaudina_, touching any part envenomed by the bite of a rat,
wasp, spider, or other venomous beast, ceases the pain and swelling
thereof.” In the Londesborough Collection is a silver ring of the
fifteenth century, in which one of these stones is set.[583]

    [583] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” vol. ii. pp. 50-55; Douce’s
    “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” pp. 181-183.

It was also generally believed that the toad was highly venomous—a
notion to which there are constant allusions in Shakespeare’s plays; as,
for example, in the above passage, where it is spoken of as “ugly and
venomous.” In “Richard III.” (i. 2), Lady Anne says to Gloster:

    “Never hung poison on a fouler toad.”

And, in another scene (i. 3), Queen Margaret speaks of “this pois’nous
bunch-back’d toad.”

Once more, in “Titus Andronicus” (iv. 2), the Nurse describes Queen
Tamora’s babe as being “as loathsome as a toad.” There is doubtless some
truth in this belief, as the following quotation from Mr. Frank
Buckland’s “Curiosities of Natural History” seems to show: “Toads are
generally reported to be poisonous; and this is perfectly true to a
certain extent. Like the lizards, they have glands in their skin which
secrete a white, highly acid fluid, and just behind the head are seen
two eminences like split beans; if these be pressed, this acid fluid
will come out—only let the operator mind that it does not get into his
eyes, for it generally comes out with a jet. There are also other glands
dispersed through the skin. A dog will never take a toad in his mouth,
and the reason is that this glandular secretion burns his tongue and
lips. It is also poisonous to the human subject. Mr. Blick, surgeon, of
Islip, Oxfordshire,[584] tells me that a man once made a wager, when
half drunk, in a village public-house, that he would bite a toad’s head
off; he did so, but in a few hours his lips, tongue, and throat began to
swell in a most alarming way, and he was dangerously ill for some

    [584] See “Notes and Queries,” 6th series, vol. v. pp. 32, 173:
    also, Gilbert White’s “Natural History of Selborne,” letter xvii.

Owing to the supposed highly venomous character of the toad,
“superstition,” says Pennant,[585] “gave it preternatural powers, and
made it a principal ingredient in the incantations of nocturnal hags.”
Thus, in Macbeth (iv. 1), the witch says:

    “Toad that under cold stone,
    Days and nights has thirty-one
    Swelter’d venom sleeping got,
    Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.”

    [585] “Zoology,” 1766, vol. iii. p. 15.

Pennant adds that this was intended “for a design of the first
consideration, that of raising and bringing before the eyes of Macbeth a
hateful second-sight of the prosperity of Banquo’s line. This shows the
mighty power attributed to this animal by the dealers in the magic art.”

The evil spirit, too, has been likened by one of our master bards to the
toad, as a semblance of all that is devilish and disgusting (“Paradise
Lost,” iv. 800):

                    “Him they found,
    Squat like a toad, close at the ear of Eve,
    Assaying with all his devilish art to reach
    The organs of her fancy.”

In “Macbeth” (i. 1), the paddock or toad is made the name of a familiar

    “Paddock[586] calls.—Anon!”

    [586] Cf. “Hamlet,” iii. 4; here paddock is used for a toad.

_Wasp._ So easily, we are told,[587] is the wrathful temperament of this
insect aroused, that extreme irascibility can scarcely be better
expressed than by the term “waspish.” It is in this sense that
Shakespeare has applied the epithet, “her waspish-headed son,” in the
“Tempest” (iv. 1), where we are told that Cupid is resolved to be a boy
outright. Again, in “As You Like It” (iv. 3), Silvius says:

    “I know not the contents; but, as I guess
    By the stern brow and waspish action
    Which she did use as she was writing of it,
    It bears an angry tenor.”

    [587] Patterson’s “Insects Mentioned by Shakespeare,” 1841, p. 137.

Again, in the “Taming of the Shrew” (ii. 1), Petruchio addresses his
intended spouse in language not highly complimentary:

    “_Pet._ Come, come, you wasp; i’ faith, you are too angry.

    _Kath._ If I be waspish, best beware my sting.

    _Pet._ My remedy is, then, to pluck it out.”

In the celebrated scene in “Julius Cæsar” (iv. 3), in which the
reconciliation between Brutus and Cassius is effected, the word is used
in a similar sense:

    “I’ll use you for my mirth, yea, for my laughter,
    When you are waspish.”[588]

    [588] Cf. “Titus Andronicus,” ii. 3; “Henry VIII.,” iii. 3.

_Water-Fly._ This little insect, which, on a sunny day, may be seen
almost on every pool, dimpling the glassy surface of the water, is used
as a term of reproach by Shakespeare. Thus, Hamlet (v. 2), speaking of
Osric, asks Horatio, “Dost know this water-fly?” In “Troilus and
Cressida” (v. 1), Thersites exclaims: “Ah, how the poor world is
pestered with such water-flies, diminutives of nature.” Johnson says it
is the proper emblem of a busy trifler, because it skips up and down
upon the surface of the water without any apparent purpose.



Without discussing the extent of Shakespeare’s technical medical
knowledge, the following pages will suffice to show that he was fully
acquainted with many of the popular notions prevalent in his day
respecting certain diseases and their cures. These, no doubt, he
collected partly from the literature of the period, with which he was so
fully conversant, besides gathering a good deal of information on the
subject from daily observation. Anyhow, he has bequeathed to us some
interesting particulars relating to the folk-medicine of bygone times,
which is of value, in so far as it helps to illustrate the history of
medicine in past years. In Shakespeare’s day the condition of medical
science was very unlike that at the present day. As Mr. Goadby, in his
“England of Shakespeare” (1881, p. 104), remarks, “the man of science
was always more or less of an alchemist, and the students of medicine
were usually extensive dealers in charms and philtres.” If a man wanted
bleeding he went to a barber-surgeon, and when he required medicine he
consulted an apothecary; the shop of the latter being well described by
Romeo (v. 1):

    “And in his needy shop a tortoise hung,
    An alligator stuff’d, and other skins
    Of ill-shap’d fishes; and about his shelves
    A beggarly account of empty boxes,
    Green earthen pots, bladders and musty seeds,
    Remnants of pack-thread and old cakes of roses,
    Were thinly scattered, to make up a show.”

Such a man was as ready “to sell love-philtres to a maiden as narcotics
to a friar.”

_Bleeding._ Various remedies were in use in Shakespeare’s day to stop
bleeding. Thus, a key, on account of the coldness of the metal of which
it is composed, was often employed; hence the term “key-cold” became
proverbial, and is referred to by many old writers. In “Richard III.”
(i. 2), Lady Anne, speaking of the corpse of King Henry the Sixth, says

    “Poor key-cold figure of a holy king.”

In the “Rape of Lucrece” (l. 1774) the same expression is used:

    “And then in key-cold Lucrece’ bleeding stream
    He falls, and bathes the pale fear in his face.”

In Beaumont and Fletcher’s “Wild Goose Chase” (iv. 3) we read: “For till
they be key-cold dead, there’s no trusting of ’em.”[589]

    [589] See Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 482; also, Brand’s
    “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. iii. p. 311; Henderson’s “Folk-Lore
    of Northern Counties,” 1879, pp. 168, 169.

Another common remedy was the one alluded to in “King Lear” (iii. 7),
where one of the servants says:

      “I’ll fetch some flax, and whites of eggs,
    To apply to his bleeding face.”

This passage has been thought to be parodied in Ben Jonson’s play, “The
Case is Altered” (ii. 4): “Go, get a white of an egg and a little flax,
and close the breach of the head; it is the most conducible thing that
can be.” Mr. Gifford, however, has shown the incorrectness of this
assertion, pointing out that Jonson’s play was written in 1599, some
years before “King Lear” appeared, while the allusion is “to a method of
cure common in Jonson’s time to every barber-surgeon and old woman in
the kingdom.”[590]

    [590] Aldis Wright’s “Notes to King Lear,” 1877, p. 179.

Cobwebs are still used to stanch the bleeding from small wounds, and
Bottom’s words seem to refer to this remedy of domestic surgery: “I
shall desire you of more acquaintance, good Master Cobweb; if I cut my
finger, I shall make bold with you.”

Anciently, says Mr. Singer, “a superstitious belief was annexed to the
accident of bleeding at the nose;” hence, in the “Merchant of Venice”
(ii. 5), Launcelot says: “It was not for nothing that my nose fell
a-bleeding on Black Monday last.” In days gone by, it was customary with
our forefathers to be bled periodically, in spring and in autumn, in
allusion to which custom King Richard refers (“Richard II.,” i. 1), when
he says to his uncle:

    “Our doctors say this is no month to bleed.”

Hence the almanacs of the time generally gave particular seasons as the
most beneficial for bleeding. The forty-seventh aphorism of Hippocrates
(sect. 6) is, that “persons who are benefited by venesection or purging
should be bled or purged in the spring.”

_Blindness._ The exact meaning of the term “sand-blind,” which occurs in
the “Merchant of Venice” (ii. 2), is somewhat obscure:

    “_Launcelot._ O heavens, this is my true-begotten father! who,
    being more than sand-blind, high gravel blind, knows me not.

       *       *       *       *       *

    _Gobbo._ Alack, sir, I am sand-blind, I know you not.”

It probably means very dim-sighted,[591] and in Nares’s “Glossary”[592]
it is thus explained: “Having an imperfect sight, as if there was sand
in the eye.” The expression is used by Beaumont and Fletcher in “Love’s
Cure” (ii. 1): “Why, signors, and my honest neighbours, will you impute
that as a neglect of my friends, which is an imperfection in me? I have
been _sand-blind_ from my infancy.” The term was probably one in vulgar

    [591] Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 381; cf. the word “Berlué,
    pur-blinded, made sand-blind,” Cotgrave’s “Fr. and Eng. Dict.”

    [592] Vol. ii. p. 765.

    [593] Bucknill’s “Medical Knowledge of Shakespeare,” p. 93.

_Blister._ In the following passage of “Timon of Athens” (v. 1), Timon
appears to refer to the old superstition that a lie produces a blister
on the tongue, though, in the malice of his rage, he imprecates the
minor punishment on truth, and the old surgery of cauterization on

    “Thou sun, that comfort’st, burn!—Speak, and be hang’d;
    For each true word, a blister! and each false
    Be as a caut’rizing to the root o’ the tongue,
    Consuming it with speaking!”

    [594] Bucknill’s “Medical Knowledge of Shakespeare,” p. 258.

We may also compare the passage in “Winter’s Tale” (ii. 2), where
Paulina declares:

    “If I prove honey-mouth’d, let my tongue blister,
    And never to my red-look’d anger be
    The trumpet any more.”[595]

    [595] Cf., too, “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (v. 2):

        “A blister on his sweet tongue, with my heart,
        That put Armado’s page out of his part.”

_Bone-ache._ This was a nickname, in bygone years, for the _Lues
venerea_, an allusion to which we find in “Troilus and Cressida” (ii.
3), where Thersites speaks of “the bone-ache” as “the curse dependent on
those that war for a placket.” Another name for this disease was the
“brenning or burning,” a notice of which we find in “King Lear” (iv. 6).

_Bruise._ A favorite remedy in days past for bruises was parmaceti, a
corruption of spermaceti, in allusion to which Hotspur, in “1 Henry IV.”
(i. 3), speaks of it as “the sovereign’st thing on earth for an inward
bruise.” So, too, in Sir T. Overbury’s “Characters,” 1616 [“An Ordinarie
Fencer”]: “His wounds are seldom skin-deepe; for an _inward bruise_,
lambstones and sweetbreads are his only spermaceti.” A well-known plant
called the “Shepherd’s Purse” has been popularly nicknamed the “Poor
Man’s Parmacetti,” being a joke on the Latin word _bursa_, a purse,
which, to a poor man, is always the best remedy for his bruises.[596] In
“Romeo and Juliet” (i. 2), a plantain-leaf is pronounced to be an
excellent cure “for your broken shin.” Plantain-water was a remedy in
common use with the old surgeons.[597]

    [596] Dr. Prior’s “Popular Names of British Plants,” 1870, p. 185.

    [597] “The Medical Knowledge of Shakespeare,” 1860, p. 78.

_Bubukle._ According to Johnson, this denoted “a red pimple.” Nares
says it is “a corrupt word for a carbuncle, or something like;” and Mr.
Halliwell-Phillipps, in his “Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial
Words,” defines it as a botch or imposthume. It occurs in “Henry V.”
(iii. 6), where Fluellen describes Bardolph’s face as “all bubukles.”

_Burn._ The notion of one heat driving out another gave rise to the
old-fashioned custom of placing a burned part near the fire to drive out
the fire—a practice, says Dr. Bucknill,[598] certainly not without
benefit, acting on the same principle as the application of turpentine
and other stimulants to recent burns. This was one of the many instances
of the ancient homœopathic doctrine, that what hurts will also
cure.[599] Thus, in “King John” (iii. 1), Pandulph speaks of it:

    “And falsehood falsehood cures; as fire cools fire
    Within the scorched veins of one new burn’d.”

    [598] “The Medical Knowledge of Shakespeare,” 1860, p. 65.

    [599] See Tylor’s “Primitive Culture,” vol. i. p. 761.

Again, in the “Two Gentlemen of Verona” (ii. 4), Proteus tells how:

    “Even as one heat another heat expels,
    Or as one nail by strength drives out another,
    So the remembrance of my former love
    Is by a newer object quite forgotten.”

We may also compare the words of Mowbray in “Richard II.” (i. 1), where
a similar idea is contained:

    “I am disgrac’d, impeach’d, and baffled here;
    Pierc’d to the soul with slander’s venom’d spear,
    The which no balm can cure, but his heart-blood
    Which breath’d this poison.”

Once more, in “Romeo and Juliet” (i. 2), Benvolio relates how

          “one fire burns out another’s burning,
    One pain is lessen’d by another’s anguish;
    Turn giddy, and be holp by backward turning;
    One desperate grief cures with another’s languish.”

_Cataract._ One of the popular names for this disease of the eye was
the “web and the pin.” Markham, in his “Cheap and Good Husbandry” (bk.
i. chap. 37), thus describes it in horses: “But for the wart, pearle,
pin, or web, which are evils grown in or upon the eye, to take them off,
take the juyce of the herb betin and wash the eye therewith, it will
weare the spots away.” Florio (“Ital. Dict.”) gives the following:
“Cataratta is a dimnesse of sight occasioned by humores hardened in the
eies, called a cataract or a pin and a web.” Shakespeare uses the term
in the “Winter’s Tale” (i. 2), where Leontes speaks of

                  “all eyes blind
    With the pin and web, but theirs;”

and in “King Lear” (iii. 4), alluding to “the foul fiend
Flibbertigibbet,” says, “he gives the web and the pin.”[600] Acerbi, in
his “Travels” (vol. ii. p. 290), has given the Lapland method of cure
for this disease. In a fragment of an old medical treatise it is thus
described: “Another sykenes ther byth of _yezen; on a webbe_, a nother a
wem, that hydyth the myddel of the yezen; and this hes to maners, other
whilys he is white and thynne, and other whilys he is thykke, as whenne
the obtalmye ne is noght clene yhelyd up, bote the rote abydyth stylle.
Other whilys the webbe is noght white but rede, other blake.”[601] In
the Statute of the 34 and 35 of Henry VIII. a pin and web in the eye is
recited among the “customable diseases,” which honest persons, not being
surgeons, might treat with herbs, roots, and waters, with the knowledge
of whose nature God had endowed them.

    [600] See Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. pp. 660, 661; Dyce’s
    “Glossary,” p. 322.

    [601] Quoted in Singer’s “Shakespeare.”

_Chilblains._ These are probably alluded to by the Fool in “King Lear”
(i. 5): “If a man’s brains were in’s heels, were’t not in danger of
kibes?” Hamlet, too, says (v. 1): “the age is grown so picked, that the
toe of the peasant comes so near the heel of the courtier, he galls his

_Deformity._ It was an old prejudice, which is not quite extinct, that
those who are defective or deformed are marked by nature as prone to
mischief. Thus, in “Richard III.” (i. 3), Margaret says of Richard, Duke
of Gloster:

    “Thou elvish-mark’d, abortive, rooting hog!
    Thou that was seal’d in thy nativity
    The slave of nature, and the son of hell.”

She calls him _hog_, in allusion to his cognizance, which was a boar. A
popular expression in Shakespeare’s day for a deformed person was a
“stigmatic.” It denoted any one who had been _stigmatized_, or burned
with an iron, as an ignominious punishment, and hence was employed to
represent a person on whom nature has set a mark of deformity. Thus, in
“3 Henry VI.” (ii. 2), Queen Margaret says:

    “But thou art neither like thy sire, nor dam;
    But like a foul misshapen stigmatic
    Mark’d by the destinies to be avoided,
    As venom toads, or lizards’ dreadful stings.”

Again, in “2 Henry VI.” (v. 1), young Clifford says to Richard:

    “Foul stigmatic, that’s more than thou canst tell.”

We may note, too, how, in “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (v. 1), mothers’
marks and congenital forms are deprecated by Oberon from the issue of
the happy lovers:

    “And the blots of Nature’s hand
    Shall not in their issue stand;
    Never mole, hare-lip, nor scar,
    Nor mark prodigious, such as are
    Despised in nativity,
    Shall upon their children be.”[602]

    [602] Cf. “King John” (iii. 1), where Constance gives a
    catalogue of congenital defects.

Indeed, constant allusions are to be met with in our old writers
relating to this subject, showing how strong were the feelings of our
forefathers on the point. But, to give one further instance of this
superstition given by Shakespeare, we may quote the words of King John
(iv. 2), with reference to Hubert and his supposed murder of Prince

    “A fellow by the hand of Nature mark’d,
    Quoted, and sign’d, to do a deed of shame,
    This murder had not come into my mind.”

This adaptation of the mind to the deformity of the body concurs, too,
with Bacon’s theory: “Deformed persons are commonly even with nature;
for, as nature hath done ill by them, so do they by nature, being void
of natural affection, and so they have their revenge on nature.”

_Drowning._ The old superstition[603] of its being dangerous to save a
person from drowning is supposed, says Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps, to be
alluded to in “Twelfth Night.” It was owing to the belief that the
person saved would, sooner or later, injure the man who saved him. Thus,
in Sir Walter Scott’s “Pirate,” Bryce, the pedler, warns the hero not to
attempt to resuscitate an inanimate form which the waves had washed
ashore on the mainland of Shetland. “‘Are you mad,’ exclaimed the
pedler, ‘you that have lived sae lang in Zetland, to risk the saving of
a drowning man? Wot ye not if ye bring him to life again he will do you
some capital injury?’”

    [603] “Handbook Index to Shakespeare,” p. 150. See “Notes and
    Queries” for superstitions connected with drowning, 5th series,
    vol. ix. pp. 111, 218, 478, 516; vol. x. pp. 38, 276; vol. xi.
    pp. 119, 278.

_Epilepsy._ A popular name for this terrible malady was the
“falling-sickness,” because, when attacked with one of these fits, the
patient falls suddenly to the ground. In “Julius Cæsar” (i. 2) it is
thus mentioned in the following dialogue:

    “_Cassius._ But, soft, I pray you: what, did Cæsar swoon?

    _Casca._ He fell down in the market-place, and foamed at mouth,
             and was speechless.

    _Brutus._ ’Tis very like; he hath the falling-sickness.

    _Cassius._ No, Cæsar hath it not; but you, and I,
    And honest Casca, we have the falling-sickness.”

_Fistula._ At the present day a fistula means an abscess external to the
rectum, but in Shakespeare’s day it was used in a more general
signification for a burrowing abscess in any situation.[604] The play of
“All’s Well that Ends Well” has a special interest, because, as Dr.
Bucknill says, its very plot may be said to be medical. “The orphan
daughter of a physician cures the king of a fistula by means of a secret
remedy left to her as a great treasure by her father. The royal reward
is the choice of a husband among the nobles of the court, and ‘thereby
hangs the tale.’” The story is taken from the tale of Gilletta of
Narbonne, in the “Decameron” of Boccaccio. It came to Shakespeare
through the medium of Painter’s “Palace of Pleasure,” and is to be found
in the first volume, which was printed as early as 1566.[605] The story
is thus introduced by Shakespeare in the following dialogue (i. 1),
where the Countess of Rousillon is represented as inquiring:

    “What hope is there of his majesty’s amendment?

    _Laf._ He hath abandoned his physicians, madam; under whose
    practices he hath persecuted time with hope; and finds no
    other advantage in the process but only the losing of hope by

    _Count._ This young gentlewoman had a father—O, that ‘had!’
    how sad a passage ’tis!—whose skill was almost as great as his
    honesty; had it stretched so far, would have made nature
    immortal, and death should have play for lack of work. Would,
    for the king’s sake, he were living! I think it would be the
    death of the king’s disease.

    _Laf._ How called you the man you speak of, madam?

    _Count._ He was famous, sir, in his profession, and it was his
    great right to be so; Gerard de Narbon.

    _Laf._ He was excellent, indeed, madam; the king very lately
    spoke of him admiringly and mourningly; he was skilful enough
    to have lived still, if knowledge could be set up against

    _Ber._ What is it, my good lord, the king languishes of?

    _Laf._ A fistula, my lord.”

    [604] Dr. Bucknill’s “Medical Knowledge of Shakespeare,” p. 95.

    [605] Singer’s “Shakespeare,” vol. iii. p. 225.

The account given of Helena’s secret remedy and the king’s reason for
rejecting it give, says Dr. Bucknill, an excellent idea of the state of
opinion with regard to the practice of physic in Shakespeare’s time.

_Fit._ Formerly the term “rapture” was synonymous with a fit or trance.
The word is used by Brutus in “Coriolanus” (ii. 1):

                   “your prattling nurse
    Into a rapture lets her baby cry
    While she chats him.”

Steevens quotes from the “Hospital for London’s Follies” (1602), where
Gossip Luce says: “Your darling will weep itself into a rapture, if you
take not good heed.”[606]

    [606] See Singer’s “Shakespeare,” vol. vii. p. 347.

_Gold._ It was a long-prevailing opinion that a solution of gold had
great medicinal virtues, and that the incorruptibility of the metal
might be communicated to a body impregnated with it. Thus, in “2 Henry
IV.” (iv. 4), Prince Henry, in the course of his address to his father,

    “Coming to look on you, thinking you dead,
    And dead almost, my liege, to think you were,
    I spake unto this crown, as having sense,
    And thus upbraided it: ‘The care on thee depending
    Hath fed upon the body of my father;
    Therefore, thou, best of gold, art worst of gold;
    Other, less fine in carat, is more precious,
    Preserving life in medicine potable.’”

Potable gold was one of the panaceas of ancient quacks. In John Wight’s
translation of the “Secretes of Alexis” is a receipt “to dissolve and
reducte golde into a potable licour, which conserveth the youth and
healthe of a man, and will heale every disease that is thought
incurable, in the space of seven daies at the furthest.” The receipt,
however, is a highly complicated one, the gold being acted upon by juice
of lemons, honey, common salt, and _aqua vitæ_, and distillation
frequently repeated from a “urinall of glass”—as the oftener it is
distilled the better it is. “Thus doyng,” it is said, “ye shall have a
right naturall, and perfecte potable golde, whereof somewhat taken alone
every monthe once or twice, or at least with the said licour, whereof we
have spoken in the second chapter of this boke, is very excellent to
preserve a man’s youthe and healthe, and to heale in a fewe daies any
disease rooted in a man, and thought incurable. The said golde will also
be good and profitable for diverse other operations and effectes: as
good wittes and diligent searchers of the secretes of nature may easily
judge.” A further allusion to gold as a medicine is probably made in
“All’s Well that Ends Well” (v. 3), where the King says to Bertram:

                          “Plutus himself,
    That knows the tinct and multiplying medicine,
    Hath not in nature’s mystery more science,
    Than I have in this ring.”

Chaucer, too, in his sarcastic excuse for the doctor’s avarice, refers
to this old belief:

    “And yet he was but esy of despence:
    He kept that he wan in the pestilence.
    For gold in physic is a cordial;
    Therefore he loved it in special.”

Once more, in Sir Kenelm Digby’s “Receipts” (1674), we are told that the
gold is to be calcined with three salts, ground with sulphur, burned in
a reverberatory furnace with sulphur twelve times, then digested with
spirit of wine “which will be tincted very yellow, of which, few drops
for a dose in a fit vehicle hath wrought great effects.”

The term “grand liquor” is also used by Shakespeare for the _aurum
potabile_ of the alchemist, as in “Tempest” (v. 1):

                            “Where should they
    Find this grand liquor that hath gilded them?”

_Good Year._ This is evidently a corruption of _goujère_, a disease
derived from the French _gouge_, a common camp-follower, and probably
alludes to the _Morbus Gallicus_. Thus, in “King Lear” (v. 3), we read:

    “The good-years shall devour them, flesh and fell,
    Ere they shall make us weep.”

With the corruption, however, of the spelling, the word lost in time its
real meaning, and it is, consequently, found in passages where a sense
opposite to the true one is intended.[607] It was often used in
exclamations, as in “Merry Wives of Windsor” (i. 4): “We must give folks
leave to prate: what, the good-jear!” In “Troilus and Cressida” (v. 1),
Thersites, by the “rotten diseases of the south,” probably meant the
_Morbus Gallicus_.

    [607] Wright’s “Notes to King Lear” (1877), p. 196.

_Handkerchief._ It was formerly a common practice in England for those
who were sick to wear a kerchief on their heads, and still continues at
the present day among the common people in many places. Thus, in “Julius
Cæsar” (ii. 1), we find the following allusion:

    “O, what a time have you chose out, brave Caius,
    To wear a kerchief! Would you were not sick!”

“If,” says Fuller, “this county [Cheshire] hath bred no writers in that
faculty [physic], the wonder is the less, if it be true what I read,
that if any here be sick, they make him a posset and tye a kerchief on
his head, and if that will not mend him, then God be merciful to

    [608] “Worthies of England” (1662), p. 180.

_Hysteria._ This disorder, which, in Shakespeare’s day, we are told, was
known as “the mother,” or _Hysterica passio_, was not considered
peculiar to women only. It is probable that, when the poet wrote the
following lines in “King Lear” (ii. 4), where he makes the king say,

    “O, how this mother swells up toward my heart!
    _Hysterica passio!_ down, thou climbing sorrow,
    Thy element’s below!—Where is this daughter?”

he had in view the subjoined passages from Harsnet’s “Declaration of
Popish Impostures” (1603), a work which, it has been suggested,[609] “he
may have consulted in order to furnish out his character of Tom of
Bedlam with demoniacal gibberish.” The first occurs at p. 25: “Ma.
Maynie had a spice of the _hysterica passio_, as it seems, from his
youth; hee himselfe termes it the moother (as you may see in his
confessione).” Master Richard Mainy, who was persuaded by the priests
that he was possessed of the devil, deposes as follows (p. 263): “The
disease I speake of was a spice of the mother, wherewith I had been
troubled (as is before mentioned) before my going into Fraunce. Whether
I doe rightly terme it the _mother_ or no I know not.” Dr. Jordan, in
1603, published “A Briefe Discourse of a Disease called the Suffocation
of the Mother.”

    [609] Singer’s “Shakespeare,” pp. 384, 385; Wright’s “Notes to
    King Lear,” pp. 154, 155.

_Infection._ According to an old but erroneous belief, infection
communicated to another left the infector free; in allusion to which
Timon (“Timon of Athens,” iv. 3) says:

    “I will not kiss thee; then the rot returns
    To thine own lips again.”

Among other notions prevalent in days gone by was the general
contagiousness of disease, to which an allusion seems to be made in “A
Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (i. 1), where Helena says:

    “Sickness is catching: O, were favour so,
    Yours would I catch, fair Hermia, ere I go.”

Malone considers that Shakespeare, in the following passage in “Venus
and Adonis,” alludes to a practice of his day, when it was customary, in
time of the plague, to strew the rooms of every house with rue and other
strong-smelling herbs, to prevent infection:

    “Long may they kiss each other, for this cure!
    O, never let their crimson liveries wear!
    And as they last, their verdure still endure,
    To drive infection from the dangerous year!”

Again, the contagiousness of pestilence is thus alluded to by Beatrice
in “Much Ado About Nothing” (i. 1): “O Lord, he will hang upon him like
a disease: he is sooner caught than the pestilence, and the taker runs
presently mad.” The belief, too, that the poison of pestilence dwells in
the air, is spoken of in “Timon of Athens” (iv. 3):

                         “When Jove
    Will o’er some high-viced city hang his poison
    In the sick air.”

And, again, in “Richard II.” (i. 3):

    “Devouring pestilence hangs in our air.”

It is alluded to, also, in “Twelfth Night” (i. 1), where the Duke says:

    “O, when mine eyes did see Olivia first,
    Methought she purged the air of pestilence.”

While on this subject, we may quote the following dialogue from the same
play (ii. 3), which, as Dr. Bucknill[610] remarks, “involves the idea
that contagion is bound up with something appealing to the sense of
smell, a mellifluous voice being miscalled contagious; unless one could
apply one organ to the functions of another, and thus admit contagion,
not through its usual portal, the nose:”

    “_Sir Andrew._ A mellifluous voice, as I am true knight.

    _Sir Toby._ A contagious breath.

    _Sir Andrew._ Very sweet and contagious, i’ faith.

    _Sir Toby._ To hear by the nose, it is dulcet in contagion.”

    [610] “Medical Knowledge of Shakespeare,” p. 121.

_Insanity._ That is a common idea that the symptoms of madness are
increased by the full moon. Shakespeare mentions this popular fallacy in
“Othello” (v. 2), where he tells us that the moon makes men insane when
she comes nearer the earth than she was wont.[611]

    [611] See p. 73.

Music as a cure for madness is, perhaps, referred to in “King Lear” (iv.
7), where the physician of the king says: “Louder the music there.”[612]
Mr. Singer, however, has this note: “Shakespeare considered soft music
favorable to sleep. Lear, we may suppose, had been thus composed to
rest; and now the physician desires louder music to be played, for the
purpose of waking him.”

    [612] Halliwell-Phillipps’s “Handbook Index to Shakespeare”
    (1866), p. 333.

So, in “Richard II.” (v. 5), the king says:

    “This music mads me: let it sound no more;
    For though it have holp madmen to their wits,
    In me, it seems, it will make wise men mad.”

The power of music as a medical agency has been recognized from the
earliest times, and in mental cases has often been highly
efficacious.[613] Referring to music as inducing sleep, we may quote the
touching passage in “2 Henry IV.” (iv. 5), where the king says:

    “Let there be no noise made, my gentle friends;
    Unless some dull and favourable hand
    Will whisper music to my weary spirit.

    _Warwick._ Call for the music in the other room.”

    [613] “A Book of Musical Anecdote,” by F. Crowest (1878), vol.
    ii. pp. 251, 252.

Ariel, in “The Tempest” (ii. 1), enters playing _solemn music_ to
produce this effect.

A mad-house seems formerly to have been designated a “dark house.”
Hence, in “Twelfth Night” (iii. 4), the reason for putting Malvolio into
a dark room was, to make him believe that he was mad. In the following
act (iv. 2) he says: “Good Sir Topas, do not think I am mad; they have
laid me here in hideous darkness;” and further on (v. 1) he asks,

    “Why have you suffer’d me to be imprison’d,
    Kept in a dark house?”

In “As You Like It” (iii. 2), Rosalind says that “Love is merely a
madness, and ... deserves as well a dark-house and a whip as madmen do.”

The expression “horn-mad,” _i. e._, quite mad, occurs in the “Comedy of
Errors” (ii. 1): “Why, mistress, sure my master is horn-mad.” And,
again, in “Merry Wives of Windsor” (i. 4), Mistress Quickly says, “If he
had found the young man, he would have been horn-mad.”

Madness in cattle was supposed to arise from a distemper in the
internal substance of their horns, and furious or mad cattle had their
horns bound with straw.

_King’s Evil._ This was a common name in years gone by for scrofula,
because the sovereigns of England were supposed to possess the power of
curing it, “without other medicine, save only by handling and prayer.”
This custom of “touching for the king’s evil” is alluded to in “Macbeth”
(iv. 3), where the following dialogue is introduced:

      “_Malcolm._             Comes the king forth, I pray you?

      _Doctor._ Ay, sir; there are a crew of wretched souls
    That stay his cure; their malady convinces
    The great assay of art; but, at his touch—
    Such sanctity hath heaven given his hand——
    They presently amend.

      _Malcolm._             I thank you, doctor.

      _Macduff._ What’s the disease he means?

      _Malcolm._                          ’Tis call’d the evil:
    A most miraculous work in this good king;
    Which often, since my here-remain in England,
    I have seen him do. How he solicits heaven,
    Himself best knows: but strangely-visited people,
    All swoln and ulcerous, pitiful to the eye,
    The mere despair of surgery, he cures;
    Hanging a golden stamp about their necks,
    Put on with holy prayers: and ’tis spoken,
    To the succeeding royalty he leaves
    The healing benediction. With this strange virtue
    He hath a heavenly gift of prophecy;
    And sundry blessings hang about his throne,
    That speak him full of grace.”

This reference, which has nothing to do with the progress of the drama,
is introduced, obviously, in compliment to King James, who fancied
himself endowed with the Confessor’s powers.[614] The poet found
authority for the passage in Holinshed (vol. i. p. 279): “As hath bin
thought, he was enspired with the gift of prophecie, and also to haue
hadde the gift of healing infirmities and diseases. Namely, he vsed to
help those that were vexed with the disease, commonly called the kyngs
euill, and left that vertue as it were a portion of inheritance vnto his
successors the kyngs of this realme.” Edward’s miraculous powers were
believed in, we are told, by his contemporaries, or at least soon after
his death, and were expressly recognized by Pope Alexander III., who
canonized him. In Plot’s “Oxfordshire” (chap. x. sec. 125) there is an
account, accompanied with a drawing, of the touch-piece supposed to have
been given by this monarch. James I.’s practice of touching for the evil
is frequently mentioned in Nichols’s “Progresses.” Charles I., when at
York, touched seventy persons in one day. Indeed, few are aware to what
an extent this superstition once prevailed. In the course of twenty
years, between 1660 and 1682, no less than 92,107 persons were touched
for this disease. The first English monarch who refused to touch for the
king’s evil was William III., but the practice was resumed by Queen
Anne, who officially announced, in the _London Gazette_, March 12, 1712,
her royal intention to receive patients afflicted with the malady in
question. It was probably about that time that Johnson was touched by
her majesty, upon the recommendation of the celebrated physician Sir
John Floyer, of Lichfield. King George I. put an end to this practice,
which is said to have originated with Edward the Confessor, in
1058.[615] The custom was also observed by French kings; and on Easter
Sunday, 1686, Louis XIV. is said to have touched 1600 persons.

    [614] See Beckett’s “Free and Impartial Enquiry into the
    Antiquity and Efficacy of Touching for the King’s Evil,” 1722.

    [615] See “Notes and Queries,” 1861, 2d series, vol. xi. p. 71;
    Burns’s “History of Parish Registers,” 1862, pp. 179, 180;
    Pettigrew’s “Superstitions Connected with Medicine and
    Surgery,” 1844, pp. 117-154.

_Lethargy._ This is frequently confounded by medical men of former
times, and by Shakespeare himself, with apoplexy. The term occurs in the
list of diseases quoted by Thersites in “Troilus and Cressida” (v.

    [616] Bucknill’s “Medical Knowledge of Shakespeare,” p. 235.

_Leprosy._ This was, in years gone by, used to denote the _lues
venerea_, as in “Antony and Cleopatra” (iii. 8):

         “Yon ribaudred nag of Egypt,—
    Whom leprosy o’ertake!

       *       *       *       *       *

    Hoists sails and flies.”

_Leech._ The old medical term for a leech is a “blood-sucker,” and a
knot would be an appropriate term for a number of clustering leeches.
So, in “Richard III.” (iii. 3), Grey, being led to the block, says of
Richard’s minions:

    “A knot you are of damned blood-suckers.”

In “2 Henry VI.” (iii. 2) mention is made by Warwick of the
“blood-sucker of sleeping men,” which, says Dr. Bucknill, appears to
mean the vampire-bat.

_Measles._ This word originally signified leprosy, although in modern
times used for a very different disorder. Its derivation is the old
French word _meseau_, or _mesel_, a leper. Thus, Cotgrave has “Meseau, a
meselled, scurvy, leaporous, lazarous person.” Distempered or scurvied
hogs are still said to be measled. It is in this sense that it is used
in “Coriolanus” (iii. 1):

    “As for my country I have shed my blood,
    Not fearing outward force, so shall my lungs
    Coin words till their decay, against those measles,
    Which we disdain should tetter us, yet sought
    The very way to catch them.”

_Pleurisy._ This denotes a plethora, or redundancy of blood, and was so
used, probably, from an erroneous idea that the word was derived from
_plus pluris_. It is employed by Shakespeare in “Hamlet” (iv. 7):

    “For goodness, growing to a plurisy,
    Dies in his own too-much.”

In the “Two Noble Kinsmen” (v. 1) there is a similar phrase:

                     “that heal’st with blood
    The earth when it is sick, and cur’st the world
    O’ the plurisy of people.”

The word is frequently used by writers contemporary with Shakespeare.
Thus, for instance, Massinger, in “The Picture” (iv. 2), says:

    “A plurisy of ill blood you must let out
    By labour.”

_Mummy._ This was a preparation for magical purposes, made from dead
bodies, and was used as a medicine both long before and long after
Shakespeare’s day. Its virtues seem to have been chiefly imaginary, and
even the traffic in it fraudulent.[617] The preparation of mummy is said
to have been first brought into use in medicine by a Jewish physician,
who wrote that flesh thus embalmed was good for the cure of divers
diseases, and particularly bruises, to prevent the blood’s gathering and
coagulating. It has, however, long been known that no use whatever can
be derived from it in medicine, and “that all which is sold in the
shops, whether brought from Venice or Lyons, or even directly from the
Levant by Alexandria, is factitious, the work of certain Jews, who
counterfeit it by drying carcasses in ovens, after having prepared them
with powder of myrrh, caballine aloes, Jewish pitch, and other coarse or
unwholesome drugs.”[618] Shakespeare speaks of this preparation. Thus
Othello (iii. 4), referring to the handkerchief which he had given to
Desdemona, relates how:

         “it was dyed in mummy which the skilful
    Conserv’d of maidens’ hearts.”

    [617] See Pettigrew’s “History of Mummies,” 1834; also Gannal,
    “Traité d’Embaumement,” 1838.

    [618] Rees’s “Encyclopædia,” 1829, vol. xxiv.

And, in “Macbeth” (iv. 1), the “witches’ mummy” forms one of the
ingredients of the boiling caldron. Webster, in “The White Devil” (1857,
p. 5), speaks of it:

                            “Your followers
    Have swallow’d you like mummia, and, being sick,
    With such unnatural and horrid physic,
    Vomit you up i’ the kennel.”

Sir Thomas Browne, in his interesting “Fragment on Mummies,” tells us
that Francis I. always carried mummy[619] with him as a panacea against
all disorders. Some used it for epilepsy, some for gout, some used it as
a styptic. He further adds: “The common opinion of the virtues of mummy
bred great consumption thereof, and princes and great men contended for
this strange panacea, wherein Jews dealt largely, manufacturing mummies
from dead carcasses, and giving them the names of kings, while specifics
were compounded from crosses and gibbets leavings.”

    [619] Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps, in his “Handbook Index to
    Shakespeare,” 1866, p. 332, calls it a balsamic liquid.

_Nightmare._ There are various charms practised, in this and other
countries, for the prevention of nightmare, many of which are
exceedingly quaint. In days gone by it appears that St. Vitalis, whose
name has been corrupted into St. Withold, was invoked; and, by way of
illustration, Theobald quotes from the old play of “King John”[620] the

    “Sweet S. Withold, of thy lenitie, defend us from extremitie.”

    [620] “Six Old Plays,” ed. Nichols, p. 256, quoted by Mr. Aldis
    Wright, in his “Notes to King Lear,” 1877, p. 170.

Shakespeare, alluding to the nightmare, in his “King Lear” (iii. 4),
refers to the same saint, and gives us a curious old charm:

    “Saint Withold footed thrice the old [wold];
    He met the night-mare, and her nine-fold;
          Bid her alight
          And her troth plight,
    And, aroint thee, witch, aroint thee!”

For what purpose, as Mr. Singer[621] has pointed out, the incubus is
enjoined to “plight her troth,” will appear from a charm against the
nightmare, in Reginald Scot’s “Discovery of Witchcraft,” which occurs,
with slight variation, in Fletcher’s “Monsieur Thomas” (iv. 6):

    “St. George, St. George, our lady’s knight,
    He walks by day, so does he by night,
    And when he had her found,
    He her beat and her bound,
    Until to him her troth she plight,
    She would not stir from him that night.”

    [621] “Shakespeare,” vol. ix. p. 413.

_Paralysis._ An old term for chronic paralysis was “cold palsies,”
which is used by Thersites in “Troilus and Cressida” (v. 1).[622]

    [622] Bucknill’s “Medical Knowledge of Shakespeare,” p. 235.

_Philosopher’s Stone._ This was supposed, by its touch, to convert base
metal into gold. It is noticed by Shakespeare in “Antony and Cleopatra”
(i. 5):

      “_Alexas._           Sovereign of Egypt, hail!

      _Cleopatra._ How much unlike art thou Mark Antony!
    Yet, coming from him, that great medicine hath
    With his tinct gilded thee.”

The alchemists call the matter, whatever it may be, says Johnson, by
which they perform transmutation, a medicine. Thus, Chapman, in his
“Shadow of Night” (1594): “O, then, thou _great elixir_ of all
treasures;” on which passage he has the following note: “The
philosopher’s stone, or _philosophica medicina_, is called the _great
elixir_.” Another reference occurs in “Timon of Athens” (ii. 2), where
the Fool, in reply to the question of Varro’s Servant, “What is a
whoremaster, fool?” answers, “A fool in good clothes, and something like
thee. ’Tis a spirit: sometime ’t appears like a lord; sometime like a
lawyer; sometime like a philosopher, with two stones moe than’s
artificial one,” etc.; a passage which Johnson explains as meaning “more
than the philosopher’s stone,” or twice the value of a philosopher’s
stone; though, as Farmer observes, “Gower has a chapter, in his
‘Confessio Amantis,’ of the three stones that philosophers made.”
Singer,[623] in his note on the philosopher’s stone, says that Sir
Thomas Smith was one of those who lost considerable sums in seeking of
it. Sir Richard Steele was one of the last eminent men who entertained
hopes of being successful in this pursuit. His laboratory was at

    [623] “Shakespeare,” 1875, vol. iii. p. 284.

    [624] See Pettigrew’s “Medical Superstitions,” pp. 13, 14.

_Pimple._ In the Midland Counties, a common name for a pimple, which, by
rubbing, is made to smart, or _rubbed to sense_, is “a quat.” The word
occurs in “Othello” (v. 1), where Roderigo is so called by Iago:

    “I have rubb’d this young quat almost to the sense,
    And he grows angry.”

—Roderigo being called a quat by the same mode of speech as a low fellow
is now called a _scab_. It occurs in Langham’s “Garden of Health,” p.
153: “The leaves [of coleworts] laid to by themselves, or bruised with
barley meale, are good for the inflammations, and soft swellings,
burnings, impostumes, and cholerick sores or quats,” etc.

_Plague._ “Tokens,” or “God’s tokens,” were the terms for those spots on
the body which denoted the infection of the plague. In “Love’s Labour’s
Lost” (v. 2), Biron says:

    “For the Lord’s tokens on you do I see;”

and in “Antony and Cleopatra” (iii. 10) there is another allusion:

      “_Enobarbus._             How appears the fight?

      _Scarus._ On our side like the token’d pestilence,
    Where death is sure.”

In “Troilus and Cressida” (ii. 3), Ulysses says of Achilles:

    “He is so plaguy proud that the death tokens of it
    Cry—‘No recovery.’”

King Lear, too, it would seem, compares Goneril (ii. 4) to these fatal
signs, when he calls her “a plague sore.” When the _tokens_ had appeared
on any of the inhabitants, the house was shut up, and “Lord have mercy
upon us” written or printed upon the door. Hence Biron, in “Love’s
Labour’s Lost” (v. 2), says:

    “Write, ‘Lord have mercy on us,’ on those three;
    They are infected, in their hearts it lies;
    They have the plague, and caught it of your eyes.”

The “red pestilence,” referred to by Volumnia in “Coriolanus” (iv. 1),
probably alludes to the cutaneous eruptions common in the plague:

    “Now the red pestilence strike all trades in Rome,
    And occupations perish!”

In “The Tempest” (i. 2), Caliban says to Prospero, “The red plague rid

_Poison._ According to a vulgar error prevalent in days gone by, poison
was supposed to swell the body, an allusion to which occurs in “Julius
Cæsar” (iv. 3), where, in the quarrel between Brutus and Cassius, the
former declares:

    “You shall digest the venom of your spleen,
    Though it do split you.”

We may also compare the following passage in “2 Henry IV.” (iv. 4),
where the king says:

                           “Learn this, Thomas,
    And thou shalt prove a shelter to thy friends;
    A hoop of gold to bind thy brothers in,
    That the united vessel of their blood,
    Mingled with venom of suggestion—
    As, force perforce, the age will pour it in—
    Shall never leak, though it do work as strong
    As aconitum, or rash gunpowder.”

In “King John,” Hubert, when describing the effect of the poison upon
the monk (v. 6), narrates how his “bowels suddenly burst out.” This
passage also contains a reference to the popular custom prevalent in the
olden days, of great persons having their food tasted by those who were
supposed to have made themselves acquainted with its wholesomeness. This
practice, however, could not always afford security when the taster was
ready to sacrifice his own life, as in the present case:[625]

      “_Hubert._ The king, I fear, is poison’d by a monk:
    I left him almost speechless....

      _Bastard._ How did he take it? who did taste to him?

      _Hubert._ A monk, I tell you; a resolved villain.”

    [625] Bucknill’s “Medical Knowledge of Shakespeare,” p. 136.

The natives of Africa have been supposed to be possessed of the secret
how to temper poisons with such art as not to operate till several
years after they were administered. Their drugs were then as certain in
their effect as subtle in their preparation.[626] Thus, in “The Tempest”
(iii. 3), Gonzalo says:

    “All three of them are desperate: their great guilt,
    Like poison given to work a great time after,
    Now ’gins to bite the spirits.”

    [626] Singer’s “Shakespeare,” vol. i. p. 65.

The belief in slow poisoning was general in bygone times, although no
better founded on fact, remarks Dr. Bucknill,[627] than the notion that
persons burst with poison, or that narcotics could, like an alarum
clock, be set for a certain number of hours. So, in “Cymbeline” (v. 5),
Cornelius relates to the king the queen’s confession:

                     “She did confess, she had
    For you a mortal mineral; which, being took,
    Should by the minute feed on life, and, lingering,
    By inches waste you.”

    [627] “Medical Knowledge of Shakespeare,” p. 226.

_Pomander._ This was either a composition of various perfumes wrought in
the shape of a ball or other form, and worn in the pocket or hung about
the neck, and even sometimes suspended to the wrist; or a case for
containing such a mixture of perfumes. It was used as an amulet against
the plague or other infections, as well as for an article of luxury.
There is an allusion to its use in the “Winter’s Tale” (iv. 3), by
Autolycus, who enumerates it among all his trumpery that he had sold.
The following recipe for making a pomander we find in an old play:[628]
“Your only way to make a pomander is this: take an ounce of the purest
garden mould, cleans’d and steep’d seven days in change of motherless
rose-water. Then take the best labdanum, benjoin, with storaxes,
ambergris, civet, and musk. Incorporate them together, and work them
into what form you please. This, if your breath be not too valiant, will
make you smell as sweet as any lady’s dog.”

    [628] Quoted in Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 671.

_Rheumatism._ In Shakespeare’s day this was used in a far wider sense
than nowadays, including, in addition to what is now understood by the
term, distillations from the head, catarrhs, etc. Malone quotes from the
“Sidney Memorials” (vol. i. p. 94), where the health of Sir Henry Sidney
is described: “He hath verie much distempored divers parts of his bodie;
as namelie, his heade, his stomack, &c., and thereby is always subject
to distillacions, coughes, and other rumatick diseases.” Among the many
superstitions relating to the moon,[629] one is mentioned in “A
Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (ii. 1), where Titania tells how the moon,

    “Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
    That rheumatic diseases do abound.”

    [629] See p. 74.

The word “rheumatic” was also formerly used in the sense of choleric or
peevish, as in “2 Henry IV.” (ii. 4), where the Hostess says: “You two
never meet but you fall to some discord: you are both, in good troth, as
rheumatic as two dry toasts.” Again, in “Henry V.” (ii. 3), the Hostess
says of Falstaff: “A’ did in some sort, indeed, handle women; but then
he was rheumatic,[630] and talked of the whore of Babylon.”

    [630] Malone suggests that the hostess may mean “then he was

_Serpigo._ This appears to have been a term extensively used by old
medical authors for any creeping skin disease, being especially applied
to that known as the _herpes circinatus_. The expression occurs in
“Measure for Measure” (iii. 1), being coupled by the Duke with “the
gout” and the “rheum.” In “Troilus and Cressida” (ii. 3), Thersites
says: “Now, the dry serpigo on the subject.”

_Sickness._ Sickness of stomach, which the slightest disgust is apt to
provoke, is still expressed by the term “queasy;” hence the word denoted
_delicate_, _unsettled_; as in “King Lear” (ii. 1), where it is used by

      “I have one thing, of a queasy question,
    Which I must act.”

So Ben Jonson employs it in “Sejanus” (i. 1):

    “These times are rather queasy to be touched.”

_Sigh._ It was a prevalent notion that sighs impair the strength and
wear out the animal powers. Thus, in “2 Henry VI.” (iii. 2), Queen
Margaret speaks of “blood-drinking sighs.” We may, too, compare the
words of Oberon in “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (iii. 2), who refers to
“sighs of love, that cost the fresh blood dear.” In “3 Henry VI.” (iv.
4), Queen Elizabeth says:

               “for this I draw in many a tear,
    And stop the rising of blood-sucking sighs.”

Once more, in “Hamlet” (iv. 7), the King mentions the “spendthrift sigh,
that hurts by easing.” Fenton, in his “Tragical Discourses” (1579),
alludes to this notion in the following words: “Your scorching sighes
that have already drayned your body of his wholesome humoures.”

It was also an ancient belief that sorrow consumed the blood and
shortened life. Hence Romeo tells Juliet (iii. 5):

    “And trust me, love, in my eye so do you:
    Dry sorrow drinks our blood.”

_Small-pox._ Such a terrible plague was this disease in the days of our
ancestors, that its name was used as an imprecation. Thus, in “Love’s
Labour’s Lost” (v. 2), the Princess says: “A pox of that jest.”

_Saliva._ The color of the spittle was, with the medical men of olden
times, an important point of diagnosis. Thus, in “2 Henry IV.” (i. 2),
Falstaff exclaims against fighting on a hot day, and wishes he may
“never spit white again,” should it so happen.[631]

    [631] Bucknill’s “Medical Knowledge of Shakespeare,” p. 150.

_Sterility._ The charm against sterility referred to by Cæsar in “Julius
Cæsar” (i. 2) is copied from Plutarch, who, in his description of the
festival Lupercalia, tells us how “noble young men run naked through the
city, striking in sport whom they meet in the way with leather thongs,”
which blows were commonly believed to have the wonderful effect
attributed to them by Cæsar:

    “The barren, touched in this holy chase,
    Shake off their sterile curse.”

_Suicide._ Cominius, in “Coriolanus” (i. 9), arguing against Marcius’s
overstrained modesty, refers to the manner in which suicide was thought
preventable in olden times:

    “If ’gainst yourself you be incens’d, we’ll put you,
    Like one that means his proper harm, in manacles,
    Then reason safely with you.”

_Toothache._ It was formerly a common superstition—and one, too, not
confined to our own country—that toothache was caused by a little worm,
having the form of an eel, which gradually gnawed a hole in the tooth.
In “Much Ado About Nothing” (iii. 2), Shakespeare speaks of this curious

    “_Don Pedro._ What! sigh for the toothache?

    _Leonato._ Where is but a humour, or a worm.”

This notion was, some years ago, prevalent in Derbyshire,[632] where
there was an odd way of extracting, as it was thought, the worm. A small
quantity of a mixture, consisting of dry and powdered herbs, was placed
in some small vessel, into which a live coal from the fire was dropped.
The patient then held his or her open mouth over the vessel, and inhaled
the smoke as long as it could be borne. The cup was then taken away, and
in its place a glass of water was put before the patient. Into this
glass the person breathed hard for a few moments, when it was supposed
the grub or worm could be seen in the water. In Orkney, too, toothache
goes by the name of “the worm,” and, as a remedy, the following charm,
called “wormy lines,” is written on a piece of paper, and worn as an
amulet, by the person affected, in some part of his dress:

    “Peter sat on a marble stone weeping;
    Christ came past, and said, ‘What aileth thee, Peter?’
    ‘O my Lord, my God, my tooth doth ache.’
    ‘Arise, O Peter! go thy way; thy tooth shall ache no more.’”

    [632] See “English Folk-Lore,” p. 156.

This notion is still current in Germany, and is mentioned by Thorpe, in
his “Northern Mythology” (vol. iii. p. 167), who quotes a North German
incantation, beginning,

    “Pear tree, I complain to thee;
    Three worms sting me.”

It is found, too, even in China and New Zealand,[633] the following
charm being used in the latter country:

    “An eel, a spiny back
    True indeed, indeed: true in sooth, in sooth.
    You must eat the head
    Of said spiny back.”

    [633] See Shortland’s “Traditions and Superstitions of the
    New-Zealanders,” 1856, p. 131.

A writer in the _Athenæum_ (Jan. 28, 1860), speaking of the Rev. R. H.
Cobbold’s “Pictures of the Chinese, Drawn by Themselves,” says: “The
first portrait is that of a quack doctress, who pretends to cure
toothache by extracting a maggot—the cause of the disorder. This is
done—or, rather, pretended to be done—by simply placing a bright steel
pin on the part affected, and tapping the pin with a piece of wood. Mr.
Cobbold compares the operation to procuring worms for fishing by working
a spade backwards and forwards in the ground. He and a friend submitted
to the process, but in a very short time compelled the doctress to
desist, by the excessive precautions they took against imposition.” We
may further note that John of Gatisden, one of the oldest medical
authors, attributes decay of the teeth to “a humour or a worm.” In his
“Rosa Anglica”[634] he says: “Si vermes sint in dentibus, ℞ semen porri,
seu lusquiami contere et misce cum cera, pone super carbones, et fumus
recipiatur per embotum, quoniam sanat. Solum etiam semen lusquiami valet
coctum in aqua calida, supra quam aquam patiens palatum apertum si
tenuerit, cadent vermes evidenter vel in illam aquam, vel in aliam quæ
ibi fuerit ibi posita. De myrrha et aloe ponantur in dentem, ubi est
vermis: semen caulis, et absinthium, per se vermes interficit.”

    [634] Liber Secundus—“De Febribus,” p. 923, ed. 1595.

_Tub-fast._ In years past “the discipline of sweating in a heated tub
for a considerable time, accompanied with strict abstinence, was thought
necessary for the cure of venereal taint.”[635] Thus, in “Timon of
Athens” (iv. 3), Timon says to Timandra:

    “Be a whore still! they love thee not that use thee;
    Give them diseases, leaving with thee their lust.
    Make use of thy salt hours: season the slaves
    For tubs and baths: bring down rose-cheeked youth
    To the tub-fast, and the diet.”

    [635] Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 906.

As beef, too, was usually salted down in a tub, the one process was
jocularly compared to the other. So, in “Measure for Measure” (iii. 2),
Pompey, when asked by Lucio about his mistress, replies, “Troth, sir,
she hath eaten up all her beef, and she is herself in the tub.” Again,
in “Henry V.” (ii. 1), Pistol speaks of “the powdering-tub of infamy.”

_Vinegar._ In Shakespeare’s day this seems to have been termed “eisel”
(from A. S. _aisel_), being esteemed highly efficacious in preventing
the communication of the plague and other contagious diseases. In this
sense it has been used by Shakespeare in Sonnet cxi.:

          “like a willing patient, I will drink
    Potions of eisel, ’gainst my strong infection.”

In a MS. Herbal in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge, occurs
“acetorum, ance vynegre or aysel.” The word occurs again in “Hamlet”
(v. 1), where Laertes is challenged by Hamlet:

    “Woo’t drink up eisel? eat a crocodile?”

The word woo’t, in the northern counties, is the common contraction of
_wouldst thou_, which is the reading of the old copies. In former years
it was the fashion with gallants to do some extravagant feat, as a proof
of their love, in honor of their mistresses, and, among others, the
swallowing of some nauseous potion was one of the most frequent. Hence,
in the above passage, some bitter potion is evidently meant, which it
was a penance to drink. Some are of opinion that _wormwood_ is alluded
to; and Mr. Singer thinks it probable that “the propoma called
absinthites, a nauseously bitter medicament then much in use, may have
been in the poet’s mind, to drink up a quantity of which would be an
extreme pass of amorous demonstration.” It has been suggested by a
correspondent of “Notes and Queries,”[636] that the reference in this
passage from “Hamlet” is to a Lake Esyl, which figures in Scandinavian
legends. Messrs. Wright and Clark, however, in their “Notes to Hamlet”
(1876, p. 218), say that they have consulted Mr. Magnusson on this
point, and he writes as follows: “No such lake as Esyl is known to Norse
mythology and folk-lore.” Steevens supposes it to be the river

    [636] See 4th series, vol. x. pp. 108, 150, 229, 282, 356.

    [637] See Dyce’s “Shakespeare,” vol. vii. p. 239.

_Water-casting._ The fanciful notion of recognizing diseases by the mere
inspection of the urine was denounced years ago, by an old statute of
the College of Physicians, as belonging to tricksters and impostors, and
any member of the college was forbidden to give advice by this so-called
“water-casting” without he also saw the patient. The statute of the
college runs as follows: “Statuimus, et ordinamus, ut nemo, sive socius,
sive candidatus, sive permissus consilii quidquam impertiat
veteratoriis, et impostoribus, super urinarum nuda inspectione, nisi
simul ad ægrum vocetur, ut ibidem, pro re natû, idonea medicamenta ab
honesto aliquo pharmacopoea componenda præscribat.” An allusion to this
vulgar error occurs in the “Two Gentlemen of Verona” (ii. 1), where,
after Speed has given to Valentine his amusing description of a lover,
in which, among other signs, are “to walk alone, like one that had the
pestilence,” and “to fast, like one that takes diet,” the following
quibble takes place upon the within and the without of the symptoms:

    “_Valentine._ Are all these things perceived in me?

    _Speed._ They are all perceived without ye.

    _Valentine._ Without me? they cannot.

    _Speed._ Without you? nay, that’s certain; for, without you
    were so simple, none else would: but you are so without these
    follies, that these follies are within you, and shine through
    you like the water in an urinal, that not an eye that sees you
    but is a physician to comment on your malady.”

This singular pretence, says Dr. Bucknill,[638] is “alleged to have
arisen, like the barber surgery, from the ecclesiastical interdicts upon
the medical vocations of the clergy. Priests and monks, being unable to
visit their former patients, are said first to have resorted to the
expedient of divining the malady, and directing the treatment upon
simple inspection of the urine. However this may be, the practice is of
very ancient date.” Numerous references to this piece of medical
quackery occur in many of our old writers, most of whom condemn it in
very strong terms. Thus Forestus, in his “Medical Politics,” speaks of
it as being, in his opinion, a practice altogether evil, and expresses
an earnest desire that medical men would combine to repress it.
Shakespeare gives a further allusion to it in the passage where he makes
Macbeth (v. 3) say:

                “If thou couldst, doctor, cast
    The water of my land, find her disease,
    And purge it to a sound and pristine health,
    I would applaud thee to the very echo.”

    [638] “The Medical Knowledge of Shakespeare,” 1860, pp. 1-64.

And in “2 Henry IV” (i. 2) Falstaff asks the page, “What says the doctor
to my water?” and, once more, in “Twelfth Night” (iii. 4), Fabian,
alluding to Malvolio, says, “Carry his water to the wise woman.”

It seems probable, too, that, in the “Merry Wives of Windsor” (ii. 3),
the term “mock-water,” employed by the host to the French Dr. Caius,
refers to the mockery of judging of diseases by the water or
urine—“mock-water,” in this passage, being equivalent to “you pretending



In years gone by the anniversaries connected with the calendar were kept
up with an amount of enthusiasm and merry-making quite unknown at the
present day. Thus, for instance, Shakespeare tells us, with regard to
the May-day observance, that it was looked forward to so eagerly as to
render it impossible to make the people sleep on this festive occasion.
During the present century the popular celebrations of the festivals
have been gradually on the decline, and nearly every year marks the
disuse of some local custom. Shakespeare has not omitted to give a good
many scattered allusions to the old superstitions and popular usages
associated with the festivals of the year, some of which still survive
in our midst.

Alluding to the revels, there can be no doubt that Shakespeare was
indebted to the revel-books for some of his plots. Thus, in “The
Tempest” (iv. 1), Prospero remarks to Ferdinand and Miranda, after Iris,
Ceres, and Juno have appeared, and the dance of the nymphs is over:

    “You do look, my son, in a mov’d sort,
    As if you were dismay’d; be cheerful, sir.
    Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
    As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
    Are melted into air, into thin air:
    And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
    The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
    The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
    Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
    And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
    Leave not a rack behind.”

It has been inferred that Shakespeare was present at Kenilworth, in
1575, when Elizabeth was so grandly entertained there. Lakes and seas
are represented in the masque. Triton, in the likeness of a mermaid,
came towards the queen, says George Gascoigne, and “Arion appeared,
sitting on a dolphin’s back.” In the dialogue in “A Midsummer-Night’s
Dream,” between Oberon and Puck (ii. 1), there seems a direct allusion
to this event:

    “_Oberon._ My gentle Puck, come hither. Thou remember’st
    Since once I sat upon a promontory,
    And heard a mermaid on a dolphin’s back
    Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath,
    That the rude sea grew civil at her song,
    And certain stars shot madly from their spheres,
    To hear the sea-maid’s music.

    _Puck._ I remember.”

Then, too, there were the “Children of the Revels,” a company who
performed at Blackfriars Theatre. In “Hamlet” (ii. 2), Shakespeare
alludes to these “children-players.”[639] Rosencrantz says, in the
conversation preceding the entry of the players, in reply to Hamlet’s
inquiry whether the actors have suffered through the result of the late
inhibition, evidently referring to the plague, “Nay, their endeavour
keeps in the wonted pace; but there is, sir, an aery of children, little
eyases, that cry out on the top of question, and are most tyrannically
clapped for ’t; these are now the fashion; and so berattle the common
stages—so they call them—that many wearing rapiers are afraid of
goose-quills, and dare scarce come thither.”

    [639] “The England of Shakespeare,” E. Goadby, 1881, p. 153.

_Twelfth-Day._ There can be no doubt that the title of Shakespeare’s
play, “Twelfth Night,” took its origin in the festivities associated
with this festival. The season has, from time immemorial, been one of
merriment, “the more decided from being the proper close of the
festivities of Christmas, when games of chance were traditionally rife,
and the sport of sudden and casual elevation gave the tone of the time.
Of like tone is the play, and to this,”[640] says Mr. Lloyd, “it
apparently owes its title.” The play, it appears, was probably
originally acted at the barristers’ feast at the Middle Temple, on
February 2, 1601-2, as Manningham tells us in his “Diary” (Camden
Society, 1868, ed. J. Bruce, p. 18). It is worthy of note that the
festive doings of the Inns of Court, in days gone by, at Christmas-tide
were conducted on the most extravagant scale.[641] In addition to the
merry disports of the Lord of Misrule, there were various revels. The
Christmas masque at Gray’s Inn, in 1594, was on a magnificent scale.

    [640] “Critical Essays on the Plays of Shakespeare,” 1875, p.
    145; see Singer’s “Shakespeare,” vol. iii. pp. 347, 348.

    [641] See “British Popular Customs,” p. 473.

_St. Valentine’s Day_ (Feb. 14). Whatever may be the historical origin
of this festival, whether heathen or Christian, there can be no doubt of
its antiquity. According to an old tradition, to which Chaucer refers,
birds choose their mates on this day; and hence, in “A Midsummer-Night’s
Dream” (iv. 1), Theseus asks:

    “Good morrow, friends. St. Valentine is past:
    Begin these wood-birds but to couple now?”

From this notion, it has been suggested, arose the once popular practice
of choosing valentines, and also the common belief that the first two
single persons who meet in the morning of St. Valentine’s day have a
great chance of becoming wed to each other. This superstition is alluded
to in Ophelia’s song in “Hamlet” (iv. 5):

    “To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
      All in the morning betime,
    And I a maid at your window,
      To be your valentine.”

There seems every probability that St. Valentine’s day, with its many
customs, has come down to us from the Romans, but was fathered upon St.
Valentine in the earlier ages of the Church in order to Christianize
it.[642] In France St. Valentine’s was a movable feast, celebrated on
the first Sunday in Lent, which was called the _jour des brandons_,
because the boys carried about lighted torches on that day.

    [642] “Notes and Queries,” 6th series, vol. i. p. 129.

_Shrove-Tuesday._ This day was formerly devoted to feasting and
merriment of every kind, but whence originated the custom of eating
pancakes is still a matter of uncertainty. The practice is alluded to in
“All’s Well that Ends Well” (ii. 2), where the clown speaks of “a
pancake for Shrove-Tuesday.”[643] In “Pericles” (ii. 1) they are termed
“flap-jacks,” a term used by Taylor, the Water-Poet, in his “Jack-a-Lent
Workes” (1630, vol. i. p. 115): “Until at last by the skill of the cooke
it is transformed into the form of a flap-jack, which in our translation
is called a pancake.” Shrovetide was, in times gone by, a season of such
mirth that _shroving_, or _to shrove_, signified to be merry. Hence, in
“2 Henry IV.” (v. 3), Justice Silence says:

    “Be merry, be merry, my wife has all;
    For women are shrews, both short and tall;
    ’Tis merry in hall, when beards wag all,
          And welcome merry shrove-tide.
    Be merry, be merry.”

    [643] Cf. “As You Like It” (i. 2). Touchstone alludes to a
    “certain knight, that swore by his honour they were good

It was a holiday and a day of license for apprentices, laboring persons,
and others.[644]

    [644] See Hone’s “Every Day Book,” 1836, vol. i. p. 258; “Book
    of Days,” vol. i. p. 239; see, also, Dekker’s “Seven Deadly
    Sins,” 1606, p. 35; “British Popular Customs,” pp. 62-91.

_Lent._ This season was at one time marked by a custom now fallen into
disuse. A figure, made up of straw and cast-off clothes, was drawn or
carried through the streets amid much noise and merriment; after which
it was either burned, shot at, or thrown down a chimney. This image was
called a “Jack-a-Lent,” and was, according to some, intended to
represent Judas Iscariot. It occurs twice in the “Merry Wives of
Windsor;” once merely as a jocular appellation (iii. 3), where Mrs. Page
says to Robin, “You little Jack-a-Lent, have you been true to us?” and
once (v. 5) as a butt, or object of satire and attack, Falstaff
remarking, “How wit may be made a Jack-a-Lent, when ’tis upon ill
employment!” It is alluded to by Ben Jonson in his “Tale of a Tub” (iv.

    “Thou cam’st but half a thing into the world,
    And wast made up of patches, parings, shreds;
    Thou, that when last thou wert put out of service,
    Travell’d to Hamstead Heath on an Ash Wednesday,
    Where thou didst stand six weeks the Jack of Lent,
    For boys to hurl three throws a penny at thee,
    To make thee a purse.”

Elderton, in a ballad called “Lenton Stuff,” in a MS. in the Ashmolean
Museum, thus concludes his account of Lent:[645]

    “When Jakke a’ Lent comes justlynge in,
      With the hedpeece of a herynge,
    And saythe, repent yowe of yower syn,
      For shame, syrs, leve yowre swerynge:
    And to Palme Sonday doethe he ryde,
      With sprots and herryngs by his syde,
    And makes an end of Lenton tyde!”[646]

    [645] “Notes and Queries,” 1st series, vol. xii. p. 297.

    [646] See Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 443; Brand’s “Pop.
    Antiq.,” 1849, vol. i. p. 101. Taylor, the Water-Poet, has a
    tract entitled “_Jack-a-Lent_, his Beginning and Entertainment,
    with the mad Prankes of Gentlemen-Usher, Shrove Tuesday.”

In the reign of Elizabeth butchers were strictly enjoined not to sell
fleshmeat in Lent, not with a religious view, but for the double
purpose[647] of diminishing the consumption of fleshmeat during that
period, and so making it more plentiful during the rest of the year, and
of encouraging the fisheries and augmenting the number of seamen.
Butchers, however, who had an interest at court frequently obtained a
dispensation to kill a certain number of beasts a week during Lent; of
which indulgence the wants of invalids, who could not subsist without
animal food, was made the pretence. It is to this practice that Cade
refers in “2 Henry VI.” (iv. 3), where he tells Dick, the butcher of
Ashford: “Therefore, thus will I reward thee,—the Lent shall be as long
again as it is; and thou shalt have a license to kill for a hundred
lacking one.”

    [647] Singer’s “Shakespeare,” vol. vi. p. 219.

In “2 Henry IV.” (ii. 4), Falstaff mentions an indictment against
Hostess Quickly, “for suffering flesh to be eaten in thy house, contrary
to the law; for the which I think thou wilt howl.” Whereupon she
replies, “All victuallers do so: what’s a joint of mutton or two in a
whole Lent?”

The sparing fare in olden days, during Lent, is indirectly referred to
by Rosencrantz in “Hamlet” (ii. 2): “To think, my lord, if you delight
not in man, what lenten entertainment the players shall receive.” We may
compare, too, Maria’s words in “Twelfth Night” (i. 5), where she speaks
of a good lenten answer, _i. e._, short.

By a scrap of proverbial rhyme quoted by Mercutio in “Romeo and Juliet”
(ii. 4), and the speech introducing it, it appears that a stale hare
might be used to make a pie in Lent; he says:

    “No hare, sir: unless a hare, sir, in a lenten pie, that is
    something stale and hoar ere it be spent.

      An old hare hoar,
      And an old hare hoar,
    Is very good meat in Lent,” etc.

_Scambling days._ The days so called were Mondays and Saturdays in Lent,
when no regular meals were provided, and our great families scambled.
There may possibly be an indirect allusion to this custom in “Henry V.”
(v. 2), where Shakespeare makes King Henry say: “If ever thou beest
mine, Kate, as I have a saving faith within me tells me thou shalt, I
get thee with scambling.” In the old household book of the fifth Earl of
Northumberland there is a particular section appointing the order of
service for these days, and so regulating the licentious contentions of
them. We may, also, compare another passage in the same play (i. 1),
where the Archbishop of Canterbury speaks of “the scambling and unquiet

_Good Friday._ Beyond the bare allusion to this day, Shakespeare makes
no reference to the many observances formerly associated with it. In
“King John” (i. 1) he makes Philip the Bastard say to Lady

    “Madam, I was not old Sir Robert’s son:
    Sir Robert might have eat his part in me
    Upon Good Friday, and ne’er broke his fast.”

And, in “1 Henry IV.” (i. 2), Poins inquires: “Jack, how agrees the
devil and thee about thy soul, that thou soldest him on Good Friday
last, for a cup of Madeira and a cold capon’s leg?”

_Easter._ According to a popular superstition, it is considered unlucky
to omit wearing new clothes on Easter Day, to which Shakespeare no doubt
alludes in “Romeo and Juliet” (iii. 1), when he makes Mercutio ask
Benvolio whether he did “not fall out with a tailor for wearing his new
doublet before Easter.” In East Yorkshire, on Easter Eve, young folks go
to the nearest market-town to buy some new article of dress or personal
adornment to wear for the first time on Easter Day, as otherwise they
believe that birds—notably rooks or “crakes”—will spoil their
clothes.[648] In “Poor Robin’s Almanac” we are told:

    “At Easter let your clothes be new,
    Or else be sure you will it rue.”

    [648] “Notes and Queries,” 4th series, vol. v. p. 595.

Some think that the custom of “clacking” at Easter—which is not quite
obsolete in some counties—is incidentally alluded to in “Measure for
Measure” (iii. 2) by Lucio: “his use was, to put a ducat in her
clack-dish.”[649] The clack or clap dish was a wooden dish with a
movable cover, formerly carried by beggars, which they clacked and
clattered to show that it was empty. In this they received the alms.
Lepers and other paupers deemed infectious originally used it, that the
sound might give warning not to approach too near, and alms be given
without touching the person.

    [649] See Singer’s “Shakespeare,” vol. i. p. 362; Nares’s
    “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 164: Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol.
    iii. p. 94.

A popular name for Easter Monday was Black Monday, so called, says
Stow, because “in the 34th of Edward III. (1360), the 14th of April, and
the morrow after Easter Day, King Edward, with his host, lay before the
city of Paris; which day was full dark of mist and hail, and so bitter
cold, that many men died on their horses’ backs with the cold. Wherefore
unto this day it hath been call’d the Blacke Monday.” Thus, in the
“Merchant of Venice” (ii. 5), Launcelot says, “it was not for nothing
that my nose fell a-bleeding on Black Monday last at six o’clock i’ the

_St. David’s Day_ (March 1). This day is observed by the Welsh in honor
of St. David, their patron saint, when, as a sign of their patriotism,
they wear a leek. Much doubt exists as to the origin of this custom.
According to the Welsh, it is because St. David ordered his Britons to
place leeks in their caps, that they might be distinguished from their
Saxon foes. Shakespeare introduces the custom into his play of “Henry
V.” (iv. 7), where Fluellen, addressing the monarch, says:

    “Your grandfather of famous memory, an’t please your majesty,
    and your great uncle Edward the Plack Prince of Wales, as I
    have read in the chronicles, fought a most prave pattle here
    in France.

    _K. Henry._ They did, Fluellen.

    _Flu._ Your majesty says very true: if your majesties is
    remembered of it, the Welshmen did goot service in a garden
    where leeks did grow, wearing leeks in their Monmouth caps;
    which, your majesty know, to this hour is an honourable padge
    of the service; and I do pelieve, your majesty takes no scorn
    to wear the leek upon Saint Tavy’s day.”

It has been justly pointed out, however, that this allusion by Fluellen
to the Welsh having worn the leek in battle under the Black Prince is
not, as some writers suppose, wholly decisive of its having originated
in the fields of Cressy, but rather shows that when Shakespeare wrote
Welshmen wore leeks.[650] In the same play, too (iv. 1), the
well-remembered Fluellen’s enforcement of Pistol to eat the leek he had
ridiculed further establishes the wearing as a usage. Pistol says:

    “Tell him I’ll knock his leek about his pate
    Upon Saint Davy’s day.”

    [650] See Hone’s “Every Day Book,” vol. i. p. 318; “British
    Popular Customs,” pp. 110-113.

In days gone by this day was observed by royalty; and in 1695 we read
how William III. wore a leek on St. David’s Day, “presented to him by
his sergeant, Porter, who hath as perquisites all the wearing apparel
his majestie had on that day, even to his sword.” It appears that
formerly, among other customs, a Welshman was burned in effigy upon “St.
Tavy’s Day,” an allusion to which occurs in “Poor Robin’s Almanack” for

    “But it would make a stranger laugh,
    To see th’ English hang poor Taff:
    A pair of breeches and a coat,
    Hat, shoes, and stockings, and what not,
    Are stuffed with hay, to represent
    The Cambrian hero thereby meant.”

_St. Patrick’s Day_ (March 17). Shakespeare, in “Hamlet” (i. 5), makes
the Danish prince swear by St. Patrick, on which Warburton remarks that
the whole northern world had their learning from Ireland.[651] As Mr.
Singer[652] observes, however, it is more probable that the poet seized
the first popular imprecation that came to his mind, without regarding
whether it suited the country or character of the person to whom he gave
it. Some, again, have supposed that there is a reference here to St.
Patrick’s purgatory, but this does not seem probable.

    [651] St. Patrick rids Ireland of snakes; see p. 257.

    [652] Singer’s “Shakespeare,” 1870, vol. ix. p. 168.

_St. George’s Day_ (April 23). St. George, the guardian saint of
England, is often alluded to by Shakespeare. His festival, which was
formerly celebrated by feasts of cities and corporations, is now almost
passed over without notice. Thus, Bedford, in “1 Henry VI.” (i. 1),
speaks of keeping “our great Saint George’s feast withal.” “God and St.
George” was once a common battle-cry, several references to which occur
in Shakespeare’s plays. Thus, in “Henry V.” (iii. 1), the king says to
his soldiers:[653]

    “Cry, God for Harry, England, and Saint George.”

    [653] Cf. “Henry V.,” v. 2; “3 Henry VI.,” ii. 1, 2; “Taming of
    the Shrew,” ii. 1; “Richard II.,” i. 3.

Again, in “1 Henry VI.” (iv. 2), Talbot says:

    “God and Saint George, Talbot and England’s right,
    Prosper our colours in this dangerous fight!”

The following injunction, from an old act of war, concerning the use of
St. George’s name in onsets, is curious: “Item, that all souldiers
entering into battaile, assault, skirmish, or other faction of armes,
shall have for their common crye and word, _St. George, forward_, or,
_Upon them, St. George_, whereby the souldier is much comforted, and the
enemie dismaied, by calling to minde the ancient valour of England, with
which that name has so often been victorious.”[654]

    [654] Cited by Warton in a note on “Richard III.,” v. 3.

The combat of this saint on horseback with a dragon has been very long
established as a subject for sign-painting. In “King John” (ii. 1)
Philip says:

    “Saint George, that swing’d the dragon, and e’er since
    Sits on his horseback at mine hostess’ door.”

It is still a very favorite sign. In London alone[655] there are said to
be no less than sixty-six public-houses and taverns with the sign of St.
George and the Dragon, not counting beer-houses and coffee-houses.

    [655] Hotten’s “History of Sign-boards,” 1866, 3d ed., p. 287.

_May Day._ The festival of May day has, from the earliest times, been
most popular in this country, on account of its association with the
joyous season of spring. It was formerly celebrated with far greater
enthusiasm than nowadays, for Bourne tells us how the young people were
in the habit of rising a little after midnight and walking to some
neighboring wood, accompanied with music and the blowing of horns, where
they broke down branches from the trees, which, decorated with nosegays
and garlands of flowers, were brought home soon after sunrise, and
placed at their doors and windows. Shakespeare, alluding to this
practice, informs us how eagerly it was looked forward to, and that it
was impossible to make the people sleep on May morning. Thus, in “Henry
VIII.” (v. 4), it is said:

    “Pray, sir, be patient: ’tis as much impossible—
    Unless we sweep ’em from the door with cannons—
    To scatter ’em, as ’tis to make ’em sleep
    On May-day morning.”

Again, in “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (i. 1), Lysander, speaking of
these May-day observances, says to Hermia:

                          “If thou lov’st me, then,
    Steal forth thy father’s house to-morrow night;
    And in the wood, a league without the town,
    Where I did meet thee once with Helena,
    To do observance to a morn of May,
    There will I stay for thee.”

And Theseus says (iv. 1):

    “No doubt they rose up early to observe
    The rite of May.”[656]

    [656] Cf. “Twelfth Night” (iii. 4): “More matter for a May morning.”

In the “Two Noble Kinsmen” (ii. 3), one of the four countrymen asks: “Do
we all hold against the Maying?”

In Chaucer’s “Court of Love” we read that early on May day “Fourth goth
al the Court, both most and lest, to fetche the flowris fresh and
blome.” In the reign of Henry VIII. it is on record that the heads of
the corporation of London went out into the high grounds of Kent to
gather the May, and were met on Shooter’s Hill by the king and his
queen, Katherine of Arragon, as they were coming from the palace of
Greenwich. Until within a comparatively recent period, this custom still
lingered in some of the counties. Thus, at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the
following doggerel was sung:

    “Rise up, maidens, fie for shame!
    For I’ve been four long miles from hame,
    I’ve been gathering my garlands gay,
    Rise up, fair maidens, and take in your May.”

Many of the ballads sung nowadays, in country places, by the village
children, on May morning, as they carry their garlands from door to
door, undoubtedly refer to the old practice of going a-Maying, although
fallen into disuse.

In olden times nearly every village had its May-pole, around which,
decorated with wreaths of flowers, ribbons, and flags, our merry
ancestors danced from morning till night. The earliest representation of
an English May-pole is that published in the “Variorum Shakespeare,” and
depicted on a window at Betley, in Staffordshire, then the property of
Mr. Tollet, and which he was disposed to think as old as the time of
Henry VIII. The pole is planted in a mound of earth, and has affixed to
it St. George’s red-cross banner and a white pennon or streamer with a
forked end. The shaft of the pole is painted in a diagonal line of black
colors upon a yellow ground, a characteristic decoration of all these
ancient May-poles, as alluded to by Shakespeare in “A Midsummer-Night’s
Dream” (iii. 2), where it gives point to Hermia’s allusion to her rival
Helena as “a painted May-pole.”[657] The popularity of the May-pole in
former centuries is shown by the fact that one of our London parishes,
St. Andrew Undershaft, derives its name from the May-pole which overhung
its steeple, a reference to which we find made by Geoffrey Chaucer, who,
speaking of a vain boaster, says:

    “Right well aloft, and high ye bear your head,
    As ye would bear the great shaft of Cornhill.”

    [657] “Book of Days,” vol. i. p. 575; see “British Popular
    Customs,” pp. 228-230, 249.

London, indeed, had several May-poles, one of which stood in Basing
Lane, near St. Paul’s Cathedral. It was a large fir pole, forty feet
high and fifteen inches in diameter, and fabled to be the justing staff
of Gerard the Giant. Only a few, however, of the old May-poles remain
scattered here and there throughout the country. One still supports a
weathercock in the churchyard at Pendleton, Manchester; and in
Derbyshire, a few years ago, several were to be seen standing on some of
the village greens. The rhymes made use of as the people danced round
the May-pole varied according to the locality, and oftentimes combined a
curious mixture of the jocose and sacred.

Another feature of the May-day festivities was the morris-dance, the
principal characters of which generally were Robin Hood, Maid Marian,
Scarlet, Stokesley, Little John, the Hobby-horse, the Bavian or Fool,
Tom the Piper, with his pipe and tabor. The number of characters varied
much at different times and places. In “All’s Well that Ends Well” (ii.
2), the clown says: “As fit as ten groats is for the hand of an attorney
... a morris for May-day.”[658]

    [658] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” vol. i. pp. 247-270; “Book of
    Days,” vol. i. pp. 630-633.

In “2 Henry VI.” (iii. 1) the Duke of York says of Cade:

                           “I have seen
    Him caper upright, like a wild Morisco,
    Shaking the bloody darts, as he his bells.”

In the “Two Noble Kinsmen” (iii. 5) Gerrold, the schoolmaster, thus
describes to King Theseus the morris-dance:

    “If you but favour, our country pastime made is.
    We are a few of those collected here,
    That ruder tongues distinguish villagers;
    And, to say verity and not to fable,
    We are a merry rout, or else a rable,
    Or company, or, by a figure, choris,
    That ’fore thy dignity will dance a morris.
    And I, that am the rectifier of all,
    By title _Pædagogus_, that let fall
    The birch upon the breeches of the small ones,
    And humble with a ferula the tall ones,
    Do here present this machine, or this frame:
    And, dainty duke, whose doughty dismal fame,
    From Dis to Dædalus, from post to pillar,
    Is blown abroad, help me, thy poor well willer,
    And, with thy twinkling eyes, look right and straight
    Upon this mighty _morr_—of mickle weight—
    _Is_—now comes in, which being glu’d together
    Makes _morris_, and the cause that we came hether,
    The body of our sport, of no small study.
    I first appear, though rude, and raw, and muddy,
    To speak, before thy noble grace, this tenner;
    At whose great feet I offer up my penner:
    The next, the Lord of May and Lady bright,
    The chambermaid and serving-man, by night
    That seek out silent hanging: then mine host
    And his fat spouse, that welcomes to their cost
    The galled traveller, and with a beck’ning,
    Inform the tapster to inflame the reck’ning:
    Then the beast-eating clown, and next the fool,
    The bavian, with long tail and eke long tool;
    _Cum multis aliis_ that make a dance:
    Say ‘Ay,’ and all shall presently advance.”

Among the scattered allusions to the characters of this dance may be
noticed that in “1 Henry IV.” (iii. 3): “and for womanhood, Maid Marian
may be the deputy’s wife of the ward to thee”—the allusion being to “the
degraded Maid Marian of the later morris-dance, more male than

    [659] Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 550.

The “hobby-horse,” another personage of the morris-dance on May day, was
occasionally omitted, and appears to have given rise to a popular
ballad, a line of which is given by “Hamlet” (iii. 2):

    “For, O, for, O, the hobby-horse is forgot.”

This is quoted again in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (iii. 1). The hobby-horse
was formed by a pasteboard horse’s head, and a light frame made of
wicker-work to join the hinder parts. This was fastened round the body
of a man, and covered with a foot-cloth which nearly reached the ground,
and concealed the legs of the performer, who displayed his antic
equestrian skill, and performed various juggling tricks, to the
amusement of the bystanders. In Sir Walter Scott’s “Monastery” there is
a spirited description of the hobby-horse.

The term “hobby-horse” was applied to a loose woman, and in the
“Winter’s Tale” (i. 2) it is so used by Leontes, who says to Camillo:

                               “Then say
    My wife’s a hobby-horse; deserves a name
    As rank as any flax-wench, that puts to
    Before her troth-plight.”

In “Othello” (iv. 1), Bianca, speaking of Desdemona’s handkerchief, says
to Cassio: “This is some minx’s token, and I must take out the work!
There, give it your hobby-horse.” It seems also to have denoted a silly
fellow, as in “Much Ado About Nothing” (iii. 2), where it is so used by

Another character was Friar Tuck, the chaplain of Robin Hood, and as
such is noticed in the “Two Gentlemen of Verona” (iv. 1), where one of
the outlaws swears:

    “By the bare scalp of Robin Hood’s fat friar.”

He is also represented by Tollet as a Franciscan friar in the full
clerical tonsure, for, as he adds, “When the parish priests were
inhibited by the diocesan to assist in the May games, the Franciscans
might give attendance, as being exempted from episcopal

    [660] See Drake’s “Shakespeare and his Times,” 1817, vol. i. p. 163.

It was no uncommon occurrence for metrical interludes of a comic
species, and founded on the achievements of the outlaw Robin Hood, to be
performed after the morris, on the May-pole green. Mr. Drake thinks that
these interludes are alluded to in “Twelfth Night” (iii. 4), where
Fabian exclaims, on the approach of Sir Andrew Aguecheek with his
challenge, “More matter for a May morning.”

_Whitsuntide._ Apart from its observance as a religious festival,
Whitsuntide was, in times past, celebrated with much ceremony. In the
Catholic times of England it was usual to dramatize the descent of the
Holy Ghost, which this festival commemorates—a custom which we find
alluded to in Barnaby Googe’s translation of _Naogeorgus_:

    “On Whit-Sunday white pigeons tame in strings from heaven flie,
    And one that framed is of wood still hangeth in the skie,
    Thou seest how they with idols play, and teach the people too:
    None otherwise than little girls with puppets used to do.”

This custom appears to have been carried to an extravagant height in
Spain, for Mr. Fosbroke[661] tells us that the gift of the Holy Ghost
was represented by “thunder from engines which did much damage.” Water,
oak leaves, burning torches, wafers, and cakes were thrown down from the
church roof; pigeons and small birds, with cakes tied to their legs,
were let loose; and a long censer was swung up and down. In our own
country, many costly pageants were exhibited at this season. Thus, at
Chester, the Whitsun Mysteries were acted during the Monday, Tuesday,
and Wednesday in Whitsun week. The performers were carried from one
place to another by means of a scaffold—a huge and ponderous machine
mounted on wheels, gayly decorated with flags, and divided into two
compartments—the upper of which formed the stage, and the lower,
defended from vulgar curiosity by coarse canvas draperies, answered the
purposes of a green-room. To each craft in the city a separate mystery
was allotted. Thus, the drapers exhibited the “Creation,” the tanners
took the “Fall of Lucifer,” the water-carriers of the Dee acted the
“Deluge,” etc. The production, too, of these pageants was extremely
costly; indeed, each one has been set down at fifteen or twenty pounds
sterling. An allusion to this custom is made in the “Two Gentlemen of
Verona” (iv. 4), where Julia says:

                             “At Pentecost,
    When all our pageants of delight were play’d,
    Our youth got me to play the woman’s part,
    And I was trimm’d in Madam Julia’s gown.”

    [661] “Encyclopædia of Antiquities,” 1843, vol. ii. p. 653.

The morris-dance, too, was formerly a common accompaniment to the
Whitsun ales, a practice which is still kept up in many parts of the
country. In “Henry V.” (ii. 4), the Dauphin thus alludes to it:

               “I say, ’tis meet we all go forth,
    To view the sick and feeble parts of France:
    And let us do it with no show of fear;
    No, with no more than if we heard that England
    Were busied with a Whitsun morris-dance.”

And once more, in the “Winter’s Tale” (iv. 4), Perdita says to Florizel:

    “Methinks I play as I have seen them do
    In Whitsun pastorals.”

A custom formerly kept up in connection with Whitsuntide was the
“Whitsun ale.” Ale was so prevalent a drink among us in olden times as
to become a part of the name of various festal meetings, as Leet ale,
Lamb ale, Bride ale (bridal), and, as we see, Whitsun ale. Thus our
ancestors were in the habit of holding parochial meetings every
Whitsuntide, usually in some barn near the church, consisting of a kind
of picnic, as each parishioner brought what victuals he could spare. The
ale, which had been brewed pretty strong for the occasion, was sold by
the churchwardens, and from its profits a fund arose for the repair of
the church.[662] These meetings are referred to by Shakespeare in
“Pericles” (i. 1):

    “It hath been sung at festivals,
    On ember-eves and holy-ales.”

    [662] See “British Popular Customs,” p. 278; Brand’s “Pop.
    Antiq.,” 1849, vol. i. p. 276.

In the “Two Gentlemen of Verona” (ii. 5), when Launce tells Speed, “thou
hast not so much charity in thee as to go to the ale with a Christian,”
these words have been explained to mean the rural festival so named,
though, as Mr. Dyce remarks (“Glossary,” p. 10), the previous words of
Launce, “go with me to the ale-house,” show this explanation to be

In the old miracle-plays performed at this and other seasons Herod was a
favorite personage, and was generally represented as a tyrant of a very
overbearing, violent character. Thus Hamlet says (iii. 2): “O, it
offends me to the soul, to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a
passion to tatters, to very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings;
who, for the most part, are capable of nothing but inexplicable
dumb-shows and noise: I would have such a fellow whipped for o’er-doing
Termagant; it out-herods Herod.” On this account Alexas mentions him as
the most daring character when he tells Cleopatra (“Antony and
Cleopatra,” iii. 3):

                      “Good majesty,
    Herod of Jewry dare not look upon you
    But when you are well pleas’d.”

In the “Merry Wives of Windsor” (ii. 1), Mrs. Page speaks of him in the
same signification: “What a Herod of Jewry is this!”

Mr. Dyce, in his “Glossary” (p. 207), has this note: “If the reader
wishes to know what a swaggering, uproarious tyrant Herod was
represented to be in those old dramatic performances, let him turn to
‘Magnus Herodes’ in ‘The Towneley Mysteries,’ p. 140, ed. Surtees
Society; to ‘King Herod’ in the ‘Coventry Mysteries,’ p. 188, ed.
Shakespeare Society; and to ‘The Slaughter of the Innocents’ in ‘The
Chester Plays,’ vol. i. p. 172, ed. Shakespeare Society.”

Like Herod, Termagant[663] was a hectoring tyrant of the miracle-plays,
and as such is mentioned by Hamlet in the passage quoted above. Hence,
in course of time, the word was used as an adjective, in the sense of
violent, as in “1 Henry IV.” (v. 4), “that hot termagant Scot.” Hall
mentions him in his first satire:

    “Nor fright the reader with the Pagan vaunt
    Of mighty Mahound and great Termagaunt.”

    [663] According to the crusaders and the old romance writers a
    Saracen deity. See Singer’s “Shakespeare,” vol. ix. p. 214.

While speaking of the old mysteries or miracle-plays we may also here
refer to the “moralities,” a class of religious plays in which
allegorical personifications of the virtues and vices were introduced as
_dramatis personæ_. These personages at first only took part in the play
along with the Scriptural or legendary characters, but afterwards
entirely superseded them. They continued in fashion till the time of
Queen Elizabeth. Several allusions are given by Shakespeare to these
moral plays. Thus, in “Twelfth Night” (iv. 1), the clown sings:

    “I am gone, sir,
      And anon, sir,
    I’ll be with you again
      In a trice,
      Like to the old Vice,
    Your need to sustain;

    Who, with dagger of lath,
    In his rage and his wrath,
      Cries, Ah, ha! to the devil,” etc.

Again, in “1 Henry IV.” (ii. 4), Prince Henry speaks of “that reverend
Vice, that grey Iniquity;” and in “2 Henry IV.” (iii. 2), Falstaff says,
“now is this Vice’s dagger become a squire.”

Again, further allusions occur in “Richard III.” (iii. 1). Gloster says:

    “Thus, like the formal Vice, Iniquity,
    I moralize two meanings in one word.”

And once more, Hamlet (iii. 4), speaks of “a Vice of kings,” “a king of
shreds and patches.”

According to Nares, “Vice” had the name sometimes of one vice, sometimes
of another, but most commonly of _Iniquity_, or Vice itself. He was
grotesquely dressed in a cap with ass’s ears, a long coat, and a dagger
of lath. One of his chief employments was to make sport with the devil,
leaping on his back, and belaboring him with his dagger of lath, till he
made him roar. The devil, however, always carried him off in the end. He
was, in short, the buffoon of the morality, and was succeeded in his
office by the clown, whom we see in Shakespeare and others.[664]

    [664] See Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 482.

Again, there may be a further allusion to the moralities in “King Lear”
(ii. 2), where Kent says to Oswald, “take Vanity, the puppet’s, part,
against the royalty of her father.”

Then, too, there were the “pageants”—shows which were usually performed
in the highways of our towns, and assimilated in some degree to the
miracle-plays, but were of a more mixed character, being partly drawn
from profane history. According to Strutt, they were more frequent in
London, being required at stated periods, such as the setting of the
Midsummer Watch, and the Lord Mayor’s Show.[665] Among the allusions to
these shows given by Shakespeare, we may quote one in “Richard III.”
(iv. 4), where Queen Margaret speaks of

    “The flattering index of a direful pageant”

—the pageants displayed on public occasions being generally preceded by
a brief account of the order in which the characters were to walk. These
indexes were distributed among the spectators, that they might
understand the meaning of such allegorical representations as were
usually exhibited. In the “Merchant of Venice” (i. 1), Salarino calls
argosies “the pageants of the sea,” in allusion, says Douce,[666] “to
those enormous machines, in the shapes of castles, dragons, ships,
giants, etc., that were drawn about the streets in the ancient shows or
pageants, and which often constituted the most important part of them.”
Again, in “As You Like It” (iii. 4), Corin says:

    “If you will see a pageant truly play’d,
    Between the pale complexion of true love
    And the red glow of scorn and proud disdain,
    Go hence a little, and I shall conduct you,
    If you will mark it.”

    [665] “Sports and Pastimes,” 1876, pp. 25-28; see Warton’s
    “History of English Poetry,” vol. ii. p. 202.

    [666] “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” p. 154.

And in “Antony and Cleopatra” (iv. 14), Antony speaks of “black
vesper’s pageants.”

The nine worthies, originally comprising Joshua, David, Judas Maccabæus,
Hector, Alexander, Julius Cæsar, Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of
Bouillon, appear from a very early period to have been introduced
occasionally in the shows and pageants of our ancestors. Thus, in
“Love’s Labour’s Lost” (v. 2), the pageant of the nine worthies is
introduced. As Shakespeare, however, introduces Hercules and Pompey
among his presence of worthies, we may infer that the characters were
sometimes varied to suit the circumstances of the period, or the taste
of the auditory. A MS. preserved in the library of Trinity College,
Dublin, mentions the “Six Worthies” having been played before the Lord
Deputy Sussex in 1557.[667]

    [667] Staunton’s “Shakespeare,” 1864, vol. i. pp. 147, 148.

Another feature of the Whitsun merry-makings were the Cotswold games,
which were generally on the Thursday in Whitsun week, in the vicinity of
Chipping Campden. They were instituted by an attorney of
Burton-on-the-Heath, in Warwickshire, named Robert Dover, and, like the
Olympic games of the ancients, consisted of most kinds of manly sports,
such as wrestling, leaping, pitching the bar, handling the pike,
dancing, and hunting. Ben Jonson, Drayton, and other poets of that age
wrote verses on this festivity, which, in 1636, were collected into one
volume, and published under the name of “Annalia Dubrensia.”[668] In the
“Merry Wives of Windsor” (i. 1), Slender asks Page, “How does your
fallow greyhound, sir? I heard say, he was outrun on Cotsall.” And in “2
Henry IV.”[669] (iii. 2), Shallow, by distinguishing Will Squele as “a
Cotswold man,” meant to imply that he was well versed in manly
exercises, and consequently of a daring spirit and athletic
constitution. A sheep was jocularly called a “Cotsold,” or “Cotswold
lion,” from the extensive pastures in that part of Gloucestershire.

    [668] See “Book of Days,” vol. i. p. 712.

    [669] See Singer’s “Shakespeare,” vol. v. p. 206.

While speaking of Whitsuntide festivities, we may refer to the “roasted
Manningtree ox with the pudding in his belly,” to which Prince Henry
alludes in “1 Henry IV.” (ii. 4). It appears that Manningtree, in Essex,
formerly enjoyed the privilege of fairs, by the tenure of exhibiting a
certain number of Stage Plays yearly. There were, also, great
festivities there, and much good eating, at Whitsun ales and other
times. Hence, it seems that roasting an ox whole was not uncommon on
such occasions. The pudding spoken of by Prince Henry often accompanied
the ox, as we find in a ballad written in 1658:[670]

         “Just so the people stare
          At an ox in the fair
    Roasted whole with a pudding in ’s belly.”

    [670] See Nichol’s “Collection of Poems,” 1780, vol. iii. p. 204.

_Sheep-shearing Time_ commences as soon as the warm weather is so far
settled that the sheep may, without danger, lay aside their winter
clothing; the following tokens being laid down by Dyer, in his “Fleece”
(bk. i), to mark out the proper time:[671]

               “If verdant elder spreads
    Her silver flowers; if humble daisies yield
    To yellow crowfoot and luxuriant grass
    Gay shearing-time approaches.”

    [671] See Knight’s “Life of Shakespeare,” 1845, p. 71; Howitt’s
    “Pictorial Calendar of the Seasons,” 1854, pp. 254-267.

Our ancestors, who took advantage of every natural holiday, to keep it
long and gladly, celebrated the time of sheep-shearing by a feast
exclusively rural. Drayton,[672] the countryman of Shakespeare, has
graphically described this festive scene, the Vale of Evesham being the
locality of the sheep-shearing which he has pictured so pleasantly:

                                 “The shepherd king,
    Whose flock hath chanc’d that year the earliest lamb to bring,
    In his gay baldric sits at his low, grassy board,
    With flawns, curds, clouted cream, and country dainties stored;
    And whilst the bag-pipe plays, each lusty, jocund swain
    Quaffs syllabubs in cans, to all upon the plain,
    And to their country girls, whose nosegays they do wear;
    Some roundelays do sing; the rest the burthen bear.”

    [672] “Polyolbion,” song 14; see Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849,
    vol. ii. p. 34; Timbs’s “A Garland for the Year,” pp. 74, 75.

In the “Winter’s Tale,” one of the most delicious scenes (iv. 4) is that
of the sheep-shearing, in which we have the more poetical
“shepherd-queen.” Mr. Furnivall,[673] in his introduction to this play,
justly remarks: “How happily it brings Shakespeare before us, mixing
with his Stratford neighbors at their sheep-shearing and country sports,
enjoying the vagabond pedler’s gammon and talk, delighting in the sweet
Warwickshire maidens, and buying them ‘fairings,’ telling goblin stories
to the boys, ‘There was a man dwelt in a churchyard,’ opening his heart
afresh to all the innocent mirth, and the beauty of nature around him.”
The expense attaching to these festivities appears to have afforded
matter of complaint. Thus, the clown asks, “What am I to buy for our
sheep-shearing feast?” and then proceeds to enumerate various things
which he will have to purchase. In Tusser’s “Five Hundred Points of
Husbandry” this festival is described under “The Ploughman’s

    “Wife, make us a dinner, spare flesh neither corne,
    Make wafers and cakes, for our sheep must be shorne;
    At sheepe-shearing, neighbours none other things crave,
    But good cheere and welcome like neighbours to have.”

    [673] Introduction to the “Leopold Shakespeare,” p. xci.

_Midsummer Eve_ appears to have been regarded as a period when the
imagination ran riot, and many a curious superstition was associated
with this season. Thus, people gathered on this night the rose, St.
John’s wort, vervain, trefoil, and rue, all of which were supposed to
have magical properties. They set the orpine in clay upon pieces of
slate or potsherd in their houses, calling it a “Midsummer man.” As the
stalk was found next morning to incline to the right or left, the
anxious maiden knew whether her lover would prove true to her or not.
Young men sought, also, for pieces of coal, but, in reality, certain
hard, black, dead roots, often found under the living mugwort, designing
to place these under their pillows, that they might dream of
themselves.[674] It was also supposed that any person fasting on
Midsummer-eve, and sitting in the church-porch, would at midnight see
the spirits of those persons of that parish who would die that year come
and knock at the church-door, in the order and succession in which they
would die. Midsummer was formerly thought to be a season productive of
madness. Thus, Malvolio’s strange conduct is described by Olivia in
“Twelfth Night” (iii. 4) as “A very midsummer madness.” And, hence, “A
Midsummer-Night’s Dream” is no inappropriate title for “the series of
wild incongruities of which the play consists.”[675] The Low-Dutch have
a proverb that, when men have passed a troublesome night, and could not
sleep, “they have passed St. John Baptist’s night”—that is, they have
not taken any sleep, but watched all night. Heywood seems to allude to a
similar notion when he says:

    “As mad as a March hare: where madness compares,
    Are not midsummer hares as mad as March hares?”

    [674] “Book of Days,” vol. i. p. 816; see Brand’s “Pop.
    Antiq.,” vol. i. p. 314; Soane’s “Book of the Months.”

    [675] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. i. pp. 336, 337.

A proverbial phrase, too, to signify that a person was mad, was, “’Tis
midsummer moon with you”—hot weather being supposed to affect the brain.

_Dog-days._ A popular superstition—in all probability derived from the
Egyptians—referred to the rising and setting of Sirius, or the Dog-star,
as infusing madness into the canine race. Consequently, the name of
“Dog-days” was given by the Romans to the period between the 3d of July
and 11th of August, to which Shakespeare alludes in “Henry VIII.” (v.
3), “the dog-days now reign.” It is obvious that the notion is utterly
groundless, for not only does the star vary in its rising, but is later
and later every year. According to the Roman belief, “at the rising of
the Dog-star the seas boil, the wines ferment in the cellars, and
standing waters are set in motion; the dogs, also, go mad, and the
sturgeon is blasted.” The term Dog-days is still a common phrase, and it
is difficult to say whether it is from superstitious adherence to old
custom or from a belief of the injurious effect of heat upon the canine
race that the magistrates, often unwisely, at this season of the year
order them to be muzzled or tied up.

_Lammas-day_ (August 1). According to some antiquarians, Lammas is a
corruption of loaf-mass, as our ancestors made an offering of bread from
new wheat on this day. Others derive it from lamb-mass, because the
tenants who held lands under the Cathedral Church of York were bound by
their tenure to bring a live lamb into the church at high mass.[676] It
appears to have been a popular day in times past, and is mentioned in
the following dialogue in “Romeo and Juliet” (i. 3), where the Nurse

                      “How long is it now
    To Lammas-tide?

      _Lady Capulet._ A fortnight, and odd days.

      _Nurse._ Even or odd, of all days in the year,
    Come Lammas-eve at night, shall she be fourteen?”

    [676] See “British Popular Customs,” pp. 347-351.

In Neale’s “Essays on Liturgiology” (2d. ed., p. 526), the Welsh
equivalent for Lammas-day is given as “dydd degwm wyn,” lamb-tithing

_St. Charity_ (August 1). This saint is found in the Martyrology on the
1st of August: “Romæ passio Sanctaram Virginum Fidei, Spei, et
Charitatis, quæ sub Hadriano principe martyriæ coronam adeptæ
sunt.”[677] She is alluded to by Ophelia, in her song in “Hamlet” (iv.

    “By Gis,[678] and by Saint Charity,
      Alack, and fie for shame!” etc.

    [677] Douglas’s “Criterion,” p. 68, cited by Ritson; see
    Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” p. 475.

    [678] This is, perhaps, a corrupt abbreviation of “By Jesus.”
    Some would read “By Cis,” and understand by it “St. Cicely.”

In the “Faire Maide of Bristowe” (1605) we find a similar allusion:

    “Now, by Saint Charity, if I were judge,
    A halter were the least should hamper him.”

_St. Bartholomew’s Day_ (August 24). The anniversary of this festival
was formerly signalized by the holding of the great Smithfield Fair, the
only real fair held within the city of London. One of the chief
attractions of Bartholomew Fair were roasted pigs. They were sold
“piping hot, in booths and on stalls, and ostentatiously displayed to
excite the appetite of passengers.” Hence, a “Bartholomew pig” became a
popular subject of allusion. Falstaff, in “2 Henry IV.” (ii. 4), in
coaxing ridicule of his enormous figure, is playfully called, by his
favorite Doll: “Thou whoreson little tidy Bartholomew boar-pig.” Dr.
Johnson, however, thought that paste pigs were meant in this passage;
but this is improbable, as the true Bartholomew pigs were real roasted
pigs, as may be seen from Ben Jonson’s play of “Bartholomew Fair” (i.
6), where Ursula, the pig-woman, is an important personage.[679] Gay,
too, speaks of the pig-dressers: “Like Bartholomew Fair pig-dressers,
who look like the dams, as well as the cooks, of what they roasted.” A
further allusion to this season is found in “Henry V,” (v. 2), where
Burgundy tells how “maids, well-summered and warm kept, are like flies
at Bartholomew-tide, blind, though they have their eyes; and then they
will endure handling, which before would not abide looking on.”

    [679] See Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 57; Morley’s “Memoirs
    of Bartholomew Fair,” 1859.

_Harvest Home._ The ceremonies which graced the ingathering of the
harvest in bygone times have gradually disappeared, and at the present
day only remnants of the old usages which once prevailed are still
preserved. Shakespeare, who has chronicled so many of our old customs,
and seems to have had a special delight in illustrating his writings
with these characteristics of our social life, has given several
interesting allusions to the observances which, in his day, graced the
harvest-field. Thus, in Warwickshire, the laborers, at their
harvest-home, appointed a judge to try misdemeanors committed during
harvest, and those who were sentenced to punishment were placed on a
bench and beaten with a pair of boots. Hence the ceremony was called
“giving them the boots.” It has been suggested that this custom is
alluded to in the “Two Gentlemen of Verona” (i. 1), where Shakespeare
makes Proteus, parrying Valentine’s raillery, say, “nay, give me not the

In Northamptonshire, when any one misconducted himself in the field
during harvest, he was subjected to a mock-trial at the harvest-home
feast, and condemned to be booted, a description of which we find in the
introduction to Clare’s “Village Minstrel:” “A long form is placed in
the kitchen, upon which the boys who have worked well sit, as a terror
and disgrace to the rest, in a bent posture, with their hands laid on
each other’s backs, forming a bridge for the ‘hogs’ (as the truant boys
are called) to pass over; while a strong chap stands on each side with a
boot-legging, soundly strapping them as they scuffle over the bridge,
which is done as fast as their ingenuity can carry them.” Some, however,
think the allusion in the “Two Gentlemen of Verona” is to the diabolical
torture of the boot. Not a great while before this play was written, it
had been inflicted, says Douce,[680] in the presence of King James, on
one Dr. Fian, a supposed wizard, who was charged with raising the storms
that the king encountered in his return from Denmark. The unfortunate
man was afterwards burned. This horrible torture, we are told,[681]
consisted in the leg and knee of the criminal being enclosed within a
tight iron boot or case, wedges of iron being then driven in with a
mallet between the knee and the iron boot. Sir Walter Scott, in “Old
Mortality,” has given a description of Macbriar undergoing this
punishment. At a later period “the boot” signified, according to
Nares,[682] an instrument for tightening the leg or hand, and was used
as a cure for the gout, and called a “bootikins.” The phrase “to give
the boots” seems to have been a proverbial expression, signifying “Don’t
make a laughing-stock of me; don’t play upon me.”

    [680] “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” p. 21.

    [681] Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 47; Douce has given a
    representation of this instrument of torture from Millœus’s
    “Praxis Criminis Persequendi,” Paris, 1541.

    [682] “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 95.

In the “Merchant of Venice” (v. 1), where Lorenzo says:

    “Come, ho! and wake Diana with a hymn:
    With sweetest touches pierce your mistress’ ear,
    And draw her home with music,”

we have, doubtless, an allusion to the “Hock Cart” of the old
harvest-home. This was the cart which carried the last corn away from
the harvest-field,[683] and was generally profusely decorated, and
accompanied by music, old and young shouting at the top of their voices
a doggerel after the following fashion:

    “We have ploughed, we have sowed,
    We have reaped, we have mowed,
    We have brought home every load,
      Hip, hip, hip! harvest home.”[684]

    [683] Cf. “1 Henry IV.” (i. 3):

                          “His chin, new reap’d,
        Show’d like a stubble-land at harvest-home.”

    [684] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. ii. pp. 16-33.

In “Poor Robin’s Almanack” for August, 1676, we read:

    “Hoacky is brought home with hallowing,
    Boys with plumb-cake the cart following.”

_Holyrood Day_ (September 14). This festival,[685] called also
Holy-Cross Day, was instituted by the Romish Church, on account of the
recovery of a large piece of the supposed cross by the Emperor
Heraclius, after it had been taken away, on the plundering of Jerusalem,
by Chosroes, king of Persia. Among the customs associated with this day
was one of going a-nutting, alluded to in the old play of “Grim, the
Collier of Croydon” (ii. 1):

    “To morrow is Holy-rood day,
    When all a-nutting take their way.”

    [685] See “British Popular Customs,” pp. 372, 373. In
    Lincolnshire this day is called “Hally-Loo Day.”

Shakespeare mentions this festival in “1 Henry IV.” (i. 1), where he
represents the Earl of Westmoreland relating how,

    “On Holy-rood day, the gallant Hotspur there,
    Young Harry Percy and brave Archibald,
    That ever-valiant and approved Scot,
    At Holmedon met.”

_St. Lambert’s Day_ (September 17). This saint, whose original name was
Landebert, but contracted into Lambert, was a native of Maestricht, in
the seventh century, and was assassinated early in the eighth.[686] His
festival is alluded to in “Richard II.” (i. 1), where the king says:

    “Be ready, as your lives shall answer it,
    At Coventry, upon Saint Lambert’s day.”

    [686] See Butler’s “Lives of the Saints.”

_Michaelmas_ (September 29). In the “Merry Wives of Windsor” (i. 1),
this festival is alluded to by Simple, who, in answer to Slender,
whether he had “the Book of riddles” about him, replies: “Why, did you
not lend it to Alice Shortcake upon All-hallowmas last, a fortnight
afore Michaelmas,”—this doubtless being an intended blunder.

In “1 Henry IV.” (ii. 4), Francis says: “Let me see—about Michaelmas
next I shall be.”

_St. Etheldreda_, or _Audry_, commemorated in the Romish Calendar on the
23d of June, but in the English Calendar on the 17th of October, was
daughter of Annas, King of the East Angles. She founded the convent and
church of Ely, on the spot where the cathedral was subsequently
erected. Formerly, at Ely, a fair was annually held, called in her
memory St. Audry’s Fair, at which much cheap lace was sold to the poorer
classes, which at first went by the name of St. Audry’s lace, but in
time was corrupted into “tawdry lace.” Shakespeare makes an allusion to
this lace in the “Winter’s Tale” (iv. 4), where Mopsa says: “Come, you
promised me a tawdry lace, and a pair of sweet gloves;” although in his
time the expression rather meant a rustic necklace.[687] An old English
historian makes St. Audry die of a swelling in her throat, which she
considered as a particular judgment for having been in her youth
addicted to wearing fine necklaces.[688]

    [687] See Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 868; Brady’s “Clavis

    [688] Nich. Harpsfield, “Hist. Eccl. Anglicana,” p. 86.

_St. Crispin’s Day_ (October 25) has for centuries been a red-letter day
in the calendar of the shoemakers, being the festival of their patron
saint. According to tradition, the brothers Crispin and Crispinian,
natives of Rome, having become converted to Christianity, travelled to
Soissons, in France, in order to preach the gospel. Being desirous,
however, of rendering themselves independent, they earned their daily
bread by making shoes, with which, it is said, they furnished the poor,
at an extremely low price. When the governor of the town discovered that
they maintained the Christian faith, and also tried to make proselytes
of the inhabitants, he ordered them to be beheaded. From this time the
shoemakers have chosen them for their tutelary saints. Shakespeare has
perpetuated the memory of this festival by the speech which he has given
to Henry V. (iv. 3), before the battle of Agincourt:

    “This day is call’d the feast of Crispian:
    He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
    Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
    And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
    He that shall live this day, and see old age,
    Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
    And say, ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian.’”

St. Dennis has been adopted as the patron saint of France (October 9),
in the same manner as the English have chosen St. George. The
guardianship of the two countries is thus expressed in the chorus to the
old ballad:

    “St. George he was for England,
      St. Denis was for France,
    Singing, Honi soit qui mal y pense.”

King Henry (“Henry V.,” v. 2) says to Princess Katherine: “Shall not
thou and I, between Saint Dennis and Saint George, compound a boy, half
French, half English,” etc. In “1 Henry VI.” (iii. 2), Charles says:

    “Saint Dennis bless this happy stratagem,
    And once again we’ll sleep secure in Rouen.”

_Hallowmas_ (November 1) is one of the names for the feast of
All-hallows, that is, All-Saints. Shakespeare alludes to a custom
relative to this day, some traces of which are still to be found in
Staffordshire, Cheshire, and other counties. The poor people go from
parish to parish _a-souling_, as they term it, that is, begging, in a
certain lamentable tone, for soul-cakes, at the same time singing a song
which they call the souler’s song. This practice is, no doubt, a remnant
of the Popish ceremony of praying for departed souls, especially those
of friends, on the ensuing day, November 2, the feast of All-Souls.[689]
The following is a specimen of the doggerel sung on these occasions:

    “Soul! soul! for a soul-cake;
    Pray, good mistress, for a soul-cake.
    One for Peter, and two for Paul,
    Three for them who made us all.

    Soul! soul! for an apple or two:
    If you’ve got no apples, pears will do.
    Up with your kettle, and down with your pan,
    Give me a good big one, and I’ll be gone.
         Soul! soul! for a soul-cake, etc.

    An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry,
    Is a very good thing to make us merry.”

    [689] See “British Popular Customs,” p. 404.

In the “Two Gentlemen of Verona” (ii. 1), Speed thus speaks of this
practice: “To watch, like one that fears robbing; to speak puling,[690]
like a beggar at Hallowmas.”

    [690] Puling, or singing small, as Bailey explains the word.

The season of Hallowmas, having been frequently mild, has been, from
time immemorial, proverbially called “All-hallown summer,” _i. e._, late
summer. Thus, in “1 Henry IV.” (i. 2), Prince Henry, likening Falstaff,
with his old age and young passions, to this November summer, addresses
him: “Farewell, thou latter spring! Farewell, All-hallown summer.”[691]
In some parts of Germany there is a proverb, “All-Saints’ Day brings the
second summer;” and in Sweden there is often about this time a
continuance of warm, still weather, which is called “the All-Saints’

    [691] See Swainson’s “Weather-Lore,” 1873, pp. 141-143.

There is another reference to this festival in “Richard II.” (v. 1),
where the king says of his wife:

    “She came adorned hither like sweet May,
    Sent back like Hallowmas or short’st of day.”

_All-Souls’ Day_ (November 2)—which is set apart by the Roman Catholic
Church for a solemn service for the repose of the dead—was formerly
observed in this country, and among the many customs celebrated in its
honor were ringing the passing bell, making soul-cakes, blessing beans,
etc.[692] In “Richard III.” (v. 1), Buckingham, when led to execution,

    “This is All-Souls’ day, fellows, is it not?

    _Sheriff._ It is, my lord.

    _Buckingham._ Why, then, All-Souls’ day is my body’s doomsday.”

    [692] See “British Popular Customs,” p. 409.

_Lord Mayor’s Day_ (November 9). A custom which was in days gone by
observed at the inauguration dinner was that of the Lord Mayor’s fool
leaping, clothes and all, into a large bowl of custard. It is alluded to
in “All’s Well that Ends Well” (ii. 5), by Lafeu: “You have made shift
to run into’t, boots and spurs and all, like him that leaped into the
custard.” Ben Jonson, in his “Devil’s an Ass” (i. 1), thus refers to

    “He may, perchance, in tail of a sheriff’s dinner,
    Skip with a rime o’ the table, from new nothing,
    And take his almain leap into a custard,
    Shall make my lady mayoress and her sisters,
    Laugh all their hoods over their shoulders.”

_St. Martin’s Day_ (November 11). The mild weather about this time has
given rise to numerous proverbs; one of the well-known ones being “St.
Martin’s little summer,” an allusion to which we find in “1 Henry VI.”
(i. 2), where Joan of Arc says:

    “Expect Saint Martin’s summer, halcyon days.”

which Johnson paraphrases thus: “Expect prosperity after misfortune,
like fair weather at Martlemas, after winter has begun.” As an
illustration, too, of this passage, we may quote from the _Times_,
October 6, 1864: “It was one of those rare but lovely exceptions to a
cold season, called in the Mediterranean St. Martin’s summer.”

A corruption of Martinmas is Martlemas. Falstaff is jocularly so called
by Poins, in “2 Henry IV.” (ii. 2), as being in the decline, as the year
is at this season: “And how doth the martlemas, your master?”

This was the customary time for hanging up provisions to dry, which had
been salted for winter use.

_St. Nicholas_ (December 6). This saint was deemed the patron of
children in general, but more particularly of all schoolboys, among whom
his festival used to be a very great holiday. Various reasons have been
assigned for his having been chosen as the patron of children—either
because the legend makes him to have been a bishop while yet a boy, or
from his having restored three young scholars to life who had been
cruelly murdered,[693] or, again, on account of his early abstinence
when a boy. In the “Two Gentlemen of Verona” (iii. 1) he is alluded to
in this capacity:

    “_Speed._ Come, fool, come; try me in thy paper.

    _Launce._ There; and Saint Nicholas be thy speed.”

    [693] See Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” p. 25; “The
    Church of Our Fathers,” by D. Rock, 1853, vol. iii. p. 215;
    _Gent. Mag._, 1777, vol. xliii. p. 158; see Nares’s “Glossary,”
    vol. ii. pp. 601, 602; Brady’s “Clavis Calendaria.”

Nicholas’s clerks was, and still is, a cant term for highwaymen and
robbers; but though the expression is very common, its origin is a
matter of uncertainty. In “1 Henry IV.” (ii. 1) it is thus alluded to:

    “_Gadshill._ Sirrah, if they meet not with Saint Nicholas’
    clerks, I’ll give thee this neck.

    _Chamberlain._ No. I’ll none of it: I pr’thee, keep that for
    the hangman: for I know thou worshippest Saint Nicholas as
    truly as a man of falsehood may.”

_Christmas._ Among the observances associated with this season, to which
Shakespeare alludes, we may mention the Christmas Carol, a reference to
which is probably made in “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (ii. 1), by

    “No night is now with hymn or carol blest.”

Hamlet (ii. 2) quotes two lines from a popular ballad, entitled the
“Song of Jephthah’s Daughter,” and adds: “The first row of the pious
chanson will show you more.”[694]

    [694] Drake’s “Shakespeare and his Times,” vol. i. p. 198.

In days gone by, the custom of carol-singing was most popular, and
Warton, in his “History of English Poetry,” notices a license granted in
1562 to John Tysdale for printing “Certayne goodly carowles to be songe
to the glory of God;” and again “Crestenmas Carowles auctorisshed by my
lord of London.”[695]

    [695] See Sandy’s “Christmastide, its History, Festivities, and
    Carols;” also _Athenæum_, Dec. 20, 1856.

In the “Taming of the Shrew” (Ind., sc. 2) Sly asks whether “a
comonty[696] is not a Christmas gambold.” Formerly the sports and
merry-makings at this season were on a most extensive scale, being
presided over by the Lord of Misrule.[697] Again, in “Love’s Labour’s
Lost” (v. 2), Biron speaks of “a Christmas comedy.”

    [696] His blunder for comedy.

    [697] See “British Popular Customs,” 1876, pp. 459, 463;
    Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 943; “Antiquarian Repertory,”
    vol. i. p. 218.

As we have noticed, too, in our chapter on Plants, a gilt nutmeg was
formerly a common gift at Christmas, and on other festive occasions, to
which an allusion is probably made in the same scene. Formerly, at this
season, the head of the house assembled his family around a bowl of
spiced ale, from which he drank their healths, then passed it to the
rest, that they might drink too. The word that passed among them was the
ancient Saxon phrase _wass hael_[698], _i. e._, to your health. Hence
this came to be recognized as the wassail or wassel bowl; and was the
accompaniment to festivity of every kind throughout the year. Thus
Hamlet (i. 4) says:

    “The king doth wake to-night, and takes his rouse,
    Keeps wassail.”

    [698] This was a deep draught to the health of any one, in
    which it was customary to empty the glass or vessel.

And in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (v. 2), Biron speaks of:

    “wakes and wassails, meetings, markets, fairs.”

In “Macbeth” (i. 7), it is used by Lady Macbeth in the sense of
intemperance, who, speaking of Duncan’s two chamberlains, says:

    “Will I with wine and wassail so convince,
    That memory, the warder of the brain,
    Shall be a fume, and the receipt of reason
    A limbeck only.”

In “Antony and Cleopatra” (i. 4), Cæsar advises Antony to live more
temperately, and to leave his “lascivious wassails.”[699]

    [699] See Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” 1839, pp. 441-449.

In the same way, a “wassail candle” denoted a large candle lighted up at
a festival, a reference to which occurs in “2 Henry IV.” (i. 2):

    “_Chief-Justice._ You are as a candle, the better part burnt out.

    _Falstaff._ A wassail candle, my lord; all tallow.”

A custom which formerly prevailed at Christmas, and has not yet died
out, was for mummers to go from house to house, attired in grotesque
attire, performing all kinds of odd antics.[700] Their performances,
however, were not confined to this season. Thus, in “Coriolanus” (ii. 1)
Menenius speaks of making “faces like mummers.”

    [700] See “British Popular Customs,” pp. 461, 469, 478, 480.

_Cakes and Ale._ It was formerly customary on holidays and saints’ days
to make cakes in honor of the day. In “Twelfth Night” (ii. 3), Sir Toby
says: “Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no
more cakes and ale?” To which the Clown replies: “Yes, by Saint Anne;
and ginger shall be hot i’ the mouth too.”

_Wakes._ In days gone by, the church wake was an important institution,
and was made the occasion for a thorough holiday. Each church, when
consecrated, was dedicated to a saint, and on the anniversary of that
day was kept the wake. In many places there was a second wake on the
birthday of the saint. At such seasons, the floor of the church was
strewed with rushes and flowers, and in the churchyard tents were
erected, to supply cakes and ale for the use of the merrymakers on the
following day, which was kept as a holiday. They are still kept up in
many parishes, but in a very different manner.[701] In “King Lear” (iii.
6), Edgar says: “Come, march to wakes and fairs, and market towns.” We
may also compare “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (v. 2) and “Winter’s Tale” (iv.
2). In “Hamlet” (i. 4) it is used in the sense of revel.

    [701] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. i. pp. 1-15.



As every period of human life has its peculiar rites and ceremonies, its
customs and superstitions, so has that ever all-eventful hour which
heralds the birth of a fresh actor upon the world’s great stage. From
the cradle to the grave, through all the successive epochs of man’s
existence, we find a series of traditional beliefs and popular notions,
which have been handed down to us from the far-distant past. Although,
indeed, these have lost much of their meaning in the lapse of years, yet
in many cases they are survivals of primitive culture, and embody the
conceptions of the ancestors of the human race. Many of these have been
recorded by Shakespeare, who, acting upon the great principle of
presenting his audience with matters familiar to them, has given
numerous illustrations of the manners and superstitions of his own
country, as they existed in his day. Thus, in “Richard III.” (iii. 1),
when he represents the Duke of Gloster saying,

    “So wise so young, they say, do never live long,”

he alludes to the old superstition, still deeply rooted in the minds of
the lower orders, that a clever child never lives long. In Bright’s
“Treatise of Melancholy” (1586, p. 52), we read: “I have knowne children
languishing of the splene, obstructed and altered in temper, talke with
gravity and wisdom surpassing those tender years, and their judgments
carrying a marvellous imitation of the wisdome of the ancient, having
after a sort attained that by disease, which others have by course of
yeares; whereof I take it the proverb ariseth, that ‘they be of shorte
life who are of wit so pregnant.’” There are sundry superstitious
notions relating to the teething of children prevalent in our own and
other countries. In “3 Henry VI.” (v. 6), the Duke of Gloster, alluding
to the peculiarities connected with his, birth, relates how

    “The midwife wonder’d; and the women cried
    ‘O, Jesus bless us, he is born with teeth!’
    And so I was; which plainly signified
    That I should snarl, and bite, and play the dog.”

It is still believed, for instance, in many places, that if a child’s
first tooth appears in the upper jaw it is an omen of its dying in
infancy; and when the teeth come early it is regarded as an indication
that there will soon be another baby. In Sussex there is a dislike to
throwing away the cast teeth of children, from a notion that, should
they be found and gnawed by any animal, the child’s new tooth would be
exactly like the animal’s that had bitten the old one. In Durham, when
the first teeth come out the cavities must be filled with salt, and each
tooth burned, while the following words are repeated:

    “Fire, fire, burn bone,
    God send me my tooth again.”

In the above passage, then, Shakespeare simply makes the Duke of Gloster
refer to that extensive folk-lore associated with human birth, showing
how careful an observer he was in noticing the whims and oddities of his

Again, one of the foremost dangers supposed to hover round the new-born
infant was the propensity of witches and fairies to steal the most
beautiful and well-favored children, and to leave in their places such
as were ugly and stupid. These were usually called “changelings.”
Shakespeare alludes to this notion in “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (ii.
1), where Puck says:

    “Because that she, as her attendant, hath
    A lovely boy, stol’n from an Indian king;
    She never had so sweet a changeling.”

And further on, in the same scene, Oberon says:

    “I do but beg a little changeling boy,
    To be my henchman.”

As a fairy is, in each case, the speaker, the changeling in this case
denotes the child taken by them. So, too, in the “Winter’s Tale” (iii.
3), in the passage where the Shepherd relates: “it was told me, I should
be rich by the fairies; this is some changeling:—open’t.” As the child
here found was a beautiful one, the changeling must naturally mean the
child stolen by the fairies, especially as the gold left with it is
conjectured to be fairy gold. The usual signification, however, of the
term _changeling_ is thus marked by Spenser (“Fairy Queen,” I. x. 65).

    “From thence a faery thee unweeting reft,
    There as thou slepst in tender swadling band,
    And her base elfin brood there for thee left:
    Such men do chaungelings call, so chaunged by faeries theft.”

Occasionally fairies played pranks with new-born children by exchanging
them. To this notion King Henry refers (“1 Henry IV.” i. 1) when,
speaking of Hotspur compared with his own profligate son, he exclaims:

                   “O that it could be prov’d
    That some night-tripping fairy had exchang’d
    In cradle-clothes our children where they lay,
    And call’d mine Percy, his Plantagenet!”

To induce the fairies to restore the stolen child, it was customary in
Ireland either to put the one supposed of being a changeling on a hot
shovel, or to torment it in some other way. It seems that, in Denmark,
the mother heats the oven, and places the changeling on the peel,
pretending to put it in, or whips it severely with a rod, or throws it
into the water. In the Western Isles of Scotland idiots are supposed to
be the fairies’ changelings, and, in order to regain the lost child,
parents have recourse to the following device. They place the changeling
on the beach, below high-water mark, when the tide is out, and pay no
heed to its screams, believing that the fairies, rather than suffer
their offspring to be drowned by the rising water, will convey it away,
and restore the child they had stolen. The sign that this has been done
is the cessation of the child’s screaming. The most effectual
preservative, however, against fairy influence, is supposed to be
baptism; and hence, among the superstitious, this rite is performed as
soon as possible.

A form of superstition very common in days gone by was the supposed
influence of the “Evil eye,” being designated by the terms “o’erlooked,”
“forelooked,” or “eye-bitten,” certain persons being thought to possess
the power of inflicting injury by merely looking on those whom they
wished to harm. Even the new-born child was not exempt from this danger,
and various charms were practised to avert it. In the “Merry Wives of
Windsor” (v. 5), Pistol says of Falstaff:

    “Vile worm, thou wast o’erlook’d, even in thy birth.”

This piece of folk-lore may be traced back to the time of the Romans,
and, in the late Professor Conington’s translation of the “Satires of
Persius,” it is thus spoken of: “Look here! a grandmother or a
superstitious aunt has taken baby from his cradle, and is charming his
forehead against mischief by the joint action of her middle-finger and
her purifying spittle; for she knows right well how to check the evil
eye.”[702] Is is again alluded to in the “Merchant of Venice” (iii. 2),
where Portia, expressing to Bassanio her feelings of regard, declares:

                       “Beshrew your eyes,
    They have o’erlook’d me, and divided me;
    One half of me is yours, the other half yours;”

and in “Titus Andronicus” (ii. 1), Aaron speaks of Tamora as:

         “faster bound to Aaron’s charming eyes
    Than is Prometheus tied to Caucasus.”

    [702] See Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” p. 383;
    Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. iii. pp. 44-46, 326.

This superstition, however, is not yet obsolete, but lingers on in many
country places.

We may also compare a similar phrase made use of by Cleopatra (“Antony
and Cleopatra,” iii. 7), in answer to Enobarbus:

    “Thou hast forspoke my being in these wars,”

the word _forespeak_ having anciently had the meaning of charm or
bewitch, like _forbid_ in “Macbeth” (i. 3):

    “He shall live a man forbid.”[703]

    [703] See Napier’s “Folk-Lore of West of Scotland,” 1879, pp.
    34-40; Keightley’s “Fairy Mythology;” Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,”
    1849, vol. iii. pp. 73, 74.

Among the numerous customs associated with the birth of a child may be
mentioned the practice of giving presents at the announcement of this
important event. In “Henry VIII.” (v. 1), on the old lady’s making known
to the king the happy tidings of the birth of a princess, he says to

    “Give her an hundred marks. I’ll to the queen.”

The old lady, however, resents what she considers a paltry sum:

    “An hundred marks! By this light, I’ll ha’ more.
    An ordinary groom is for such payment.
    I will have more, or scold it out of him.”

It was an ancient custom—one which is not quite out of use—for the
sponsors at christenings to offer silver or gilt spoons as a present to
the child. These were called “apostle spoons,” because the extremity of
the handle was formed into the figure of one or other of the apostles.
Such as were opulent and generous gave the whole twelve; those who were
moderately rich or liberal escaped at the expense of the four
evangelists, or even sometimes contented themselves with presenting one
spoon only, which exhibited the figure of any saint, in honor of whom
the child received its name. In “Henry VIII.” (v. 2) it is in allusion
to this custom that, when Cranmer professes to be unworthy of being a
sponsor to the young princess, Shakespeare makes the king reply:

    “Come, come, my lord, you’d spare your spoons.”

A story is related of Shakespeare promising spoons to one of Ben
Jonson’s children, in a collection of anecdotes entitled “Merry Passages
and Jests,” compiled by Sir Nicholas L’Estrange (MSS. Harl. 6395):
“Shakespeare was godfather to one of Ben Jonson’s children, and after
the christ’ning, being in a deepe study, Jonson came to cheere him up,
and ask’t him why he was so melancholy. ‘No faith, Ben (sayes he), not
I; but I have been considering a great while what should be the fittest
gift for me to bestow upon my godchild, and I have resolv’d at last.’ ‘I
pr’y thee, what?’ sayes he. ‘I’ faith, Ben, I’le e’en give him a douzen
good Latin spoones, and thou shalt translate them.’” “Shakespeare,” says
Mr. Thoms,[704] “willing to show his wit, if not his wealth, gave a
dozen spoons, not of silver, but of latten, a name formerly used to
signify a mixed metal resembling brass, as being the most appropriate
gift to the child of a father so learned.” In Middleton’s “Chaste Maid
of Cheapside,” 1620:

    “_2 Gossip._ What has he given her? What is it, gossip?

    _3 Gossip._ A fair, high-standing cup, and two great ’postle
    spoons, one of them gilt.”

    [704] “Anecdotes and Traditions,” 1839, p. 3.

And Beaumont and Fletcher, in the “Noble Gentleman” (v. 1):

    “I’ll be a gossip, Beaufort,
    I have an odd apostle spoon.”

The gossip’s feast, held in honor of those who were associated in the
festivities of a christening, was a very ancient English custom, and is
frequently mentioned by dramatists of the Elizabethan age. The term
gossip or godsip, a Saxon word signifying _cognata ex parte dei_, or
godmother, is well defined by Richard Verstegan, in his “Restitution of
Decayed Intelligence.” He says: “Our Christian ancestors, understanding
a spiritual affinity to grow between the parents and such as undertooke
for the child at baptism, called each other by the name of _godsib_,
which is as much as to say that they were _sib_ together, that is, of
_kin_ together through God. And the childe, in like manner, called such
his godfathers or godmothers.”

As might be expected, it is often alluded to by Shakespeare. Thus, in
the “Comedy of Errors” (v. 1), we read:

    “_Abbess._ Thirty-three years have I but gone in travail
    Of you, my sons: and till this present hour
    My heavy burthen ne’er delivered.
    The duke, my husband, and my children both,
    And you the calendars of their nativity,
    Go to a gossip’s feast, and go with me;
    After so long grief, such festivity!

    _Duke._ With all my heart I’ll gossip at this feast.”

And again, in “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (ii. 1), the mischievous Puck

         “sometime lurk I in a gossip’s bowl,
    In very likeness of a roasted crab;
    And, when she drinks, against her lips I bob,
    And on her wither’d dewlap pour the ale.”

And, once more, we find Capulet, in “Romeo and Juliet” (iii. 5), saying
to the Nurse:

               “Peace, you mumbling fool!
    Utter your gravity o’er a gossip’s bowl;
    For here we need it not.”

Referring to entertainments at christenings, we find the following in
the “Batchelor’s Banquet,” 1603 (attributed to Dekker): “What cost and
trouble it will be to have all things fine against the Christening Day;
what store of sugar, biskets, comphets, and caraways, marmalet, and
marchpane, with all kinds of sweet-suckers and superfluous banqueting
stuff, with a hundred other odd and needless trifles, which at that time
must fill the pockets of dainty dames,” by which it appears the ladies
not only ate what they pleased, but pocketed likewise. Upon this and the
falling-off of the custom of giving “apostle spoons” at the christening,
we read in “Shipman’s Gossip,” 1666:

    “Especially since gossips now
    Eat more at christenings than bestow.
    Formerly when they us’d to troul
    Gilt bowls of sack, they gave the bowl;
    Two spoons at least; an use ill kept;
    ’Tis well now if our own be left.”

Strype tells us that, in 1559, the son of Sir Thomas Chamberlayne was
baptized at St. Benet’s Church, Paul’s Wharf, when “the Church was hung
with cloth of arras, and after the christening were brought wafers,
comfits, and divers banqueting dishes, and hypocras and Muscadine wine,
to entertain the guests.”

In “Henry VIII.” (v. 4), the Porter says: “Do you look for ale and cakes
here, you rude rascals?”

A term formerly in use for the name given at baptism was “Christendom,”
an allusion to which we find in “All’s Well that Ends Well” (i. 1),
where Helena says:

                          “with a world
    Of pretty, fond, adoptious christendoms
    That blinking Cupid gossips,”

the meaning evidently being, a number of pretty, fond, adopted
appellations or Christian names to which blind Cupid stands godfather.
The expression is often used for baptism by old writers; and Singer[705]
quotes from “King John” (iv. 1):

                     “By my christendom,
    So I were out of prison, and kept sheep,
    I should be as merry as the day is long.”

    [705] “Shakespeare,” 1875, vol. iv. p. 314.

Steevens observes that, in the Puritanical times, it was usual to
christen children with the names of moral and religious virtues—a
practice to which allusion seems to be made in “The Tempest” (ii. 1) by

    “Temperance was a delicate wench.”

So Taylor, the Water-Poet, in his description of a strumpet, says:

    “Though bad they be, they will not bate an ace,
    To be call’d Prudence, Temperance, Faith, or Grace.”

In days gone by a “chrisom” or “christom child” was one who had recently
been baptized, and died within the month of birth, the term having
originated in the “face-cloth, or piece of linen, put upon the head of a
child newly baptized.” The word was formed from the chrism, that is, the
anointing, which formed a part of baptism before the Reformation. Thus,
in “Henry V.” (ii. 3), the hostess, Mrs. Quickly, means “chrisom child”
in the following passage, where she speaks of Falstaff’s death: “’A made
a finer end, and went away an it had been any christom child.” In a
beautiful passage of Bishop Taylor’s “Holy Dying” (chap. i. sec. 2),
this custom is thus spoken of: “Every morning creeps out of a dark
cloud, leaving behind it an ignorance and silence deep as midnight, and
undiscerned as are the phantoms that made a chrisom child to smile.”
Referring to the use of the chrisom-cloth in connection with baptism, it
appears that, after the usual immersion in water, the priest made a
cross on the child’s head with oil, after which the chrisom was put on,
the priest asking at the same time the infant’s name, and saying,
“Receive this white, pure, and holy vestment, which thou shalt wear
before the tribunal of our Lord Jesus Christ, that thou mayest inherit
eternal life. Amen.” It was to be worn seven days; but after the
Reformation, however, the use of oil was omitted, and the chrisom was
worn by the child till the mother’s churching, when it was returned to
the church. If the child died before the churching, it was buried in the
chrisom, and hence it may be that the child itself was called a chrisom
or chrisomer.[706] Thus, it will be seen that Dame Quickly simply
compares the manner of Falstaff’s death to that of a young infant. In
registers and bills of mortality we find infants alluded to under the
term “Chrisoms.” Burn, in his “History of Parish Registers” (1862, p.
127), gives the subjoined entry from a register of Westminster Abbey:
“The Princess Ann’s child a chrissome bu. in ye vault, Oct. 22, 1687.”

    [706] Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” 1859, pp. 299,
    300; Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 160; see Brand’s “Pop.
    Antiq.,” 1849, vol. ii. pp. 84, 85.

In Graunt’s “Bills of Mortality,” cited in Johnson’s Dictionary, we
read: “When the convulsions were but were but few, the number of
chrisoms and infants was greater.” The “bearing-cloth” was the mantle
which generally covered the child when it was carried to the font. It is
noticed in the “Winter’s Tale” (iii. 3), by the Shepherd, who, on the
discovery of Perdita, says to the Clown: “Here’s a sight for thee: look
thee, a bearing-cloth for a squire’s child! Look thee here; take up,
take up, boy: open’t.” In Stow’s “Chronicle” (1631, p. 1039), we are
told that about this time it was not customary “for godfathers and
godmothers generally to give plate at the baptisme of children, but only
to give ‘christening shirts,’ with little bands and cuffs, wrought
either with silk or blue thread. The best of them, for chief persons,
were edged with a small lace of black silk and gold, the highest price
of which, for great men’s children, was seldom above a noble, and the
common sort, two, three, or four, and six shillings a piece.”



The style of courtship which prevailed in Shakespeare’s time, and the
numerous customs associated with the marriage ceremony, may be
accurately drawn from the many allusions interspersed through his plays.
From these, it would seem that the mode of love-making was much the same
among all classes, often lacking that polish and refined expression
which are distinguishing characteristics nowadays. As Mr. Drake
remarks,[707] the amatory dialogues of Hamlet, Hotspur, and Henry V. are
not more refined than those which occur between Master Fenton and Anne
Page, in the “Merry Wives of Windsor,” between Lorenzo and Jessica, in
the “Merchant of Venice,” and between Orlando and Rosalind, in “As You
Like It.” These last, which may be considered as instances taken from
the middle class of life, together with a few drawn from the lower rank
of rural manners, such as the courtship of Touchstone and Audrey, and of
Silvius and Phœbe, in “As You Like It,” are good illustrations of this
subject, although it must be added that, in point of fancy, sentiment,
and simplicity, the most pleasing love-scenes in Shakespeare are those
of Romeo and Juliet and of Florizel and Perdita.

    [707] “Shakespeare and His Times,” 1817, vol. i. p. 220.

The ancient ceremony of betrothing seems still to have been in full use
in Shakespeare’s day. Indeed, he gives us several interesting passages
upon the subject of troth-plight. Thus, in “Measure for Measure” (iii.
1), we learn that the unhappiness of the poor, dejected Mariana was
caused by a violation of the troth-plight:

    “_Duke._ She should this Angelo have married; was affianced to
    her by oath, and the nuptial appointed: between which time of
    the contract, and limit of the solemnity, her brother
    Frederick was wrecked at sea, having in that perished vessel
    the dowry of his sister. But mark how heavily this befell to
    the poor gentlewoman: there she lost a noble and renowned
    brother, in his love toward her ever most kind and natural;
    with him, the portion and sinew of her fortune, her
    marriage-dowry; with both, her combinate husband, this
    well-seeming Angelo.

    _Isabella._ Can this be so? Did Angelo so leave her?

    _Duke._ Left her in her tears, and dried not one of them with
    his comfort; swallowed his vows whole, pretending in her
    discoveries of dishonour; in few, bestowed her on her own
    lamentation, which she yet wears for his sake; and he, a
    marble to her tears, is washed with them, but relents not.”

It is evident that Angelo and Mariana were bound by oath; the nuptial
was appointed; there was a prescribed time between the contract and the
performance of the solemnity of the Church. The lady, however, having
lost her dowry, the contract was violated by her “combinate” or
affianced husband—the oath, no doubt, having been tendered by a minister
of the Church, in the presence of witnesses. In “Twelfth Night” (iv. 3)
we have a minute description of such a ceremonial; for, when Olivia is
hastily espoused to Sebastian, she says:

    “Now go with me and with this holy man
    Into the chantry by: there, before him,
    And underneath that consecrated roof,
    Plight me the full assurance of your faith;
    That my most jealous and too doubtful soul
    May live at peace. He shall conceal it,
    Whiles you are willing it shall come to note:
    What time we will our celebration keep
    According to my birth.”

This, then, was a private ceremony before a single witness, who would
conceal it till the proper period of the public ceremonial. Olivia,
fancying that she has thus espoused the page, repeatedly calls him
“husband;” and, being rejected, she summons the priest to declare (v.

                        “what thou dost know
    Hath newly pass’d between this youth and me.”

The priest answers:

    “A contract of eternal bond of love,
    Confirm’d by mutual joinder of your hands,
    Attested by the holy close of lips,
    Strengthen’d by interchangement of your rings;
    And all the ceremony of this compact
    Seal’d in my function, by my testimony:
    Since when, my watch hath told me, toward my grave
    I have travell’d but two hours.”

Again, in the “Winter’s Tale” (iv. 4), which contains many a perfect
picture of real rustic life, it appears that, occasionally, the
troth-plight was exchanged without the presence of a priest; but that
witnesses were essential to the ceremony:

    “_Florizel._ ... O, hear me breathe my life
    Before this ancient sir, who, it should seem,
    Hath sometime lov’d: I take thy hand, this hand,
    As soft as dove’s down and as white as it,
    Or Ethiopian’s tooth, or the fann’d snow, that’s bolted
    By the northern blasts twice o’er.

    _Polixenes._                   What follows this?—
    How prettily the young swain seems to wash
    The hand, was fair before!—I have put you out:—
    But, to your protestation; let me hear
    What you profess.

    _Florizel._    Do, and be witness to’t.

    _Polixenes._ And this my neighbour too?

    _Florizel._                        And he, and more
    Than he, and men; the earth, the heavens, and all;
    That, were I crown’d the most imperial monarch,
    Thereof most worthy; were I the fairest youth
    That ever made eye swerve; had force and knowledge
    More than was ever man’s, I would not prize them
    Without her love; for her employ them all;
    Commend them, and condemn them, to her service,
    Or to their own perdition.

    _Polixenes._               Fairly offer’d.

    _Camillo._ This shows a sound affection.

    _Shepherd._                But, my daughter,
    Say you the like to him?

    _Perdita._                I cannot speak
    So well, nothing so well; no, nor mean better:
    By the pattern of mine own thoughts I cut out
    The purity of his.

    _Shepherd._      Take hands, a bargain!
    And, friends unknown, you shall bear witness to’t:
    I give my daughter to him, and will make
    Her portion equal his.[708]

    _Florizel._              O, that must be
    I’ the virtue of your daughter: one being dead,
    I shall have more than you can dream of yet;
    Enough then for your wonder. But, come on,
    Contract us ’fore these witnesses.

    _Shepherd._             Come, your hand;
    And, daughter, yours.”

    [708] On entering into any contract, or plighting of troth, the
    clapping of the hands together set the seal, as in the
    “Winter’s Tale” (i. 2), where Leontes says:

        “Ere I could make thee open thy white hand,
        And clap thyself my love; then didst thou utter
        _I am yours forever_.”

    So, too, in “The Tempest” (iii. 1):

        “_Miranda._ My husband, then?

          _Ferdinand._ Ay, with a heart as willing
        As bondage e’er of freedom: here’s my hand.

        _Miranda._ And mine, with my heart in’t.”

    And in the old play of “Ram Alley,” by Barry (1611), we read,
    “Come, clap hands, a match.” The custom is not yet disused in
    common life.

To the argument of Polixenes, that the father of Florizel ought to know
of his proceeding, the young man answers:

                      “Come, come, he must not.
    Mark our contract.”

And then the father, discovering himself, exclaims:

    “Mark your divorce, young sir.”

Here, then, as Mr. Knight remarks,[709] in the publicity of a village
festival, the hand of the loved one is solemnly taken by her lover, who
breathes his love before the ancient stranger who is accidentally
present. The stranger is called to be a witness to the protestation, and
so is the neighbor who has come with him. The maiden is called upon by
her father to speak, and then the old man adds:

    “Take hands, a bargain!”

    [709] “The Stratford Shakespeare,” 1854, vol. i p. 70.

The friends are to bear witness to it:

    “I give my daughter to him, and will make
    Her portion equal his.”

The impatient lover then again exclaims:

    “Contract us ’fore these witnesses.”

The shepherd takes the hands of the youth and the maiden. Again the
lover exclaims:

    “Mark our contract.”

The ceremony is left incomplete, for the princely father discovers
himself with:

    “Mark your divorce, young sir.”

It appears, therefore, that espousals before witnesses were considered
as constituting a valid marriage, if followed up within a limited time
by the marriage of the Church. However much the Reformed Church might
have endeavored to abrogate this practice, it was unquestionably the
ancient habit of the people.[710] It was derived from the Roman law, and
still prevails in the Lutheran Church.

    [710] Knight’s “Stratford Shakespeare,” p. 73.

Besides exchanging kisses,[711] accompanied with vows of everlasting
affection, and whispering lovers’ reassurances of fidelity, it was
customary to interchange rings. In Shakespeare’s plays, however,
espousals are made with and without the use of the ring. Thus, in the
case of Ferdinand and Miranda, we read of their joining hands only
(“Tempest,” iii. 1):

    “_Ferdinand._ Ay, with a heart as willing
    As bondage e’er of freedom; here’s my hand.

    _Miranda._ An mine, with my heart in’t; and now farewell,
    Till half an hour hence.”

    [711] Cf. “King John” (ii. 2):

          “_King Philip._ Young princes, close your hands.

          _Austria._ And your lips too; for, I am well assured,
        That I did so, when I was first assured.”

In the passage already quoted from “Twelfth Night” (v. 1) there seems to
have been a mutual interchange of rings.

Some, indeed, considered that a betrothal was not complete unless each
spouse gave the other a circlet. Lady Anne, in “Richard III.” (i. 2), is
made to share in this misconception:

    “_Gloster._ Vouchsafe to wear this ring.

    _Anne._ To take, is not to give.

    _Gloster._ Look, how my ring encompasseth thy finger,
    Even so thy breast encloseth my poor heart:
    Wear both of them, for both of them are thine.”

In “Two Gentlemen of Verona” (ii. 2) we read:

    “_Julia._ Keep this remembrance for thy Julia’s sake (_giving a ring_).

    _Proteus._ Why, then, we’ll make exchange: here, take you this.

    _Julia._ And seal the bargain with a holy kiss.”

A joint, or gimmal, ring was anciently a common token among lovers, an
allusion to which is made by Emilia, in “Othello” (iv. 3): “I would not
do such a thing for a joint-ring.” Their nature will be best understood
by a passage in Dryden’s “Don Sebastian” (1690, act v.):

                  “A curious artist wrought them,
    With joints so close, as not to be perceiv’d;
    Yet are they both each other’s counterpart,
                    ... and in the midst,
    A heart, divided in two halves, was plac’d.”

They were generally made of two or three hoops, so chased and engraved
that, when fastened together by a single rivet, the whole three formed
one design, the usual device being a hand. When an engagement was
contracted, the ring was taken apart, each spouse taking a division,
and the third one being presented to the principal witness of the
contract.[712] Hence such a ring was known as a “Sponsalium Annulis,” to
which Herrick thus refers:

    “Thou sent’st me a true-love knot, but I
    Returned a ring of jimmals, to imply
    Thy love hath one knot, mine a triple tye.”

    [712] See Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 363; “Archæologia,”
    vol. xiv. p. 7; Jones’s “Finger Ring Lore,” 1877, pp. 313-318.

The term is used by the Duke of Anjou, in “1 Henry VI.” (i. 2):

    “I think, by some odd gimmors or device,
    Their arms are set like clocks, still to strike on;
    Else ne’er could they hold out so as they do.”

Again, in “Henry V.” (iv. 2), Grandpré tells how,

        “in their pale dull mouths the gimmal bit
    Lies foul with chew’d grass, still and motionless.”

Most readers of the “Merchant of Venice” remember the mirthful use which
Shakespeare makes of lovers’ rings. Portia says (iii. 2), when giving
her wealth and self to Bassanio:

                  “I give them with this ring;
    Which when you part from, lose, or give away,
    Let it presage the ruin of your love.”

The last act, too, gives several particulars about lovers’ rings, which,
in Elizabethan England,[713] often had posies engraved on them, and were
worn by men on the left hand. Gratiano, for example, says:

    “About a hoop of gold, a paltry ring
    That she did give me; whose posy was
    For all the world like cutlers’ poetry
    Upon a knife, ‘Love me and leave me not.’”

    [713] See Jeaffreson’s “Brides and Bridals,” 1873, vol. i. pp.
    77, 78.

Again Bassanio exclaims:

    “Why, I were best to cut my left hand off,
    And swear I lost the ring defending it.”

In “Taming of the Shrew” Shakespeare gives numerous allusions to the
customs of his day connected with courtship and marriage. Indeed, in the
second act (sc. 2) we have a perfect betrothal scene:

    “_Petruchio._ Give me thy hand, Kate: I will unto Venice,
    To buy apparel ’gainst the wedding-day.—
    Provide the feast, father, and bid the guests;
    I will be sure my Katharine shall be fine.

    _Baptista._ I know not what to say: but give me your hands;
    God send you joy, Petruchio! ’tis a match.

    _Gremio. Tranio._ Amen, say we; we will be witnesses.

    _Petruchio._ Father, and wife, and gentlemen, adieu;
    I will to Venice; Sunday comes apace.
    We will have rings, and things, and fine array;
    And, kiss me, Kate, we will be married o’ Sunday.”

Although Katharina is only his spouse, and Baptista not yet his
father-in-law, Petruchio, in accordance with fashion, calls her “wife”
and him “father.” The spouses of old times used to term one another
“husband” and “wife,” for, as they argued, they were as good as husband
and wife.

Formerly there was a kind of betrothal or marriage contract prevalent
among the low orders called “hand-fasting,” or “hand-festing,” said to
have been much in use among the Danes, and which is mentioned by Ray in
his “Glossary of Northumbrian Words.” It simply means hand-fastening or
binding. In “Cymbeline” (i. 5) the phrase is used in its secondary sense
by the Queen, who, speaking of Pisanio, declares that he is

                “A sly and constant knave,
    Not to be shak’d; the agent for his master,
    And the remembrancer of her, to hold
    The hand-fast to her lord.”

In the “Christian State of Matrimony,” 1543, we find the following
illustration of this custom: “Yet in this thing almost must I warn every
reasonable and honest person to beware that in the contracting of
marriage they dissemble not, nor set forth any lie. Every man, likewise,
must esteem the person to whom he is ‘handfasted’ none otherwise than
for his own spouse; though as yet it be not done in the church, nor in
the street. After the handfasting and making of the contract, the
church-going and wedding should not be deferred too long.” The author
then goes on to rebuke a custom “that at the handfasting there is made a
great feast and superfluous banquet.” Sir John Sinclair, in the
“Statistical account of Scotland” (1794, vol. xii. p. 615), tells us
that at a fair annually held at Eskdalemuir, Dumfriesshire, “it was the
custom for the unmarried persons of both sexes to choose a companion
according to their liking, with whom they were to live till that time
next year. This was called ‘handfasting,’ or hand-in-fist. If they were
pleased with each other at that time then they continued together for
life; if not, they separated, and were free to make another choice as at
the first.”

Shakespeare has given us numerous illustrations of the marriage customs
of our forefathers, many of which are interesting as relics of the past,
owing to their having long ago fallen into disuse. The fashion of
introducing a bowl of wine into the church at a wedding, which is
alluded to in the “Taming of the Shrew” (iii. 2), to be drunk by the
bride and bridegroom and persons present, immediately after the marriage
ceremony, is very ancient. Gremio relates how Petruchio

                            “stamp’d and swore,
    As if the vicar meant to cozen him.
    But after many ceremonies done,
    He calls for wine:—‘A health!’ quoth he, as if
    He had been aboard, carousing to his mates
    After a storm:—quaff’d off the muscadel,
    And threw the sops[714] all in the sexton’s face;
    Having no other reason
    But that his beard grew thin and hungerly,
    And seem’d to ask him sops as he was drinking.”

    [714] Sops in wine.

It existed even among our Gothic ancestors, and is mentioned in the
ordinances of the household of Henry VII., “For the Marriage of a
Princess:—‘Then pottes of ipocrice to be ready, and to be put into
cupps with soppe, and to be borne to the estates, and to take a soppe
and drinke.’” It was also practised at the magnificent marriage of Queen
Mary and Philip, in Winchester Cathedral, and at the marriage of the
Elector Palatine to the daughter of James I., in 1612-13. Indeed, it
appears to have been the practice at most marriages. In Jonson’s
“Magnetic Lady” it is called a “knitting cup;” in Middleton’s “No Wit
like a Woman’s,” the “contracting cup.” In Robert Armin’s comedy of “The
History of the Two Maids of More Clacke,” 1609, the play begins with:

    “_Enter a maid strewing flowers, and a serving-man perfuming the door._

    _Maid._ Strew, strew.

    _Man._ The muscadine stays for the bride at church:
    The priest and Hymen’s ceremonies tend
    To make them man and wife.”

Again, in Beaumont and Fletcher’s “Scornful Lady” (i. 1), the custom is
referred to:[715]

                “If my wedding-smock were on,
    Were the gloves bought and given, the license come,
    Were the rosemary branches dipp’d, and all
    The hippocras and cakes eat and drunk off.”

    [715] See “Brand’s Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. ii. pp. 136, 139.

We find it enjoined in the Hereford missal. By the Sarum missal it is
directed that the sops immersed in this wine, as well as the liquor
itself, and the cup that contained it, should be blessed by the priest.
The beverage used on this occasion was to be drunk by the bride and
bridegroom and the rest of the company.

The nuptial kiss in the church was anciently part of the marriage
ceremony, as appears from a rubric in one of the Salisbury missals. In
the “Taming of the Shrew,” Shakespeare has made an excellent use of this
custom, where he relates how Petruchio (iii. 2)

                  “took the bride about the neck
    And kiss’d her lips with such a clamorous smack
    That, at the parting, all the church did echo.”

Again, in “Richard II.” (v. 1), where the Duke of Northumberland
announces to the king that he is to be sent to Pomfret, and his wife to
be banished to France, the king exclaims:

    “Doubly divorc’d!—Bad men, ye violate
    A twofold marriage,—’twixt my crown and me,
    And then, betwixt me and my married wife.—
    Let me unkiss the oath twixt thee and me;
    And yet not so, for with a kiss ’twas made.”

Marston, too, in his “Insatiate Countess,” mentions it:

    “The kisse thou gav’st me in the church, here take.”

The practice is still kept up among the poor; and Brand[716] says it is
“still customary among persons of middling rank as well as the vulgar,
in most parts of England, for the young men present at the marriage
ceremony to salute the bride, one by one, the moment it is concluded.”

    [716] “Pop. Antiq.,” vol. ii. p. 140.

Music was the universal accompaniment of weddings in olden times.[717]
The allusions to wedding music that may be found in the works of
Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and other Elizabethan dramatists, testify, as
Mr. Jeaffreson points out, that, in the opinion of their contemporaries,
a wedding without the braying of trumpets and beating of drums and
clashing of cymbals was a poor affair. In “As You Like It” (v. 4), Hymen

    “Whiles a wedlock-hymn we sing.”

    [717] “Brides and Bridals,” 1873, vol. i. p. 252.

And in “Romeo and Juliet” (iv. 5), Capulet says:

    “Our wedding cheer, to a sad burial feast;
    Our solemn hymns to sullen dirges change.”

It seems to have been customary for the bride at her wedding to wear her
hair unbraided and hanging loose over her shoulders. There may be an
allusion to this custom in “King John” (iii. 1), where Constance says:

    “O Lewis, stand fast! the devil tempts thee here
    In likeness of a new untrimmed bride.”

At the celebration of her marriage with the Palatine, Elizabeth Stuart
wore “her hair dishevelled and hanging down her shoulders.” Heywood
speaks of this practice in the following graphic words:

    “At length the blushing bride comes, with her hair
    Dishevelled ’bout her shoulders.”

It has been suggested that the bride’s veil, which of late years has
become one of the most conspicuous features of her costume, may be
nothing more than a milliner’s substitute, which in old time concealed
not a few of the bride’s personal attractions, and covered her face when
she knelt at the altar. Mr. Jeaffreson[718] thinks it may be ascribed to
the Hebrew ceremony; or has come from the East, where veils have been
worn from time immemorial. Some, again, connect it with the yellow veil
which was worn by the Roman brides. Strange, too, as it may appear, it
is nevertheless certain that knives and daggers were formerly part of
the customary accoutrements of brides. Thus, Shakespeare, in the old
quarto, 1597, makes Juliet wear a knife at the friar’s cell, and when
she is about to take the potion. This custom, however, is easily
accounted for, when we consider that women anciently wore a knife
suspended from their girdle. Many allusions to this practice occur in
old writers.[719] In Dekker’s “Match Me in London,” 1631, a bride says
to her jealous husband:

    “See, at my girdle hang my wedding knives!
    With those dispatch me.”

    [718] “Brides and Bridals,” vol. i. p. 177.

    [719] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. ii. pp. 131-133.

In the “Witch of Edmonton,” 1658, Somerton says:

    “But see, the bridegroom and bride come; the new
    Pair of Sheffield knives fitted both to one sheath.”

Among other wedding customs alluded to by Shakespeare we may mention
one referred to in “Taming of the Shrew” (ii. 1), where Katharina,
speaking of Bianca, says to her father:

    “She is your treasure, she must have a husband:
    I must dance bare-foot on her wedding-day,
    And, for your love to her, lead apes in hell,”

it being a popular notion that unless the elder sisters danced barefoot
at the marriage of a younger one, they would inevitably become old
maids, and be condemned “to lead apes in hell.” The expression “to lead
apes in hell,” applied above to old maids, has given rise to much
discussion, and the phrase has not yet been satisfactorily explained.
Steevens suggests that it might be considered an act of posthumous
retribution for women who refused to bear children to be condemned to
the care of apes in leading-strings after death. Malone says that “to
lead apes” was in Shakespeare’s time one of the employments of a
bear-ward, who often carried about one of these animals with his bear.
Nares explains the expression by reference to the word ape as denoting a
fool, it probably meaning that those coquettes who made fools of men,
and led them about without real intention of marriage, would have them
still to lead against their will hereafter. In “Much Ado About Nothing”
(ii. 1), Beatrice says: “therefore I will even take sixpence in earnest
of the bear-ward, and lead his apes into hell.” Douce[720] tells us that
homicides and adulterers were in ancient times compelled, by way of
punishment, to lead an ape by the neck, with their mouths affixed in a
very unseemly manner to the animal’s tail.

    [720] “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” p. 203.

In accordance with an old custom, the bride, on the wedding-night, had
to dance with every guest, and play the amiable, however much against
her own wishes. In “Henry VIII.” (v. 2), there seems to be an allusion
to this practice, where the king says:

                             “I had thought,
    They had parted so much honesty among them,
    At least, good manners, as not thus to suffer
    A man of his place, and so near our favour,
    To dance attendance on their lordships’ pleasures.”

In the “Christian State of Matrimony” (1543) we read thus: “Then must
the poor bryde kepe foote with a dauncers, and refuse none, how scabbed,
foule, droncken, rude, and shameless soever he be.”

As in our own time, so, too, formerly, flowers entered largely into the
marriage festivities. Most readers will at once call to mind that
touching scene in “Romeo and Juliet” (iv. 5), where Capulet says,
referring to Juliet’s supposed untimely death:

    “Our bridal flowers serve for a buried corse.”

It seems, too, in days gone by to have been customary to deck the bridal
bed with flowers, various allusions to which are given by Shakespeare.
Thus, in “Hamlet” (v. 1), the queen, speaking of poor Ophelia, says:

    “I hop’d thou should’st have been my Hamlet’s wife;
    I thought thy bride-bed to have deck’d, sweet maid.”

In “The Tempest” (iv. 1) we may compare the words of Prospero, who,
alluding to the marriage of his daughter Miranda with Ferdinand, by way
of warning, cautions them lest

                             “barren hate,
    Sour-ey’d disdain and discord shall bestrew
    The union of your bed with weeds so loathly
    That you shall hate it both.”

In the Papal times no new-married couple could go to bed together till
the bridal-bed had been blessed—this being considered one of the most
important of the marriage ceremonies. “On the evening of the
wedding-day,” says Mr. Jeaffreson,[721] “when the married couple sat in
state in the bridal-bed, before the exclusion of the guests, who
assembled to commend them yet again to Heaven’s keeping, one or more
priests, attended by acolytes swinging to and fro lighted censers,
appeared in the crowded chamber to bless the couch, its occupants, and
the truckle-bed, and fumigate the room with hallowing incense.” In “A
Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (v. 1), Oberon says:

    “Now, until the break of day,
    Through this house each fairy stray.
    To the best bride-bed will we,
    Which by us shall blessed be;
    And the issue there create
    Ever shall be fortunate.”

    [721] “Brides and Bridals,” vol. i. p. 98; see Brand’s “Pop.
    Antiq.,” vol. ii. p. 175.

Steevens, in illustration of this custom, quotes from Chaucer’s “The
Merchant’s Tale” (ed. Tyrwhitt), line 9693:

    “And when the bed was with the preest yblessed.”

The formula for this curious ceremony is thus given in the Manual for
the use of Salisbury: “Nocte vero sequente cum sponsus et sponsa ad
lectum pervenerint, accedat sacerdos et benedicat thalamum, dicens.
Benedic, Domine, thalamum istum et omnes habitantes in eo; ut in tua
pace consistant, et in tua voluntate permaneant: et in tuo amore vivant
et senescant et multiplicentur in longitudine dierum. Per Dominum.—Item
benedictio super lectum. Benedic, Domine, hoc cubiculum, respice, quinon
dormis neque dormitas. Qui custodis Israel, custodi famulos tuos in hoc
lecto quiescentes ab omnibus fantasmaticis demonum illusionibus. Custodi
eos vigilantes ut in preceptis tuis meditentur dormientes, et te per
soporem sentiant; ut hic et ubique depensionis tuæ muniantur auxilio.
Per Dominum.—Deinde fiat benedictio super eos in lecto tantum cum
oremus. Benedicat Deus corpora vestra et animas vestras; et det super
eos benedictionem sicut benedixit Abraham, Isaac, et Jacob, Amen. His
peractis aspergat eos aqua benedicta, et sic discedat et dimittat eos in

    [722] See Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” pp. 123, 124.

In the French romance of Melusine, the bishop who marries her to
Raymondin blesses the nuptial-bed. The ceremony is there presented in a
very ancient cut, of which Douce has given a copy. The good prelate is
sprinkling the parties with holy water. It appears that, occasionally,
during the benediction, the married couple only sat on the bed; but
they generally received a portion of the consecrated bread and wine. It
is recorded in France, that, on frequent occasions, the priest was
improperly detained till midnight, while the wedding guests rioted in
the luxuries of the table, and made use of language that was extremely
offensive to the clergy. It was therefore ordained, in the year 1577,
that the ceremony of blessing the nuptial-bed should for the future be
performed in the day-time, or at least before supper, and in the
presence of the bride and bridegroom, and of their nearest relations

On the morning after the celebration of the marriage, it was formerly
customary for friends to serenade a newly married couple, or to greet
them with a morning song to bid them good-morrow. In “Othello” (iii. 1)
this custom is referred to by Cassio, who, speaking of Othello and
Desdemona, says to the musicians:

    “Masters, play here; I will content your pains:
    Something that’s brief; and bid, ‘Good morrow, general.’”

According to Cotgrave, the morning-song to a newly married woman was
called the “hunt’s up.” It has been suggested that this may be alluded
to by Juliet (iii. 5), who, when urging Romeo to make his escape, tells

    “Some say the lark and loathed toad change eyes;
    O, now I would they had chang’d voices too!
    Since arm from arm that voice doth us affray,
    Hunting thee hence with hunt’s-up to the day.
    O, now be gone.”

In olden times torches were used at weddings—a practice, indeed, dating
as far back as the time of the Romans. From the following lines in
Herrick’s “Hesperides,” it has been suggested that the custom once
existed in this country:

    “_Upon a maid that dyed the day she was marryed._

    That morne which saw me made a bride,
    The ev’ning witnest that I dy’d.
    Those holy lights, wherewith they guide
    Unto the bed the bashful bride,
    Serv’d but as tapers for to burne
    And light my reliques to their urne.
    This epitaph which here you see,
    Supply’d the Epithalamie.”[723]

    [723] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. ii. p. 159.

Shakespeare alludes to this custom in “1 Henry VI.” (iii. 2), where Joan
of Arc, thrusting out a burning torch on the top of the tower at Rouen,

    “Behold, this is the happy wedding torch,
    That joineth Rouen unto her countrymen.”

In “The Tempest,” too (iv. 1), Iris says:

                    “no bed-right shall be paid
    Till Hymen’s torch be lighted.”

According to a Roman marriage custom, the bride, on her entry into her
husband’s house, was prohibited from treading over his threshold, and
lest she should even so much as touch it, she was always lifted over it.
Shakespeare seems inadvertently to have overlooked this usage in
“Coriolanus” (iv. 5), where he represents Aufidius as saying:

    “I lov’d the maid I married; never man
    Sigh’d truer breath; but that I see thee here,
    Thou noble thing! more dances my rapt heart,
    Than when I first my wedded mistress saw
    Bestride my threshold.”

Lucan in his “Pharsalia” (lib. ii. 1. 359), says:

    “Translata vetuit contingere limina planta.”

Once more, Sunday appears to have been a popular day for marriages; the
brides of the Elizabethan dramas being usually represented as married on
Sundays. In the “Taming of the Shrew” (ii. 1), Petruchio, after telling
his future father-in-law “that upon Sunday is the wedding-day,” and
laughing at Katharina’s petulant exclamation, “I’ll see thee hanged on
Sunday first,” says:

    “Father, and wife, and gentlemen, adieu;
    I will to Venice; Sunday comes apace:—
    We will have rings, and things, and fine array;
    And, kiss me, Kate, we will be married o’ Sunday.”

Thus Mr. Jeaffreson, speaking of this custom in his “Brides and
Bridals,” rightly remarks: “A fashionable wedding, celebrated on the
Lord’s Day in London, or any part of England, would nowadays be
denounced by religious people of all Christian parties. But in our
feudal times, and long after the Reformation, Sunday was of all days of
the week the favorite one for marriages. Long after the theatres had
been closed on Sundays, the day of rest was the chief day for weddings
with Londoners of every social class.”

Love-charms have from the earliest times been much in request among the
credulous, anxious to gain an insight into their matrimonial
prospects.[724] In the “Merchant of Venice” (v. 1), we have an allusion
to the practice of kneeling and praying at wayside crosses for a happy
marriage, in the passage where Stephano tells how his mistress

                          “doth stray about
    By holy crosses, where she kneels and prays
    For happy wedlock hours.”

    [724] See “Merry Wives of Windsor,” iv. 2.

The use of love-potions by a despairing lover, to secure the affections
of another, was a superstitious practice much resorted to in olden
times.[725] This mode of enchantment, too, was formerly often employed
in our own country, and Gay, in his “Shepherd’s Week,” relates how
Hobnelia was guilty of this questionable practice:

    “As I was wont, I trudged, last market-day,
    To town with new-laid eggs, preserved in hay.
    I made my market long before ’twas night;
    My purse grew heavy, and my basket light.
    Straight to the ’pothecary’s shop I went,
    And in love-powder all my money spent.
    Behap what will, next Sunday after prayers,
    When to the ale-house Lubberkin repairs,
    These golden flies into his mug I’ll throw,
    And soon the swain with fervent love shall glow.”

    [725] See Potter’s “Antiquities of Greece;” Brand’s “Pop.
    Antiq.,” vol. iii. p. 306.

In the “Character of a Quack Astrologer,” 1673, quoted by Brand, we are
told how “he trappans a young heiress to run away with a footman, by
persuading a young girl ’tis her destiny; and sells the old and ugly
philtres and love-powder to procure them sweethearts.” Shakespeare has
represented Othello as accused of winning Desdemona “by conjuration and
mighty magic.” Thus Brabantio (i. 2) says:

        “thou hast practised on her with foul charms;
    Abus’d her delicate youth with drugs, or minerals,
    That weaken motion.”

And in the following scene he further repeats the same charge against

    “She is abus’d, stol’n from me, and corrupted
    By spells and medicines bought of mountebanks;
    For nature so preposterously to err,
    Being not deficient, blind, or lame of sense,
    Sans witchcraft could not.”

Othello, however, in proving that he had won Desdemona only by honorable
means, addressing the Duke, replies:

                           “by your gracious patience,
    I will a round unvarnish’d tale deliver
    Of my whole course of love; what drugs, what charms,
    What conjuration, and what mighty magic,—
    For such proceeding I am charg’d withal,—
    I won his daughter.”

It may have escaped the poet’s notice that, by the Venetian law, the
giving love-potions was held highly criminal, as appears in the code
“Della Promission del Malefico,” cap. xvii., “Del Maleficii et

A further allusion to this practice occurs in “A Midsummer-Night’s
Dream” (ii. 1). where Puck and Oberon amuse themselves at Titania’s

    [726] See page 227.

An expression common in Shakespeare’s day for any one born out of
wedlock is mentioned by the Bastard in “King John” (i. 1):

    “In at the window, or else o’er the hatch.”

The old saying also that “Hanging and wiving go by destiny” is quoted by
Nerissa in the “Merchant of Venice” (ii. 9). In “Much Ado About Nothing”
(ii. 1), Don Pedro makes use of an old popular phrase in asking Claudio:
“When mean you to go to church?” referring to his marriage.

A solemn and even melancholy air was often affected by the beaux of
Queen Elizabeth’s time, as a refined mark of gentility, a most sad and
pathetic allusion to which custom is made by Arthur in “King John” (iv.

    “Methinks, nobody should be sad but I:
    Yet, I remember, when I was in France,
    Young gentlemen would be as sad as night,
    Only for wantonness.”[727]

    [727] See Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 563.

There are frequent references to this fashion in our old writers. Thus,
in Ben Jonson’s “Every Man in His Humor” (i. 3), we read: “Why, I do
think of it; and I will be more proud, and melancholy, and gentlemanlike
than I have been, I’ll insure you.”



From a very early period there has been a belief in the existence of a
power of prophecy at that period which precedes death. It took its
origin in the assumed fact that the soul becomes divine in the same
ratio as its connection with the body is loosened. It has been urged in
support of this theory that at the hour of death the soul is, as it
were, on the confines of two worlds, and may possibly at the same moment
possess a power which is both prospective and retrospective.
Shakespeare, in “Richard II.” (ii. 1), makes the dying Gaunt exclaim,
alluding to his nephew, the young and self-willed king:

    “Methinks I am a prophet new inspir’d,
    And thus, expiring, do foretell of him.”

Again, the brave Percy, in “1 Henry IV.” (v. 4), when in the agonies of
death, expresses the same idea:

                      “O, I could prophesy,
    But that the earthy and cold hand of death
    Lies on my tongue.”

We may also compare what Nerissa says of Portia’s father in “Merchant of
Venice” (i. 2), “Your father was ever virtuous; and holy men, at their
death, have good inspirations.”

Curious to say, this notion may be traced up to the time of Homer. Thus
Patroclus prophesies the death of Hector (“Iliad,” π. 852): “You
yourself are not destined to live long, for even now death is drawing
nigh unto you, and a violent fate awaits you—about to be slain in fight
by the hands of Achilles.” Aristotle tells us that the soul, when on the
point of death, foretells things about to happen. Others have sought for
the foundation of this belief in the 49th chapter of Genesis: “And
Jacob called unto his sons, and said, Gather yourselves together, that I
may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days.... And when
Jacob had made an end of commanding his sons, he gathered up his feet
into the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his
people.” Whether, however, we accept this origin or not, at any rate it
is very certain that the notion in question has existed from the
earliest times, being alluded to also by Socrates, Xenophon, and
Diodorus Siculus. It still lingers on in Lancashire and other parts of

Among other omens of death may be mentioned high spirits, which have
been supposed to presage impending death. Thus, in “Romeo and Juliet”
(v. 3), Romeo exclaims:

    “How oft, when men are at the point of death,
    Have they been merry! which their keepers call
    A lightning before death.”

This idea is noticed by Ray, who inserts it as a proverb, “It’s a
lightening before death;” and adds this note: “This is generally
observed of sick persons, that a little before they die their pains
leave them, and their understanding and memory return to them—as a
candle just before it goes out gives a great blaze.” It was also a
superstitious notion that unusual mirth was a forerunner of adversity.
Thus, in the last act of “Romeo and Juliet” (sc. 1) Romeo comes on,

    “If I may trust the flattering truth of sleep,
    My dreams presage some joyful news at hand:
    My bosom’s lord sits lightly in his throne;
    And all this day an unaccustom’d spirit
    Lifts me above the ground with cheerful thoughts.”

Immediately, however, a messenger enters to announce Juliet’s death.

In “Richard III.” (iii. 2), Hastings is represented as rising in the
morning in unusually high spirits. Stanley says:

    “The lords at Pomfret, when they rode from London,
    Were jocund, and suppos’d their state was sure,
    And they, indeed, had no cause to mistrust;
    But yet, you see, how soon the day o’ercast.”

This idea, it may be noted, runs throughout the whole scene. Before
dinner-time, Hastings was beheaded.

Once more, in “2 Henry IV.” (iv. 2), the same notion is alluded to in
the following dialogue:

    “_Westmoreland._ Health to my lord and gentle cousin, Mowbray.

    _Mowbray._ You wish me health in very happy season;
    For I am, on the sudden, something ill.

    _Archbishop._ Against ill chances men are ever merry;
    But heaviness foreruns the good event.

    _Westmoreland._ Therefore be merry, coz; since sudden sorrow
    Serves to say thus, ‘Some good thing comes to-morrow.’

    _Archbishop._ Believe me, I am passing light in spirit.

    _Mowbray._ So much the worse, if your own rule be true.”

Tytler, in his “History of Scotland,” thus speaks of the death of King
James I.: “On this fatal evening (Feb. 20, 1437), the revels of the
court were kept up to a late hour. The prince himself appears to have
been in unusually gay and cheerful spirits. He even jested, if we may
believe the contemporary manuscript, about a prophecy which had declared
that a king that year should be slain.” Shelley strongly entertained
this superstition: “During all the time he spent in Leghorn, he was in
brilliant spirits, to him a sure prognostic of coming evil.”

Again, it is a very common opinion that death announces its approach by
certain mysterious noises, a notion, indeed, which may be traced up to
the time of the Romans, who believed that the genius of death announced
his approach by some supernatural warning. In “Troilus and Cressida”
(iv. 4), Troilus says:

    “Hark! you are call’d: some say, the Genius so
    Cries ‘Come!’ to him that instantly must die.”

This superstition was frequently made use of by writers of bygone times,
and often served to embellish, with touching pathos, their poetic
sentiment. Thus Flatman, in some pretty lines, has embodied this

    “My soul, just now about to take her flight,
    Into the regions of eternal night,
    Methinks I hear some gentle spirit say,
    Be not fearful, come away.”

Pope speaks in the same strain:

    “Hark! they whisper, angels say,
    Sister spirit, come away.”

Shakespeare, too, further alludes to this idea in “Macbeth” (ii. 3),
where, it may be remembered, Lennox graphically describes how, on the
awful night in which Duncan is so basely murdered:

    “Our chimneys were blown down; and, as they say,
    Lamentings heard i’ the air; strange screams of death;
    And prophesying, with accents terrible,
    Of dire combustion, and confus’d events,
    New hatch’d to the woful time.”

As in Shakespeare’s day, so, too, at the present time, there is perhaps
no superstition so deeply rooted in the minds of many people as the
belief in what are popularly termed “death-warnings.” Modern folk-lore
holds either that a knocking or rumbling in the floor is an omen of a
death about to happen, or that dying persons themselves announce their
dissolution to their friends in such strange sounds.[728] Many families
are supposed to have particular warnings, such as the appearance of a
bird, the figure of a tall woman, etc. Such, moreover, are not confined
to our own country, but in a variety of forms are found on the
Continent. According to another belief, it was generally supposed that
when a man was on his death-bed the devil or his agents tried to seize
his soul, if it should happen that he died without receiving the
sacrament of the Eucharist, or without confessing his sins. Hence, in “2
Henry VI.” (iii. 3), the king says:

    “O, beat away the busy meddling fiend
    That lays strong siege unto this wretch’s soul,
    And from his bosom purge this black despair.”

    [728] Tylor’s “Primitive Culture,” 1873, vol. i. p. 145.

In the old Office books of the Church, these “busy meddling fiends” are
often represented with great anxiety besieging the dying man; but on the
approach of the priest and his attendants, they are shown to display
symptoms of despair at their impending discomfiture. Douce[729] quotes
from an ancient manuscript book of devotion, written in the reign of
Henry VI., the following prayer to St. George: “Judge for me whan the
moste hedyous and damnable dragons of helle shall be redy to take my
poore soule and engloute it in to theyr infernall belyes.”

    [729] “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” 1829, pp. 324-326.

Some think that the “passing-bell,” which was formerly tolled for a
person who was dying, was intended to drive away the evil spirit that
might be hovering about to seize the soul of the deceased. Its object,
however, was probably to bespeak the prayers of the faithful, and to
serve as a solemn warning to the living. Shakespeare has given several
touching allusions to it. Thus, in Sonnet lxxi. he says:

    “No longer mourn for me when I am dead,
    Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell
    Give warning to the world that I am fled
    From this vile world.”

In “2 Henry IV.” (i. 1), Northumberland speaks in the same strain:

    “Yet the first bringer of unwelcome news
    Hath but a losing office: and his tongue
    Sounds ever after as a sullen bell,
    Remember’d knolling a departing friend.”

We may quote a further allusion in “Venus and Adonis” (l. 701):

    “And now his grief may be compared well
    To one sore sick that hears the passing-bell.”

In a statute passed during the reign of Henry VIII., it is ordered “that
clarks are to ring no more than the passing bell for poare people, nor
less for an honest householder, and he be a citizen; nor for children,
maydes, journeymen, apprentices, day-labourers, or any other poare
person.” In 1662, the Bishop of Worcester[730] asks, in his visitation
charge: “Doth the parish clerk or sexton take care to admonish the
living, by tolling of a passing-bell, of any that are dying, thereby to
meditate of their own deaths, and to commend the other’s weak condition
to the mercy of God?” It was, also, called the “soul-bell,” upon which
Bishop Hall remarks: “We call it the soul-bell because it signifies the
departure of the soul, not because it helps the passage of the soul.”
Ray, in his “Collection of Proverbs,” has the following couplet:

    “When thou dost hear a toll or knell
    Then think upon thy passing-bell.”

    [730] “Annals of Worcester,” 1845.

It was formerly customary to draw away the pillow from under the heads
of dying persons, so as to accelerate their departure—an allusion to
which we find in “Timon of Athens” (iv. 3), where Timon says:

    “Pluck stout men’s pillows from below their heads.”

This, no doubt, originated in the notion that a person cannot die
happily on a bed made of pigeons’ feathers. Grose says: “It is
impossible for a person to die whilst resting on a pillow stuffed with
the feathers of a dove; but that he will struggle with death in the most
exquisite torture. The pillows of dying persons are therefore frequently
taken away when they appear in great agonies, lest they may have
pigeon’s feathers in them.” Indeed, in Lancashire, this practice is
carried to such an extent that some will not allow dying persons to lie
on a feather bed, because they hold that it very much increases their
pain and suffering, and actually retards their departure.[731]

    [731] Harland and Wilkinson’s “Lancashire Folk-Lore,” 1869, p.
    268; see “English Folk-Lore,” 1878, pp. 99, 100; also “Notes
    and Queries,” 1st series, vol. iv. p. 133.

The departure of the human soul from this world, and its journey to its
untried future, have become interwoven with an extensive network of
superstitions, varying more or less in every country and tribe.
Shakespeare has alluded to the numerous destinations of the disembodied
spirit, enumerating the many ideas prevalent in his time on the subject.
In “Measure for Measure” (iii. 1), Claudio thus speaks:

    “Ay, but to die, and go we know not where;
    To lie in cold obstruction and to rot;
    This sensible warm motion to become
    A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit
    To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside
    In thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice;
    To be imprison’d in the viewless winds,
    And blown with restless violence round about
    The pendent world.”[732]

    [732] Cf. Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” v. 595-683.

We may compare also the powerful language of Othello (v. 2):

    “This look of thine will hurl my soul from heaven,
    And fiends will snatch at it. Cold, cold, my girl!
    Even like thy chastity.—
    O cursed, cursed slave! Whip me, ye devils,
    From the possession of this heavenly sight!
    Blow me about in winds! roast me in sulphur!
    Wash me in steep-down gulfs of liquid fire!
    O Desdemona! Desdemona! dead!”

Douce[733] says that in the former passage it is difficult to decide
whether Shakespeare is alluding to the pains of hell or purgatory. Both
passages are obscure, and have given rise to much criticism. It seems
probable, however, that while partly referring to the notions of the
time, relating to departed souls, Shakespeare has in a great measure
incorporated the ideas of what he had read in books of Catholic
divinity. The passages quoted above remind us of the legend of St.
Patrick’s purgatory, where mention is made of a lake of ice and snow
into which persons were plunged up to their necks; and of the
description of hell given in the “Shepherd’s Calendar:”

      “a great froste in a water rounes
    And after a bytter wynde comes
    Which gothe through the soules with eyre;
    Fends with pokes pulle theyr flesshe ysondre,
    They fight and curse, and eche on other wonder.”

    [733] See “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” 1839, pp. 82, 83.

We cannot here enter, however, into the mass of mystic details
respecting “the soul’s dread journey[734] by caverns and rocky paths and
weary plains, over steep and slippery mountains, by frail bank or giddy
bridge, across gulfs or rushing rivers, abiding the fierce onset of the
soul-destroyer or the doom of the stern guardian of the other world.”
Few subjects, indeed, have afforded greater scope for the imagination
than the hereafter of the human soul, and hence, as might be expected,
numerous myths have been invented in most countries to account for its
mysterious departure in the hour of death, from the world of living men
to its unseen, unknown home in the distant land of spirits.

    [734] Tylor’s “Primitive Culture,” vol. ii. p. 46.

Shakespeare several times uses the word “limbo” in a general
signification for hell, as in “Titus Andronicus” (iii. 1):

    “As far from help as limbo is from bliss.”

And in “All’s Well that Ends Well” (v. 3), Parolles says: “for, indeed,
he was mad for her, and talked of Satan, and of limbo, and of furies,
and I know not what.” In “Henry VIII.” (v. 4), “in Limbo Patrum” is
jocularly put for a prison; and, again, in “Comedy of Errors” (iv. 2),
“he’s in Tartar limbo.” “According to the schoolmen, _Limbus Patrum_ was
the place, bordering on hell, where the souls of the patriarchs and
saints of the Old Testament remained till the death of Christ, who,
descending into hell, set them free.”[735]

    [735] Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 246.

One of the punishments invented of old for the covetous and avaricious,
in hell, was to have melted gold poured down their throats, to which
allusion is made by Flaminius, in “Timon of Athens” (iii. 1), who,
denouncing Lucullus for his mean insincerity towards his friend Timon,
exclaims, on rejecting the bribe offered him to tell his master that he
had not seen him:

    “May these add to the number that may scald thee!
    Let molten coin be thy damnation.”

In the “Shepherd’s Calendar,” Lazarus declares himself to have seen
covetous men and women in hell dipped in caldrons of molten lead. Malone
quotes the following from an old black-letter ballad of “The Dead Man’s

    “Ladles full of melted gold
    Were poured down their throats.”

Crassus was so punished by the Parthians.[736]

    [736] Singer’s “Shakespeare,” 1875, vol. viii. p. 291.

There is possibly a further allusion to this imaginary punishment in
“Antony and Cleopatra” (ii. 5), where Cleopatra says to the messenger:

    “But, sirrah, mark, we use
    To say, the dead are well: bring it to that,
    The gold I give thee will I melt, and pour
    Down thy ill-uttering throat.”

According to a well-known superstition among sailors, it is considered
highly unlucky to keep a corpse on board, in case of a death at sea.
Thus, in “Pericles” (iii. 1), this piece of folk-lore is alluded to:

    “_1 Sailor._ Sir, your queen must overboard; the sea works
    high, the wind is loud, and will not lie till the ship be
    cleared of the dead.

    _Pericles._ That’s your superstition.

    _1 Sailor._ Pardon us, sir; with us at sea it hath been still
    observed; and we are strong in custom. Therefore briefly yield
    her; for she must overboard straight.”

It was also a popular opinion that death is delayed until the ebb of the
tide—a superstition to which Mrs. Quickly refers in “Henry V.” (ii. 3);
speaking of Falstaff’s death, she says: “’A made a finer end, and went
away, an it had been any christom child; ’a parted even just between
twelve and one, even at the turning o’ the tide.” Hence, in cases of
sickness, many pretended that they could foretell the hour of the soul’s
departure. It may be remembered how Mr. Peggotty explained to David
Copperfield, by poor Barkis’s bedside, that “people can’t die along the
coast except when the tide’s pretty nigh out. They can’t be born unless
it’s pretty nigh in—not properly born till flood. He’s a-going out with
the tide—he’s a-going out with the tide. It’s ebb at half arter three,
slack-water half an hour. If he lives till it turns he’ll hold his own
till past the flood, and go out with the next tide.” Mr. Henderson[737]
quotes from the parish register of Heslidon, near Hartlepool, the
subjoined extracts of old date, in which the state of the tide at the
time of death is mentioned:

    “The xith daye of Maye, A.D. 1595, at vi. of ye clocke in the
    morninge, being full water, Mr. Henrye Mitford, of Hoolam, died
    at Newcastel, and was buried the xvith daie, being Sondaie, at
    evening prayer, the hired preacher maid ye sermon.”

    “The xviith daie of Maie, at xii. of ye clock at noon, being
    lowe water, Mrs. Barbara Mitford died, and was buried the
    xviiith daie of Maie, at ix. of the clocke. Mr. Holsworth maid
    ye sermon.”

    [737] “Folk-Lore of Northern Counties,” 1880, p. 58.

According to Mr. Henderson, this belief is common along the east coast
of England, from Northumberland to Kent. It has been suggested that
there may be “some slight foundation for this belief in the change of
temperature which undoubtedly takes place on the change of tide, and
which may act on the flickering spark of life, extinguishing it as the
ebbing sea recedes.”

We may compare, too, the following passage in “2 Henry IV.” (iv. 4),
where Clarence, speaking of the approaching death of the king, says:

    “The river hath thrice flow’d, no ebb between;
    And the old folk, time’s doting chronicles,
    Say it did so a little time before
    That our great grandsire, Edward, sick’d and died.”

This was an historical fact, having happened on October 12, 1411.

The prayers of the Church, which are used for the recovery of the sick,
were, in the olden time, also supposed to have a morbific influence, to
which Gloster attributes the death of the king in “1 Henry VI.” (i. 1):

    “The church! where is it? Had not churchmen pray’d,
    His thread of life had not so soon decay’d.”

Once more, the custom of closing the eyes at the moment of death is
touchingly referred to in “Antony and Cleopatra” (v. 2), where Charmian
may be supposed to close Cleopatra’s eyes:

             “Downy windows, close;
    And golden Phœbus never be beheld
    Of eyes again so royal.”

Passing on from that solemn moment in human life when the soul takes its
flight from the fragile tenement of clay that contained it during its
earthly existence, we find that, even among the lowest savages, there
has generally been a certain respect paid to the dead body; and,
consequently, various superstitious rites have, from time to time, been
associated with its burial, which has been so appropriately termed “the
last act.” While occasionally speaking of death, Shakespeare has not
only pictured its solemnity in the most powerful and glowing language,
but, as opportunity allowed, given us a slight insight into those
customs that formerly prevailed in connection with the committal of the
body to its final resting-place in the grave. At the present day, when
there is an ever-growing tendency to discard and forget, as irrational
and foolish, the customs of bygone years, it is interesting to find
chronicled, for all future time, in the immortal pages of our
illustrious poet, those superstitious rites and social usages which may
be said to have been most intimately identified with the age to which
they belonged. One custom, perhaps, that will always retain its old
hold among us—so long as we continue to bury the remains of our departed
ones—is the scattering of flowers on their graves; a practice, indeed,
which may be traced up to pagan times. It is frequently mentioned by
Shakespeare in some of his superb passages; as, for instance, in
“Cymbeline” (iv. 2), where Arviragus says:

                              “With fairest flowers,
    Whilst summer lasts, and I live here, Fidele,
    I’ll sweeten thy sad grave: thou shalt not lack
    The flower that’s like thy face, pale primrose, nor
    The azur’d hare-bell, like thy veins; no, nor
    The leaf of eglantine, whom not to slander,
    Out-sweeten’d not thy breath.

       *       *       *       *       *

    Yea, and furr’d moss besides, when flowers are none,
    To winter-ground thy corse.”

In “Hamlet” (iv. 5), the poor, bewildered Ophelia sings:

    “Larded with sweet flowers;
    Which bewept to the grave did go
      With true-love showers.”

Then, further on (v. 1), there is the affecting flower-strewing scene,
where the Queen, standing over the grave of Ophelia, bids her a long

    “Sweets to the sweet: farewell!
    I hop’d thou should’st have been my Hamlet’s wife;
    I thought thy bride-bed to have deck’d, sweet maid,
    And not have strew’d thy grave.”

In “Romeo and Juliet” (iv. 5), Capulet says:

    “Our bridal flowers serve for a buried corse.”

And further on (v. 3) the Page says:

    “He came with flowers to strew his lady’s grave.”[738]

    [738] Cf. “Winter’s Tale,” iv. 4.

Once more, in “Pericles” (iv. 1), Marina is introduced, entering with a
basket of flowers, uttering these sad words:

    “No, I will rob Tellus of her weed,
    To strew thy green with flowers; the yellows, blues,
    The purple violets, and marigolds,
    Shall, as a carpet, hang upon thy grave,
    While summer days do last.”

Flowers, which so soon droop and wither, are, indeed, sweet emblems of
that brief life which is the portion of mankind in this world, while, at
the same time, their exquisite beauty is a further type of the glory
that awaits the redeemed hereafter, when, like fair flowers, they shall
burst forth in unspeakable grandeur on the resurrection morn. There is a
pretty custom observed in South Wales on Palm Sunday, of spreading fresh
flowers upon the graves of friends and relatives, the day being called
Flowering Sunday.

The practice of decorating the corpse is mentioned by many old writers.
In “Romeo and Juliet” (iv. 5), Friar Laurence says:

    “Dry up your tears, and stick your rosemary
    On this fair corse; and, as the custom is,
    In all her best array bear her to church.”

Queen Katharine, in “Henry VIII.” (iv. 2), directs:

             “When I am dead, good wench,
    Let me be us’d with honour: strew me over
    With maiden flowers.”

It was formerly customary, in various parts of England, to have a
garland of flowers and sweet herbs carried before a maiden’s coffin, and
afterwards to suspend it in the church. In allusion to this practice,
the Priest, in “Hamlet” (v. 1), says:

    “Yet here she is allow’d her virgin crants,
    Her maiden strewments, and the bringing home
    Of bell and burial.”

—crants[739] meaning garlands. It may be noted that no other instance
has been found of this word in English. These garlands are thus
described by Gay:

    “To her sweet mem’ry flow’ry garlands strung,
    On her now empty seat aloft were hung.”

    [739] The word in German is _kranz_, in other Teutonic dialects
    _krants_, _krans_, and _crance_—the latter being Lowland
    Scotch—and having _cransies_ for plural. Clark and Wright’s
    “Hamlet,” 1876, p. 216.

Nichols, in his “History of Lancashire” (vol. ii. pt. i. p. 382),
speaking of Waltham, in Framland Hundred, says: “In this church, under
every arch, a garland is suspended, one of which is customarily placed
there whenever any young unmarried woman dies.” Brand[740] tells us he
saw in the churches of Wolsingham and Stanhope, in the county of Durham,
specimens of these garlands; the form of a woman’s glove, cut in white
paper, being hung in the centre of each of them.

    [740] “Pop. Antiq.” vol. ii. p. 303.

The funerals of knights and persons of rank were, in Shakespeare’s day,
performed with great ceremony and ostentation. Sir John Hawkins observes
that “the sword, the helmet, the gauntlets, spurs, and tabard are still
hung over the grave of every knight.” In “Hamlet” (iv. 5), Laertes
speaks of this custom:

    “His means of death, his obscure burial,—
    No trophy, sword, nor hatchment, o’er his bones,
    No noble rite, nor formal ostentation,—
    Cry to be heard, as ’twere from heaven to earth,
    That I must call’t in question.”

Again, in “2 Henry VI.” (iv. 10), Iden says:

    “Is’t Cade that I have slain, that monstrous traitor?
    Sword, I will hallow thee for this thy deed,
    And hang thee o’er my tomb when I am dead.”

The custom of bearing the dead body in its ordinary habiliments, and
with the face uncovered—a practice referred to in “Romeo and Juliet”
(iv. 1)—appears to have been peculiar to Italy:

    “Then, as the manner of our country is,
    In thy best robes uncover’d on the bier,
    Thou shalt be borne to that same ancient vault
    Where all the kindred of the Capulets lie.”

In Coryat’s “Crudities” (1776, vol. ii. p. 27) the practice is thus
described: “The burials are so strange, both in Venice and all other
cities, towns, and parishes of Italy, that they differ not only from
England, but from all other nations whatever in Christendom. For they
carry the corse to church with the face, hands, and feet all naked, and
wearing the same apparel that the person wore lately before he died, or
that which he craved to be buried in; which apparel is interred together
with the body.”[741] Singer[742] says that Shakespeare no doubt had seen
this custom particularly described in the “Tragicall History of Romeus
and Juliet:”

    “Another use there is, that, whosoever dies,
    Borne to the church, with open face, upon the bier he lies,
    In wonted weed attir’d, not wrapt in winding sheet.”

    [741] See Staunton’s “Shakespeare,” 1864, vol. i. p. 305.

    [742] “Shakespeare,” 1875, vol. ix. pp. 209, 210.

He alludes to it again in Ophelia’s song, in “Hamlet” (iv. 5):

    “They bore him barefac’d on the bier.”

It was, in bygone times, customary to bury the Danish kings in their
armor; hence the remark of Hamlet (i. 4), when addressing the Ghost:

                        “What may this mean,
    That thou, dead corse, again, in complete steel,
    Revisit’st thus the glimpses of the moon,
    Making night hideous?”

Shakespeare was probably guilty of an anachronism in “Coriolanus” (v. 6)
when he makes one of the lords say:

                “Bear from hence his body,
    And mourn you for him: let him be regarded
    As the most noble corse that ever herald
    Did follow to his urn,”

the allusion being to the public funeral of English princes, at the
conclusion of which a herald proclaimed the style of the deceased.

We may compare what Queen Katharine says in “Henry VIII.” (iv. 2):

    “After my death I wish no other herald,
    No other speaker of my living actions,
    To keep my honour from corruption,
    But such an honest chronicler as Griffith.”

It seems to have been the fashion, as far back as the thirteenth
century, to ornament the tombs of eminent persons with figures and
inscriptions on plates of brass; hence, in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (i.
1), the King says:

    “Let fame, that all hunt after in their lives,
    Live register’d upon our brazen tombs.”

In “Much Ado About Nothing” (v. 1), Leonato, speaking of his daughter’s
death, says:

    “Hang her an epitaph upon her tomb,
    And sing it to her bones: sing it to-night.”

And also in a previous scene (iv. 1) this graceful custom is noticed:

    “Maintain a mourning ostentation,
    And on your family’s old monument
    Hang mournful epitaphs.”

It was also the custom, in years gone by, on the death of an eminent
person, for his friends to compose short laudatory verses, epitaphs,
etc., and to affix them to the hearse or grave with pins, wax, paste,
etc. Thus, in “Henry V.” (i. 2), King Henry declares:

    “Either our history shall with full mouth
    Speak freely of our acts, or else our grave,
    Like Turkish mute, shall have a tongueless mouth,
    Not worshipp’d with a waxen epitaph,”

meaning, says Gifford, “I will either have my full history recorded with
glory, or lie in an undisturbed grave; not merely without an
inscription sculptured in stone, but unworshipped, unhonoured, even by a
waxen epitaph.”[743]

    [743] Notes on “Jonson’s Works,” vol. ix. p. 58.

We may also compare what Lucius says in “Titus Andronicus” (i. 1):

    “There lie thy bones, sweet Mutius, with thy friends,
    Till we with trophies do adorn thy tomb!”

The custom was still general when Shakespeare lived; many fine and
interesting examples existing in the old Cathedral of St. Paul’s, and
other churches of London, down to the time of the great fire, in the
form of pensil-tables of wood and metal, painted or engraved with
poetical memorials, suspended against the columns and walls.

“Feasts of the Dead,” which have prevailed in this and other countries
from the earliest times, are, according to some antiquarians, supposed
to have been borrowed from the _cæna feralis_ of the Romans—an offering,
consisting of milk, honey, wine, olives, and strewed flowers, to the
ghost of the deceased. In a variety of forms this custom has prevailed
among most nations—the idea being that the spirits of the dead feed on
the viands set before them; hence the rite in question embraced the
notion of a sacrifice. In Christian times, however, these funeral
offerings have passed into commemorative banquets, under which form they
still exist among us. In allusion to these feasts, Hamlet (i. 2),
speaking of his mother’s marriage, says:

                    “The funeral bak’d meats
    Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.”

Again, in “Romeo and Juliet” (iv. 5), Capulet narrates how:

    “All things that we ordained festival,
    Turn from their office to black funeral:
    Our instruments, to melancholy bells;
    Our wedding cheer, to a sad burial feast.”

Mr. Tylor,[744] in discussing the origin of funeral feasts, and in
tracing their origin back to the savage and barbaric times of the
institution of feast of departed souls, says we may find a lingering
survival of this old rite in the doles of bread and drink given to the
poor at funerals, and “soul-mass cakes,” which peasant girls beg for at
farmhouses, with the traditional formula,

    “Soul, soul, for a soul cake,
    Pray you, mistress, a soul cake.”[745]

    [744] “Primitive Culture,” vol. ii. p. 43.

    [745] See “British Popular Customs,” p. 404; Brand’s “Pop.
    Antiq.,” 1849, vol. ii. pp. 237, 246; Douce’s “Illustrations of
    Shakespeare,” 1839, p. 439.

In the North of England the funeral feast is called an “arval,” and the
loaves that are sometimes distributed among the poor are termed “arval

Among other funeral customs mentioned by Shakespeare, may be mentioned
his allusion to the burial service. Originally, before the reign of
Edward VI., it was the practice for the priest to throw earth on the
body in the form of a cross, and then to sprinkle it with holy water.
Thus, in the “Winter’s Tale” (iv. 4), the Shepherd says:

    “Some hangman must put on my shroud, and lay me
    Where no priest shovels in dust,”

implying, “I must be buried as a common malefactor, out of the pale of
consecrated ground, and without the usual rites of the dead”—a whimsical
anachronism, as Mr. Douce[746] points out, when it is considered that
the old Shepherd was a pagan, a worshipper of Jupiter and Apollo.

    [746] See Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” 1839, p. 222.

In “Antony and Cleopatra” (i. 3), we find an allusion to the
lachrymatory vials filled with tears which the Romans were in the habit
of placing in the tomb of a departed friend. Cleopatra sorrowfully

                      “O most false love!
    Where be the sacred vials thou shouldst fill
    With sorrowful water? Now I see, I see,
    In Fulvia’s death, how mine receiv’d shall be.”

This is another interesting instance of Shakespeare’s knowledge of the
manners of distant ages, showing how varied and extensive his knowledge
was, and his skill in applying it whenever occasion required.

The winding or shrouding sheet, in which the body was wrapped previous
to its burial, is alluded to in “Hamlet” (v. 1), in the song of the

    “A pick-axe, and a spade, a spade,
      For and a shrouding sheet:
    O, a pit of clay for to be made
      For such a guest is meet.”

Again, in “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (v. 1), Puck says:

        “the screech-owl, screeching loud,
    Puts the wretch that lies in woe
      In remembrance of a shroud.”

Ophelia speaks of the shroud as white as the mountain snow (“Hamlet,”
iv. 5). The following song, too, in “Twelfth Night” (ii. 4), mentions
the custom of sticking yew in the shroud:

    “Come away, come away, death,
      And in sad cypress let me be laid;
    Fly away, fly away, breath:
      I am slain by a fair cruel maid.
      My shroud of white, stuck all with yew,
            O prepare it!
      My part of death, no one so true
            Did share it!”

To quote two further illustrations. Desdemona (“Othello,” iv. 2) says to
Emilia: “Lay on my bed my wedding-sheets,” and when in the following
scene Emilia answers:

    “I have laid those sheets you bade me on the bed,”

Desdemona adds:

    “If I do die before thee, pr’thee, shroud me
    In one of those same sheets”

—a wish, indeed, which her cruel fate so speedily caused to be realized.
And in “3 Henry VI.” (i. 1) we have King Henry’s powerful words:

    “Think’st thou, that I will leave my kingly throne,
    Wherein my grandsire and my father sat?
    No: first shall war unpeople this my realm;
    Ay, and their colours,—often borne in France,
    And now in England, to our heart’s great sorrow,—
    Shall be my winding-sheet.”

The custom, still prevalent, of carrying the dead to the grave with
music—a practice which existed in the primitive church—to denote that
they have ended their spiritual warfare, and are become conquerors,
formerly existed very generally in this country.[747] In “Cymbeline”
(iv. 2), Arviragus says:

    “And let us, Polydore, though now our voices
    Have got the mannish crack, sing him to the ground,
    As once our mother; use like note and words,
    Save that Euriphile must be Fidele.”

    [747] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol ii. pp. 267-270.

The tolling of bells at funerals is referred to in “Hamlet” (v. 1),
where the priest says of Ophelia:

                  “she is allow’d her virgin crants,
    Her maiden strewments, and the bringing home
    Of bell and burial.”

It has been a current opinion for centuries that places of burial are
haunted with spectres and apparitions—a notion, indeed, that prevailed
as far back as the times of heathenism. Ovid speaks of ghosts coming out
of their sepulchres and wandering about: and Vergil, quoting the popular
opinion of his time, tells us how Moeris could call the ghosts out of
their sepulchres (“Bucol.” viii. 98):

    “Moerim, sæpe animas imis excire sepulchris,
    Atque satas alio vidi traducere messis.”

Indeed, the idea of the ghost remaining near the corpse is of world-wide
prevalence; and as Mr. Tylor[748] points out, “through all the changes
of religious thought from first to last, in the course of human history,
the hovering ghosts of the dead make the midnight burial-ground a place
where men’s flesh creeps with terror.” In “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream”
(v. 1), Puck declares:

    “Now it is the time of night,
      That the graves, all gaping wide,
    Every one lets forth his sprite,
      In the church-way paths to glide.”

    [748] “Primitive Culture,” vol. ii. p. 30.

In the same play, too (iii. 2), Puck, speaking of “Aurora’s harbinger,”

    “At whose approach, ghosts, wandering here and there,
    Troop home to churchyards: damned spirits all,
    That in cross-ways and floods have burial,
    Already to their wormy beds are gone;
    For fear lest day should look their shames upon.”

In this passage two curious superstitions are described; the ghosts of
self-murderers, who are buried in cross-roads, and of those who have
been drowned at sea, being said to wander for a hundred years, owing to
the rites of sepulture having never been properly bestowed on their

We may further compare Hamlet’s words (iii. 2):

    “’Tis now the very witching time of night,
    When churchyards yawn, and hell itself breathes out
    Contagion to this world.”

From the earliest period much importance has been attached to the
position of the grave, the popular direction being from east to west,
that from north to south being regarded as not only dishonorable, but
unlucky. Thus, in “Cymbeline” (iv. 2), Guiderius, when arranging about
the apparently dead body of Imogen, disguised in man’s apparel, says:

    “Nay, Cadwal, we must lay his head to the east;
    My father had a reason for’t.”

Indeed, the famous antiquary Hearne had such precise views in this
matter that he left orders for his grave to be made straight by a
compass, due east and west. This custom was practised by the ancient
Greeks, and thus, as Mr. Tylor points out,[749] it is not to late and
isolated fancy, but to the carrying on of ancient and widespread solar
ideas, that we trace the well-known legend that the body of Christ was
laid with the head towards the west, thus looking eastward, and the
Christian usage of digging graves east and west, which prevailed through
mediæval times, and is not yet forgotten. The rule of laying the head to
the west, and its meaning that the dead shall rise looking towards the
east, are perfectly stated in the following passage from an
ecclesiastical treatise of the 16th century:[750] “Debet autem quis sic
sepeliri ut capite ad occidentem posito, pedes dirigat ad Orientem, in
quo quasi ipsa positione orat: et innuit quod promptus est, ut de occasu
festinet ad ortum: de mundo ad seculum.”[751]

    [749] “Primitive Culture,” 1873, vol. ii. p. 423.

    [750] Durandus, “De Officio Mortuorum,” lib. vii. chap. 35-39.

    [751] Dr. Johnson thought the words of the clown in “Hamlet”
    (v. 1), “make her grave straight,” meant, “make her grave from
    east to west, in a direct line parallel to the church.” This
    interpretation seems improbable, as the word straight in the
    sense of immediately occurs frequently in Shakespeare’s plays.

Within old monuments and receptacles for the dead perpetual lamps were
supposed to be lighted up, an allusion to which is made by Pericles
(iii. 1), who, deploring the untimely death of Thaisa at sea, and the
superstitious demand made by the sailors that her corpse should be
thrown overboard, says:

                            “Nor have I time
    To give thee hallow’d to thy grave, but straight
    Must cast thee, scarcely coffin’d, in the ooze;
    Where, for a monument upon thy bones,
    And aye-remaining lamps, the belching whale
    And humming water must o’erwhelm thy corpse,
    Lying with simple shells.”

Again, in “Troilus and Cressida” (iii. 2), we find a further reference
in the words of Troilus:

    “O, that I thought it could be in a woman,
    To feed for aye her lamp and flames of love.”

Pope, too, in his “Eloisa to Abelard,” has a similar allusion (l. 261,

    “Ah, hopeless lasting flames, like those that burn
    To light the dead, and warm th’ unfruitful urn!”

D’Israeli, in his “Curiosities of Literature,” thus explains this
superstition: “It has happened frequently that inquisitive men,
examining with a flambeau ancient sepulchres which have just been
opened, the fat and gross vapors engendered by the corruption of dead
bodies kindled as the flambeau approached them, to the great
astonishment of the spectators, who frequently cried out ‘A miracle!’
This sudden inflammation, although very natural, has given room to
believe that these flames proceeded from _perpetual lamps_, which some
have thought were placed in the tombs of the ancients, and which, they
said, were extinguished at the moment that these tombs opened, and were
penetrated by the exterior air.” Mr. Dennis, however, in his “Cities and
Cemeteries of Etruria” (1878, vol. ii. p. 404), says that the use of
sepulchral lamps by the ancients is well known, and gave rise to the
above superstition. Sometimes lamps were kept burning in sepulchres long
after the interment, as in the case of the Ephesian widow described by
Petronius (“Satyr,” c. 13), who replaced the lamp placed in her
husband’s tomb.

A common expression formerly applied to the dead occurs in the “Winter’s
Tale” (v. 1), where Dion asks:

                      “What were more holy,
    Than to rejoice the former queen is well?”

So in “Antony and Cleopatra” (ii. 5):

    “_Messenger._ First, madam, he is well.

    _Cleopatra._                Why, there’s more gold.
    But, sirrah, mark, we use
    To say, the dead are well.”[752]

    [752] See Malone’s note, Variorum edition, xiv. 400.

Lastly, commentators have differed as to the meaning of the words of
Julia in the “Two Gentlemen of Verona” (i. 2):

    “I see you have a month’s mind to them.”

Douce says she refers to the mind or remembrance days of our popish
ancestors; persons in their wills having often directed that in a month,
or at some other specific time, some solemn office, as a mass or a
dirge, should be performed for the repose of their souls. Thus Ray
quotes a proverb: “To have a month’s mind to a thing,” and mentions the
above custom. For a further and not improbable solution of this
difficulty, the reader may consult Dyce’s “Glossary” (p. 277).



From a very early period, rings and precious stones have held a
prominent place in the traditionary lore, customs, and superstitions of
most nations. Thus, rings have been supposed “to protect from evil
fascinations of every kind, against the evil eye, the influence of
demons, and dangers of every possible character: though it was not
simply in the rings themselves that the supposed virtues existed, but in
the materials of which they were composed—in some particular precious
stones that were set in them as charms or talismans, in some device or
inscription on the stone, or some magical letters engraved on the
circumference of the ring.”[753] Rings, too, in days gone by, had a
symbolical importance. Thus, it was anciently the custom for every
monarch to have a ring, the temporary possession of which invested the
holder with the same authority as the owner himself could exercise.
Thus, in “Henry VIII.” (v. 1), we have the king’s ring given to Cranmer,
and presented by him (sc. 2), as a security against the machinations of
Gardiner and others of the council, who were plotting to destroy him.
Thus the king says:

                          “If entreaties
    Will render you no remedy, this ring
    Deliver them, and your appeal to us
    There make before them.”

    [753] Jones’s “Finger-Ring Lore,” 1877, p. 91.

This custom, too, was not confined to royalty, for in “Richard II.” (ii.
2), the Duke of York gives this order to his servant:

    “Sirrah, get thee to Plashy, to my sister Gloster;
    Bid her send me presently a thousand pound:—
    Hold, take my ring.”

There is an interesting relic of the same custom still kept up at
Winchester College.[754] When the captain of the school petitions the
head-master for a holiday, and obtains it, he receives from him a ring,
in token of the indulgence granted, which he wears during the holiday,
and returns to the head-master when it is over. The inscription upon the
ring was, formerly, “Potentiam fero, geroque.” It is now “Commendat
rarior usus” (Juvenal, “Sat.” xi. 208).

    [754] Wordsworth’s “Shakespeare and the Bible,” 1880, p. 283.

_Token Rings_ date from very early times. Edward I., in 1297, presented
Margaret, his fourth daughter, with a golden pyx, in which he deposited
a ring, as a token of his unfailing love.

In “Richard III.” (i. 2) when Gloster brings his hasty wooing to a
conclusion, he gives the Lady Anne a ring, saying:

    “Look, how my ring encompasseth thy finger,
    Even so thy breast encloseth my poor heart;
    Wear both of them, for both of them are thine.”

In “Cymbeline” (i. 1) Imogen gives Posthumus a ring when they part, and
he presents her with a bracelet in exchange:

                          “Look here, love;
    This diamond was my mother’s; take it, heart;
    But keep it till you woo another wife,
    When Imogen is dead.

      _Posthumus._ How! how! another?—
    You gentle gods, give me but this I have,
    And sear up my embracements from a next
    With bonds of death! Remain, remain thou here,
                              (_Putting on the ring_)
    While sense can keep it on.”

Yet he afterwards gives it up to Iachimo (ii. 4)—upon a false
representation—to test his wife’s honor:

              “Here, take this too;
    It is a basilisk unto mine eye,
    Kills me to look on’t.”

The exchange of rings, a solemn mode of private contract between lovers,
we have already referred to in the chapter on Marriage, a practice
alluded to in the “Two Gentlemen of Verona” (ii. 2), where Julia gives
Proteus a ring, saying:

    “Keep this remembrance for thy Julia’s sake;”

and he replies:

    “Why, then we’ll make exchange: here, take you this.”

_Death’s-head rings._ Rings engraved with skulls and skeletons were not
necessarily mourning rings, but were also worn by persons who affected
gravity; and, curious to say, by the procuresses of Elizabeth’s time.
Biron, in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (v. 2), refers to “a death’s face in a
ring;” and we may quote Falstaff’s words in “2 Henry IV.” (ii. 4):
“Peace, good Doll! do not speak like a death’s head; do not bid me
remember mine end.” We may compare the following from “The Chances” (i.
5), by Beaumont and Fletcher:

    “As they keep deaths’ heads in rings,
    To cry ‘memento’ to me.”

According to Mr. Fairholt, “the skull and skeleton decorations for rings
first came into favor and fashion at the obsequious court of France,
when Diana of Poictiers became the mistress of Henry II. At that time
she was a widow, and in mourning, so black and white became fashionable
colors; jewels were formed like funeral memorials; golden ornaments,
shaped like coffins, holding enamelled skeletons, hung from the neck;
watches, made to fit in little silver skulls, were attached to the
waists of the denizens of a court that alternately indulged in profanity
or piety, but who mourned for show.”[755]

    [755] See Jones’s “Finger-Ring Lore,” 1877, p. 372.

_Posy-rings_ were formerly much used, it having been customary to
inscribe a motto or “posy” within the hoop of the betrothal ring. Thus,
in the “Merchant of Venice” (v. 1), Gratiano, when asked by Portia the
reason of his quarrel with Nerissa, answers:

    “About a hoop of gold, a paltry ring
    That she did give me; whose posy was
    For all the world like cutlers’ poetry
    Upon a knife, ‘Love me, and leave me not.’”

In “As You Like It“ (iii. 2), Jaques tells Orlando, “You are full of
pretty answers. Have you not been acquainted with goldsmiths’ wives, and
conned them out of rings?”

Again, “Hamlet” (iii. 2) asks:

    “Is this a prologue, or the posy of a ring?”

Many of our old writers allude to the posy-rings. Thus Herrick, in his
“Hesperides,” says:

    “What posies for our wedding rings,
    What gloves we’ll give, and ribbonings.”

Henry VIII. gave Anne of Cleves a ring with the following posy: “God
send me well to kepe;” a most unpropitious alliance, as the king
expressed his dislike to her soon after the marriage.

_Thumb-rings._ These were generally broad gold rings worn on the thumb
by important personages. Thus Falstaff (“1 Henry IV.” ii. 4) bragged
that, in his earlier years, he had been so slender in figure as to
“creep into an alderman’s thumb-ring;” and a ring thus worn—probably as
more conspicuous—appears to have been considered as appropriate to the
customary attire of a civic dignitary at a much later period. A
character in the Lord Mayor’s Show, in 1664, is described as “habited
like a grave citizen—gold girdle, and gloves hung thereon, rings on his
fingers, and a seal ring on his thumb.”[756] Chaucer, in his “Squire’s
Tale,” says of the rider of the brazen horse who advanced into the
hall, Cambuscan, that “upon his thumb he had of gold a ring.” In “Romeo
and Juliet” (i. 4), Mercutio speaks of the

                       “agate stone
    On the forefinger of an alderman.”

    [756] See Jones’s “Finger-Ring Lore,” 1877, p. 88.

It has been suggested that Shakespeare, in the following passage,
alludes to the annual celebration, at Venice, of the wedding of the Doge
with the Adriatic, when he makes Othello say (i. 2):

    “But that I love the gentle Desdemona,
    I would not my unhoused free condition
    Put into circumscription and confine
    For the sea’s worth.”

This custom, it is said, was instituted by Pope Alexander III., who gave
the Doge a gold ring from his own finger, in token of the victory by the
Venetian fleet, at Istria, over Frederick Barbarossa, in defence of the
Pope’s quarrel. When his holiness gave the ring, he desired the Doge to
throw a similar ring into the sea every year on Ascension Day, in
commemoration of the event.

_Agate._ This stone was frequently cut to represent the human form, and
was occasionally worn in the hat by gallants. In “2 Henry IV.” (i. 2)
Falstaff says: “I was never manned with an agate till now”—meaning,
according to Johnson, “had an agate for my man,” was waited on by an

_Carbuncle._ The supernatural lustre of this gem[757] is supposed to be
described in “Titus Andronicus” (ii. 3), where, speaking of the ring on
the finger of Bassianus, Martius says:

    “Upon his bloody finger he doth wear
    A precious ring, that lightens all the hole,
    Which, like a taper in some monument,
    Doth shine upon the dead man’s earthy cheeks,
    And shows the ragged entrails of the pit.”

    [757] See Sir Thomas Browne’s “Vulgar Errors.”

In Drayton’s “Muses’ Elysium” (“Nymphal.” ix.) it is thus eulogized:

    “That admired mighty stone,
      The carbuncle that’s named,
    Which from it such a flaming light
      And radiancy ejecteth,
    That in the very darkest night
      The eye to it directeth.”

Milton, speaking of the cobra, says:

                        “His head
    Crested aloof, and carbuncle his eyes.”

John Norton,[758] an alchemist in the reign of Edward IV., wrote a poem
entitled the “Ordinal,” or a manual of the chemical art. One of his
projects, we are told, was a bridge of gold over the Thames, crowned
with pinnacles of gold, which, being studded with carbuncles, would
diffuse a blaze of light in the dark. Among the other references to it
given by Shakespeare may be mentioned one in “Henry VIII.” (ii. 3),
where the Princess Elizabeth is spoken of as

                          “a gem
    To lighten all this isle.”

    [758] Jones’s “Precious Stones,” 1880, p. 62.

And Hamlet (ii. 2) uses the phrase, “With eyes like carbuncles.”

_Chrysolite._ This stone was supposed to possess peculiar virtues, and,
according to Simon Maiolus, in his “Dierum Caniculares” (1615-19),
Thetel the Jew, who wrote a book, “De Sculpturiis,” mentions one
naturally in the form of a woman, which was potent against fascination
of all kinds. “Othello” (v. 2) thus alludes to this stone in reference
to his wife:

                       “Nay, had she been true,
    If heaven would make me such another world
    Of one entire and perfect chrysolite,
    I’d not have sold her for it.”

_Pearls._ The Eastern custom of powdering sovereigns at their coronation
with gold-dust and seed-pearl is alluded to in “Antony and
Cleopatra”[759] (ii. 5):

    “I’ll set thee in a shower of gold, and hail
    Rich pearls upon thee.”

    [759] See Singer’s “Shakespeare,” vol. x. p. 213.

So Milton (“Paradise Lost,” ii. 4):

    “The gorgeous East, with liberal hand,
    Showers on her kings barbaric pearl and gold.”

Again, to swallow a pearl in a draught seems to have been common to
royal and mercantile prodigality. In “Hamlet” (v. 2) the King says:

    “The king shall drink to Hamlet’s better breath;
    And in the cup an union[760] shall he throw.”

    [760] A union is a precious pearl, remarkable for its size.

Further on Hamlet himself asks, tauntingly:

    “Here, thou incestuous, murderous, damned Dane,
    Drink off this potion. Is thy union here?”

Malone, as an illustration of this custom, quotes from the second part
of Heywood’s “If You Know Not Me You Know Nobody:”

    “Here sixteen thousand pound at one clap goes
    Instead of sugar. Gresham drinks this pearl
    Unto the queen, his mistress.”

In former times powdered pearls were considered invaluable for stomach
complaints; and Rondeletius tells us that they were supposed to possess
an exhilarating quality: “Uniones quæ a conchis, et valde cordiales

Much mystery was, in bygone days, thought to hang over the origin of
pearls, and, according to the poetic Orientals,[761] “Every year, on the
sixteenth day of the month Nisan, the pearl oysters rise to the sea and
open their shells, in order to receive the rain which falls at that
time, and the drops thus caught become pearls.” Thus, in “Richard III.”
(iv. 4) the king says:

    “The liquid drops of tears that you have shed
    Shall come again, transform’d to orient pearl,
    Advantaging their loan with interest
    Of ten times double gain of happiness.”

    [761] See Jones’s “History and Mystery of Precious Stones,” p. 116.

Moore, in one of his Melodies, notices this pretty notion:

    “And precious the tear as that rain from the sky
    Which turns into pearls as it falls in the sea.”

_Turquoise._ This stone was probably more esteemed for its secret
virtues than from any commercial value, the turquoise, turkise, or
turkey-stone, having from a remote period been supposed to possess
talismanic properties. Thus, in the “Merchant of Venice” (iii. 1),
Shylock says: “It was my turquoise; I had it of Leah when I was a
bachelor: I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys.” Mr.
Dyce[762] says that Shylock valued his turquoise, “not only as being the
gift of Leah, but on account of the imaginary virtues ascribed to it:
which was supposed to become pale or to brighten according as the health
of the wearer was bad or good.” Thus, Ben Jonson, in “Sejanus” (i. 1),
alludes to its wonderful properties:

    “And true as turkoise in the dear lord’s ring,
    Look well or ill with him.”

    [762] “Glossary,” p. 465.

Fenton, in his “Certain Secret Wonders of Nature” (1569), thus describes
it: “The turkeys doth move when there is any evil prepared to him that
weareth it.” There were numerous other magical properties ascribed to
the turquoise. Thus, it was supposed to lose its color entirely at the
death of its owner, but to recover it when placed upon the finger of a
new and healthy possessor. It was also said that whoever wore a turquoise,
so that either it or its setting touched the skin, might fall from any
height, the stone attracting to itself the whole force of the blow. With
the Germans, the turquoise is still the gem appropriated to the ring,
the “gage d’amour,” presented by the lover on the acceptance of his
suit, the permanence of its color being believed to depend upon the
constancy of his affection.[763]

    [763] See C. W. King on “Precious Stones,” 1867, p. 267.



Very many of the old sports and pastimes in popular use in Shakespeare’s
day have long ago not only been laid aside, but, in the course of years,
have become entirely forgotten. This is to be regretted, as a great
number of these capital diversions were admirably suited both for in and
out of doors, the simplicity which marked them being one of their
distinguishing charms. That Shakespeare, too, took an interest in these
good old sources of recreation, may be gathered from the frequent
reference which he has made to them; his mention of some childish game
even serving occasionally as an illustration in a passage characterized
by its force and vigor.

_Archery._ In Shakespeare’s day this was a very popular diversion, and
the “Knights of Prince Arthur’s Round Table” was a society of archers
instituted by Henry VIII., and encouraged in the reign of
Elizabeth.[764] Fitzstephen, who wrote in the reign of Henry II.,
notices it among the summer pastimes of the London youth; and the
repeated statutes, from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century,
enforcing the use of the bow, generally ordered the leisure time upon
holidays to be passed in its exercise.[765] Shakespeare seems to have
been intimately acquainted with the numerous terms connected with
archery, many of which we find scattered throughout his plays. Thus, in
“Love’s Labour’s Lost” (iv. 1), Maria uses the expression, “Wide o’ the
bow hand,” a term which signified a good deal to the left of the mark.

    [764] See Drake’s “Shakespeare and His Times,” vol. ii. pp.

    [765] Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1870, vol. ii. p. 290.

The “clout” was the nail or pin of the target, and “from the passages,”
says Dyce,[766] “which I happen to recollect in our early writers, I
should say that the clout, or pin, stood in the centre of the inner
circle of the butts, which circle, being painted white, was called the
white; that, to ‘hit the white’ was a considerable feat, but that to
‘hit or cleave the clout or pin’ was a much greater one, though, no
doubt, the expressions were occasionally used to signify the same thing,
viz., to hit the mark.” In “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (iv. 1), Costard says
of Boyet:

    “Indeed, a’ must shoot nearer, or he’ll ne’er hit the clout;”

and, in “2 Henry IV.” (iii. 2), Shallow says of old Double: “He would
have clapped i’ the clout at twelve score”—that is, he would have hit
the clout at twelve-score yards. And “King Lear” (iv. 6) employs the
phrase “i’ the clout, i’ the clout: hewgh!”

    [766] “Glossary,” p. 84.

In “Romeo and Juliet” (ii. 4), where Mercutio relates how Romeo is “shot
thorough the ear with a love-song; the very pin of his heart cleft with
the blind bow-boy’s butt-shaft,” the metaphor, of course, is from

The term “loose” was the technical one for the discharging of an arrow,
and occurs in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (v. 2).

According to Capell,[767] the words of Bottom, in “A Midsummer-Night’s
Dream” (i. 2), “hold, or cut bow-strings,” were a proverbial phrase, and
alluded to archery. “When a party was made at butts, assurance of
meeting was given in the words of that phrase, the sense of the person
using them being that he would ‘hold’ or keep promise, or they might
‘cut his bow-strings,’ demolish him for an archer.” Whether, adds Dyce,
“this be the true explanation of the phrase, I am unable to determine.”

    [767] “Glossary,” p. 210.

_All hid, all hid._ Biron, in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (iv. 3), no doubt
means the game well-known as hide-and-seek, “All hid, all hid; an old
infant play.” The following note, however, in Cotgrave’s “French and
English Dictionary,” has been adduced to show that he may possibly mean
blind-man’s-buff: “Clignemasset. The childish play called Hodman-blind
[_i. e._, blind-man’s-buff], Harrie-racket, or Are you all hid.”

_Backgammon._ The old name for this game was “Tables,” as in “Love’s
Labour’s Lost” (v. 2):

    “This is the ape of form, monsieur the nice
    That, when he plays at tables, chides the dice.”

An interesting history of this game will be found in Strutt’s “Sports
and Pastimes” (1876, pp. 419-421).

_Barley-break._ This game, called also the “Last Couple in Hell,” which
is alluded to in the “Two Noble Kinsmen,” (iv. 3), was played by six
people, three of each sex, who were coupled by lot.[768] A piece of
ground was then chosen, and divided into three compartments, of which
the middle one was called hell. It was the object of the couple
condemned to this division to catch the others, who advanced from the
two extremities; in which case a change of situation took place, and
hell was filled by the couple who were excluded by preoccupation from
the other places. This catching, however, was not so easy, as, by the
rules of the game, the middle couple were not to separate before they
had succeeded, while the others might break hands whenever they found
themselves hard pressed. When all had been taken in turn, the last
couple were said “to be in hell,” and the game ended.

    [768] From Gifford’s Note on Massinger’s Works, 1813, vol. i.
    p. 104.

The game was frequently mentioned by old writers, and appears to have
been very popular. From Herrick’s Poems, it is seen that the couples in
their confinement occasionally solaced themselves by kisses:

           “_Barley-break; or, Last in Hell._

    “We two are last in hell; what may we fear,
    To be tormented, or kept pris’ners here?
    Alas, if kissing be of plagues the worst,
    We’ll wish in hell we had been last and first.”

In Scotland it was called barla-breikis, and was, says Jamieson,
“generally played by young people in a corn-yard, hence its name,
barla-bracks, about the stacks.”[769] The term “hell,” says Nares,[770]
“was indiscreet, and must have produced many profane allusions, besides
familiarizing what ought always to preserve its due effect of awe upon
the mind.” Both its names are alluded to in the following passage in
Shirley’s “Bird in a Cage:”

                                           “Shall’s to barlibreak?
    I was in hell last; ’tis little less to be in a petticoat sometimes.”

    [769] See Jamieson’s “Scottish Dictionary,” 1879, vol. i. p. 122.

    [770] “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 57.

_Base._ This was a rustic game, known also as “Prison base” or “Prison
bars.” It is mentioned in “Cymbeline” (v. 3) by Posthumus:

                           “Lads more like to run
    The country base, than to commit such slaughter.”

And in “Two Gentlemen of Verona” (i. 2) by Lucetta:

    “Indeed, I bid the base for Proteus.”[771]

    [771] Ibid. vol. i. p. 58.

The success of this pastime depended upon the agility of the candidates,
and their skill in running. Early in the reign of Edward III. it is
spoken of as a childish amusement, and was prohibited to be played in
the avenues of the palace at Westminster during the session of
Parliament, because of the interruption it occasioned to the members and
others in passing to and fro as their business required. It was also
played by men, and especially in Cheshire and other adjoining counties,
where it seems to have been in high repute among all classes. Strutt
thus describes the game:[772] “The performance of this pastime requires
two parties of equal number, each of them having a base or home to
themselves, at the distance of about twenty or thirty yards. The players
then on either side, taking hold of hands, extend themselves in length,
and opposite to each other, as far as they conveniently can, always
remembering that one of them must touch the base. When any one of them
quits the hand of his fellow and runs into the field, which is called
giving the chase, he is immediately followed by one of his opponents. He
is again followed by a second from the former side, and he by a second
opponent, and so on alternately until as many are out as choose to run,
every one pursuing the man he first followed, and no other; and if he
overtake him near enough to touch him, his party claims one towards
their game, and both return home. They then run forth again and again in
like manner until the number is completed that decides the victory. This
number is optional, and rarely exceeds twenty.”

    [772] “Sports and Pastimes,” 1876, p. 143.

The phrase to “bid the base,” means to run fast, challenging another to
pursue. It occurs again in “Venus and Adonis:”

    “To bid the wind a base he now prepares.”

In Spenser’s “Fairy Queen” (bk. v. canto 8), we read:

    “So ran they all as they had been at base,
    They being chased that did others chase.”

_Bat-fowling._ This sport, which is noticed in “The Tempest” (ii. 1) by
Sebastian, was common in days gone by. It is minutely described in
Markham’s “Hunger’s Prevention” (1600), which is quoted by Dyce.[773]
The term “bat-fowling,” however, had another signification, says Mr.
Harting,[774] in Shakespeare’s day, and it may have been in this
secondary sense that it is used in “The Tempest,” being a slang word for
a particular mode of cheating. Bat-fowling was practised about dusk,
when the rogue pretended to have dropped a ring or a jewel at the door
of some well-furnished shop, and, going in, asked the apprentice of the
house to light his candle to look for it. After some peering about the
bat-fowler would drop the candle as if by accident. “Now, I pray you,
good young man,” he would say, “do so much as light the candle again.”
While the boy was away the rogue plundered the shop, and having stolen
everything he could find stole himself away.

    [773] “Glossary,” pp. 29, 30.

    [774] See Harting’s “Ornithology of Shakespeare,” p. 156;
    Strutt’s “Sports and Pastimes,” 1876, p. 98. A simple mode of
    bat-fowling, by means of a large clap-net and a lantern, and
    called bird-batting, is alluded to in Fielding’s “Joseph
    Andrews” (bk. ii. chap. x.). Drake thinks that it is to a
    stratagem of this kind Shakespeare alludes when he paints
    Buckingham exclaiming (“Henry VIII.” i. 1):

        “The net has fall’n upon me; I shall perish
        Under device and practice.”

_Billiards._ Shakespeare is guilty of an anachronism in “Antony and
Cleopatra” (ii. 5), where he makes Cleopatra say: “Let’s to
billiards”—the game being unknown to the ancients. The modern manner of
playing at billiards differs from that formerly in use. At the
commencement of the last century,[775] the billiard-table was square,
having only three pockets for the balls to run in, situated on one of
the sides—that is, at each corner, and the third between them. About the
middle of the table a small arch of iron was placed, and at a little
distance from it an upright cone called a king. At certain periods of
the game it was necessary for the balls to be driven through the one and
round the other, without knocking either of them down, which was not
easily effected, because they were not fastened to the table.

    [775] Strutt’s “Sports and Pastimes,” 1876, p. 396.

_Bone-ace._ This old game, popularly called “One-and-Thirty,” is alluded
to by Grumio in “Taming of the Shrew” (i. 2): “Well, was it fit for a
servant to use his master so; being, perhaps, for aught I see,
two-and-thirty—a pip out.”[776] It was very like the French game of
“Vingt-un,” only a longer reckoning. Strutt[777] says that “perhaps
Bone-ace is the same as the game called Ace of Hearts, prohibited with
all lotteries by cards and dice, An. 12 Geor. II., Cap. 38, sect. 2.” It
is mentioned in Massinger’s “Fatal Dowry” (ii. 2): “You think, because
you served my lady’s mother, [you] are thirty-two years old, which is a
pip out, you know.”

    [776] A pip is a spot upon a card.

    [777] “Sports and Pastimes,” 1876, p. 436.

The phrase “to be two-and-thirty,” a pip out, was an old cant term
applied to a person who was intoxicated.

_Bo-peep._ This nursery amusement, which consisted in peeping from
behind something, and crying “Bo!” is referred to by the Fool in “King
Lear” (i. 4): “That such a king should play bo-peep.” In Sherwood’s
Dictionary it is defined, “Jeu d’enfant; ou (plustost) des nourrices aux
petits enfans; se cachans le visage et puis se monstrant.” Minsheu’s
derivation of bo-peep, from the noise which chickens make when they come
out of the shell, is, says Douce,[778] more whimsical than just.

    [778] “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” p. 405.

_Bowls._ Frequent allusions occur to this game, which seems to have been
a popular pastime in olden times. The small ball, now called the jack,
at which the players aim, was sometimes termed the “mistress.” In
“Troilus and Cressida” (iii. 2), Pandarus says: “So, so; rub[779] on,
and kiss the mistress.” A bowl that kisses the jack, or mistress, is in
the most advantageous position; hence “to kiss the jack” served to
denote a state of great advantage. Thus, in “Cymbeline” (ii. 1), Cloten
exclaims, “Was there ever man had such luck! when I kissed the jack,
upon an up-cast to be hit away! I had a hundred pound on’t.” There is
another allusion to this game, according to Staunton, in “King John”
(ii. 1): “on the outward eye of fickle France”—the aperture on one side
which contains the bias or weight that inclines the bowl in running from
a direct course, being sometimes called the eye.

    [779] Rub is still a term at the game, expressive of the
    movement of the balls. Cf. “King Lear” (ii. 2), and “Love’s
    Labour’s Lost” (iv. 1), where Boyet, speaking of the game,
    says: “I fear too much rubbing.”

A further reference to this game occurs in the following dialogue in
“Richard II.” (iii. 4):

    “_Queen._ What sport shall we devise here in this garden,
    To drive away the heavy thought of care?

    _1 Lady._ Madam, we’ll play at bowls.

    _Queen._’Twill make me think the world is full of rubs,
    And that my fortune runs against the bias”

—the _bias_, as stated above, being a weight inserted in one side of a
bowl, in order to give it a particular inclination in bowling. “To run
against the bias,” therefore, became a proverb. Thus, to quote another
instance, in the “Taming of the Shrew” (iv. 5) Petruchio says:

    “Well, forward, forward! thus the bowl should run,
    And not unluckily against the bias.”

And in “Troilus and Cressida” (iv. 5), the term “bias-cheek” is used to
denote a cheek swelling out like the bias of a bowl.[780]

    [780] Halliwell-Phillipps’ “Handbook Index to Shakespeare,” p. 43.

_Cards._ Some of the old terms connected with card-playing are curious,
a few of which are alluded to by Shakespeare. Thus, in “King Lear” (v.
1), Edmund says:

    “And hardly shall I carry out my side,”

alluding to the card table, where to carry out a side meant to carry out
the game with your partner successfully. So, “to set up a side” was to
become partners in the game; “to pull or pluck down a side” was to lose

    [781] Staunton’s “Shakespeare,” vol. iii. p. 592.

A lurch at cards denoted an easy victory. So, in “Coriolanus” (ii. 2),
Cominius says: “he lurch’d all swords of the garland,” meaning, as
Malone says, that Coriolanus gained from all other warriors the wreath
of victory, with ease, and incontestable superiority.

A pack of cards was formerly termed “a deck of cards,” as in “3 Henry
VI.” (v. 1):

    “The king was slily finger’d from the deck.”

Again, “to vie” was also a term at cards, and meant particularly to
increase the stakes, and generally to challenge any one to a contention,
bet, wager, etc. So, Cleopatra (v. 2), says:

                                “nature wants stuff
    To vie strange forms with fancy.”

_Cherry-pit._ This consisted in throwing cherry stones into a little
hole—a game, says Nares, still practised with dumps or money.[782] In
“Twelfth Night” (iii. 4), Sir Toby alludes to it: “What, man! ’tis not
for gravity to play at cherry-pit with Satan.” Nash, in his “Pierce
Pennilesse,” speaking of the disfigurement of ladies’ faces by painting,
says: “You may play at cherry-pit in the dint of their cheeks.”

    [782] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” vol. ii. p. 409.

_Chess._ As might be expected, several allusions occur in Shakespeare’s
plays to this popular game. In “The Tempest” (v. 1), Ferdinand and
Miranda are represented playing at it; and in “King John” (ii. 1),
Elinor says:

    “That thou mayst be a queen, and check the world!”

In the “Taming of the Shrew” (i. 1), Katharina asks:

                     “I pray you, sir, is it your will
    To make a stale[783] of me amongst these mates?”

alluding, as Douce[784] suggests, to the chess term of _stale-mate_,
which is used when the game is ended by the king being alone and
unchecked, and then forced into a situation from which he is unable to
move without going into check. This is a dishonorable termination to the
adversary, who thereby loses the game. Thus, in Bacon’s Twelfth Essay:
“They stand still like a stale at chess, where it is no mate, but yet
the game cannot stir.”

    [783] She means, “Do you intend to make a mockery of me among
    these companions?”

    [784] “Illustrations of Shakspeare,” p. 20.

_Dice._ Among the notices of this game, may be quoted that in “Henry V.”
(iv. prologue):

    “The confident and over-lusty French
    Do the low-rated English play at dice.”

Edgar, in “King Lear” (iii. 4), says: “Wine loved I deeply, dice
dearly.” Pistol, in “Merry Wives of Windsor” (i. 3), gives a double

    “Let vultures gripe thy guts!—for gourd and fullam holds,
    And high and low beguiles the rich and poor.”

“Gourds” were false dice, with a secret cavity scooped out like a
gourd. “Fullams” were also false dice, “loaded with metal on one side,
so as better to produce high throws, or to turn up low numbers, as was
required, and were hence named ‘high men’ or ‘low men,’ also ‘high
fullams’ and ‘low fullams.’”[785] It has been suggested that dice were
termed _fullams_ either because Fulham was the resort of sharpers, or
because they were principally manufactured there.

    [785] Gifford’s note on Jonson’s Works, vol. ii. p. 3.

_Dun is in the mire._ This is a Christmas sport, which Gifford[786]
describes as follows: “A log of wood is brought into the midst of the
room: this is _Dun_ (the cart-horse), and a cry is raised that he is
stuck in the mire. Two of the company advance, either with or without
ropes, to draw him out. After repeated attempts, they find themselves
unable to do it, and call for more assistance. The game continues till
all the company take part in it, when Dun is extricated. Much merriment
is occasioned from the awkward efforts of the rustics to lift the log,
and from sundry arch contrivances to let the ends of it fall on one
another’s toes.” Thus, in “Romeo and Juliet” (i. 4), Mercutio says:

    “If thou art dun, we’ll draw thee from the mire.”

    [786] Ibid., vol. vii. p. 283.

Beaumont and Fletcher, also, in the “Woman Hater” (iv. 3), allude to
this game:

    “Dun’s in the mire, get out again how he can.”

_Fast and Loose._ This was a cheating game, much practised in
Shakespeare’s day, whereby gypsies and other vagrants beguiled the
common people of their money: and hence was very often to be seen at
fairs. Its other name was “pricking at the belt or girdle;” and it is
thus described by Sir J. Hawkins: “A leathern belt was made up into a
number of intricate folds, and placed edgewise upon a table. One of the
folds was made to resemble the middle of the girdle, so that whoever
could thrust a skewer into it would think he held it fast to the table;
whereas, when he has so done, the person with whom he plays may take
hold of both ends, and draw it away.” In “Antony and Cleopatra” (iv.
12), Antony says:

    “Like a right gypsy, hath, at fast and loose,
    Beguil’d me to the very heart of loss.”

The drift of this game seems to have been to encourage wagers whether
the belt was fast or loose, which the juggler could easily make it at
his option. It is constantly alluded to by old writers, and is thus
described in Drayton’s “Moon-calf:”

    “He like a gypsy oftentimes would go,
    All kinds of gibberish he hath learn’d to know,
    And with a stick, a short string, and a noose,
    Would show the people tricks at fast and loose.”

_Fencing._ In years gone by, there were three degrees in fencing, a
master’s, a provost’s, and a scholar’s.[787] To each of these a prize
was played, with various weapons, in some open place or square. In
“Titus Andronicus” (i. 1), this practice is alluded to by Saturninus:

    “So, Bassianus, you have play’d your prize.”

    [787] See Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” p. 35.

In the “Merry Wives of Windsor” (i. 1), Slender says: “I bruised my shin
th’ other day with playing at sword and dagger with a master of fence,”
_i. e._, with one who had taken his master’s degree in the science.

Among the numerous allusions to fencing quoted by Shakespeare may be
mentioned the following: “Venue or veney” was a fencing term, meaning an
attack or hit. It is used in the “Merry Wives of Windsor” (i. 1), by
Slender, who relates how he bruised his shin “with playing at sword and
dagger with a master of fence; three veneys for a dish of stewed
prunes.” It is used metaphorically in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (v. 1), for
a brisk attack, by Armado: “A sweet touch, a quick venue of wit! snip,
snap, quick and home!”[788] The Italian term “Stoccado” or “Stoccata,”
abbreviated also into “Stock,” seems to have had a similar
signification. In “Romeo and Juliet” (iii. 1), Mercutio, drawing his
sword, says:

    “Alla stoccata carries it away.”

    [788] See Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 919.

In the “Merry Wives of Windsor” (ii. 1), it is used by Shallow: “In
these times you stand on distance, your passes, stoccadoes, and I know
not what.” Again, “Montant,” an abbreviation of Montanto, denoted an
upright blow or thrust, and occurs also in the “Merry Wives of Windsor”
(ii. 3), where the Host tells Caius that he, with the others, has come
—“to see thee pass thy punto, thy stock, thy reverse, thy distance, thy
montant.” Hence, in “Much Ado About Nothing” (i. 1), Beatrice jocularly
calls Benedick “Signior Montanto,” meaning to imply that he was a great
fencer. Of the other old fencing terms quoted in the passage above, it
appears that “passado” implied a pass or motion forwards. It occurs in
“Romeo and Juliet” (ii. 4), where Mercutio speaks of the “immortal
passado! the punto reverso!” Again, in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (i. 2),
Armado says of Cupid that “The passado he respects not, the duello he
regards not.” The “punto reverso” was a backhanded thrust or stroke, and
the term “distance” was the space between the antagonists.

Shakespeare has also alluded to other fencing terms, such as the “foin,”
a thrust, which is used by the Host in the “Merry Wives of Windsor”
(iii. 2), and in “Much Ado About Nothing” (v. 1), where Antonio says, in
his heated conversation with Leonato:

    “Sir boy, I’ll whip you from your foining fence;
    Nay, as I am a gentleman, I will.”

The term “traverse” denoted a posture of opposition, and is used by the
Host in the “Merry Wives of Windsor” (ii. 3). A “bout,” too, is another
fencing term, to which the King refers in “Hamlet” (iv. 7):

    “When in your motion you are hot and dry—
    As make your bouts more violent to that end.”

_Filliping the Toad._ This is a common and cruel diversion of boys. They
lay a board, two or three feet long, at right angles over a transverse
piece two or three inches thick, then, placing the toad at one end of
the board, the other end is struck by a bat or large stick, which throws
the poor toad forty or fifty feet perpendicularly from the earth; and
the fall generally kills it. In “2 Henry IV.” (i. 2), Falstaff says: “If
I do, fillip me with a three-man beetle.”[789]

    [789] A three-man beetle is a heavy implement, with three
    handles, used in driving piles, etc., which required three men
    to lift it.

_Flap-dragon._[790] This pastime was much in use in days gone by. A
small combustible body was set on fire, and put afloat in a glass of
liquor. The courage of the toper was tried in the attempt to toss off
the glass in such a manner as to prevent the flap-dragon doing
mischief—raisins in hot brandy being the usual flap-dragons. Shakespeare
several times mentions this custom, as in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (v. 1)
where Costard says: “Thou art easier swallowed than a flap-dragon.” And
in “2 Henry IV.” (ii. 4), he makes Falstaff say: “and drinks off
candles’ ends for flap-dragons.”[791]

    [790] A correspondent of “Notes and Queries,” 2d series, vol.
    vii. p. 277, suggests as a derivation the German _schnapps_,
    spirit, and _drache_, dragon, and that it is equivalent to

    [791] Cf. “Winter’s Tale” (iii. 3): “But to make an end of the
    ship,—to see how the sea flap-dragoned it.”

It appears that formerly gallants used to vie with each other in
drinking off flap-dragons to the health of their mistresses—which were
sometimes even candles’ ends, swimming in brandy or other strong
spirits, whence, when on fire, they were snatched by the mouth and
swallowed;[792] an allusion to which occurs in the passage above. As
candles’ ends made the most formidable flap-dragon, the greatest merit
was ascribed to the heroism of swallowing them. Ben Jonson, in “The
Masque of the Moon” (1838, p. 616, ed. Gifford), says: “But none that
will hang themselves for love, or eat candles’ ends, etc., as the
sublunary lovers do.”

    [792] See Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 131.

_Football._ An allusion to this once highly popular game occurs in
“Comedy of Errors” (ii. 1). Dromio of Ephesus asks:

    “Am I so round with you as you with me,
    That like a football you do spurn me thus?

       *       *       *       *       *

    If I last in this service, you must case me in leather.”

In “King Lear” (i. 4), Kent calls Oswald “a base football player.”

According to Strutt,[793] it does not appear among the popular exercises
before the reign of Edward III.; and then, in 1349, it was prohibited by
a public edict because it impeded the progress of archery. The danger,
however, attending this pastime occasioned James I. to say: “From this
Court I debarre all rough and violent exercises, as the football, meeter
for laming than making able the users thereof.”

    [793] “Sports and Pastimes,” pp. 168, 169.

Occasionally the rustic boys made use of a blown bladder, without the
covering of leather, by way of a football, putting beans and horse-beans
inside, which made a rattling noise as it was kicked about. Barclay, in
his “Ship of Fools” (1508) thus graphically describes it:

    “Howe in the winter, when men kill the fat swine,
    They get the bladder and blow it great and thin,
    With many beans or peason put within:
    It ratleth, soundeth, and shineth clere and fayre,
    While it is thrown and caste up in the ayre,
    Eche one contendeth and hath a great delite
    With foote and with hande the bladder for to smite;
    If it fall to grounde, they lifte it up agayne,
    This wise to labour they count it for no payne.”

Shrovetide was the great season for football matches;[794] and at a
comparatively recent period it was played in Derby, Nottingham,
Kingston-upon-Thames, etc.

    [794] See “British Popular Customs,” 1876, pp. 78, 83, 87, 401.

_Gleek._ According to Drake,[795] this game is alluded to twice by
Shakespeare—in “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (iii. 1):

    “Nay, I can gleek upon occasion.”

    [795] “Shakespeare and his Times,” vol. ii. p. 170; see Douce’s
    “Illustrations of Shakspeare,” pp. 118, 435.

And in “Romeo and Juliet” (iv. 5):

    “_1 Musician._ What will you give us?

    _Peter._ No money, on my faith, but the gleek.”

Douce, however, considers that the word _gleek_ was simply used to
express a stronger sort of joke, a scoffing; and that the phrase “to
give the gleek” merely denoted to pass a jest upon, or to make a person
appear ridiculous.

_Handy-dandy._ A very old game among children. A child hides something
in his hand, and makes his playfellow guess in which hand it is. If the
latter guess rightly, he wins the article, if wrongly, he loses an
equivalent.[796] Sometimes, says Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps, “the game is
played by a sort of sleight-of-hand, changing the article rapidly from
one hand into the other, so that the looker-on is often deceived, and
induced to name the hand into which it is apparently thrown.” This is
what Shakespeare alludes to by “change places” in “King Lear” (iv. 6):
“see how yond justice rails upon yond simple thief. Hark, in thine ear:
change places; and, handy-dandy, which is the justice, which is the

    [796] Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 199.

    [797] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. ii. p. 420.

_Hide-fox and all after._ A children’s game, considered by many to be
identical with hide-and-seek. It is mentioned by Hamlet (iv. 2). Some
commentators think that the term “kid-fox,” in “Much Ado About Nothing”
(ii. 3), may have been a technical term in the game of “hide-fox.” Some
editions have printed it “hid-fox.” Claudio says:

    “O, very well, my lord: the music ended,
    We’ll fit the kid-fox with a pennyworth.”

_Hoodman-blind._ The childish sport now called blindman’s buff was known
by various names, such as hood-wink, blind-hob, etc. It was termed
“hoodman-blind,” because the players formerly were blinded with their
hoods,[798] and under this designation it is mentioned by Hamlet (iii.

                            “What devil was’t
    That thus hath cozen’d you at hoodman-blind?”

    [798] See Strutt’s “Sports and Pastimes,” pp. 499, 500; Brand’s
    “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. ii. pp. 397, 398.

In Scotland this game was called “belly-blind;” and Gay, in his
“Shepherd’s Week” (i. 96), says, concerning it:

    “As once I play’d at blindman’s buff, it hapt
    About my eyes the towel thick was wrapt,
    I miss’d the swains, and seiz’d on Blouzelind.
    True speaks that ancient proverb, ‘Love is blind.’”

The term “hoodman” occurs in “All’s Well that Ends Well” (iv. 3). The
First Lord says: “Hoodman comes!” and no doubt there is an allusion to
the game in the same play (iii. 6), “we will bind and hoodwink him;” and
in “Macbeth” (iv. 3) Macduff says: “the time you may so hoodwink.” There
may also have been a reference to falconry—the hawks being hooded in the
intervals of sport. Thus, in Latham’s “Falconry” (1615), “to hood” is
the term used for the blinding, “to unhood” for the unblinding.

_Horse-racing._ That this diversion was in Shakespeare’s day
occasionally practised in the spirit of the modern turf is evident from
“Cymbeline” (iii. 2):

                 “I have heard of riding wagers,
    Where horses have been nimbler than the sands
    That run i’ the clock’s behalf.”

Burton,[799] too, who wrote at the close of the Shakespearian era,
mentions the ruinous consequences of this recreation: “Horse races are
desports of great men, and good in themselves, though many gentlemen by
such means gallop quite out of their fortunes.”

    [799] “Anatomy of Melancholy;” Drake’s “Shakespeare and His
    Times,” vol. ii. p. 298.

_Leap-frog._ One boy stoops down with his hands upon his knees, and
others leap over him, every one of them running forward and stooping in
his turn. It is mentioned by Shakespeare in “Henry V.” (v. 2), where he
makes the king say, “If I could win a lady at leap-frog, or by vaulting
into my saddle with my armour on my back, ... I should quickly leap into
a wife.” Ben Jonson, in his comedy of “Bartholomew Fair,” speaks of “a
leappe frogge chance note.”

_Laugh-and-lie-down_ (more properly laugh-and-lay-down) was a game at
cards, to which there is an allusion in the “Two Noble Kinsmen” (ii. 1):

    “_Emilia._              I could laugh now.

    _Waiting-woman._ I could lie down, I’m sure.”

_Loggat._ The game so called resembles bowls, but with notable
differences.[800] First, it is played, not on a green, but on a floor
strewed with ashes. The jack is a wheel of _lignum vitæ_, or other hard
wood, nine inches in diameter, and three or four inches thick. The
loggat, made of apple-wood, is a truncated cone, twenty-six or
twenty-seven inches in length, tapering from a girth of eight and a half
to nine inches at one end to three and a half or four inches at the
other. Each player has three loggats, which he throws, holding lightly
the thin end. The object is to lie as near the jack as possible. Hamlet
speaks of this game (v. 1): “Did these bones cost no more the breeding,
but to play at loggats with ’em?” comparing, perhaps, the skull to the
jack at which the bones were thrown. In Ben Jonson’s “Tale of a Tub”
(iv. 5) we read:

    “Now are they tossing of his legs and arms,
    Like loggats at a pear-tree.”

    [800] Clark and Wright’s “Notes to Hamlet,” 1876, pp. 212, 213.

Sir Thomas Hanmer makes the game the same as nine-pins or skittles. He
says: “It is one of the unlawful games enumerated in the Thirty-third
statute of Henry VIII.;[801] it is the same which is now called
kittle-pins, in which the boys often make use of bones instead of
wooden pins, throwing at them with another bone instead of bowling.”

    [801] See Strutt’s “Sports and Pastimes,” p. 365; Nares’s
    “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 522.

_Marbles._ It has been suggested that there is an allusion to this
pastime in “Measure for Measure” (i. 3):

    “Believe not that the dribbling dart of love
    Can pierce a complete bosom.”

—dribbling being a term used in the game of marbles for shooting slowly
along the ground, in contradistinction to _plumping_, which is elevating
the hand so that the marble does not touch the ground till it reaches
the object of its aim.[802] According to others, a dribbler was a term
in archery expressive of contempt.[803]

    [802] Baker’s “Northamptonshire Glossary,” 1854, vol. i. p. 198.

    [803] See Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 134.

_Muss._ This was a phrase for a scramble, when any small objects were
thrown down, to be taken by those who could seize them. In “Antony and
Cleopatra” (iii. 13), Antony says:

    “Like boys unto a muss, kings would start forth.”

The word is used by Dryden, in the Prologue to the “Widow Ranter:”

    “Bauble and cap no sooner are thrown down
    But there’s a muss of more than half the town.”

_Nine-Men’s-Morris._ This rustic game, which is still extant in some
parts of England, was sometimes called “the nine men’s merrils,” from
_merelles_, or _mereaux_, an ancient French word for the jettons or
counters with which it was played.[804] The other term, _morris_, is
probably a corruption suggested by the sort of dance which, in the
progress of the game, the counters performed. Some consider[805] that it
was identical with the game known as “Nine-holes,”[806] mentioned by
Herrick in his “Hesperides:”

    “Raspe playes at nine-holes, and ’tis known he gets
    Many a tester by his game, and bets.”

    [804] Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” p. 144.

    [805] See Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 605.

    [806] See Strutt’s “Sports and Pastimes,” 1876, pp. 368, 369.

Cotgrave speaks of “Le jeu des merelles,” the boyish game called
“merills,” or “five pennie morris,” played here most commonly with
stones, but in France with pawns or men made on purpose, and termed
“merelles.” It was also called “peg morris,” as is evidenced by Clare,
who, in his “Rural Muse,” speaking of the shepherd boy, says:

    “Oft we may track his haunts, where he hath been
      To spend the leisure which his toils bestow,
    By nine-peg morris nicked upon the green.”

The game is fully described by James, in the “Variorum Shakespeare,” as
follows: “In that part of Warwickshire where Shakespeare was educated,
and the neighbouring parts of Northamptonshire, the shepherds and other
boys dig up the turf with their knives to represent a sort of imperfect
chessboard. It consists of a square, sometimes only a foot diameter,
sometimes three or four yards. Within this is another square, every side
of which is parallel to the external square; and these squares are
joined by lines drawn from each corner of both squares, and the middle
of each line. One party or player has wooden pegs, the other stones,
which they move in such a manner as to take up each other’s men, as they
are called, and the area of the inner square is called the pound, in
which the men taken up are impounded. These figures are, by the country
people, called _nine-men’s-morris_, or _merrils_; and are so called
because each party has nine men. These figures are always cut upon the
green turf or leys, as they are called, or upon the grass at the end of
ploughed lands, and in rainy seasons never fail to be choked up with
mud.” This verifies the allusion made by Shakespeare in “A
Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (ii. 1):

    “The nine men’s morris is fill’d up with mud;
    And the quaint mazes in the wanton green,
    For lack of tread are undistinguishable.”

This game was also transferred to a board, and continues a fireside
recreation of the agricultural laborer. It is often called by the name
of “Mill,” or “Shepherd’s Mill.”[807]

    [807] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. ii. pp. 429, 432.

_Noddy._ Some doubt exists as to what game at cards was signified by
this term. It has been suggested that cribbage is meant. Mr. Singer
thinks it bore some resemblance to the more recent game of “Beat the
Knave out of Doors,” which is mentioned together with “Ruff and new
coat” in Heywood’s play of “A Woman Killed with Kindness.” The game is
probably alluded to in “Troilus and Cressida” (i. 2), in the following

    “_Pandarus._ When comes Troilus?—I’ll show you Troilus anon:
    if he see me, you shall see him nod at me.

    _Cressida._ Will he give you the nod?

    _Pandarus._ You shall see.

    _Cressida._ If he do, the rich shall have more.”[808]

    [808] See Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 606.

The term “noddy” was also applied to a fool, because, says Minsheu, he
nods when he should speak. In this sense it occurs in “Two Gentlemen of
Verona” (i. 1):

    “_Speed._ You mistook, sir: I say, she did nod; and you ask
    me, if she did nod; and I say, ‘Ay.’

    _Proteus._ And that set together is noddy.”

_Novem Quinque._ A game of dice, so called from its principal throws
being five and nine. It is alluded to in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (v. 2)
by Biron, who speaks of it simply as “novem.”

_Parish-top._ Formerly a top was kept for public exercise in a parish—a
custom to which the old writers often refer. Thus, in “Twelfth Night”
(i. 3), Sir Toby Belch says: “He’s a coward, and a coystril, that will
not drink to my niece till his brains turn o’ the toe like a
parish-top.” On which passage Mr. Steevens says: “A large top was kept
in every village, to be whipped in frosty weather, that the peasants
might be kept warm by exercise, and out of mischief while they could not
work.” Beaumont and Fletcher, in “Thierry and Theodoret” (ii. 3), speak
of the practice:

                                 “I’ll hazard
    My life upon it, that a body of twelve
    Should scourge him hither like a parish top,
    And make him dance before you.”

And in their “Night Walker” (i. 3) they mention the “town-top.” Evelyn,
enumerating the uses of willow-wood, speaks of “great town-topps.” Mr.
Knight[809] remarks that the custom which existed in the time of
Elizabeth, and probably long before, of a large top being provided for
the amusement of the peasants in frosty weather, presents a curious
illustration of the mitigating influences of social kindness in an age
of penal legislation.

    [809] “Pictorial Shakespeare,” vol. ii. p. 145.

_Primero._ In Shakespeare’s time this was a very fashionable game at
cards, and hence is frequently alluded to by him. It was known under the
various designations of _Primero_, _Prime_, and _Primavista_; and,
according to Strutt,[810] has been reckoned among the most ancient games
of cards known to have been played in England. Shakespeare speaks of
Henry VIII. (v. 1) playing at primero with the Duke of Suffolk, and
makes Falstaff exclaim, in “Merry Wives of Windsor” (iv. 5), “I never
prospered since I forswore myself at primero.” That it was the court
game is shown in a very curious picture described by Mr. Barrington, in
the “Archæologia” (vol. viii. p. 132), which represents Lord Burleigh
playing at this pastime with three other noblemen. Primero continued to
be the most fashionable game throughout the reigns of Henry VIII.,
Edward VI., Mary, Elizabeth, and James I.[811] In the Earl of
Northumberland’s letters about the Gunpowder-plot we find that Josceline
Percy was playing at primero on Sunday, when his uncle, the conspirator,
called on him at Essex House; and in the Sydney Papers there is an
account of a quarrel between Lord Southampton and one Ambrose
Willoughby, on account of the former persisting to play at primero in
the presence-chamber after the queen had retired to rest. The manner of
playing was thus: Each player had four cards dealt to him one by one;
the seven was the highest card in point of number that he could avail
himself of, which counted for twenty-one; the six counted for sixteen,
the five for fifteen, and the ace for the same; but the two, the three,
and the four for their respective points only.

    [810] “Sports and Pastimes.”

    [811] Smith’s “Festivals, Games, and Amusements,” 1831, p. 320.

There may be further allusions to this game in “Taming of the Shrew”
(ii. 1), where Tranio says:

    “A vengeance on your crafty, wither’d hide!
    Yet I have faced it with a card of ten”

—the phrase “to face it with a card of ten” being derived, as some
suggest, possibly from primero, wherein the standing boldly on a ten was
often successful. “To face” meant, as it still does, to attack by
impudence of face. In “1 Henry VI.” (v. 3) Suffolk speaks of a “cooling
card,” which Nares considers is borrowed from primero—a card so decisive
as to cool the courage of the adversary. Gifford objects to this
explanation, and says a “cooling-card” is, literally, a _bolus_. There
can be no doubt, however, that, metaphorically, the term was used to
denote something which damped or overwhelmed the hopes of an expectant.
Thus, in Fletcher’s “Island Princess” (i. 3), Piniero says:

                    “These hot youths
    I fear will find a cooling-card.”

_Push-pin_ was a foolish sport, consisting in nothing more than pushing
one pin across another. Biron, in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (iv. 3), speaks
of Nestor playing “at push-pin with the boys.”

_Quintain._ This was a figure set up for tilters to run at, in mock
resemblance of a tournament, and is alluded to in “As You Like It” (i.
2) by Orlando, who says:

                                 “My better parts
    Are all thrown down, and that which here stands up
    Is but a quintain, a mere lifeless block.”

It cannot be better or more minutely described than in the words of Mr.
Strutt:[812] “Tilting or combating at the quintain is a military
exercise of high antiquity, and antecedent, I doubt not, to the jousts
and tournaments. The quintain originally was nothing more than the trunk
of a tree or post set up for the practice of the tyros in chivalry.
Afterwards a staff or spear was fixed in the earth, and a shield being
hung upon it, was the mark to strike at. The dexterity of the performer
consisted in smiting the shield in such a manner as to break the
ligatures and bear it to the ground. In process of time this diversion
was improved, and instead of a staff and the shield, the resemblance of
a human figure carved in wood was introduced. To render the appearance
of this figure more formidable, it was generally made in the likeness of
a Turk or a Saracen, armed at all points, bearing a shield upon his left
arm, and brandishing a club or a sabre with his right. The quintain thus
fashioned was placed upon a pivot, and so contrived as to move round
with facility. In running at this figure, it was necessary for the
horseman to direct his lance with great adroitness, and make his stroke
upon the forehead between the eyes, or upon the nose; for if he struck
wide of those parts, especially upon the shield, the quintain turned
about with much velocity, and, in case he was not exceedingly careful,
would give him a severe blow upon the back with the wooden sabre held in
the right hand, which was considered as highly disgraceful to the
performer, while it excited the laughter and ridicule of the
spectators.”[813] In Ben Jonson’s “Underwoods” it is thus humorously

    “Go, Captain Stub, lead on, and show
    What horse you come on, by the blow
    You give Sir Quintain, and the cuff
    You ’scape o’ the sandbags counterbuff.”

    [812] “Sports and Pastimes,” 1876, p. 182.

    [813] See Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 713.

_Quoits._ This game derived its origin, according to Strutt,[814] from
the ancient discus, and with us, at the present day, it is a circular
plate of iron perforated in the middle, not always of one size, but
larger or smaller, to suit the strength or conveniency of the several
candidates. It is referred to in “2 Henry IV.” (ii. 4), by Falstaff, who
assigns as one of the reasons why Prince Henry loves Poins: “Because
their legs are both of a bigness, and ’a plays at quoits well.”

    [814] “Sports and Pastimes,” p. 141.

Formerly, in the country, the rustics, not having the round perforated
quoits to play with, used horse-shoes; and in many places the quoit
itself, to this day, is called a shoe.

_Running for the ring._ This, according to Staunton, was the name of a
sport, a ring having been one of the prizes formerly given in wrestling
and running matches. Thus, in the “Taming of the Shrew” (i. 1),
Hortensio says: “He that runs fastest gets the ring.”

_Running the figure of eight._ Steevens says that this game is alluded
to by Shakespeare in “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (ii. 1), where Titania
speaks of the “quaint mazes in the wanton green.” Mr.
Halliwell-Phillipps, in referring to this passage, says: “Several mazes
of the kind here alluded to are still preserved, having been kept up
from time immemorial. On the top of Catherine Hill, Winchester, the
usual play-place of the school, was a very perplexed and winding path,
running in a very small space over a great deal of ground, called a
“miz-maze.” The senior boys obliged the juniors to tread it, to prevent
the figure from being lost, and I believe it is still retained.”[815]

    [815] See Milner’s “History of Winchester,” vol. ii. p. 155.

_See-Saw._ Another name for this childish sport is that given by
Falstaff in “2 Henry IV.” (ii. 4), where he calls it “riding the wild
mare.” Gay thus describes this well-known game:

    “Across the fallen oak the plank I laid,
    And myself pois’d against the tott’ring maid;
    High leap’d the plank, adown Buxonia fell.”

_Shove-Groat._ The object of this game was to shake or push pieces of
money on a board to reach certain marks. It is alluded to in “2 Henry
IV.” (ii. 4), where Falstaff says: “Quoit him down, Bardolph, like a
shove-groat shilling;” or, in other words, Bardolph was to quoit Pistol
down-stairs as quickly as the smooth shilling—the shove-groat—flies
along the board. In a statute of 33 Henry VIII., shove-groat is called a
new game, and was probably originally played with the silver groat. The
broad shilling of Edward VI. came afterwards to be used in this game,
which was, no doubt, the same as shovel-board, with the exception that
the latter was on a larger scale. Master Slender, in the “Merry Wives of
Windsor” (i. 1), had his pocket picked of “two Edward shovel-boards,
that cost me two shilling and two pence a-piece.” Mr.
Halliwell-Phillipps, in describing the game in his “Archaic Dictionary,”
says that “a shilling or other smooth coin was placed on the extreme
edge of the shovel-board, and propelled towards a mark by a smart stroke
with the palm of the hand.” It is mentioned under various names,
according to the coin employed, as shove-groat,[816] etc. The game of
shove-halfpenny is mentioned in the _Times_ of April 25, 1845, as then
played by the lower orders. According to Strutt, it “was analogous to
the modern pastime called Justice Jervis, or Jarvis, which is confined
to common pot-houses.”

    [816] According to Douce, “Illustrations of Shakespeare” (1839,
    p. 280), it was known as “slide-groat,” “slide-board,”
    “slide-thrift,” and “slip-thrift.” See Strutt’s “Sports and
    Pastimes,” 1876, pp. 16, 394, 398; Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii.
    p. 791; Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. ii. p. 441.

_Snowballs._ These are alluded to in “Pericles” (iv. 6), and in the
“Merry Wives of Windsor” (iii. 5).

_Span-counter._ In this boyish game one throws a counter, or piece of
money, which the other wins, if he can throw another so as to hit it, or
lie within a span of it. In “2 Henry VI.” (iv. 2), Cade says: “Tell the
king from me, that, for his father’s sake, Henry the Fifth, in whose
time boys went to span-counter for French crowns, I am content he shall
reign.” It is called in France “tapper;” and in Swift’s time was played
with farthings, as he calls it “span-farthing.”[817]

    [817] See Strutt’s “Sports and Pastimes,” 1876, p. 491.

_Stool-ball._ This game, alluded to in the “Two Noble Kinsmen” (v. 2),
was formerly popular among young women, and occasionally was played by
persons of both sexes indiscriminately, as the following lines, from a
song written by Durfey for his play of “Don Quixote,” acted at Dorset
Gardens, in 1694, show:[818]

    “Down in a vale on a summer’s day,
      All the lads and lasses met to be merry;
    A match for kisses at stool-ball to play,
      And for cakes, and ale, and sider, and perry.

    _Chorus_—Come all, great, small, short, tall, away to stool-ball.”

    [818] Quoted by Strutt, “Sports and Pastimes,” p. 166.

Strutt informs us that this game, as played in the north, “consists in
simply setting a stool upon the ground, and one of the players takes his
place before it, while his antagonist, standing at a distance, tosses a
ball with the intention of striking the stool; and this is the business
of the former to prevent by beating it away with the hand, reckoning one
to the game for every stroke of the ball; if, on the contrary, it should
be missed by the hand and touch the stool, the players change places.
The conqueror is he who strikes the ball most times before it touches
the stool.”

_Tennis._ According to a story told by the old annalists, one of the
most interesting historical events in connection with this game happened
when Henry V. was meditating war against France. “The Dolphin,” says
Hall in his “Chronicle,” “thynkyng King Henry to be given still to such
plaies and lyght folies as he exercised and used before the tyme that he
was exalted to the Croune, sent to hym a tunne of tennis balles to plaie
with, as who saied that he had better skill of tennis than of warre.” On
the foundation of this incident, as told by Holinshed, Shakespeare has
constructed his fine scene of the French Ambassadors’ audience in “Henry
V.” (i. 2). As soon as the first Ambassador has given the Dauphin’s
message and insulting gift, the English king speaks thus:

    “We are glad the Dauphin is so pleasant with us;
    His present and your pains we thank you for:
    When we have match’d our rackets to these balls,
    We will, in France, by God’s grace, play a set
    Shall strike his father’s crown into the hazard.
    Tell him, he hath made a match with such a wrangler
    That all the courts of France will be disturb’d
    With chases.”

In “Hamlet” (ii. 1), Polonius speaks of this pastime, and alludes to
“falling out at tennis.” In the sixteenth century tennis-courts were
common in England, and the establishment of such places was countenanced
by the example of royalty. It is evident that Henry VII. was a
tennis-player. In a MS. register of his expenditures, made in the
thirteenth year of his reign, this entry occurs: “Item, for the king’s
loss at tennis, twelvepence; for the loss of balls, threepence.” Stow,
in his “Survey of London,” tells us that among the additions that King
Henry VIII. made to Whitehall, were “divers fair tennis-courts,
bowling-allies, and a cock-pit.” Charles II. frequently diverted himself
with playing at tennis, and had a particular kind of dress made for that
purpose. Pericles, when he is shipwrecked and cast upon the coast of
Pentapolis, addresses himself and the three fishermen whom he chances to
meet thus (“Pericles,” ii. 1):

    “A man whom both the waters and the wind,
    In that vast tennis-court, have made the ball
    For them to play upon, entreats you pity him.”

In “Much Ado About Nothing” (iii. 2), Claudio, referring to Benedick,
says: “the old ornament of his cheek hath already stuffed
tennis-balls;”[819] and in “Henry V.” (iii. 7), the Dauphin says his
horse “bounds from the earth as if his entrails were hairs.” Again,
“bandy” was originally a term at tennis, to which Juliet refers in
“Romeo and Juliet” (ii. 5), when speaking of her Nurse:

    “Had she affections, and warm youthful blood,
    She’d be as swift in motion as a ball;
    My words would bandy her to my sweet love,
    And his to me.”

    [819] In “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (v. 2), the Princess speaks of
    “a set of wit well play’d;” upon which Mr. Singer
    (“Shakespeare,” vol. ii. p. 263) adds that “a set is a term at
    tennis for a game.”

Also, King Lear (i. 4) says to Oswald: “Do you bandy looks with me, you

_Tick-tack._ This was a sort of backgammon, and is alluded to by Lucio
in “Measure for Measure” (i. 2) who, referring to Claudio’s unpleasant
predicament, says: “I would be sorry should be thus foolishly lost at a
game of tick-tack.” In Weaver’s “Lusty Juventus,” Hipocrisye, seeing
Lusty Juventus kiss Abhominable Lyuing, says:

    “What a hurly burly is here!
    Smicke smacke, and all thys gere!
    You well [will] to _tycke take_, I fere,
    If thou had tyme.”[820]

    [820] Quoted by Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 449; see Brand’s “Pop.
    Antiq.,” 1849, vol. ii. p. 445.

“Jouer au tric-trac” is used, too, in France in a wanton sense.

_Tray-trip._ This was probably a game at cards, played with dice as well
as with cards, the success in which chiefly depended upon the throwing
of treys. Thus, in a satire called “Machivell’s Dog” (1617):

    “But, leaving cardes, lets go to dice a while,
    To passage, treitrippe, hazarde, or mumchance.”

In “Twelfth Night” (ii. 5). Sir Toby Belch asks: “Shall I play my
freedom at tray-trip, and become thy bond-slave?” It may be remembered,
too, that in “The Scornful Lady” of Beaumont and Fletcher (ii. 1), the
Chaplain complains that the Butler had broken his head, and being asked
the reason, says, for

    “Reproving him at tra-trip, sir, for swearing.”

Some are of opinion that it resembled the game of hopscotch, or
Scotch-hop; but this, says Nares,[821] “seems to rest merely upon
unauthorized conjecture.”

    [821] “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 896.

_Troll-my-dame._ The game of Troll-madam, still familiar as Bagatelle,
was borrowed from the French (_Trou-madame_). One of its names was
Pigeon-holes, because played on a board, at one end of which were a
number of arches, like pigeon-holes, into which small balls had to be
bowled. In “Winter’s Tale” (iv. 2), it is mentioned by Autolycus, who,
in answer to the Clown, says that the manner of fellow that robbed him
was one that he had “known to go about with troll-my-dames.” Cotgrave
declares it as “the game called Trunkes, or the Hole.”

_Trump._ This was probably the _triumfo_ of the Italians, and the
_triomphe_ of the French—being perhaps of equal antiquity in England
with _primero_. At the latter end of the sixteenth century it was very
common among the inferior classes. There is, no doubt, a particular
allusion to this game in “Antony and Cleopatra” (iv. 14), where Antony

                            “the queen—
    Whose heart I thought I had, for she had mine;
    Which, whilst it was mine, had annex’d unto’t
    A million more, now lost—she, Eros, has
    Pack’d cards with Cæsar, and false-play’d my glory
    Unto an enemy’s triumph.”

The poet meant to say, that Cleopatra, by collusion, played the great
game they were engaged in falsely, so as to sacrifice Antony’s fame to
that of his enemy. There is an equivoque between _trump_ and _triumph_.
The game in question bore a very strong resemblance to our modern
whist—the only points of dissimilarity being that more or less than four
persons might play at trump; that all the cards were not dealt out; and
that the dealer had the privilege of discarding some, and taking others
in from the stock. In Eliot’s “Fruits for the French,” 1593, it is
called “a very common ale-house game in England.”

_Wrestling._ Of the many allusions that are given by Shakespeare to this
pastime, we may quote the phrase “to catch on the hip,” made use of by
Shylock in the “Merchant of Venice” (i. 3), who, speaking of Antonio,

    “If I can catch him once upon the hip,
    I will feed fat the ancient grudge I bear him”

—the meaning being, “to have at an entire advantage.”[822] The
expression occurs again in “Othello” (ii. 1), where Iago says:

    “I’ll have our Michael Cassio on the hip.”

    [822] Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 208.

Nares,[823] however, considers the phrase was derived from hunting;
because, “when the animal pursued is seized upon the hip, it is finally
disabled from flight.”

    [823] “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 421.

In “As You Like It” (ii. 3), where Adam speaks of the “bonny priser of
the humorous duke,” Singer considers that a _priser_ was the phrase for
a wrestler, a _prise_ being a term in that sport for a grappling or hold



We are indebted to Shakespeare for having bequeathed to us many
interesting allusions to some of the old dances in use in his day, but
which have long ago passed into oblivion. As will be seen, these were of
a very diverse character, but, as has been remarked, were well suited to
the merry doings of our forefathers; and although in some cases they
justly merited censure for their extravagant nature, yet the greater
part of these sources of diversion were harmless. Indeed, no more
pleasing picture can be imagined than that of a rustic sheep-shearing
gathering in the olden times, when, the work over, the peasantry joined
together in some simple dance, each one vieing with his neighbor to
perform his part with as much grace as possible.

_Antic._ This was a grotesque dance. In “Macbeth” (iv. 1), the witch,
perceiving how Macbeth is affected by the horrible apparitions which he
has seen, says to her sisters:

    “Come, sisters, cheer we up his sprites,
    And show the best of our delights.
    I’ll charm the air to give a sound,
    While you perform your antic round.”

To quote another instance, Armado, in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (v. 1),

    “We will have, if this fadge not, an antique.”

_Bergomask Dance._ According to Sir Thomas Hanmer, this was a dance
after the manner of the peasants of Bergomasco, a county in Italy
belonging to the Venetians. All the buffoons in Italy affected to
imitate the ridiculous jargon of that people, and from thence it became
customary to mimic also their manner of dancing. In “A
Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (v. 1), Bottom asks Theseus whether he would
like “to hear a Bergomask dance,” between two of their company.

_Brawl._ This was a kind of dance. It appears that several persons
united hands in a circle, and gave one another continual shakes, the
steps changing with the tune. With this dance balls were usually
opened.[824] Kissing was occasionally introduced. In “Love’s Labour’s
Lost” (iii. 1), Moth asks his master: “Will you win your love with a
French brawl.”

    [824] Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” p. 134.

_Canary._ This was the name of a sprightly dance, the music to which
consisted of two strains with eight bars in each; an allusion to which
is made by Moth in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (iii. 1), who speaks of
jigging off a tune at the tongue’s end, and canarying to it with the
feet. And in “All’s Well that End’s Well” (ii. 1), Lafeu tells the king
that he has seen a medicine

       “that’s able to breathe life into a stone,
    Quicken a rock, and make you dance canary
    With spritely fire and motion.”

This dance is said to have originated in the Canary Islands, an opinion,
however, which has, says Dyce, been disputed.[825]

    [825] See Chappell’s “Popular Music of the Olden Time,” 2d
    edition, vol. i. p. 368; Dyce’s “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 63.

_Cinque-pace._ This was so named from its steps being regulated by the
number five:

    “Five was the number of the music’s feet,
    Which still the dance did with five paces meet.”[826]

    [826] Quoted by Nares from Sir John Davies on “Dancing.” Mr.
    Dyce, “Glossary,” p. 81, says that Nares wrongly confounded
    this with the “gallard.”

In “Much Ado About Nothing” (ii. 1), Shakespeare makes Beatrice make a
quibble upon the term; for after comparing wooing, wedding, and
repenting to a Scotch jig, a measure, and a cinque-pace, she says:
“then comes repentance, and, with his bad legs, falls into the
cinque-pace faster and faster, till he sink into his grave.” A further
reference occurs in “Twelfth Night” (i. 3), by Sir Toby Belch, who calls
it a “sink-a-pace.”

_Coranto._ An allusion to this dance, which appears to have been of a
very lively and rapid character, is made in “Henry V.” (iii. 5), where
the Duke of Bourbon describes it as the “swift coranto;” and in “All’s
Well that Ends Well” (ii. 3) Lafeu refers to it. A further notice of it
occurs in “Twelfth Night” (i. 3), in the passage where Sir Toby Belch
speaks of “coming home in a coranto.”

_Fading._ Malone quotes a passage from “Sportive Wit,” 1666, which
implies that this was a rustic dance:

    “The courtiers scorn us country clowns,
      We country clowns do scorn the court;
    We can be as merry upon the downs
      As you at midnight with all your sport,
    With a _fading_, with a _fading_.”

It would appear, also, from a letter appended to Boswell’s edition of
Malone, that it was an Irish dance, and that it was practised, upon
rejoicing occasions, as recently as 1803, the date of the letter:

“This dance is still practised on rejoicing occasions in many parts of
Ireland; a king and queen are chosen from amongst the young persons who
are the best dancers; the queen carries a garland composed of two hoops
placed at right angles, and fastened to a handle; the hoops are covered
with flowers and ribbons; you have seen it, I dare say, with the
May-maids. Frequently in the course of the dance the king and queen lift
up their joined hands as high as they can, she still holding the garland
in the other. The most remote couple from the king and queen first pass
under; all the rest of the line linked together follow in succession.
When the last has passed, the king and queen suddenly face about and
front their companions; this is often repeated during the dance, and the
various undulations are pretty enough, resembling the movements of a
serpent. The dancers on the first of May visit such newly wedded pairs
of a certain rank as have been married since last May-day in the
neighborhood, who commonly bestow on them a stuffed ball richly decked
with gold and silver lace, and accompanied with a present in money, to
regale themselves after the dance. This dance is practised when the
bonfires are lighted up, the queen hailing the return of summer in a
popular Irish song beginning:

    ‘We lead on summer—see! she follows in our train.’”

In the “Winter’s Tale” (iv. 4), Shakespeare seems to allude to this
dance where he makes the servant, speaking of the pedler, say: “he has
the prettiest love songs for maids; so without bawdry, which is strange;
with such delicate burdens of ‘dildos’ and ‘fadings.’” Some
commentators,[827] however, consider that only the song is meant.

    [827] See Knight’s “Pictorial Shakespeare,” vol. ii. p. 375;
    Dyce’s “Glossary,” 1836, p. 152; “British Popular Customs,”
    1876, pp. 276, 277. See also Chappell’s “Popular Music of the
    Olden Time,” 2d edition, vol. i. p. 235; Nares’s “Glossary,”
    vol. i. p. 292.

_Hay._ Douce[828] says this dance was borrowed by us from the French,
and is classed among the “brawls” in Thoinot Arbeau’s “Orchesographie”
(1588). In “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (v. 1), Dull says: “I will play on
tabor to the Worthies, and let them dance their hay.”

    [828] “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” p. 146.

_Jig._ Besides meaning a merry, sprightly dance, a jig also implied a
coarse sort of comic entertainment, in which sense it is probably used
by Hamlet (ii. 2): “He’s for a jig or a tale of bawdry.” “It seems,”
says Mr. Collier,[829] “to have been a ludicrous composition in rhyme,
sung, or said, by the clown, and accompanied by dancing and playing upon
the pipe and tabor.”[830] an instance of which perhaps occurs in the
Clown’s song at the close of “Twelfth Night:”

    “When that I was and a little tiny boy.”

    [829] “History of English Dramatic Poetry,” vol. iii. p. 380;
    see Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 229; Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. i. p.
    450; Singer’s “Shakespeare,” vol. ix. pp. 198, 219.

    [830] “Hamlet:” iii. 2: “your only jig-maker.”

Fletcher, in the Prologue to the “Fair Maid of the Inn,” says:

    “A jig should be clapt at, and every rhyme
    Praised and applauded by a clamorous chime.”

Among the allusions to this dance we may quote one in “Much Ado About
Nothing” (ii. 1), where Beatrice compares wooing to a Scotch jig; and
another in “Twelfth Night” (i. 3), where Sir Toby Belch says, his “very
walk should be a jig.”

_Lavolta._ According to Florio, the lavolta is a kind of turning French
dance, in which the man turns the woman round several times, and then
assists her in making a high spring or _cabriole_. It is thus described
by Sir John Davies:

    “Yet is there one the most delightful kind.
      A loftie jumping, or a leaping round,
    Where arme in arme two dauncers are entwined,
      And whirle themselves, with strict embracements bound;
    And still their feet an anapest do sound,
      An anapest is all their musicks song,
    Whose first two feet are short, and third is long.”

Douce,[831] however, considers it to be of Italian origin, and says, “It
passed from Italy into Provence and the rest of France, and thence into
England.” Scot, too, in his “Discovery of Witchcraft,” thus speaks of
it: “He saith, that these night-walking, or rather night-dancing,
witches, brought out of Italie into France that dance which is called
_la Volta_.” Shakespeare, in his “Henry V.” (iii. 5), makes the Duke of
Bourbon allude to it:

    “They bid us to the English dancing-schools,
    And teach lavoltas high, and swift corantos.”

    [831] “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” p. 301; see Nares’s
    “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 498.

Again, in “Troilus and Cressida” (iv. 4), Troilus says:

                     “I cannot sing,
    Nor heel the high lavolt.”

_Light o’ Love._ This was an old dance tune, and was a proverbial
expression for levity, especially in love matters.[832] In “Much Ado
About Nothing” (iii. 4), Margaret says: “Clap’s into ‘Light o’ love;’
that goes without a burden; do you sing it, and I’ll dance it;” to which
Beatrice answers: “Yea, light o’ love, with your heels.”

    [832] Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 510.

In “Two Gentlemen of Verona” (i. 2), it is alluded to:

    “_Julia._ Best sing it to the tune of ‘Light o’ love.’

    _Lucetta._ It is too heavy for so light a tune.”

In the “Two Noble Kinsmen” (v. 2), we read:

    “He’ll dance the morris twenty mile an hour.
    And gallops to the tune of ‘Light o’ love.’”

And in Beaumont and Fletcher’s “Chances” (i. 3), Frederic says: “Sure he
has encounter’d some light-o’-love or other.”

_Pavan._ This was a grave and majestic dance, in which the gentlemen
wore their caps, swords, and mantles, and the ladies their long robes
and trains. The dancers stepped round the room and then crossed in the
middle, trailing their garments on the ground, “the motion whereof,”
says Sir J. Hawkins, “resembled that of a peacock’s tail.” It is alluded
to in “Twelfth Night” (v. 1) by Sir Toby: “A passy-measures pavin,”
although the reading of this passage is uncertain, the editors of the
“Globe” edition substituting _panyn_.

It has been conjectured that the “passy-measure galliard,” and the
“passy-measure pavan” were only two different measures of the same
dance, from the Italian _passamezzo_.[833]

    [833] See Dyce, vol. iii. p. 412, _note_ 121.

_Roundel._ This was also called the “round,” a dance of a circular kind,
and is probably referred to by Titania in “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream”
(ii. 2), where she says to her train:[834]

    “Come now, a roundel and a fairy song.”

    [834] Roundel also meant a song. Mr. Dyce considers the dance
    is here meant.

Ben Jonson, in the “Tale of a Tub,”[835] seems to call the rings, which
such fairy dances are supposed to make, _roundels_.

    “I’ll have no roundels, I, in the queen’s paths.”

    [835] See Singer’s “Shakespeare,” vol. ii. p. 333.

_Satyrs’ Dance._ A dance of satyrs was a not uncommon entertainment in
Shakespeare’s day, or even at an earlier period.[836] It was not
confined to England, and has been rendered memorable by the fearful
accident with which it was accompanied at the Court of France in 1392, a
graphic description of which has been recorded by Froissart. In the
“Winter’s Tale” (iv. 4), the satyrs’ dance is alluded to by the Servant,
who says: “Master, there is three carters, three shepherds, three
neat-herds, three swine-herds, that have made themselves all men of
hair; they call themselves Saltiers: and they have a dance which the
wenches say is a gallimaufry of gambols, because they are not in’t.” In
a book of songs composed by Thomas Ravenscroft and others, in the time
of Shakespeare, we find one[837] called the “Satyres’ daunce.” It is for
four voices, and is as follows:

    “Round a round, a rounda, keepe your ring
    To the glorious sunne we sing.
                               Hoe, hoe!

    He that weares the flaming rayes,
    And the imperiall crowne of bayes,
    Him with shoutes and songs we praise.
                               Hoe, hoe!

    That in his bountee would vouchsafe to grace
    The humble sylvanes and their shaggy race.”

    [836] See Knight’s “Pictorial Shakespeare,” vol. ii. p. 384;
    Singer’s “Shakespeare,” vol. iv. p. 85; Boswell’s
    “Shakespeare,” vol. xiv. p. 371.

    [837] See Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” p. 222.

_Sword-dance._ In olden times there were several kinds of sword-dances,
most of which afforded opportunities for the display of skill. In
“Antony and Cleopatra” (iii. 11), there seems to be an allusion to this
custom, where Antony, speaking of Cæsar, says:[838]

          “he, at Philippi, kept
    His sword e’en like a dancer.”

    [838] See Strutt’s “Sports and Pastimes,” 1876, pp. 300, 301;
    Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” p. 193.

And in “All’s Well that Ends Well” (ii. 1), where Bertram, lamenting
that he is kept from the wars, adds:

    “I shall stay here the forehorse to a smock,
    Creaking my shoes on the plain masonry,
    Till honour be bought up, and no sword worn
    But one to dance with.”

In “Titus Andronicus” (ii. 1), too, Demetrius says to Chiron:

    “Why, boy, although our mother, unadvis’d
    Gave you a dancing-rapier by your side.”

_Tread a Measure_, to which the King refers in “Love’s Labour’s Lost”
(v. 2), when he tells Boyet to tell Rosaline

              “we have measur’d many miles,
    To tread a measure with her on this grass,”

was a grave solemn dance, with slow and measured steps, like the minuet.
As it was of so solemn a nature, it was performed[839] at public
entertainments in the Inns of Court, and it was “not unusual, nor
thought inconsistent, for the first characters in the law to bear a part
in treading a measure.”

    [839] Singer’s “Shakespeare,” vol. ii. p. 269; Sir Christopher
    Hatton was famous for it.

_Trip and Go_ was the name of a favorite morris-dance, and appears, says
Mr. Chappell, in his “Popular Music of the Olden Times,” etc. (2d
edition, vol. i. p. 131), to have become a proverbial expression. It is
used in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (iv. 2).

_Up-spring._ From the following passage, in Chapman’s “Alphonsus,
Emperor of Germany,” it would seem that this was a German dance:

    “We Germans have no changes in our dances;
    An almain and an up-spring, that is all.”

Karl Elze,[840] who, a few years ago, reprinted Chapman’s “Alphonsus” at
Leipsic, says that the word “up-spring” “is the ‘Hüpfauf,’ the last and
wildest dance at the old German merry-makings. No epithet could there be
more appropriate to this drunken dance than Shakespeare’s _swaggering_”
in “Hamlet” (i. 4):

    “The king doth wake to-night, and takes his rouse,
    Keeps wassail, and the swaggering up-spring reels.”

    [840] Quoted in Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 476.



Shakespeare has not omitted to notice many of the punishments which were
in use in years gone by; the scattered allusions to these being
interesting in so far as they serve to illustrate the domestic manners
and customs of our forefathers. Happily, however, these cruel tortures,
which darken the pages of history, have long ago passed into oblivion;
and at the present day it is difficult to believe that such barbarous
practices could ever have been tolerated in any civilized country. The
horrible punishment of “boiling to death,” is mentioned in “Twelfth
Night” (ii. 5), where Fabian says: “If I lose a scruple of this sport,
let me be boiled to death with melancholy.” In “Winter’s Tale” (iii. 2),
Paulina inquires:

    “What studied torments, tyrant, hast for me?
    What wheels? racks? fires? What flaying? boiling
    In leads or oils? What old or newer torture
    Must I receive?”

There seems to be an indirect allusion to this punishment in “The Two
Noble Kinsmen” (iv. 3), where the Gaoler’s Daughter in her madness
speaks of those who “are mad, or hang, or drown themselves, being put
into a caldron of lead and usurer’s grease, and there boiling like a
gammon of bacon that will never be enough.”

The practice of holding burning basins before the eyes of captives, to
destroy their eyesight, is probably alluded to by Macbeth (iv. 1), in
the passage where the apparitions are presented to him by the witches:

    “Thou art too like the spirit of Banquo; down!
    Thy crown does sear mine eyeballs.”[841]

    [841] Halliwell-Phillipps’s “Index to Shakespeare,” p. 36.

In “Antony and Cleopatra” (ii. 4), soaking in brine as a punishment is
referred to by Cleopatra, who says to the messenger:

    “Thou shalt be whipp’d with wire, and stew’d in brine,
    Smarting in lingering pickle.”

Drowning by the tide, a method of punishing criminals, is probably
noticed in “The Tempest” (i. 1), by Antonio:

    “We are merely cheated of our lives by drunkards.
    This wide-chapp’d rascal—would thou might’st lie drowning
    The washing of ten tides!”

_Baffle._ This was formerly a punishment of infamy inflicted on recreant
knights, one part of which consisted in hanging them up by the heels, to
which Falstaff probably refers in “1 Henry IV.” (i. 2), where he says to
the prince, “call me villain, and baffle me.” And, further on (ii. 4):
“if thou dost it half so gravely, so majestically, both in word and
matter, hang me up by the heels for a rabbit-sucker, or a poulter’s
hare.”[842] In “2 Henry IV.” (i. 2), the Chief Justice tells Falstaff
that “to punish him by the heels would amend the attention of his ears.”
And in “All’s Well that Ends Well” (iv. 3), where the lord relates how
Parolles has “sat in the stocks all night,” Bertram says: “his heels
have deserved it, in usurping his spurs so long.”

    [842] See Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 46.

Spenser, in his “Fairy Queen” (vi. 7), thus describes this mode of

    “And after all, for greater infamie
    He by the heels him hung upon a tree,
    And baffl’d so, that all which passed by
    The picture of his punishment might see.”

The appropriate term, too, for chopping off the spurs of a knight when
he was to be degraded, was “hack”—a custom to which, it has been
suggested, Mrs. Page alludes in the “Merry Wives of Windsor” (ii.
1):[843] “What?—Sir Alice Ford! These knights will hack, and so thou
shouldst not alter the article of thy gentry.”[844]

    [843] Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps, in his “Handbook Index to the
    Works of Shakespeare” (1866, p. 231), suggests this meaning.

    [844] See Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 397.

Mr. Dyce,[845] however, says the most probable meaning of this obscure
passage is, that there is an allusion to the extravagant number of
knights created by King James, and that _hack_ is equivalent to “become
cheap or vulgar.”

    [845] Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 197.

It appears, too, that in days gone by the arms, etc., of traitors and
rebels might be defaced. Thus, in “Richard II.” (ii. 3), Berkeley tells

    “Mistake me not, my lord; ’tis not my meaning
    To raze one title of your honour out.”

Upon which passage we may quote from Camden’s “Remains” (1605, p. 186):
“How the names of them, which for capital crimes against majestie, were
erased out of the public records, tables, and registers, or forbidden to
be borne by their posteritie, when their memory was damned, I could show
at large.” In the following act (iii. 1) Bolingbroke further relates how
his enemies had:

    “Dispark’d my parks, and fell’d my forest woods,
    From mine own windows torn my household coat,
    Raz’d out my impress, leaving me no sign.”

_Bilboes._ These were a kind of stocks or fetters used at sea to confine
prisoners, of which Hamlet speaks to Horatio (v. 2):

    “Sir, in my heart there was a kind of fighting,
    That would not let me sleep: methought I lay
    Worse than the mutines in the bilboes.”

This punishment is thus described by Steevens: “The _bilboes_ is a bar
of iron with fetters annexed to it, by which mutinous or disorderly
sailors were anciently linked together. The word is derived from Bilboa,
a place in Spain where instruments of steel were fabricated in the
utmost perfection. To understand Shakespeare’s allusion completely, it
should be known that, as these fetters connect the legs of the offenders
very close together, their attempts to rest must be as fruitless as
those of Hamlet, in whose mind ‘there was a kind of fighting that would
not let him sleep.’ Every motion of one must disturb his partner in
confinement. The _bilboes_ are still shown in the Tower of London, among
the other spoils of the Spanish Armada.”[846]

    [846] Bilbo was also a rapier or sword; thus, in “Merry Wives
    of Windsor” (iii. 5), Falstaff says to Ford: “I suffered the
    pangs of three several deaths: first, an intolerable fright, to
    be detected ... next, to be compassed, like a good bilbo ...
    hilt to point,” etc.

_Brand._—The branding of criminals is indirectly alluded to in “2 Henry
VI.” (v. 2), by Young Clifford, who calls the Duke of Richmond a “foul
stigmatick,” which properly meant “a person who had been branded with a
hot iron for some crime, one notably defamed for naughtiness.” The
practice was abolished by law in the year 1822.

The practice, too, of making persons convicted of perjury wear papers,
while undergoing punishment, descriptive of their offence, is spoken of
in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (iv. 3), where Biron says of Longaville:

    “Why, he comes in like a perjure, wearing papers.”

Holinshed relates how Wolsey “so punished a perjure with open punishment
and open paper-wearing that in his time it was disused.”

_Breech._ This old term to whip or punish as a school-boy is noticed in
the “Taming of the Shrew” (iii. 1):

    “I am no breeching scholar in the schools;
    I’ll not be tied to hours nor ’pointed times”

—breeching being equivalent to “liable to be whipped.”

In “Merry Wives of Windsor” (iv. 1), Sir Hugh Evans tells the boy page:
“If you forget your ‘quies,’ your ‘quæs,’ and your ‘quods,’ you must be
preeches” (breeched).

_Crown._ A burning crown, as the punishment of regicides or other
criminals, is probably alluded to by Anne in “Richard III.” (iv. 1):

    “O, would to God that the inclusive verge
    Of golden metal, that must round my brow,
    Were red-hot steel, to sear me to the brain!”

Mr. Singer,[847] in a note on this passage, quotes from Chettle’s
“Tragedy of Hoffman” (1631), where this punishment is introduced:

    “Fix on thy master’s head my burning crown.”

And again:

                               “Was adjudg’d
    To have his head sear’d with a burning crown.”

    [847] “Shakespeare,” vol. vi. p. 485; see “Boswell’s Life of
    Johnson,” vol. ii. p. 6.

The Earl of Athol, who was executed for the murder of James I. of
Scotland, was, before his death, crowned with a hot iron. In some of the
monkish accounts of a place of future torments, a burning crown is
appropriated to those who deprived any lawful monarch of his kingdom.

_Pillory._ This old mode of punishment is referred to by Launce in the
“Two Gentlemen of Verona” (iv. 4), where he speaks of having “stood on
the pillory.” In “Taming of the Shrew” (ii. 1), Hortensio, when he tells
Baptista how he had been struck by Katharina because “I did but tell her
she mistook her frets,” adds:

                     “she struck me on the head,
    And through the instrument my pate made way;
    And there I stood amazed for a while,
    As on a pillory, looking through the lute.”

It has been suggested that there may be an allusion to the pillory in
“Measure for Measure” (v. 1), where Lucio says to the duke, disguised in
his friar’s hood: “you must be hooded, must you? show your knave’s
visage, with a pox to you! show your sheep-biting face, and be hanged an
hour!” The alleged crime was not capital, and suspension in the pillory
for an hour was all that the speaker intended.[848]

    [848] Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 661; see Douce’s
    “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” 1839, pp. 90, 91, 109; Brand’s
    “Pop. Antiq.,” vol. iii. p. 111.

_Press._ Several allusions occur to this species of torture, applied to
contumacious felons. It was also, says Malone, “formerly inflicted on
those persons who, being indicted, refused to plead. In consequence of
their silence, they were pressed to death by a heavy weight laid upon
the stomach.” In “Much Ado About Nothing” (iii. 1), Hero says of

                       “she would laugh me
    Out of myself, press me to death with wit.”

In “Richard II.” (iii. 4) the Queen exclaims:

    “O, I am press’d to death, through want of speaking!”

And in “Measure for Measure” (v. 1), Lucio tells the Duke that,
“Marrying a punk, my lord, is pressing to death, whipping, and hanging.”

In the “Perfect Account of the Daily Intelligence” (April 16th, 1651),
we find it recorded: “Mond., April 14th. This Session, at the Old
Bailey, were four men pressed to death that were all in one robbery,
and, out of obstinacy and contempt of the Court, stood mute, and refused
to plead.” This punishment was not abolished until by statute 12 George
III. c. 20.

_Rack._ According to Mr. Blackstone, this “was utterly unknown to the
law of England; though once, when the Dukes of Exeter and Suffolk, and
other ministers of Henry VI., had laid a design to introduce the civil
law into this kingdom as a rule of government, for the beginning thereof
they erected a rack of torture, which was called, in derision, the Duke
of Exeter’s daughter; and still remains in the Tower of London, where it
was occasionally used as an engine of state, not of law, more than once
in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. But when, upon the assassination of
Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, it was proposed, in the Privy Council, to
put the assassin to the rack, in order to discover his accomplices, the
judges (being consulted) declared unanimously, to their own honor and
the honor of the English law, that no such proceeding was allowable by
the law of England.” Mr. Hallam observes that, though the English law
never recognized the use of torture, yet there were many instances of
its employment in the reign of Elizabeth and James; and, among others,
in the case of the Gunpowder Plot. He further adds, in the latter part
of the reign of Elizabeth “the rack seldom stood idle in the Tower.” Of
the many allusions to this torture may be mentioned Sebastian’s word in
“Twelfth Night” (v. 1):

    “Antonio! O my dear Antonio!
    How have the hours rack’d and tortured me,
    Since I have lost thee.”

In “Measure for Measure” (v. 1), Escalus orders the “unreverend and
unhallow’d friar” (the Duke disguised) to be taken to the rack:

    “Take him hence; to the rack with him!—We’ll touse you
    Joint by joint.”

The engine, which sometimes meant the rack, is spoken of in “King Lear”
(i. 4):

    “Which, like an engine, wrench’d my frame of nature
    From the fix’d place.”[849]

    [849] It also meant a warlike engine, as in “Coriolanus,” v. 4:
    “When he walks, he moves like an engine, and the ground shrinks
    before his treading;” so, also, in “Troilus and Cressida,” ii. 3.

So, in Beaumont and Fletcher’s “Night Walker” (iv. 5):

    “Their souls shot through with adders, torn on engines.”

Once more, in “Measure for Measure” (ii. 1), where Escalus tells how

    “Some run from brakes of ice, and answer none”

—a passage which Mr. Dyce would thus read:

    “Some run from brakes of vice.”

It has been suggested that there is an allusion to “engines of torture,”
although, owing to the many significations of the word “brake,” its
meaning here has been much disputed.[850]

    [850] See Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 49; Halliwell-Phillipps’s
    “Handbook Index to Shakespeare,” p. 56; Nares’s “Glossary,”
    vol. i. p. 104.

_Stocks._ This old-fashioned mode of punishment is the subject of
frequent allusion by Shakespeare. Thus, Launce, in the “Two Gentlemen of
Verona” (iv. 4), says: “I have sat in the stocks for puddings he hath
stolen.” In “All’s Well that Ends Well” (iv. 3), Bertram says: “Come,
bring forth this counterfeit module, has deceived me, like a
double-meaning prophesier.” Whereupon one of the French lords adds:
“Bring him forth: has sat i’ the stocks all night, poor gallant knave.”
Volumnia says of Coriolanus (v. 3):

                          “There’s no man in the world
    More bound to’s mother; yet here he lets me prate
    Like one i’ the stocks.”

Again, in the “Comedy of Errors” (iii. 1), Luce speaks of “a pair of
stocks in the town,” and in “King Lear” (ii. 2), Cornwall, referring to
Kent, says:

                 “Fetch forth the stocks!—
    You stubborn ancient knave.”

It would seem that formerly, in great houses, as in some colleges, there
were movable stocks for the correction of the servants. Putting a person
in the stocks, too, was an exhibition familiar to the ancient stage. In
“Hick Scorner,”[851] printed in the reign of Henry VIII., Pity is placed
in the stocks, and left there until he is freed “by Perseverance and

    [851] It is reprinted in Hawkins’s “English Drama,” 1773.

_Strappado._ This was a military punishment, by which the unfortunate
sufferer was cruelly tortured in the following way: a rope being
fastened under his arms, he was drawn up by a pulley to the top of a
high beam, and then suddenly let down with a jerk. The result usually
was a dislocation of the shoulder-blade. In “1 Henry IV.” (ii. 4), it is
referred to by Falstaff, who tells Poins: “were I at the strappado, or
all the racks in the world, I would not tell you on compulsion.” At
Paris, says Douce,[852] “there was a spot called _l’estrapade_, in the
Faubourg St. Jacques, where soldiers received this punishment. The
machine, whence the place took its name, remained fixed like a perpetual
gallows.” The term is probably derived from the Italian _strappare_, to
pull or draw with violence.

    [852] “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” pp. 263. 264; see Dyce’s
    “Glossary,” p. 423.

_Toss in a Sieve._ This punishment, according to Cotgrave, was inflicted
“on such as committed gross absurdities.” In “1 Henry VI.” (i. 3),
Gloster says to the Bishop of Winchester:

    “I’ll canvass thee in thy broad cardinal’s hat,
    If thou proceed in this thy insolence.”

It is alluded to in Davenant’s “Cruel Brother” (1630):

    “I’ll sift and winow him in an old hat.”

_Wheel._ The punishment of the wheel was not known at Rome, but we read
of Mettius Tuffetius being torn asunder by _quadrigæ_ driven in opposite
directions. As Shakespeare, remarks Malone, “has coupled this species of
punishment with another that certainly was unknown to ancient Rome, it
is highly probable that he was not apprised of the story of Mettius
Tuffetius, and that in this, as in various other instances, the practice
of his own times was in his thoughts, for in 1594 John Chastel had been
thus executed in France for attempting to assassinate Henry IV.”

Coriolanus (iii. 2) says:

    “Let them pull all about mine ears, present me
    Death on the wheel, or at wild horses’ heels.”

_Whipping._ Three centuries ago this mode of punishment was carried to a
cruel extent. By an act passed in the 2d year of Henry VIII., vagrants
were to be carried to some market-town, or other place, and there tied
to the end of a cart, naked, and beaten with whips throughout such
market-town, or other place, till the body should be bloody by reason of
such whipping. The punishment was afterwards slightly mitigated, for, by
a statute passed in 39th of Elizabeth’s reign, vagrants “were only to be
stripped naked from the middle upwards, and whipped till the body should
be bloody.” The stocks were often so constructed as to serve both for
stocks and whipping-posts.[853] Among the numerous references to this
punishment by Shakespeare, we may quote “2 Henry IV.” (v. 4), where the
beadle says of Hostess Quickly: “The constables have delivered her over
to me, and she shall have whipping-cheer enough, I warrant her.” In the
“Taming of the Shrew” (i. 1), Gremio says, speaking of Katharina, “I had
as lief take her dowry with this condition,—to be whipped at the
high-cross every morning,” in allusion to what Hortensio had just said:
“why, man, there be good fellows in the world, an a man could light on
them, would take her with all faults, and money enough.” In “2 Henry
VI.” (ii. 1), Gloster orders Simpcox and his wife to

            “be whipped through every market-town,
    Till they come to Berwick, from whence they came.”

    [853] See “Book of Days,” vol. i. pp. 598, 599.

_Wisp._ This was a punishment for a scold.[854] It appears that “a wisp,
or small twist of straw or hay, was often applied as a mark of
opprobrium to an immodest woman, a scold, or similar offender; even,
therefore, the showing it to a woman, was considered a grievous
affront.” In “3 Henry VI.” (ii. 2) Edward says of Queen Margaret:

    “A wisp of straw were worth a thousand crowns,
    To make this shameless callat[855] know herself.”

    [854] Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 965.

    [855] “Callat,” an immodest woman, also applied to a scold. Cf.
    “Winter’s Tale,” ii. 3:

                                                “A callat
        Of boundless tongue, who late hath beat her husband,
        And now baits me.”

A wisp, adds Nares, seems to have been the badge of the scolding woman
in the ceremony of Skimmington;[856] an allusion to which is given in a
“Dialogue between John and Jone, striving who shall wear the breeches,”
in the “Pleasures of Poetry,” cited by Malone:

    “Good, gentle Jone, with-holde thy handes,
      This once let me entreat thee,
    And make me promise never more,
      That thou shalt mind to beat me.
    For fear thou wear the wispe, good wife,
      And make our neighbours ride.”

    [856] Skimmington was a burlesque ceremony in ridicule of a man
    beaten by his wife. See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” vol. ii. pp.
    191, 192.

In Nash’s “Pierce Pennilesse” (1593) there is also an amusing allusion
to it: “Why, thou errant butter-whore, thou cotquean and scrattop of
scolds, wilt thou never leave afflicting a dead carcasse? continually
read the rhetorick lecture of Ramme-alley? a wispe, a wispe, you
kitchen-stuffe wrangler.”



In the present chapter are collected together the chief proverbs either
quoted or alluded to by Shakespeare. Many of these are familiar to most
readers, but have gained an additional interest by reason of their
connection with the poet’s writings. At the same time, it may be noted
that very many of Shakespeare’s pithy sayings have, since his day,
passed into proverbs, and have taken their place in this class of
literature. It is curious to notice, as Mrs. Cowden-Clarke remarks,[857]
how “Shakespeare has paraphrased some of our commonest proverbs in his
own choice and elegant diction.” Thus, “Make hay while the sun shines”

    “The sun shines hot; and if we use delay,
    Cold biting winter mars our hoped-for hay,”

a statement which applies to numerous other proverbial sayings.

    [857] “Shakespeare Proverbs,” 1858.

“A black man is a jewel in a fair woman’s eyes.” In the “Two Gentlemen
of Verona” (v. 2), the following passage is an amusing illustration of
the above:

    “_Thurio._ What says she to my face?

    _Proteus._ She says it is a fair one.

    _Thurio._ Nay then, the wanton lies; my face is black.

    _Proteus._ But pearls are fair; and the old saying is,
    Black men are pearls in beauteous ladies’ eyes.”

In “Titus Andronicus” (v. 1) there is a further allusion to this
proverb, where Lucius says of Aaron,

    “This is the pearl that pleas’d your empress’ eye.”

“A beggar marries a wife and lice.” So in “King Lear” (iii. 2), Song:

    “The cod-piece that will house,
      Before the head has any,
    The head and he shall louse;
      So beggars marry many.”

Thus it is also said: “A beggar payeth a benefit with a louse.”

“A cunning knave needs no broker.” This old proverb is quoted by Hume,
in “2 Henry VI.” (i. 2):

    “A crafty knave does need no broker.”

“A curst cur must be tied short.” With this proverb we may compare what
Sir Toby says in “Twelfth Night” (iii. 2), to Sir Andrew: “Go, write it
in a martial hand; be curst and brief.”

“A drop hollows the stone,” or “many drops pierce the stone.” We may
compare “3 Henry VI.” (iii. 2), “much rain wears the marble,” and also
the messenger’s words (ii. 1), when he relates how “the noble Duke of
York was slain:”

    “Environed he was with many foes;
    And stood against them, as the hope of Troy
    Against the Greeks, that would have enter’d Troy.
    But Hercules himself must yield to odds;
    And many strokes, though with a little axe,
    Hew down and fell the hardest-timber’d oak.”

“A finger in every pie.” So, in “Henry VIII.” (i. 1), Buckingham says of

            “no man’s pie is freed
    From his ambitious finger.”

To the same purport is the following proverb:[858] “He had a finger in
the pie when he burnt his nail off.”

    [858] Bohn’s “Handbook of Proverbs,” p. 159.

“A fool’s bolt is soon shot.” Quoted by Duke of Orleans in “Henry V.”
(iii. 7). With this we may compare the French: “De fol juge breve

    [859] Ibid. p. 94.

“A friend at court is as good as a penny in the purse.” So, in “2 Henry
IV.” (v. 1), Shallow says: “a friend i’ the court is better than a penny
in purse.” The French equivalent of this saying is: “Bon fait avoir ami
en cour, car le procès en est plus court.”

“A little pot’s soon hot.” Grumio, in “Taming of the Shrew” (iv. 1),
uses this familiar proverb: “were not I a little pot, and soon hot, my
very lips might freeze to my teeth,” etc.

“A pox of the devil” (“Henry V.,” iii. 7).

“A smoky chimney and a scolding wife are two bad companions.” There are
various versions of this proverb. Ray gives the following: “Smoke,
raining into the house, and a scolding wife, will make a man run out of

Hotspur, in “1 Henry IV.” (iii. 1), says of Glendower:

                           “O, he’s as tedious
    As a tired horse, a railing wife;
    Worse than a smoky house.”

“A snake lies hidden in the grass.” This, as Mr. Green[860] remarks, is
no unfrequent proverb, and the idea is often made use of by Shakespeare.
Thus, in “2 Henry VI.” (iii. 1), Margaret declares to the attendant

    “Henry my lord is cold in great affairs,
    Too full of foolish pity: and Gloster’s show
    Beguiles him, as the mournful crocodile
    With sorrow snares relenting passengers,
    Or as the snake, roll’d in a flowering bank,
    With shining checker’d slough, doth sting a child,
    That for the beauty thinks it excellent.”

    [860] “Shakespeare and the Emblem Writers,” 1870, p. 341.

Lady Macbeth (i. 5) tells her husband:

            “look like the innocent flower,
    But be the serpent under’t.”

Juliet (“Romeo and Juliet,” iii. 2) speaks of:

    “Serpent heart, hid with a flowering face.”

“A staff is quickly found to beat a dog.” Other versions of this proverb
are: “It is easy to find a stick to beat a dog;” “It is easy to find a
stone to throw at a dog.”[861] So, in “2 Henry VI.” (iii. 1), Gloster

    “I shall not want false witness to condemn me,
    Nor store of treasons to augment my guilt;
    The ancient proverb will be well effected,—
    A staff is quickly found to beat a dog.”

    [861] See Kelly’s “Proverbs of All Nations,” 1870, p. 157.

“A wise man may live anywhere.” In “Richard II.” (i. 3), John of Gaunt

    “All places that the eye of heaven visits,
    Are to a wise man ports and happy havens.”

“A woman conceals what she does not know.” Hence Hotspur says to his
wife, in “1 Henry IV.” (ii. 3):

                          “Constant you are,
    But yet a woman: and for secrecy,
    No lady closer; for I well believe
    Thou wilt not utter what thou dost not know,—
    And so far will I trust thee, gentle Kate.”

“All men are not alike” (“Much Ado About Nothing,” iii. 5).[862]

    [862] Halliwell-Phillipps’s “Handbook Index to Shakespeare,” p.
    390, under Proverbs.

“All’s Well that Ends Well.”

“As lean as a rake.” So in “Coriolanus” (i. 1), one of the citizens
says: “Let us revenge this with our pikes, ere we become rakes.” So
Spenser, in his “Fairy Queen” (bk. ii. can. 11):

    “His body leane and meagre as a rake.”

This proverb is found in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” (i. 289):

    “Al so lene was his hors as is a rake.”

“As thin as a whipping-post” is another proverb of the same kind.

“As mad as a March hare” (“The Two Noble Kinsmen,” iii. 5). We may
compare the expression “hare-brained:” “1 Henry IV.” (v. 2).

“As sound as a bell.” So in “Much Ado about Nothing” (iii. 2), Don Pedro
says of Benedick: “He hath a heart as sound as a bell.”

“As the bell clinketh, so the fool thinketh.” This proverb is indirectly
alluded to in “Much Ado About Nothing” (iii. 2), in the previous
passage, where Don Pedro says of Benedick that “He hath a heart as sound
as a bell, and his tongue is the clapper; for what his heart thinks, his
tongue speaks.”

Another form of the same proverb is: “As the fool thinks, the bell

    [863] See Kelly’s “Proverbs of All Nations,” p. 91.

“As true as steel.” This popular adage is quoted in “Troilus and
Cressida” (iii. 2):

    “As true as steel, as plantage to the moon.”

We may also compare the proverb: “As true as the dial to the sun.”

“At hand, quoth pick-purse” (“1 Henry IV.,” ii. 1). This proverbial
saying arose, says Malone, from the pickpurse always seizing the prey
nearest him.

“Ay, tell me that and unyoke” (“Hamlet,” v. 1). This was a common adage
for giving over or ceasing to do a thing; a metaphor derived from the
unyoking of oxen at the end of their labor.

“Baccare, quoth Mortimer to his sow.” With this Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps
compares Gremio’s words in the “Taming of the Shrew” (ii. 1):

    “Saving your tale, Petruchio, I pray,
    Let us, that are poor petitioners, speak too:
    Baccare! you are marvellous forward.”

Mr. Dyce (“Glossary,” p. 23) says the word signifies “go back,” and
cites one of John Heywood’s epigrams upon it:

    “Backare, quoth Mortimer to his sow;
    Went that sowe backe at that bidding, trow you.”

“Barnes are blessings” (“All’s Well that Ends Well,” i. 3).

“Base is the slave that pays” (“Henry V.,” ii. 1).[864]

    [864] Halliwell-Phillipps’s “Handbook Index to Shakespeare,” p. 391.

“Bastards are born lucky.” This proverb is alluded to in “King John” (i.
1), by the Bastard, who says:

    “Brother, adieu; good fortune come to thee!
    For thou wast got i’ the way of honesty.”

Philip wishes his brother good fortune, because Robert was not a

“Beggars mounted run their horses to death.”[865] Quoted by York in “3
Henry VI.” (i. 4). We may also compare the proverb: “Set a beggar on
horseback, he’ll ride to the devil.”

    [865] See Bohn’s “Handbook of Proverbs,” p. 326.

“Begone when the sport is at the best.” Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps quotes
Benvolio’s words in “Romeo and Juliet” (i. 5):

    “Away, be gone; the sport is at the best.”

To the same effect are Romeo’s words (i. 4):

    “The game was ne’er so fair, and I am done.”

“Be off while your shoes are good.” This popular phrase, still in use,
seems alluded to by Katharina in “Taming of the Shrew” (iii. 2), who
says to Petruchio:

    “You may be jogging whiles your boots are green.”

“Better a witty fool, than a foolish wit.” Quoted by the clown in
“Twelfth Night” (i. 5).

“Better fed than taught.” This old saying may be alluded to in “All’s
Well that Ends Well” (ii. 2) by the clown, “I will show myself highly
fed and lowly taught;” and again (ii. 4) by Parolles:

    “A good knave, i’ faith, and well fed.”

“Blessing of your heart, you brew good ale.” Quoted by Launce as a
proverb in the “Two Gentlemen of Verona” (iii. 1).

“Blush like a black dog.” This saying is referred to in “Titus
Andronicus” (v. 1):

    “_1 Goth._ What, canst thou say all this, and never blush?

    _Aaron._ Ay, like a black dog, as the saying is.”

“Bought and sold” (“Troilus and Cressida,” ii. 1). A proverbial phrase
applied to any one entrapped or made a victim by treachery or
mismanagement. It is found again in the “Comedy of Errors” (iii. 1); in
“King John” (v. 4); and in “Richard III.” (v. 3).

“Bring your hand to the buttery-bar, and let it drink” (“Twelfth Night,”
i. 3). Mr. Dyce quotes the following explanation of this passage,
although he does not answer for its correctness: “This is a proverbial
phrase among forward abigails, to ask at once for a kiss and a present.
Sir Andrew’s slowness of comprehension in this particular gave her a
just suspicion, at once, of his frigidity and avarice.” The buttery-bar
means the place in palaces and in great houses whence provisions were
dispensed; and it is still to be seen in most of our colleges.

“Brag’s a good dog, but Hold-fast is a better.” This proverb is alluded
to in “Henry V.” (ii. 3), by Pistol:

    “Hold-fast is the only dog, my duck.”[866]

    [866] See Bohn’s “Handbook of Proverbs,” p. 333; Kelly’s
    “Proverbs of all Nations,” 1870, p. 173.

“Bush natural, more hair than wit.” Ray’s Proverbs. So in “Two Gentlemen
of Verona” (iii. 1), it is said, “She hath more hair than wit.”

“By chance but not by truth”[867] (“King John,” i. 1).

    [867] Halliwell-Phillipps’s “Handbook Index to Shakespeare,” p. 391.

“Care will kill a cat; yet there’s no living without it.” So in “Much
Ado About Nothing” (v. 1), Claudio says to Don Pedro: “What though care
killed a cat, thou hast mettle enough in thee to kill care.”

“Come cut and long-tail” (“Merry Wives of Windsor,” iii. 4). This
proverb means, “Let any come that may, good or bad;” and was, no doubt,
says Staunton, originally applied to dogs or horses.

“Comparisons are odious.” So, in “Much Ado About Nothing” (iii. 5),
Dogberry tells Verges: “Comparisons are odorous.”

“Confess and be hanged.” This well-known proverb is probably alluded to
in the “Merchant of Venice” (iii. 2):

    “_Bassanio._ Promise me life, and I’ll confess the truth.

    _Portia._ Well then, confess, and live.”

We may also refer to what Othello says (iv. 1): “To confess, and be
hanged for his labour; first, to be hanged, and then to confess. I
tremble at it.”

In “Timon of Athens” (i. 2), Apemantus says: “Ho, ho, confess’d it!
hang’d it, have you not?”

“Cry him, and have him.” So Rosalind says, in “As You Like It” (i. 3),
“If I could cry ‘hem’ and have him.”

“Cry you mercy, I took you for a joint-stool” (“King Lear,” iii. 6). It
is given by Ray in his “Proverbs” (1768); see also “Taming of the Shrew”
(ii. 1).

“Cucullus non facit monachum.” So in “Henry VIII.” (iii. 1), Queen
Katherine says:

    “All hoods make not monks.”

Chaucer thus alludes to this proverb:

    “Habite ne maketh monk ne feere;
    But a clean life and devotion
    Maketh gode men of religion.”

“Dead as a door-nail.” So, in “2 Henry VI.” (iv. 10), Cade says to Iden:
“I have eat no meat these five days; yet, come thou and thy five men,
and if I do not leave you all as dead as a door-nail, I pray God I may
never eat grass more.”

We may compare the term, “dead as a herring,” which Caius uses in the
“Merry Wives of Windsor” (ii. 3), “By gar, de herring is no dead, so as
I vill kill him.”

“Death will have his day” (“Richard II.,” iii. 2).

“Delays are dangerous.” In “1 Henry VI.” (iii. 2), Reignier says:

    “Defer no time, delays have dangerous ends.”

“Diluculo surgere,” etc. (“Twelfth Night,” ii. 3).

“Dogs must eat.” This, with several other proverbs, is quoted by Agrippa
in “Coriolanus” (i. 1).

“Dun’s the mouse” (“Romeo and Juliet,” i. 4). This was a proverbial
saying, of which no satisfactory explanation has yet been given. Nares
thinks it was “frequently employed with no other intent than that of
quibbling on the word _done_.” Ray has, “as dun as a mouse.” Mercutio
says: “Tut, dun’s the mouse, the constable’s own word.”

“Empty vessels give the greatest sound.” Quoted in “Henry V.” (iv. 4).

“Every dog hath his day, and every man his hour.” This old adage seems
alluded to by Hamlet (v. 1):[868]

    “The cat will mew, and dog will have his day.”

    [868] Bohn’s “Handbook of Proverbs,” p. 86.

“Every man at forty is either a fool or a physician.”[869] This popular
proverb is probably referred to in “Merry Wives of Windsor” (iii. 4), by
Mistress Quickly, who tells Fenton how she had recommended him as a
suitor for Mr. Page’s daughter instead of Doctor Caius: “This is my
doing, now: ‘Nay,’ said I, ‘will you cast away your child on a fool, and
a physician? look on Master Fenton:’—this is my doing.”

    [869] Ray gives another form: “Every man is either a fool or a
    physician after thirty years of age;” see Bohn’s “Handbook of
    Proverbs,” 1857, p. 27.

“Familiarity breeds contempt.” So, in the “Merry Wives of Windsor” (i.
1), Slender says: “I hope, upon familiarity will grow more contempt.”

“Fast bind, fast find.” In “Merchant of Venice” (ii. 5), Shylock says:

                “Well, Jessica, go in:
    Perhaps I will return immediately:
    Do as I bid you; shut doors after you;
    Fast bind, fast find;
    A proverb never stale in thrifty mind.”

“Finis coronat opus.” A translation of this Latin proverb is given by
Helena in “All’s Well that Ends Well” (iv. 4):

    “Still the fine’s the crown.”

In “2 Henry VI.” (v. 2), also, Clifford’s expiring words are: “La fin
couronne les œuvres.” We still have the expression _to crown_, in the
sense of _to finish_ or _make perfect_. Mr. Douce[870] remarks that
“_coronidem imponere_ is a metaphor well known to the ancients, and
supposed to have originated from the practice of finishing buildings by
placing a crown at the top as an ornament; and for this reason the words
_crown_, _top_, and _head_ are become synonymous in most languages.
There is reason for believing that the ancients placed a crescent at the
beginning, and a crown, or some ornament that resembled it, at the end
of their books.” In “Troilus and Cressida” (iv. 5), Hector says:

    “The fall of every Phrygian stone will cost
    A drop of Grecian blood: the end crowns all;
    And that old common arbitrator, Time,
    Will one day end it.”

    [870] “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” p. 199.

Prince Henry (“2 Henry IV.,” ii. 2), in reply to Poins, gives another
turn to the proverb: “By this hand, thou think’st me as far in the
devil’s book as thou and Falstaff, for obduracy and persistency: let the
end try the man.”[871]

    [871] See Green’s “Shakespeare and the Emblem Writers,” 1870,
    pp. 319, 323.

“Fly pride, says the peacock.” This is quoted by Dromio of Syracuse, in
“The Comedy of Errors” (iv. 3).[872]

    [872] Halliwell-Phillipps’s “Handbook Index to Shakespeare,” p. 391.

“Friends may meet, but mountains never greet.” This is ironically
alluded to in “As You Like It” (iii. 2), by Celia: “It is a hard matter
for friends to meet; but mountains may be removed with earthquakes, and
so encounter.”

“Give the devil his due.” In “Henry V.” (iii. 7) it is quoted by the
Duke of Orleans.

“God sends fools fortune.” It is to this version of the Latin adage,
“Fortuna favet fatuis” (“Fortune favors fools”), that Touchstone alludes
in his reply to Jaques, in “As You Like It” (ii. 7):

                                “‘No, sir,’ quoth he,
    ‘Call me not fool till heaven hath sent me fortune.’”

Under different forms, the same proverb is found on the Continent. The
Spanish say, “The mother of God appears to fools;” and the German one is
this, “Fortune and women are fond of fools.”[873]

    [873] Kelly’s “Proverbs of All Nations,” 1872, p. 52.

“God sends not corn for the rich only.” This is quoted by Marcius in
“Coriolanus” (i. 1).

“Good goose, do not bite.” This proverb is used in “Romeo and Juliet”
(ii. 4):

    “_Mercutio._ I will bite thee by the ear for that jest.

    _Romeo._ Nay, good goose, bite not.”

“Good liquor will make a cat speak.” So, in the “Tempest” (ii. 2),
Stephano says: “Come on your ways: open your mouth; here is that which
will give language to you, cat; open your mouth.”

“Good wine needs no bush.” This old proverb, which is quoted by
Shakespeare in “As You Like It” (v. 4, “Epilogue”)—“If it be true that
good wine needs no bush, ’tis true that a good play needs no
epilogue”—refers to the custom of hanging up a bunch of twigs, or a wisp
of hay, at a roadside inn, as a sign that drink may be had within. This
practice, “which still lingers in the cider-making counties of the west
of England, and prevails more generally in France, is derived from the
Romans, among whom a bunch of ivy was used as the sign of a wine-shop.”
They were also in the habit of saying, “Vendible wine needs no ivy hung
up.” The Spanish have a proverb, “Good wine needs no crier.”[874]

    [874] Ibid., 1870, pp. 175, 176.

“Greatest clerks not the wisest men.” Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps, in his
“Handbook Index to Shakespeare” (p. 391), quotes the following passage
in “Twelfth Night” (iv. 2), where Maria tells the clown to personate Sir
Topas, the curate: “I am not tall enough to become the function well,
nor lean enough to be thought a good student; but to be said an honest
man and a good housekeeper goes as fairly as to say a careful man and a
great scholar.”

“Happy man be his dole” (“Taming of the Shrew,” i. 1; “1 Henry IV.,” ii.
2). Ray has it, “Happy man, happy dole;” or, “Happy man by his dole.”

“Happy the bride on whom the sun shines.” Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps, in
his “Handbook Index to Shakespeare” (p. 392), quotes, as an illustration
of this popular proverb, the following passage in “Twelfth Night” (iv.
3), where Olivia and Sebastian, having made “a contract of eternal bond
of love,” the former says:

                          “and heavens so shine,
    That they may fairly note this act of mine!”

“Happy the child whose father went to the devil.”[875] So, in “3 Henry
VI.” (ii. 2), King Henry asks, interrogatively:

    “And happy always was it for that son,
    Whose father, for his hoarding, went to hell?”

    [875] See Bohn’s “Handbook of Proverbs,” p. 100; Kelly’s
    “Proverbs of All Nations,” p. 187.

The Portuguese say, “Alas for the son whose father goes to heaven.”

“Hares pull dead lions by the beard.” In “King John” (ii. 1), the
Bastard says to Austria:

    “You are the hare of whom the proverb goes,
    Whose valour plucks dead lions by the beard.”

“Have is have, however men do catch.” Quoted by the Bastard in “King
John” (i. 1).

“Heaven’s above all.” In “Richard II.” (iii. 3) York tells Bolingbroke:

    “Take not, good cousin, further than you should,
    Lest you mistake: the heavens are o’er our heads.”

So, too, in “Othello” (ii. 3), Cassio says: “Heaven’s above all.”[876]

    [876] Halliwell-Phillipps’s “Handbook Index to Shakespeare,” p. 392.

“He is a poor cook who cannot lick his own fingers.” Under a variety of
forms, this proverb is found in different countries. The Italians say,
“He who manages other people’s wealth does not go supperless to bed.”
The Dutch, too, say, “All officers are greasy,” that is, something
sticks to them.[877] In “Romeo and Juliet” (iv. 2) the saying is thus
alluded to:

    “_Capulet._ Sirrah, go hire me twenty cunning cooks.

    _2 Servant._ You shall have none ill, sir; for I’ll try if
    they can lick their fingers.

    _Capulet._ How canst thou try them so?

    _2 Servant._ Marry, sir, ’tis an ill cook that cannot lick his
    own fingers: therefore he that cannot lick his fingers goes
    not with me.”

    [877] See Kelly’s “Proverbs of All Nations,” 1870, pp. 196, 197.

“He’s mad, that trusts in the tameness of a wolf, a horse’s health, a
boy’s love, or a whore’s oath” (“King Lear,” iii. 6).[878]

    [878] Halliwell-Phillipps’s “Handbook Index to Shakespeare,” p. 392.

“Heroum filii noxæ.” It is a common notion that a father above the
common rate of men has usually a son below it. Hence, in “The Tempest”
(i. 2), Shakespeare probably alludes to this Latin proverb:

                           “My trust,
    Like a good parent, did beget of him
    A falsehood, in its contrary as great
    As my trust was.”

“He knows not a hawk from a handsaw.” Hamlet says (ii. 2): “When the
wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw.”

“He may hang himself in his own garters.” So, Falstaff (“1 Henry IV.”
ii. 2) says: “Go, hang thyself in thine own heir-apparent garters.”

“He that is born to be hanged will never be drowned.” In “The Tempest”
(i. 1), Gonzalo says of the Boatswain: “I have great comfort from this
fellow: methinks he hath no drowning mark upon him; his complexion is
perfect gallows. Stand fast, good Fate, to his hanging! make the rope of
his destiny our cable, for our own doth little advantage! If he be not
born to be hanged, our case is miserable.” The Italians say, “He that is
to die by the gallows may dance on the river.”

“He that dies pays all debts” (“The Tempest,” iii. 2).

“He who eats with the devil hath need of a long spoon.” This is referred
to by Stephano, in “The Tempest” (ii. 2): “This is a devil, and no
monster: I will leave him; I have no long spoon.” Again, in the “Comedy
of Errors” (iv. 3), Dromio of Syracuse says: “He must have a long spoon
that must eat with the devil.”

The old adage, which tells how

    “He that will not when he may,
    When he will he shall have nay,”

is quoted in “Antony and Cleopatra” (ii. 7) by Menas:

    “Who seeks, and will not take, when once ’tis offer’d,
    Shall never find it more.”

“Hold hook and line” (“2 Henry IV.,” ii. 4). This, says Dyce, is a sort
of cant proverbial expression, which sometimes occurs in our early
writers (“Glossary,” p. 210).

“Hold, or cut bow-strings”[879] (“A Midsummer-Night’s Dream,” i. 2).

    [879] See page 394.

“Honest as the skin between his brows” (“Much Ado About Nothing,” iii.

    [880] “Handbook Index to Shakespeare,” p. 392.

“Hunger will break through stone-walls.” This is quoted by Marcius in
“Coriolanus” (i. 1), who, in reply to Agrippa’s question, “What says the
other troop?” replies:

                  “They are dissolved: hang ’em!
    They said they were an-hungry; sigh’d forth proverbs,—
    That hunger broke stone-walls,” etc.

According to an old Suffolk proverb,[881] “Hunger will break through
stone-walls, or anything, except Suffolk cheese.”

    [881] Bohn’s “Handbook of Proverbs,” 1857, p. 409.

“I scorn that with my heels” (“Much Ado About Nothing,” iii. 4). A not
uncommon proverbial expression. It is again referred to, in the
“Merchant of Venice” (ii. 2), by Launcelot: “do not run; scorn running
with thy heels.” Dyce thinks it is alluded to in “Venus and Adonis:”

    “Beating his kind embracements with her heels.”

“If you are wise, keep yourself warm.” This proverb is probably alluded
to in the “Taming of the Shrew” (ii. 1):

    “_Petruchio._ Am I not wise?

    _Katharina_. Yes; keep you warm.”

So, in “Much Ado About Nothing” (i. 1): “that if he have wit enough to
keep himself warm.”

“I fear no colours” (“Twelfth Night,” i. 5).

“Ill-gotten goods never prosper.” This proverb is referred to by King
Henry (“3 Henry VI.,” ii. 2):

            “Clifford, tell me, didst thou never hear
    That things ill got had ever bad success?”

“Illotis manibus tractare sacra.” Falstaff, in “1 Henry IV.” (iii. 3),
says: “Rob me the exchequer the first thing thou dost, and do it with
unwashed hands too.”

“Ill will never said well.” This is quoted by Duke of Orleans in “Henry
V.” (iii. 7).

“In at the window, or else o’er the hatch” (“King John,” i. 1). Applied
to illegitimate children. Staunton has this note: “Woe worth the time
that ever a gave suck to a child that came in at the window!” (“The
Family of Love,” 1608). So, also, in “The Witches of Lancashire,” by
Heywood and Broome, 1634: “It appears you came in at the window.” “I
would not have you think I scorn my grannam’s cat to leap over the

“It is a foul bird which defiles its own nest.” This seems alluded to
in “As You Like It” (iv. 1) where Celia says to Rosalind: “You have
simply misused our sex in your love-prate: we must have your doublet and
hose plucked over your head, and show the world what the bird hath done
to her own nest.”

“It is a poor dog that is not worth the whistling.” So Goneril, in “King
Lear” (iv. 2): “I have been worth the whistle.”

“It is a wise child that knows its own father.” In the “Merchant of
Venice” (ii. 2), Launcelot has the converse of this: “It is a wise
father that knows his own child.”

“It is an ill wind that blows nobody good.” So, in “3 Henry VI.” (ii.
5), we read:

    “Ill blows the wind that profits nobody.”

And, in “2 Henry IV.” (v. 3), when Falstaff asks Pistol “What wind blew
you hither?” the latter replies: “Not the ill wind which blows no man to

“It is easy to steal a shive from a cut loaf.” In “Titus Andronicus”
(ii. 1), Demetrius refers to this proverb. Ray has, “’Tis safe taking a
shive out of a cut loaf.”

“It’s a dear collop that’s cut out of my own flesh.” Mr.
Halliwell-Phillipps thinks there may be possibly an allusion to this
proverb in “1 Henry VI.” (v. 4), where the Shepherd says of La Pucelle:

    “God knows, thou art a collop of my flesh.”

“I will make a shaft or a bolt of it.” In the “Merry Wives of Windsor”
(iii. 4) this proverb is used by Slender.[882] Ray gives “to make a bolt
or a shaft of a thing.” This is equivalent to, “I will either make a
good or a bad thing of it: I will take the risk.”

    [882] A shaft is an arrow for the longbow, a bolt is for the
    crossbow. Kelly’s “Proverbs of All Nations,” p. 155.

“It is like a barber’s chair” (“All’s Well that Ends Well,” ii. 2).

The following passage, in “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (iii. 2):

          “Jack shall have Jill;
          Nought shall go ill;
    The man shall have his mare again,
          And all shall be well,”

refers to the popular proverb of olden times, says Staunton, signifying
“all ended happily.” So, too, Biron says, in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (v.

    “Our wooing doth not end like an old play;
    Jack hath not Jill.”

It occurs in Skelton’s poem “Magnyfycence” (Dyce, ed. i. p. 234): “Jack
shall have Gyl;” and in Heywood’s “Dialogue” (Sig. F. 3, 1598):

    “Come, chat at hame, all is well, Jack shall have Gill.”

“Kindness will creep where it cannot go.” Thus, in the “Two Gentlemen of
Verona” (iv. 2), Proteus tells Thurio how

    Will creep in service where it cannot go.”

There is a Scotch proverb, “Kindness will creep whar it mauna gang.”

“Let the world slide” (“Taming of the Shrew,” Induction, sc. i.).

“Let them laugh that win.” Othello says (iv. 1):

    “So, so, so, so:—they laugh that win.”

On the other hand, the French say, “Marchand qui perd ne peut rire.”

“Like will to like, as the devil said to the collier.” With this we may
compare the following passage in “Twelfth Night” (iii. 4): “What, man!
’tis not for gravity to play at cherry-pit with Satan: hang him, foul
collier!”—collier having been, in Shakespeare’s day, a term of the
highest reproach.

“Losers have leave to talk.” Titus Andronicus (iii. 1) says:

    “Then give me leave, for losers will have leave
    To ease their stomachs with their bitter tongues.”

“Maids say nay, and take.” So Julia, in the “Two Gentlemen of Verona”
(i. 2), says:

    “Since maids, in modesty, say ‘No’ to that
    Which they would have the profferer construe ‘Ay.’”

In “The Passionate Pilgrim” we read:

    “Have you not heard it said full oft,
    A woman’s nay doth stand for nought?”

“Make hay while the sun shines.” King Edward, in “3 Henry VI.” (iv. 8),
alludes to this proverb:

    “The sun shines hot; and, if we use delay,
    Cold, biting winter mars our hop’d-for hay.”

The above proverb is peculiar to England, and, as Trench remarks, could
have its birth only under such variable skies as ours.

“Many talk of Robin Hood that never shot in his bow.” So, in “2 Henry
IV.” (iii. 2), Justice Shallow, says Falstaff, “talks as familiarly of
John o’ Gaunt as if he had been sworn brother to him; and I’ll be sworn
a’ never saw him but once in the Tilt-yard,—and then he burst his head,
for crowding among the marshal’s men.”

“Marriage and hanging go by destiny.”[883] This proverb is the popular
creed respecting marriage, and, under a variety of forms, is found in
different countries. Thus, in “Merchant of Venice” (ii. 9), Nerissa

    “The ancient saying is no heresy,—
    Hanging and wiving goes by destiny.”

    [883] “But now consider the old proverbe to be true, yt saieth
    that marriage is destinie.”—Hall’s “Chronicles.”

Again, in “All’s Well that Ends Well” (i. 3) the Clown says:

    “For I the ballad will repeat,
      Which men full true shall find;
    Your marriage comes by destiny,
      Your cuckoo sings by kind.”

We may compare the well-known proverb, “Marriages are made in heaven,”
and the French version, “Les mariages sont écrits dans le ciel.”

“Marriage as bad as hanging.” In “Twelfth Night” (i. 5), the Clown says:
“Many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage.”

“Marry trap” (“Merry Wives of Windsor,” i. 1). This, says Nares, “is
apparently a kind of proverbial exclamation, as much as to say, ‘By
Mary, you are caught.’”

“Meat was made for mouths.” Quoted in “Coriolanus” (i. 1).

“Misfortunes seldom come alone.” This proverb is beautifully alluded to
by the King in “Hamlet” (iv. 5):

    “When sorrows come, they come not single spies,
    But in battalions.”

The French say:[884] “Malheur ne vient jamais seul.”

    [884] See Bohn’s “Handbook of Proverbs,” p. 116.

“More hair than wit” (“Two Gentlemen of Verona,” iii. 2). A well-known
old English proverb.

“Mortuo leoni et lepores insultant.” This proverb is alluded to by the
Bastard in “King John” (ii. 1), who says to the Archduke of Austria:

    “You are the hare of whom the proverb goes,
    Whose valour plucks dead lions by the beard.”

“Much water goes by the mill the miller knows not of.” This adage is
quoted in “Titus Andronicus” (ii. 1), by Demetrius:

              “more water glideth by the mill
    Than wots the miller of.”

“My cake is dough” (“Taming of the Shrew,” v. 1). An obsolete proverb,
repeated on the loss of hope or expectation: the allusion being to the
old-fashioned way of baking cakes at the embers, when it may have been
occasionally the case for a cake to be burned on one side and dough on
the other. In a former scene (i. 1) Gremio says: “our cake’s dough on
both sides.” Staunton quotes from “The Case is Altered,” 1609:

    “Steward, your cake is dough, as well as mine.”

“Murder will out.” So, in the “Merchant of Venice” (ii. 2), Launcelot
says: “Murder cannot be hid long,—a man’s son may; but, in the end,
truth will out.”

“Near or far off, well won is still well shot” (“King John,” i. 1).

“Needs must when the devil drives.” In “All’s Well that Ends Well” (i.
3), the Clown tells the Countess: “I am driven on by the flesh; and he
must needs go, that the devil drives.”

“Neither fish, nor flesh, nor good red herring.”[885] Falstaff says of
the Hostess in “1 Henry IV.” (iii. 3): “Why, she’s neither fish nor
flesh; a man knows not where to have her.”

    [885] See Bohn’s “Handbook of Proverbs,” pp. 160, 251.

“One nail drives out another.” In “Romeo and Juliet” (i. 2), Benvolio

    “Tut, man, one fire burns out another’s burning,
      One pain is lessen’d by another’s anguish;
    Turn giddy, and be holp by backward turning;
      One desperate grief cures with another’s languish:
    Take thou some new infection to thy eye,
    And the rank poison of the old will die.”

The allusion, of course, is to homœopathy. The Italians say, “Poison
quells poison.”

“Old men are twice children;” or, as they say in Scotland, “Auld men are
twice bairns.” We may compare the Greek Δἱς παῖδες οἱ γεροντες. The
proverb occurs in “Hamlet” (ii. 2): “An old man is twice a child.”

“Out of God’s blessing into the warm sun.” So Kent says in “King Lear”
(ii. 2):

    “Good king, that must approve the common saw,—
    Thou out of heaven’s benediction com’st
    To the warm sun.”

“Patience perforce is a medicine for a mad dog.” This proverb is
probably alluded to by Tybalt in “Romeo and Juliet” (i. 5):

    “Patience perforce with wilful choler meeting,
    Makes my flesh tremble in their different greeting.”

And again, in “Richard III.” (i. 1):

    “_Gloster._ Meantime, have patience.

    _Clarence._                         I must perforce: farewell.”

“Pitch and Pay” (“Henry V.,” ii. 3). This is a proverbial expression
equivalent to “Pay down at once.”[886] It probably originated from
pitching goods in a market, and paying immediately for their standing.
Tusser, in his “Description of Norwich,” calls it:

                       “A city trim,
    Where strangers well may seem to dwell,
    That pitch and pay, or keep their day.”

    [886] See Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 323.

“Pitchers have ears.” Baptista quotes this proverb in the “Taming of the
Shrew” (iv. 4):

    “Pitchers have ears, and I have many servants.”

According to another old proverb: “Small pitchers have great ears.”

“Poor and proud! fy, fy.” Olivia, in “Twelfth Night” (iii. 1), says:

    “O world, how apt the poor are to be proud!”

“Praise in departing” (“The Tempest,” iii. 3). The meaning is: “Do not
praise your entertainment too soon, lest you should have reason to
retract your commendation.” Staunton quotes from “The Paradise of Dainty
Devises,” 1596:

    “A good beginning oft we see, but seldome standing at one stay.
    For few do like the meane degree, then praise at parting some men say.”

“Pray God, my girdle break”[887] (“1 Henry IV.,” iii. 3).

    [887] Halliwell-Phillipps’s “Handbook Index to Shakespeare,” p. 393.

“Put your finger in the fire and say it was your fortune.” An excellent
illustration of this proverb is given by Edmund in “King Lear” (i. 2):
“This is the excellent foppery of the world, that, when we are sick in
fortune, we make guilty of our disasters, the sun, the moon, and the
stars: as if we were villains on necessity; fools, by heavenly
compulsion; knaves, thieves, and treachers, by spherical predominance;
drunkards, liars, and adulterers, by an enforced obedience of planetary
influence; and all that we are evil in, by a divine thrusting on: an
admirable evasion,” etc.

“Respice finem, respice furem.” It has been suggested that Shakespeare
(“Comedy of Errors,” iv. 4) may have met with these words in a popular
pamphlet of his time, by George Buchanan, entitled “Chamæleon Redivivus;
or, Nathaniel’s Character Reversed”—a satire against the Laird of
Lidingstone, 1570, which concludes with the following words, “Respice
finem, respice furem.”

“Seldom comes the better.” In “Richard III.” (ii. 3), one of the
citizens says:

    “Ill news, by’r lady; seldom comes the better:
    I fear, I fear, ’twill prove a troublous world”

—a proverbial saying of great antiquity. Mr. Douce[888] cites an account
of its origin from a MS. collection of stories in Latin, compiled about
the time of Henry III.

    [888] “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” p. 333.

“Service is no inheritance.” So, in “All’s Well that Ends Well” (i. 3),
the Clown says: “Service is no heritage.”

“Sit thee down, sorrow” (“Love’s Labour’s Lost,” i. 1).

“Sit at the stern.” A proverbial phrase meaning to have the management
of public affairs. So, in “1 Henry VI.” (i. 1), Winchester says:

    “The king from Eltham I intend to steal,
    And sit at chiefest stern of public weal.”

“She has the mends in her own hands.” This proverbial phrase is of
frequent occurrence in our old writers, and probably signifies, “It is
her own fault;” or, “The remedy lies with herself.” It is used by
Pandarus in “Troilus and Cressida” (i. 1). Burton, in his “Anatomy of
Melancholy,” writes: “And if men will be jealous in such cases, the
mends is in their own hands, they must thank themselves.”

“Small herbs have grace, great weeds do grow apace” (“Richard III.,”
ii. 4).

“So wise so young, do ne’er live long” (“Richard III.,” iii. 1).[889]

    [889] See page 332.

“So like you, ’tis the worse.” This is quoted as an old proverb by
Paulina in the “Winter’s Tale” (ii. 3).

“Something about, a little from the right” (“King John,” i. 1).

“Sowed cockle, reap no corn” (“Love’s Labour’s Lost,” iv. 3).

“Speak by the card” (“Hamlet,” v. 1). A merchant’s expression,
equivalent to “be as precise as a map or book.” The card is the document
in writing containing the agreement made between a merchant and the
captain of a vessel. Sometimes the owner binds himself, ship, tackle,
and furniture, for due performance, and the captain is bound to declare
the cargo committed to him in good condition. Hence, “to speak by the
card” is to speak according to the indentures or written instructions.

“Still swine eat all the draff” (“Merry Wives of Windsor,” iv. 2). Ray
gives: “The still sow eats up all the draught.”

“Still waters run deep.” So in “2 Henry VI.” (iii. 1), Suffolk says:

    “Smooth runs the water where the brook is deep.”

“Strike sail.” A proverbial phrase to acknowledge one’s self beaten. In
“3 Henry VI.” (iii. 3), it occurs:

                             “now Margaret
    Must strike her sail and learn awhile to serve,
    Where kings command.”

When a ship, in fight, or on meeting another ship, lets down her
topsails at least half-mast high, she is said to strike, that is, to
submit or pay respect to the other.[890]

    [890] Brewer’s “Dictionary of Phrase and Fable,” p. 860.

“Strike while the iron is hot.” Poins probably alludes to this proverb
in “2 Henry IV.” (ii. 4): “My lord, he will drive you out of your
revenge, and turn all to a merriment, if you take not the heat.”

Again, in “King Lear” (i. 1), Goneril adds: “We must do something, and
i’ the heat.”

“Take all, pay all” (“Merry Wives of Windsor,” ii. 2). Ray gives another
version of this proverb: “Take all, and pay the baker.”

“Tell the truth and shame the devil.” In “1 Henry IV.” (iii. 1), Hotspur
tells Glendower:

          “I can teach thee, coz, to shame the devil
    By telling truth: tell truth, and shame the devil.”

“That was laid on with a trowel.”[891] This proverb, which is quoted by
Ray, is used by Celia in “As You Like It” (i. 2). Thus we say, when any
one bespatters another with gross flattery, that he lays it on with a

    [891] Ray’s “Proverbs” (Bohn’s Edition), 1857, p. 76.

“The cat loves fish, but she’s loath to wet her feet.” It is to this
proverb that Lady Macbeth alludes when she upbraids her husband for his
irresolution (“Macbeth,” i. 7):

    “Letting ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would,’
    Like the poor cat i’ the adage.”

There are various forms of this proverb. Thus, according to the rhyme:

    “Fain would the cat fish eat,
    But she’s loath to wet her feet.”

The French version is “Le chat aime le poisson mais il n’aime pas à
mouiller la patte”—so that it would seem Shakespeare borrowed from the

“The devil rides on a fiddlestick” (“1 Henry IV.,” ii. 4).

“The galled jade will wince.” So Hamlet says (iii. 2), “let the galled
jade wince, our withers are unwrung.”

“The grace o’ God is gear enough.” This is the Scotch form of the
proverb which Launcelot Gobbo speaks of as being well parted between
Bassanio and Shylock, in the “Merchant of Venice” (ii. 2): “The old
proverb is very well parted between my master Shylock and you, sir; you
have the grace of God, sir, and he hath enough.”

“The Mayor of Northampton opens oysters with his dagger.” This proverb
is alluded to by Pistol in “Merry Wives of Windsor” (ii. 2), when he

    “Why, then the world’s mine oyster,
    Which I with sword will open.”

Northampton being some eighty miles from the sea, oysters were so stale
before they reached the town (before railroads, or even coaches, were
known), that the “Mayor would be loath to bring them near his nose.”

“The more haste the worse speed.” In “Romeo and Juliet” (ii. 6), Friar
Laurence says:

    “These violent delights have violent ends
    And in their triumph die; like fire and powder,
    Which, as they kiss, consume: the sweetest honey
    Is loathsome in his own deliciousness,
    And in the taste confounds the appetite:
    Therefore, love moderately; long love doth so;
    Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow.”

The proverb thus alluded to seems to be derived from the Latin adage,
“Festinatio tarda est.” It defeats its own purpose by the blunders and
imperfect work it occasions.[892] Hence the French say: “He that goes
too hastily along often stumbles on a fair road.”

    [892] Kelly’s “Proverbs of All Nations,” p. 80.

“There is flattery in friendship”—used by the Constable of France in
“Henry V.” (iii. 7); the usual form of this proverb being: “There is
falsehood in friendship.”

“There was but one way” (“Henry V.,” ii. 3). “This,” says Dyce, “is a
kind of proverbial expression for death.” (“Glossary,” p. 494.)

“The weakest goes to the wall.” This is quoted by Gregory in “Romeo and
Juliet” (i. 1), whereupon Sampson adds: “Women, being the weaker
vessels, are ever thrust to the wall: therefore, I will push Montague’s
men from the wall, and thrust his maids to the wall.”

“There went but a pair of shears between them” (“Measure for Measure,”
i. 2). That is, “We are both of the same piece.”

“The world goes on wheels.” This proverbial expression occurs in “Antony
and Cleopatra” (ii. 7); and Taylor, the Water-Poet, has made it the
subject of one of his pamphlets: “The worlde runnes on wheeles, or,
oddes betwixt carts and coaches.”

“Three women and a goose make a market.” This proverb is alluded to in
“Love’s Labour’s Lost” (iii. 1):

                 “thus came your argument in;
    Then the boy’s fat _l’envoy_, the goose that you bought;
    And he ended the market.”

The following lines in “1 Henry VI.” (i. 6),

    “Thy promises are like Adonis’ gardens
    That one day bloom’d, and fruitful were the next,”

allude to the _Adonis horti_, which were nothing but portable earthen
pots, with some lettuce or fennel growing in them. On his yearly
festival every woman carried one of them in honor of Adonis, because
Venus had once laid him in a lettuce bed. The next day they were thrown
away. The proverb seems to have been used always in a bad sense, for
things which make a fair show for a few days and then wither away. The
Dauphin is here made to apply it as an encomium. There is a good account
of it in Erasmus’s “Adagia;” but the idea may have been taken from the
“Fairy Queen,” bk. iii. cant. 6, st. 42 (Singer’s “Shakespeare,” 1875,
vol. vi. p. 32).

“To clip the anvil of my sword.” “This expression, in ‘Coriolanus’ (iv.
5) is very difficult to be explained,” says Mr. Green, “unless we regard
it as a proverb, denoting the breaking of the weapon and the laying
aside of enmity. Aufidius makes use of it in his welcome to the banished

                        “here I clip
    The anvil of my sword; and do contest
    As hotly and as nobly with thy love,
    As ever in ambitious strength I did
    Contend against thy valour.”

“To have a month’s mind to a thing.” Ray’s “Proverbs.” So, in the “Two
Gentlemen of Verona” (i. 2), Julia says:

    “I see you have a month’s mind to them.”[893]

    [893] See page 385.

“’Tis merry in hall when beards wag all.”[894] This is quoted by Silence
in “2 Henry IV.” (v. 3):

    “Be merry, be merry, my wife has all;
    For women are shrews, both short and tall;
    ’Tis merry in hall when beards wag all,
          And welcome merry shrove-tide.
          Be merry, be merry.”

    [894] See Bohn’s “Handbook of Proverbs,” p. 115.

“To have one in the wind.” This is one of Camden’s proverbial sentences.
In “All’s Well that Ends Well” (iii. 6), Bertram says:

                 “I spoke with her but once,
    And found her wondrous cold; but I sent to her,
    By this same coxcomb that we have i’ the wind,
    Tokens and letters which she did re-send.”

“To hold a candle to the devil”—that is, “to aid or countenance that
which is wrong.” Thus, in the “Merchant of Venice” (ii. 6), Jessica

    “What, must I hold a candle to my shames?”

—the allusion being to the practice of the Roman Catholics who burn
candles before the image of a favorite saint, carry them in funeral
processions, and place them on their altars.

“To the dark house” (“All’s Well that Ends Well,” ii. 3). A house which
is the seat of gloom and discontent.

“Truth should be silent.” Enobarbus, in “Antony and Cleopatra” (ii. 2),
says: “That truth should be silent I had almost forgot.”

“To take mine ease in mine inn.” A proverbial phrase used by Falstaff in
“1 Henry IV.” (iii. 3), implying, says Mr. Drake, “a degree of comfort
which has always been the peculiar attribute of an English house of
public entertainment.”[895]

    [895] “Shakespeare and his Times,” vol. i. p. 216.

“Twice away says stay” (“Twelfth Night,” v. 1). Malone thinks this
proverb is alluded to by the Clown: “conclusions to be as kisses, if
your four negatives make your two affirmatives, why, then, the worse for
my friends and the better for my foes;” and quotes Marlowe’s “Last
Dominion,” where the Queen says to the Moor:

         “Come, let’s kisse.

    _Moor._                     Away, away.

    _Queen._ No, no, sayes I, and twice away sayes stay.”

“Trust not a horse’s heel.” In “King Lear” (iii. 6) the Fool says, “he’s
mad that trusts a horse’s health.” Malone would read “heels.”

“Two may keep counsel, putting one away.” So Aaron, in “Titus
Andronicus” (iv. 2), says:

    “Two may keep counsel, when the third’s away.”

“Ungirt, unblest.” Falstaff alludes to the old adage, in “1 Henry IV.”
(iii. 3). “I pray God my girdle break.” Malone quotes from an ancient

    “Ungirt, unblest, the proverbe sayes;
      And they to prove it right,
    Have got a fashion now adayes,
      That’s odious to the sight;
    Like Frenchmen, all on points they stand,
      No girdles now they wear.”

“Walls have ears.” So, in “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (v. 1), Thisbe is
made to say:

    “O wall, full often hast thou heard my moans,
    For parting my fair Pyramus and me.”

“Wedding and ill-wintering tame both man and beast.” Thus, in “Taming of
the Shrew” (iv. 1), Grumio says: “Winter tames man, woman, and beast;
for it hath tamed my old master, and my new mistress, and myself.” We
may also compare the Spanish adage: “You will marry and grow tame.”

“We steal as in a castle” (“1 Henry IV.,” ii. 1). This, says Steevens,
was once a proverbial phrase.

“What can’t be cured must be endured.” With this popular adage may be
compared the following: “Past cure is still past care,” in “Love’s
Labour’s Lost” (v. 2). So in “Richard II.” (ii. 3), the Duke of York

    “Things past redress are now with me past care.”

Again, in “Macbeth” (iii. 2) Lady Macbeth says:

                    “Things without all remedy
    Should be without regard: what’s done is done.”

“What’s mine is yours, and what is yours is mine” (“Measure for
Measure,” v. 1).

“When things come to the worst they’ll mend.” The truth of this popular
adage is thus exemplified by Pandulph in “King John” (iii. 4):

    “Before the curing of a strong disease,
    Even in the instant of repair and health,
    The fit is strongest; evils that take leave,
    On their departure most of all show evil.”

Of course it is equivalent to the proverb, “When the night’s darkest the
day’s nearest.”

“When? can you tell?” (“Comedy of Errors,” iii. 1). This proverbial
query, often met with in old writers, and perhaps alluded to just before
in this scene, when Dromio of Syracuse says: “Right, sir; I’ll tell you
when, an you’ll tell me wherefore;” occurs again in “1 Henry IV.” (ii.
1): “Ay, when? canst tell?”

“When two men ride the same horse one must ride behind.” So in “Much Ado
About Nothing” (iii. 5) Dogberry says: “An two men ride of a horse, one
must ride behind.”[896] With this may be compared the Spanish adage, “He
who rides behind does not saddle when he will.”

    [896] See Kelly’s “Proverbs of All Nations,” p. 49.

“While the grass grows, the steed starves.” This is alluded to by Hamlet
(iii. 2): “Ay, sir, but ‘while the grass grows,’ the proverb is
something musty.” See Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 499.

“Who dares not stir by day must walk by night” (“King John,” i. 1).

“Who goes to Westminster for a wife, to St. Paul’s for a man, and to
Smithfield for a horse, may meet with a queane, a knave, and a jade.”
This proverb, often quoted by old writers, is alluded to in “2 Henry
IV.” (i. 2):

    “_Falstaff._ Where’s Bardolph?

    _Page._ He’s gone into Smithfield to buy your worship a horse.

    _Falstaff._ I bought him in Paul’s, and he’ll buy me a horse
    in Smithfield: an I could get me but a wife in the stews, I
    were manned, horsed, and wived.”

“Wit, whither wilt?” This was a proverbial expression not unfrequent in
Shakespeare’s day. It is used by Orlando in “As You Like It” (iv. 1): “A
man that had a wife with such a wit, he might say—‘Wit, whither wilt?’”

“Will you take eggs for money?” This was a proverbial phrase, quoted by
Leontes in the “Winter’s Tale” (i. 2), for putting up with an affront,
or being cajoled or imposed upon.

“Words are but wind, but blows unkind.” In “Comedy of Errors” (iii. 1),
Dromio of Ephesus uses the first part of this popular adage.

“Worth a Jew’s eye.” Launcelot, in the “Merchant of Venice” (ii. 5),

    “There will come a Christian by,
    Will be worth a Jewess’ eye.”

According to tradition, the proverb arose from the custom of torturing
Jews to extort money from them. It is simply, however, a corruption of
the Italian _gióia_ (a jewel).

“You’ll never be burned for a witch.” This proverb, which was applied to
a silly person, is probably referred to in “Antony and Cleopatra” (i. 2)
by Charmian, when he says to the soothsayer:

    “Out, fool; I forgive thee for a witch.”

“Young ravens must have food” (“Merry Wives of Windsor,” i. 3).[897] Ray
has “Small birds must have meat.”

    [897] “Handbook Index to Shakespeare,” p. 395.



It would be difficult to enumerate the manifold forms of superstition
which have, in most countries, in the course of past centuries,
clustered round the human body. Many of these, too, may still be found
scattered, here and there, throughout our own country, one of the most
deep-rooted being palmistry, several allusions to which are made by

According to a popular belief current in years past, a trembling of the
body was supposed to be an indication of demoniacal possession. Thus, in
the “Comedy of Errors” (iv. 4) the Courtezan says of Antipholus of

    “Mark how he trembles in his ecstasy!”

and Pinch adds:

    “I charge thee, Satan, hous’d within this man,
    To yield possession to my holy prayers,
    And to thy state of darkness hie thee straight;
    I conjure thee by all the saints in heaven!”

In “The Tempest” (ii. 2), Caliban says to Stephano, “Thou dost me yet
but little hurt; thou wilt anon, I know it by thy trembling.”

It was formerly supposed that our bodies consisted of the four
elements—fire, air, earth, and water, and that all diseases arose from
derangement in the due proportion of these elements. Thus, in Antony’s
eulogium on Brutus, in “Julius Cæsar” (v. 5), this theory is alluded to:

    “His life was gentle, and the elements
    So mix’d in him, that Nature might stand up,
    And say to all the world, ‘This was a man!’”

In “Twelfth Night” (ii. 3) it is also noticed:

    “_Sir Toby._ Do not our lives consist of the four elements?

    _Sir Andrew._ ’Faith, so they say; but I think, it rather
    consists of eating and drinking.

    _Sir Toby._ Thou art a scholar; let us therefore eat and
    drink. Marian, I say!—a stoop of wine!”

In “Antony and Cleopatra” (v. 2), Shakespeare makes the latter say:

    “I am fire, and air, my other elements
    I give to baser life.”

This theory is the subject, too, of Sonnets xliv. and xlv., and is set
forth at large in its connection with physic in Sir Philip Sidney’s

    “O elements, by whose (men say) contention,
    Our bodies be in living power maintained,
    Was this man’s death the fruit of your dissension?
    O physic’s power, which (some say) hath restrained
    Approach of death, alas, thou keepest meagerly,
    When once one is for Atropos distrained.
    Great be physicians’ brags, but aide is beggarly
    When rooted moisture fails, or groweth drie;
    They leave off all, and say, death comes too eagerly.
    They are but words therefore that men doe buy
    Of any, since God Esculapius ceased.”

This notion was substantially adopted by Galen, and embraced by the
physicians of the olden times.[898]

    [898] See Bucknill’s “Medical Knowledge of Shakespeare,” p. 120.

_Blood._ In old phraseology this word was popularly used for disposition
or temperament. In “Timon of Athens” (iv. 2), Flavius says:

                        “Strange, unusual blood,
    When man’s worst sin is, he does too much good!”

In the opening passage of “Cymbeline” it occurs in the same sense:

    “You do not meet a man but frowns: our bloods
    No more obey the heavens, than our courtiers
    Still seem as does the king,”

the meaning evidently being that “our dispositions no longer obey the
influences of heaven; they are courtiers, and still seem to resemble the
disposition the king is in.”

Again, in “Much Ado About Nothing” (ii. 3): “wisdom and blood combating
in so tender a body, we have ten proofs to one, that blood hath the

Once more, in “King Lear” (iv. 2), the Duke of Albany says to Goneril:

                       “Were’t my fitness
    To let these hands obey my blood,
    They are apt enough to dislocate and tear
    Thy flesh and bones.”

Again, the phrase “to be in blood” was a term of the chase, meaning, to
be in good condition, to be vigorous. In “1 Henry VI.” (iv. 2), Talbot

    “If we be English deer, be, then, in blood;
    Not rascal-like, to fall down with a pinch”

—the expression being put in opposition to “rascal,” which was the term
for the deer when lean and out of condition. In “Love’s Labour’s Lost”
(iv. 2), Holofernes says: “The deer was, as you know, _sanguis_,—in

The notion that the blood may be thickened by emotional influences is
mentioned by Polixenes in the “Winter’s Tale” (i. 2), where he speaks of
“thoughts that would thick my blood.” In King John’s temptation of
Hubert to murder Arthur (iii. 3), it is thus referred to:

    “Or if that surly spirit, melancholy,
    Had bak’d thy blood and made it heavy, thick,
    Which else runs tickling up and down the veins.”

Red blood was considered a traditionary sign of courage. Hence, in the
“Merchant of Venice” (ii. 1), the Prince of Morocco, when addressing
himself to Portia, and urging his claims for her hand, says:

    “Bring me the fairest creature northward born,
    Where Phoebus’ fire scarce thaws the icicles,
    And let us make incision for your love,[899]
    To prove whose blood is reddest, his or mine.”

    [899] Mr. Singer, in a note on this passage, says, “It was
    customary, in the East, for lovers to testify the violence of
    their passion by cutting themselves in the sight of their
    mistresses; and the fashion seems to have been adopted here as
    a mark of gallantry in Shakespeare’s time, when young men
    frequently stabbed their arms with daggers, and, mingling the
    blood with wine, drank it off to the healths of their
    mistresses.”—Vol. ii. p. 417.

Again, in the same play, cowards are said to “have livers as white as
milk,” and an effeminate man is termed a “milk-sop.” Macbeth, too (v.
3), calls one of his frighted soldiers a “lily-liver’d boy.” And in
“King Lear” (ii. 2), the Earl of Kent makes use of the same phrase. In
illustration of this notion Mr. Douce[900] quotes from Bartholomew
Glantville, who says: “Reed clothes have been layed upon deed men in
remembrance of theyr hardynes and boldnes, whyle they were in theyr

    [900] “Illustrations of Shakspeare,” 1839, p. 156.

The absence of blood in the liver as the supposed property of a coward,
originated, says Dr. Bucknill,[901] in the old theory of the circulation
of the blood, which explains Sir Toby’s remarks on his dupe, in “Twelfth
Night” (iii. 2): “For Andrew, if he were opened, and you find so much
blood in his liver as will clog the foot of a flea, I’ll eat the rest of
the anatomy.”

    [901] “Medical Knowledge of Shakespeare,” p. 124.

We may quote here a notion referred to in “Lucrece” (1744-50), that,
ever since the sad death of Lucrece, corrupted blood has watery

    “About the mourning and congealed face
    Of that black blood a watery rigol goes,
    Which seems to weep upon the tainted place:
    And ever since, as pitying Lucrece’ woes,
    Corrupted blood some watery token shows;
      And blood untainted still doth red abide,
      Blushing at that which is so putrefied.”

_Brain._ By old anatomists the brain was divided into three ventricles,
in the hindermost of which they placed the memory. That this division
was not unknown to Shakespeare is apparent from “Love’s Labour’s Lost”
(iv. 2), where Holofernes says: “A foolish extravagant spirit, full of
forms, figures, shapes, objects, ideas, apprehensions, motions,
revolutions: these are begot in the ventricle of memory.” Again, Lady
Macbeth (i. 7), speaking of Duncan’s two chamberlains, says:

    “Will I with wine and wassail so convince,
    That memory, the warder of the brain,
    Shall be a fume, and the receipt of reason
    A limbeck only.”

The “third ventricle is the cerebellum, by which the brain is connected
with the spinal marrow and the rest of the body; the memory is posted in
the cerebellum, like a warder or sentinel, to warn the reason against
attack. Thus, when the memory is converted by intoxication into a mere
fume,[902] then it fills the brain itself—the receipt or receptacle of
reason, which thus becomes like an alembic, or cap of a still.”[903]

    [902] Cf. “Tempest,” v. 1:

                  “the ignorant fumes that mantle
        Their clearer reason.”

    [903] Clark and Wright’s “Notes to Macbeth,” 1877, p. 101.

A popular nickname, in former times, for the skull, was “brain-pan;” to
which Cade, in “2 Henry VI.” (iv. 10) refers: “many a time, but for a
sallet, my brain-pan had been cleft with a brown bill.” The phrase “to
beat out the brains” is used by Shakespeare metaphorically in the sense
of defeat or destroy; just as nowadays we popularly speak of knocking a
scheme on the head. In “Measure for Measure” (v. 1), the Duke,
addressing Isabella, tells her:

                         “O most kind maid,
    It was the swift celerity of his death,
    Which I did think with slower foot came on,
    That brain’d my purpose.”

The expression “to bear a brain,” which is used by the Nurse in “Romeo
and Juliet” (i. 3),

    “Nay, I do bear a brain,”

denoted “much mental capacity either of attention, ingenuity, or
remembrance.”[904] Thus, in Marston’s “Dutch Courtezan” (1605), we read:

    “My silly husband, alas! knows nothing of it, ’tis
    I that must beare a braine for all.”

    [904] Singer’s “Shakespeare,” vol. viii. p. 123.

The notion of the brain as the seat of the soul is mentioned by Prince
Henry, who, referring to King John (v. 7), says:

                             “his pure brain,
    Which some suppose the soul’s frail dwelling-house,
    Doth, by the idle comments that it makes,
    Foretell the ending of mortality.”

_Ear._ According to a well-known superstition, much credited in days
gone by, and still extensively believed, a tingling of the right ear is
considered lucky, being supposed to denote that a friend is speaking
well of one, whereas a tingling of the left is said to imply the
opposite. This notion, however, varies in different localities, as in
some places it is the tingling of the left ear which denotes the friend,
and the tingling of the right ear the enemy. In “Much Ado About Nothing”
(iii. 1), Beatrice asks Ursula and Hero, who had been talking of her:

    “What fire is in mine ears?”

the reference, no doubt, being to this popular fancy. Sir Thomas
Browne[905] ascribes the idea to the belief in guardian angels, who
touch the right or left ear according as the conversation is favorable
or not to the person.

    [905] “Vulgar Errors,” book v. chap. 23 (Bohn’s edition, 1852,
    vol. ii. p. 82).

In Shakespeare’s day it was customary for young gallants to wear a long
lock of hair dangling by the ear, known as a “love-lock.” Hence, in
“Much Ado About Nothing” (iii. 3), the Watch identifies one of his
delinquents: “I know him; a’ wears a lock.”[906]

    [906] Prynne attacked the fashion in his “Unloveliness of

Again, further on (v. 1), Dogberry gives another allusion to this
practice: “He wears a key in his ear, and a lock hanging by it.”

An expression of endearment current in years gone by was “to bite the
ear.” In “Romeo and Juliet” (ii. 4), Mercutio says:

    “I will bite thee by the ear for that jest,”

a passage which is explained in Nares (“Glossary,” vol. i. p. 81) by the
following one from Ben Jonson’s “Alchemist” (ii. 3):

    “_Mammon._ Th’ hast witch’d me, rogue; take, go.

    _Face._ Your jack, and all, sir.

    _Mammon._ Slave, I could bite thine ear.... Away, thou dost
    not care for me!”

Gifford, in his notes on Jonson’s “Works” (vol. ii. p. 184), says the
odd mode of expressing pleasure by biting the ear seems “to be taken
from the practice of animals, who, in a playful mood, bite each other’s

While speaking of the ear, it may be noted that the so-called want of
ear for music has been regarded as a sign of an austere disposition.
Thus Cæsar says of Cassius (“Julius Cæsar,” i. 2):

            “He hears no music
    Seldom he smiles.”

There is, too, the well-known passage in the “Merchant of Venice” (v.

    “The man that hath no music in himself,
    Nor is not mov’d with concord of sweet sounds,
    Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils.”

According to the Italian proverb: “Whom God loves not, that man loves
not music.”[907]

    [907] See Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” pp. 165, 166.

_Elbow._ According to a popular belief, the itching of the elbow denoted
an approaching change of some kind or other.[908] Thus, in “1 Henry IV.”
(v. 1), the king speaks of

      “Fickle changelings, and poor discontents,
    Which gape, and rub the elbow, at the news
    Of hurlyburly innovation.”

    [908] Ibid. p. 273.

With this idea we may compare similar ones connected with other parts of
the body. Thus, in “Macbeth” (iv. 1), one of the witches exclaims:

    “By the pricking of my thumbs,
    Something wicked this way comes.”

Again, in “Troilus and Cressida” (ii. 1), Ajax says: “My fingers
itch,”[909] and an itching palm was said to be an indication that the
person would shortly receive money. Hence, it denoted a hand ready to
receive bribes. Thus, in “Julius Cæsar” (iv. 3), Brutus says to Cassius:

    “Let me tell you, Cassius, you yourself
    Are much condemn’d to have an itching palm;
    To sell and mart your offices for gold
    To undeservers.”

    [909] See “Romeo and Juliet” (iii. 5), where Capulet says, “My
    fingers itch,” denoting anxiety.

So, in “Merry Wives of Windsor” (ii. 3), Shallow says: “If I see a sword
out, my finger itches to make one.”

Again, in “Othello” (iv. 3), poor Desdemona says to Emilia:

                  “Mine eyes do itch;
    Doth that bode weeping?”

Grose alludes to this superstition, and says: “When the right eye
itches, the party affected will shortly cry; if the left, they will
laugh.” The itching of the eye, as an omen, is spoken of by Theocritus,
who says:

    “My right eye itches now, and I will see my love.”

_Eyes._ A good deal of curious folk-lore has, at one time or another,
clustered round the eye; and the well-known superstition known as the
“evil eye” has already been described in the chapter on Birth and
Baptism. Blueness above the eye was, in days gone by, considered a sign
of love, and as such is alluded to by Rosalind in “As You Like It”
(iii. 2), where she enumerates the marks of love to Orlando: “A lean
cheek, which you have not; a blue eye, and sunken, which you have not.”

The term “baby in the eye” was sportively applied by our forefathers to
the miniature reflection of himself which a person may see in the pupil
of another’s eye. In “Timon of Athens” (i. 2), one of the lords says:

    “Joy had the like conception in our eyes,
    And, at that instant, like a babe sprung up,”

an allusion probably being made to this whimsical notion. It is often
referred to by old writers, as, for instance, by Drayton, in his

    “But O, see, see! we need enquire no further,
    Upon your lips the scarlet drops are found,
    And, in your eye, the boy that did the murder.”[910]

    [910] See Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 44.

We may compare the expression, “to look babies in the eyes,” a common
amusement of lovers in days gone by. In Beaumont and Fletcher’s “Loyal
Subject” (iii. 2), Theodore asks:

                            “Can ye look babies, sisters,
    In the young gallants’ eyes, and twirl their band-strings?”

And once more, to quote from Massinger’s “Renegado” (ii. 4), where
Donusa says:

    “When a young lady wrings you by the hand, thus,
    Or with an amorous touch presses your foot;
    Looks babies in your eyes, plays with your locks,” etc.

Another old term for the eyes was “crystal,” which is used by Pistol to
his wife, Mrs. Quickly, in “Henry V.” (ii. 3):

    “Therefore, _caveto_ be thy counsellor.
    Go, clear thy crystals;”

that is, dry thine eyes.

In “Romeo and Juliet” (i. 2), the phrase is employed by Benvolio:

    “Tut! you saw her fair, none else being by,
    Herself pois’d with herself in either eye:
    But in that crystal scales let there be weigh’d
    Your lady’s love against some other maid.”

It also occurs in Beaumont and Fletcher’s “Double Marriage” (v. 3),
where Juliana exclaims:

                   “Sleep you, sweet glasses!
    An everlasting slumber crown those crystals.”

The expression “wall-eyed” denotes, says Dyce (“Glossary,” p. 486),
“eyes with a white or pale-gray iris—glaring-eyed.” It is used by Lucius
in “Titus Andronicus” (v. 1):

    “Say, wall-ey’d slave, whither wouldst thou convey
    This growing image of thy fiend-like face?”

In “King John” (iv. 3), Salisbury speaks of “wall-eyed wrath.”

Brockett, in his “Glossary of North Country Words,” says: “In those
parts of the north with which I am best acquainted, persons are said to
be _wall-eyed_ when the white of the eye is very large and to one side;
on the borders ‘sic folks’ are considered lucky. The term is also
occasionally applied to horses with similar eyes, though its wider
general acceptation seems to be when the iris of the eye is white, or of
a very pale color. A _wall-eyed_ horse sees perfectly well.”

_Face._ A common expression “to play the hypocrite,” or feign, was “to
face.” So, in “1 Henry VI.” (v. 3), Suffolk declares how:

                    “Fair Margaret knows
    That Suffolk doth not flatter, face, or feign.”

Hence the name of one of the characters in Ben Jonson’s “Alchemist.” So,
in the “Taming of the Shrew” (ii. 1):

    “Yet I have faced it with a card of ten.”

The phrase, also, “to face me down,” implied insisting upon anything in
opposition. So, in the “Comedy of Errors” (iii. 1), Antipholus of
Ephesus says:

    “But here’s a villain that would face me down
    He met me on the mart.”

_Feet._ Stumbling has from the earliest period been considered
ominous.[911] Thus, Cicero mentions it among the superstitions of his
day; and numerous instances of this unlucky act have been handed down
from bygone times. We are told by Ovid how Myrrha, on her way to
Cinyra’s chamber, stumbled thrice, but was not deterred by the omen from
an unnatural and fatal crime; and Tibullus (lib. I., eleg. iii. 20),
refers to it:

    “O! quoties ingressus iter, mihi tristia dixi,
              Offensum in porta signa dedisse pedem.”

    [911] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. iii. p. 249;
    Jones’s “Credulities Past and Present,” pp. 529-531; “Notes and
    Queries,” 5th series, vol. viii. p. 201.

This superstition is alluded to by Shakespeare, who, in “3 Henry VI.”
(iv. 7), makes Gloster say:

    “For many men that stumble at the threshold
    Are well foretold that danger lurks within.”

In “Richard III.” (iii. 4), Hastings relates:[912]

    “Three times to-day my foot-cloth horse did stumble,
    And started when he look’d upon the Tower,
    As loath to bear me to the slaughter-house.”

    [912] The following is from Holinshed, who copies Sir Thomas
    More: “In riding toward the Tower the same morning in which he
    (Hastings) was beheaded his horse twice or thrice stumbled with
    him, almost to the falling; which thing, albeit each man wot
    well daily happeneth to them to whome no such mischance is
    toward; yet hath it beene of an olde rite and custome observed
    as a token oftentimes notablie foregoing some great

In the same way, stumbling at a grave has been regarded as equally
unlucky; and in “Romeo and Juliet” (v. 3), Friar Laurence says:

                 “how oft to-night
    Have my old feet stumbled at graves.”

_Hair._ From time immemorial there has been a strong antipathy to red
hair, which originated, according to some antiquarians, in a tradition
that Judas had hair of this color. One reason, it may be, why the
dislike to it arose, was that this color was considered ugly and
unfashionable, and on this account a person with red hair would soon be
regarded with contempt. It has been conjectured, too, that the odium
took its rise from the aversion to the red-haired Danes. In “As You Like
It” (iii. 4), Rosalind, when speaking of Orlando, refers to this
notion:[913] “His very hair is of the dissembling colour,” whereupon
Celia replies: “Something browner than Judas’s.”

    [913] See Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 127; Dyce’s
    “Glossary,” pp. 61, 230.

Yellow hair, too, was in years gone by regarded with ill-favor, and
esteemed a deformity. In ancient pictures and tapestries both Cain and
Judas are represented with yellow beards, in allusion to which Simple,
in the “Merry Wives of Windsor” (i. 4), when interrogated, says of his
master: “He hath but a little wee face, with a little yellow beard—a
Cain-coloured beard.”[914]

    [914] The quartos of 1602 read “a kane-coloured beard.”

In speaking of beards, it may be noted that formerly they gave rise to
various customs. Thus, in Shakespeare’s day, dyeing beards was a
fashionable custom, and so Bottom, in “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (i.
2), is perplexed as to what beard he should wear when acting before the
duke. He says: “I will discharge it in either your straw-colour beard,
your orange-tawny beard, your purple-in-grain beard, or your
French-crown-colour beard, your perfect yellow.”[915]

    [915] See Jaques’s Description of the Seven Ages in “As You
    Like It,” (ii. 6).

To mutilate a beard in any way was considered an irreparable outrage, a
practice to which Hamlet refers (ii. 2):

    “Who calls me villain? breaks my pate across?
    Plucks off my beard, and blows it in my face?”

And in “King Lear” (iii. 7), Gloster exclaims:

    “By the kind gods, ’tis most ignobly done
    To pluck me by the beard.”

Stroking the beard before a person spoke was preparatory to favor. Hence
in “Troilus and Cressida” (i. 3), Ulysses, when describing how Achilles
asks Patroclus to imitate certain of their chiefs, represents him as

    “‘Now play me Nestor; hem, and stroke thy beard,
    As he, being drest to some oration.’”

Again, the phrase “to beard” meant to oppose face to face in a hostile
manner. Thus, in “1 Henry IV.” (iv. 1), Douglas declares:

    “No man so potent breathes upon the ground,
    But I will beard him.”

And in “1 Henry VI.” (i. 3), the Bishop of Winchester says to Gloster:

    “Do what thou dar’st; I’ll beard thee to thy face.”

It seems also to have been customary to swear by the beard, an allusion
to which is made by Touchstone in “As You Like It” (i. 2): “stroke your
chins, and swear by your beards that I am a knave.”

We may also compare what Nestor says in “Troilus and Cressida” (iv. 5):

    “By this white beard, I’d fight with thee to-morrow.”

Our ancestors paid great attention to the shape of their beards, certain
cuts being appropriated to certain professions and ranks. In “Henry V.”
(iii. 6), Gower speaks of “a beard of the general’s cut.” As Mr.
Staunton remarks, “Not the least odd among the fantastic fashions of our
forefathers was the custom of distinguishing certain professions and
classes by the cut of the beard; thus we hear, _inter alia_, of the
bishop’s beard, the judge’s beard, the soldier’s beard, the citizen’s
beard, and even the clown’s beard.” Randle Holme tells us, “The broad or
cathedral beard [is] so-called because bishops or gown-men of the church
anciently did wear such beards.” By the military man, the cut adopted
was known as the stiletto or spade. The beard of the citizen was usually
worn round, as Mrs. Quickly describes it in “Merry Wives of Windsor”
(i. 4), “like a glover’s paring-knife.” The clown’s beard was left bushy
or untrimmed. Malone quotes from an old ballad entitled “Le Prince d’
Amour,” 1660:

    “Next the clown doth out-rush
    With the beard of the bush.”

According to an old superstition, much hair on the head has been
supposed to indicate an absence of intellect, a notion referred to by
Antipholus of Syracuse, in the “Comedy of Errors” (ii. 2): “there’s many
a man hath more hair than wit.” In the “Two Gentlemen of Verona” (iii.
1), the same proverbial sentence is mentioned by Speed. Malone quotes
the following lines upon Suckling’s “Aglaura,” as an illustration of
this saying:[916]

    “This great voluminous pamphlet may be said
    To be like one that hath more hair than head;
    More excrement than body: trees which sprout
    With broadest leaves have still the smallest fruit.”

    [916] “Parnassus Biceps,” 1656.

Steevens gives an example from “Florio:” “A tisty-tosty wag-feather,
more haire than wit.”

Excessive fear has been said to cause the hair to stand on end: an
instance of which Shakespeare records in “Hamlet” (iii. 4), in that
celebrated passage where the Queen, being at a loss to understand her
son’s strange appearance during his conversation with the Ghost, which
is invisible to her, says:

    “And, as the sleeping soldiers in the alarm,
    Your bedded hair, like life in excrements,
    Starts up, and stands on end.”

A further instance occurs in “The Tempest” (i. 2), where Ariel,
describing the shipwreck, graphically relates how

                               “All, but mariners,
    Plunged in the foaming brine, and quit the vessel,
    Then all a-fire with me: the king’s son, Ferdinand,
    With hair up-staring—then like reeds, not hair—
    Was the first man that leap’d.”

Again, Macbeth says (i. 3):

         “why do I yield to that suggestion
    Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair?”

And further on he says (v. 5):

    “The time has been, my senses would have cool’d
    To hear a night-shriek; and my fell of hair
    Would at a dismal treatise rouse, and stir
    As life were in’t.”

In “2 Henry VI.” (iii. 2) it is referred to by Suffolk as a sign of

    “My hair be fix’d on end, as one distract.”

And, once more, in “Richard III.” (i. 3), Hastings declares:

    “My hair doth stand on end to hear her curses.”

Another popular notion mentioned by Shakespeare is, that sudden fright
or great sorrow will cause the hair to turn white. In “1 Henry IV.” (ii.
4), Falstaff, in his speech to Prince Henry, tells him: “thy father’s
beard is turned white with the news.”

Among the many instances recorded to establish the truth of this idea,
it is said that the hair and beard of the Duke of Brunswick whitened in
twenty-four hours upon his hearing that his father had been mortally
wounded in the battle of Auerstadt. Marie Antoinette, the unfortunate
queen of Louis XVI., found her hair suddenly changed by her troubles;
and a similar change happened to Charles I., when he attempted to escape
from Carisbrooke Castle. Mr. Timbs, in his “Doctors and Patients” (1876,
p. 201), says that “chemists have discovered that hair contains an oil,
a mucous substance, iron, oxide of manganese, phosphate and carbonate of
iron, flint, and a large proportion of sulphur. White hair contains also
phosphate of magnesia, and its oil is nearly colourless. When hair
becomes suddenly white from terror, it is probably owing to the sulphur
absorbing the oil, as in the operation of whitening woollen cloths.”

Hair was formerly used metaphorically for the color, complexion, or
nature of a thing. In “1 Henry IV.” (iv. 1), Worcester says:

          “I would your father had been here,
    The quality and hair of our attempt
    Brooks no division.”

In Beaumont and Fletcher’s “Nice Valour” it is so used:

    “A lady of my hair cannot want pitying.”

_Hands._ Various superstitions have, at different times, clustered round
the hand. Thus, in palmistry, a moist one is said to denote an amorous
constitution. In “Othello” (iii. 4) we have the following allusion to
this popular notion:

    “_Othello._ Give me your hand. This hand is moist, my lady.

    _Desdemona._ It yet has felt no age, nor known no sorrow.

    _Othello._ This argues fruitfulness, and liberal heart.”

Again, in “Antony and Cleopatra” (i. 2), Iras says: “There’s a palm
presages chastity;” whereupon Charmian adds: “If an oily palm be not a
fruitful prognostication, I cannot scratch mine ear.” And, in the
“Comedy of Errors” (iii. 2), Dromio of Syracuse speaks of barrenness as
“hard in the palm of the hand.”

A dry hand, however, has been supposed to denote age and debility. In “2
Henry IV.” (i. 2) the Lord Chief Justice enumerates this among the
characteristics of such a constitution.[917]

    [917] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. iii. p. 179.

In the “Merchant of Venice” (ii. 2), Launcelot, referring to the
language of palmistry, calls the hand “the table,” meaning thereby the
whole collection of lines on the skin within the hand: “Well, if any man
in Italy have a fairer table, which doth offer to swear upon a book, I
shall have good fortune.” He then alludes to one of the lines in the
hand, known as the “line of life:” “Go to, here’s a simple line of

In the “Two Noble Kinsmen” (iii. 5) palmistry is further mentioned:

    “_Gaoler’s Daughter._ Give me your hand.

    _Gerrold._                                  Why?

    _Gaoler’s Daughter._ I can tell your fortune.”

It was once supposed that little worms were bred in the fingers of idle
servants. To this notion Mercutio refers in “Romeo and Juliet” (i. 4),
where, in his description of Queen Mab, he says:

    “Her waggoner, a small grey-coated gnat,
    Not half so big as a round little worm
    Prick’d from the lazy finger of a maid.”

This notion is alluded to by John Banister, a famous surgeon in
Shakespeare’s day, in his “Compendious Chyrurgerie” (1585, p. 465): “We
commonly call them worms, which many women, sitting in the sunshine, can
cunningly picke out with needles, and are most common in the handes.”

A popular term formerly in use for the nails on the ten fingers was the
“ten commandments,” which, says Nares,[918] “doubtless led to the
swearing by them, as by the real commandments.” Thus, in “2 Henry VI.”
(i. 3), the Duchess of Gloster says to the queen:

    “Could I come near your beauty with my nails
    I’d set my ten commandments in your face.”

    [918] “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 871.

In the same way the fingers were also called the “ten bones,” as a
little further on in the same play, where Peter swears “by these ten

The phrase “of his hands” was equivalent to “of his inches, or of his
size, a hand being the measure of four inches.” So, in the “Merry Wives
of Windsor” (i. 4), Simple says: “Ay, forsooth: but he is as tall a man
of his hands as any is between this and his head,” “the expression being
used probably for the sake of a jocular equivocation in the word tall,
which meant either bold or high.”[919]

    [919] Ibid. vol. i. p. 402.

Again, in the “Winter’s Tale” (v. 2), the Clown tells the Shepherd:
“I’ll swear to the prince, thou art a tall fellow of thy hands, and that
thou wilt not be drunk; but I know thou art no tall fellow of thy hands,
and that thou wilt be drunk; but I’ll swear it, and I would thou wouldst
be a tall fellow of thy hands.”

A proverbial phrase for being tall from necessity was “to blow the
nail.” In “3 Henry VI.” (ii. 5) the king says:

    “When dying clouds contend with growing light,
    What time the shepherd, blowing of his nails,
    Can neither call it perfect day, nor night.”

It occurs in the song at the end of “Love’s Labour’s Lost:”

    “And Dick the shepherd blows his nail.”

“To bite the thumb” at a person implied an insult; hence, in “Romeo and
Juliet” (i. 1), Sampson says: “I will bite my thumb at them; which is a
disgrace to them, if they bear it.”

The thumb, in this action, we are told, “represented a fig, and the
whole was equivalent to a _fig_ for you.”[920] Decker, in his “Dead
Term” (1608), speaking of the various groups that daily frequented St.
Paul’s Church, says: “What swearing is there, what shouldering, what
justling, what jeering, what byting of thumbs, to beget quarrels?”

    [920] See page 218.

_Hare-lip._ A cleft lip, so called from its supposed resemblance to the
upper lip of a hare. It was popularly believed to be the mischievous act
of an elf or malicious fairy. So, in “King Lear” (iii. 4), Edgar says of
Gloster: “This is the foul fiend Flibbertigibbet: he ... squints the
eye, and makes the hare-lip.” In “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (v. 2),
Oberon, in blessing the bridal-bed of Theseus and Hippolyta, says:

    “Never mole, hare-lip, nor scar,

       *       *       *       *       *

    Shall upon their children be.”

The expression “hang the lip” meant to drop the lip in sullenness or
contempt. Thus, in “Troilus and Cressida” (iii. 1), Helen explains why
her brother Troilus is not abroad by saying: “He hangs the lip at
something.” We may compare, too, the words in “1 Henry IV.” (ii. 4): “a
foolish hanging of thy nether lip.”

_Head._ According to the old writers on physiognomy, a round head
denoted foolishness, a notion to which reference is made in “Antony and
Cleopatra” (iii. 3), in the following dialogue, where Cleopatra,
inquiring about Octavia, says to the Messenger:

    “Bear’st thou her face in mind? Is’t long, or round?

    _Messenger._ Round, even to faultiness.

    _Cleopatra._ For the most part, too, they are foolish that are so.”

In Hill’s “Pleasant History,” etc. (1613), we read: “The head very
round, to be forgetful and foolish.” Again: “The head long, to be
prudent and wary.”

_Heart._ The term “broken heart,” as commonly applied to death from
excessive grief, is not a vulgar error, but may arise from violent
muscular exertion or strong mental emotions. In “Macbeth” (iv. 3),
Malcolm says:

                   “The grief, that does not speak,
    Whispers the o’er-fraught heart, and bids it break.”

We may compare, too, Queen Margaret’s words to Buckingham, in “Richard
III.” (i. 3), where she prophesies how Gloster

    “Shall split thy very heart with sorrow.”

Mr. Timbs, in his “Mysteries of Life, Death, and Futurity” (1861, p.
149), has given the following note on the subject: “This affection was,
it is believed, first described by Harvey; but since his day several
cases have been observed. Morgagni has recorded a few examples: among
them, that of George II., who died suddenly of this disease in 1760;
and, what is very curious, Morgagni himself fell a victim to the same
malady. Dr. Elliotson, in his Lumleyan Lectures on Diseases of the
Heart, in 1839, stated that he had only seen one instance; but in the
‘Cyclopædia of Practical Medicine’ Dr. Townsend gives a table of
twenty-five cases, collected from various authors.”

In olden times the heart was esteemed the seat of the understanding.
Hence, in “Coriolanus” (i. 1), the Citizen speaks of “the counsellor
heart.” With the ancients, also, the heart was considered the seat of
courage, to which Shakespeare refers in “Julius Cæsar” (ii. 2):

      “_Servant._ Plucking the entrails of an offering forth,
    They could not find a heart within the beast.

      _Cæsar._ The gods do this in shame of cowardice:
    Cæsar should be a beast without a heart,
    If he should stay at home to-day for fear.”

_Liver._ By a popular notion, the liver was anciently supposed to be the
seat of love, a superstition to which Shakespeare frequently alludes.
Thus, in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (iv. 3), Biron, after listening to
Longaville’s sonnet, remarks:

    “This is the liver vein, which makes flesh a deity,
    A green goose, a goddess; pure, pure idolatry.”

In “Much Ado About Nothing” (iv. 1), Friar Francis says:

    “If ever love had interest in his liver.”

Again, in “As You Like It” (iii. 2), Rosalind, professing to be able to
cure love, which, he says, is “merely a madness,” says to Orlando, “will
I take upon me to wash your liver as clean as a sound sheep’s heart,
that there shall not be one spot of love in’t.” In “Twelfth Night” (ii.
4), the Duke, speaking of women’s love, says:

           “Their love may be call’d appetite,
    No motion of the liver, but the palate,” etc.

And Fabian (ii. 5), alluding to Olivia’s supposed letter to Malvolio,
says: “This wins him, liver and all.”

Once more, in “Merry Wives of Windsor” (ii. 1), Pistol alludes to the
liver as being the inspirer of amorous passions, for, speaking of
Falstaff, he refers to his loving Ford’s wife “with liver burning
hot.”[921] Douce says, “there is some reason for thinking that this
superstition was borrowed from the Arabian physicians, or at least
adopted by them; for, in the Turkish tales, an amorous tailor is made to
address his wife by the titles of ‘thou corner of my liver, and soul of
my love;’ and, in another place, the King of Syria, who had sustained a
temporary privation of his mistress, is said to have had ‘his liver,
which had been burnt up by the loss of her, cooled and refreshed at the
sight of her.’”[922] According to an old Latin distich:

    “Cor sapit, pulmo loquitur, fel commoret iras
    Splen ridere facit, cogit amare jecur.”

    [921] Cf. “Antony and Cleopatra” (i. 2):

        “_Soothsayer._ You shall be more beloving, than belov’d.

         _Charmian._ I had rather heat my liver with drinking.”

    [922] “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” 1839, pp. 38, 39.

Bartholomæus, in his “De Proprietatibus Rerum” (lib. v. 39), informs us
that “the liver is the place of voluptuousness and lyking of the flesh.”

_Moles._ These have, from time immemorial, been regarded as ominous, and
special attention has been paid by the superstitious to their position
on the body.[923] In “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (v. 1), a mole on a
child is spoken of by Oberon as a bad omen, who, speaking of the three
couples who had lately been married, says:

    “And the blots of Nature’s hand
    Shall not in their issue stand;
    Never mole, hare-lip, nor scar,
    Nor mark prodigious, such as are
    Despised in nativity,
    Shall upon their children be.”

    [923] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. iii. pp. 252-255.

Iachimo (“Cymbeline,” ii. 2) represents Imogen as having

                       “On her left breast
    A mole cinque-spotted, like the crimson drops
    I’ the bottom of a cowslip.”

And we may also compare the words of Cymbeline (v. 5):

                           “Guiderius had
    Upon his neck a mole, a sanguine star;
    It was a mark of wonder.”

_Spleen._ This was once supposed to be the cause of laughter, a notion
probably referred to by Isabella in “Measure for Measure” (ii. 2),
where, telling how the angels weep over the follies of men, she adds:

               “who, with our spleens,
    Would all themselves laugh mortal.”

In “Taming of the Shrew” (Induction, sc. i.), the Lord says:

                        “haply my presence
    May well abate the over-merry spleen,
    Which otherwise would grow into extremes.”

And Maria says to Sir Toby, in “Twelfth Night” (iii. 2): “If you desire
the spleen, and will laugh yourselves into stitches, follow me.”

_Wits._ With our early writers, the five senses were usually called the
“five wits.” So, in “Much Ado About Nothing” (i. 1), Beatrice says: “In
our last conflict four of his five wits went halting off, and now is the
whole man governed with one.” In Sonnet cxli., Shakespeare makes a
distinction between wits and senses:

    “But my five wits, nor my five senses can
    Dissuade one foolish heart from serving thee.”

The five wits, says Staunton, are “common wit, imagination, fantasy,
estimation, memory.” Johnson says, the “wits seem to have been reckoned
five, by analogy to the five senses, or the five inlets of ideas.” In
“King Lear” (iii. 4) we find the expression, “Bless thy five wits.”

According to a curious fancy, eating beef was supposed to impair the
intellect, to which notion Shakespeare has several allusions. Thus, in
“Twelfth Night” (i. 3), Sir Andrew says: “Methinks sometimes I have no
more wit than a Christian, or an ordinary man has: but I am a great
eater of beef, and I believe that does harm to my wit.” In “Troilus and
Cressida” (ii. 1), Thersites says to Ajax: “The plague of Greece upon
thee, thou mongrel beef-witted lord!”



Although it has been suggested that Shakespeare found but little
recreation in fishing,[924] rather considering, as he makes Ursula say,
in “Much Ado About Nothing” (iii. 1):

    “The pleasant’st angling is to see the fish
    Cut with her golden oars the silver stream,
    And greedily devour the treacherous bait,”

and that it would be difficult to illustrate a work on angling with
quotations from his writings, the Rev. H. N. Ellacombe, in his
interesting papers[925] on “Shakespeare as an Angler,” has not only
shown the strong probability that he was a lover of this sport, but
further adds, that “he may be claimed as the first English poet that
wrote of angling with any freedom; and there can be little doubt that he
would not have done so if the subject had not been very familiar to
him—so familiar, that he could scarcely write without dropping the
little hints and unconscious expressions which prove that the subject
was not only familiar, but full of pleasant memories to him.” His
allusions, however, to the folk-lore associated with fishes are very
few; but the two or three popular notions and proverbial sayings which
he has quoted in connection with them help to embellish this part of our

    [924] See Harting’s “Ornithology of Shakespeare,” 1871, p. 3.

    [925] “The Antiquary,” 1881, vol. iv. p. 193.

_Carp._ This fish was, proverbially, the most cunning of fishes, and so
“Polonius’s comparison of his own worldly-wise deceit to the craft
required for catching a carp” is most apt (“Hamlet,” ii. 1):[926]

    “See you now;
    Your bait of falsehood takes this carp of truth.”

    [926] Ibid.

This notion is founded on fact, the brain of the carp being six times as
large as the average brain of other fishes.

_Cockle._ The badge of a pilgrim was, formerly, a cockle-shell, which
was worn usually in the front of the hat. “The habit,” we are told,[927]
“being sacred, this served as a protection, and therefore was often
assumed as a disguise.” The _escalop_ was sometimes used, and either of
them was considered as an emblem of the pilgrim’s intention to go beyond
the sea. Thus, in Ophelia’s ballad (“Hamlet,” iv. 5, song), the lover is
to be known:

    “By his cockle hat and staff,
    And his sandal shoon.”

    [927] Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 175.

In Peele’s “Old Wives’ Tale,” 1595, we read, “I will give thee a
palmer’s staff of ivory, and a scallop-shell of beaten gold.” Nares,
too, quotes from Green’s “Never Too Late” an account of the pilgrim’s

    “A hat of straw, like to a swain,
    Shelter for the sun and rain,
    With a scallop-shell before.”

_Cuttle._ A foul-mouthed fellow was so called, says Mr.
Halliwell-Phillipps,[928] because this fish is said to throw out of its
mouth, upon certain occasions, an inky and black juice that fouls the
water; and, as an illustration of its use in this sense, he quotes Doll
Tearsheet’s words to Pistol, “2 Henry IV.” ii. 4: “By this wine, I’ll
thrust my knife in your mouldy chaps, an you play the saucy cuttle with
me.” Dyce says that the context would seem to imply that the term is
equivalent to “culter, swaggerer, bully.”[929]

    [928] “Handbook Index to the Works of Shakespeare,” 1866, p. 119.

    [929] See a note in Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 112.

_Gudgeon._ This being the bait for many of the larger fish, “to swallow
a gudgeon” was sometimes used for to be caught or deceived. More
commonly, however, the allusion is to the ease with which the gudgeon
itself is caught, as in the “Merchant of Venice” (i. 1), where Gratiano

    “But fish not, with this melancholy bait,
    For this fool-gudgeon.”

_Gurnet._ The phrase “soused gurnet” was formerly a well-known term of
reproach, in allusion to which Falstaff, in “1 Henry IV.” (iv. 2), says,
“If I be not ashamed of my soldiers, I am a soused gurnet.” The gurnet,
of which there are several species, was probably thought a very coarse
and vulgar dish when soused or pickled.

_Loach._ A small fish, known also as “the groundling.” The allusion to
it by one of the carriers, in “1 Henry IV.” (ii. 1), who says, “Your
chamber-lie breeds fleas like a loach,” has much puzzled the
commentators. It appears, however, from a passage in Holland’s
translation of Pliny’s “Natural History” (bk. ix. c. xlvii.), that
anciently fishes were supposed to be infested with fleas: “Last of all
some fishes there be which of themselves are given to breed fleas and
lice; among which the chalcis, a kind of turgot, is one.” Malone
suggests that the passage may mean, “breeds fleas as fast as a loach
breeds loaches;” this fish being reckoned a peculiarly prolific one. It
seems probable, however, that the carrier alludes to one of those
fanciful notions which make up a great part of natural history among the
common people.[930] At the present day there is a fisherman’s fancy on
the Norfolk coast that fish and fleas come together. “Lawk, sir!” said
an old fellow, near Cromer, to a correspondent of “Notes and Queries”
(Oct. 7th, 1865), “times is as you may look in my flannel-shirt, and
scarce see a flea, and then there ain’t but a very few herrin’s; but
times that’ll be right alive with ’em, and then there’s sartin to be a
sight o’ fish.”

    [930] Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 518.

Mr. Houghton, writing in the _Academy_ (May 27th, 1882) thinks that in
the above passage the small river loach (_Cobitis barbatula_) is the
fish intended. He says, “At certain times of the year, chiefly during
the summer months, almost all fresh-water fish are liable to be
infested with some kind of Epizoa. There are two kinds of parasitic
creatures which are most commonly seen on various fish caught in the
rivers and ponds of this country; and these are the _Argulus foliaccus_,
a crustacean, and the _Piscicola piscium_, a small, cylindrical kind of

_Mermaids._ From the earliest ages mermaids have had a legendary
existence—the sirens of the ancients evidently belonging to the same
remarkable family. The orthodox mermaid is half woman, half fish, the
fishy half being sometimes depicted as _doubly_-tailed. Shakespeare
frequently makes his characters talk about mermaids, as in the “Comedy
of Errors” (iii. 2), where Antipholus of Syracuse says:

    “O, train me not, sweet mermaid, with thy note,
      To drown me in thy sister’s flood of tears;
    Sing, siren, for thyself, and I will dote:
      Spread o’er the silver waves thy golden hairs,
    And as a bed I’ll take them and there lie,
      And, in that glorious supposition, think
    He gains by death, that hath such means to die.”

And, again, further on, he adds:

    “I’ll stop mine ears against the mermaid’s song.”

Staunton considers that in these passages the allusion is obviously to
the long-current opinion that the siren, or mermaid, decoyed mortals to
destruction by the witchery of her songs. This superstition has been
charmingly illustrated by Leyden, in his poem, “The Mermaid” (see
Scott’s “Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border,” vol. iv. p. 294):

    “Thus, all to soothe the chieftain’s woe,
      Far from the maid he loved so dear,
    The song arose, so soft and slow,
      He seem’d her parting sigh to hear.

       *       *       *       *       *

    That sea-maid’s form of pearly light
      Was whiter than the downy spray,
    And round her bosom, heaving bright,
      Her glossy, yellow ringlets play.

    Borne on a foaming, crested wave,
      She reached amain the bounding prow,
    Then, clasping fast the chieftain brave,
      She, plunging, sought the deep below.”

This tradition gave rise to a curious custom in the Isle of Man, which,
in Waldron’s time, was observed on the 24th of December, though
afterwards on St. Stephen’s Day. It is said that, once upon a time, a
fairy of uncommon beauty exerted such undue influence over the male
population that she induced, by the enchantment of her sweet voice,
numbers to follow her footsteps, till, by degrees, she led them into the
sea, where they perished. This barbarous exercise of power had continued
for a great length of time, till it was apprehended that the island
would be exhausted of its defenders. Fortunately, however, a
knight-errant sprang up, who discovered a means of counteracting the
charms used by this siren—even laying a plot for her destruction, which
she only escaped by taking the form of a wren. Although she evaded
instant annihilation, a spell was cast upon her, by which she was
condemned, on every succeeding New Year’s Day, to reanimate the same
form, with the definite sentence that she must ultimately perish by
human hand. Hence, on the specified anniversary, every effort was made
to extirpate the fairy; and the poor wrens were pursued, pelted, fired
at, and destroyed without mercy, their feathers being preserved as a
charm against shipwreck for one year. At the present day there is no
particular time for pursuing the wren; it is captured by boys alone, who
keep up the old custom chiefly for amusement. On St. Stephen’s Day, a
band of boys go from door to door with a wren suspended by the legs, in
the centre of two hoops crossing each other at right angles, decorated
with evergreens and ribbons, singing lines called “Hunt the Wren.”[931]

    [931] See “British Popular Customs,” pp. 494, 495.

In “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (ii. 1), Oberon speaks of hearing “a
mermaid on a dolphin’s back;” and in “Hamlet,” the Queen, referring to
Ophelia’s death, says (iv. 7):

                    “Her clothes spread wide;
    And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up.”

In two other passages Shakespeare alludes to this legendary creature.
Thus, in “3 Henry VI.” (iii. 2) Gloster boasts that he will “drown more
sailors than the mermaid shall,” and in “Antony and Cleopatra” (ii. 2),
Enobarbus relates how

    “Her gentlewomen, like the Nereides,
    So many mermaids, tended her i’ the eyes,
    And made their bends adornings: at the helm
    A seeming mermaid steers.”

In all these cases Shakespeare,[932] as was his wont, made his
characters say what they were likely to think, in their several
positions and periods of life. It has been suggested,[933] however, that
the idea of the mermaid, in some of the passages just quoted, seems more
applicable to the siren, especially in “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream,”
where the “mermaid on a dolphin’s back” could not easily have been so
placed, had she had a fish-like tail instead of legs.

    [932] See “Book of Days,” vol. ii. pp. 612-614.

    [933] Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 565; see Brand’s “Pop.
    Antiq.,” 1849, vol. iii. pp. 411-414.

Notices of mermaids are scattered abundantly in books of bygone times.
Mermen and mermaids, men of the sea, and women of the sea, having been
as “stoutly believed in as the great sea-serpent, and on very much the
same kind of evidence.” Holinshed gives a detailed account of a merman
caught at Orford, in Suffolk, in the reign of King John. He was kept
alive on raw meal and fish for six months, but at last “gledde
secretelye to the sea, and was neuer after seene nor heard off.” Even in
modern times we are told how, every now and then, a mermaid has made her
appearance. Thus, in the _Gentleman’s Magazine_ (Jan., 1747), we read:
“It is reported from the north of Scotland that some time this month a
sea creature, known by the name of mermaid, which has the shape of a
human body from the trunk upwards, but below is wholly fish, was
carried some miles up the water of Dévron.” In 1824 a mermaid or merman
made its appearance, when, as the papers of that day inform us, “upwards
of 150 distinguished fashionables” went to see it.

The “Mermaid” was a famous tavern, situated in Bread Street.[934] As
early as the fifteenth century, we are told it was one of the haunts of
the pleasure-seeking Sir John Howard, whose trusty steward records, anno
1464: “Paid for wyn at the Mermayd in Bred Street, for my mastyr and Syr
Nicholas Latimer, xd. ob.” In 1603 Sir Walter Raleigh established a
Literary Club in this house, among its members being Shakespeare, Ben
Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher, Selden, Carew, Martin, Donne, etc. It is
often alluded to by Beaumont and Fletcher.

    [934] “History of Sign-boards,” 1866, p. 226.

_Minnow._ This little fish, from its insignificant character, is used by
“Coriolanus” (iii. 1) as a term of contempt: “Hear you this Triton of
the minnows?” and, again, in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (i. 1), it occurs:
“‘that base minnow of thy mirth.’”

_Pike._ An old name for this fish was _luce_. In the “Merry Wives of
Windsor” (i. 1) we are told that “The luce is the fresh fish.” There can
be no doubt, too, that there is in this passage an allusion to the
armorial bearings of Shakespeare’s old enemy, Sir Thomas Lucy. Among the
various instances of the use of this term we may quote Isaac Walton, who
says: “The mighty luce or pike is taken to be the tyrant, as the salmon
is the king, of the fresh waters.” Stow, in his “Survey of London,”
describes a procession of the Fishmongers’ Company in 1298, as having
horses painted like _sea-luce_: “Then four salmons of silver on foure
horses, and after them sixe and fortie armed knightes riding on horses
made like _luces of the sea_.”

_Porpoise._ According to sailors, the playing of porpoises round a ship
is a certain prognostic of a violent gale of wind; hence the allusion in
“Pericles” (ii. 1), where one of the fishermen says, speaking of the
storm: “Nay, master, said not I as much, when I saw the porpus, how he
bounced and tumbled?” Thus, too, in the “Canterbury Guests, or a Bargain
Broken,” by Ravenscroft, we read: “My heart begins to leap and play,
like a porpice before a storm.” And a further reference occurs in
Wilsford’s “Nature’s Secrets:” “Porpoises, or sea-hogs, when observed to
sport and chase one another about ships, expect then some stormy

_Sea-monster._ The reference in “King Lear” (i. 4), to the

    “Ingratitude, thou marble-hearted fiend,
    More hideous, when thou show’st thee in a child,
    Than the sea-monster!”—

is generally supposed to be the hippopotamus, which, according to Upton,
was the hieroglyphical symbol of impiety and ingratitude.[935]
Sandys[936] gives a picture said to be portrayed in the porch of the
temple of Minerva, at Sais, in which is the figure of a river-horse,
denoting “murder, impudence, violence, and injustice; for they say that
he killeth his sire and ravisheth his own dam.” His account is, no
doubt, taken from Plutarch’s “Isis and Osiris;” and Shakespeare may have
read it in Holland’s translation (p. 1300), but why he should call the
river-horse a “sea-monster” is not very clear. It is more likely,
however, that the whale is meant.[937]

    [935] Wright’s “Notes to King Lear,” 1877, p. 133.

    [936] “Travels,” 1673, p. 105.

    [937] Cf. “King Lear,” iv. 2; “Troilus and Cressida,” v. 5;
    “All’s Well that End’s Well,” iv. 3.



_Almanacs._ In Shakespeare’s day these were published under this title:
“An Almanack and Prognostication made for the year of our Lord God,
1595.” So, in the “Winter’s Tale” (iv. 3), Autolycus says: “the hottest
day prognostication proclaims;” that is, the hottest day foretold in the
almanac. In Sonnet xiv. the prognostications in almanacs are also

    “Not from the stars do I my judgment pluck;
    And yet methinks I have astronomy,
    But not to tell of good or evil luck,
    Of plagues, of dearths, or season’s quality;
    Nor can I fortune to brief minutes tell,
    Pointing to each his thunder, rain, and wind:
    Or say with princes if it shall go well,
    By oft predict that I in heaven find.”

In “Antony and Cleopatra” (i. 2) Enobarbus says: “They are greater
storms and tempests than almanacs can report;” and in “2 Henry IV.” (ii.
4), Prince Henry says: “Saturn and Venus this year in conjunction! what
says the almanac to that?”

_Amulets._ A belief in the efficacy of an amulet or charm to ward off
diseases and to avert contagion has prevailed from a very early period.
The use of amulets was common among the Greeks and Romans, whose amulets
were principally formed of gems, crowns of pearls, necklaces of coral,
shells, etc. The amulet of modern times has been of the most varied
kinds; objects being selected either from the animal, vegetable, or
mineral kingdom, pieces of old rags or garments, scraps of writing in
legible or illegible characters, in fact, of anything to which any
superstitious property has been considered to belong.[938] This form of
superstition is noticed in “1 Henry VI.” (v. 3), in the scene laid at
Angiers, where La Pucelle exclaims:

    “The regent conquers, and the Frenchmen fly.
    Now help, ye charming spells and periapts”

—periapts being charms which were worn as preservatives against diseases
or mischief. Thus Cotgrave[939] explains the word as “a medicine hanged
about any part of the bodie.”

    [938] Pettigrew’s “Medical Superstitions,” p. 48.

    [939] “French and English Dictionary;” see Dyce’s “Glossary to
    Shakespeare,” p. 316; Nares describes it as “a bandage, tied on
    for magical purposes, from περιάπτω;” see Brand’s “Pop.
    Antiq.,” 1849, vol. iii. pp. 324-326; Douce’s “Illustrations of
    Shakespeare,” 1839, pp. 305-307.

_Ceremonies._ These, says Malone, were “omens or signs deduced from
sacrifices or other ceremonial rites.” Thus, in “Julius Cæsar” (ii. 1),
Cassius says of Cæsar, that—

              “he is superstitious grown of late,
    Quite from the main opinion he held once
    Of fantasy, of dreams, and ceremonies.”

And in the next scene Calpurnia adds:

    “Cæsar, I never stood on ceremonies,
    Yet now they fright me.”

_Charms._ These, as Mr. Pettigrew[940] has pointed out, differ little
from amulets, the difference consisting in the manner in which they are
used rather than in their nature. Thus, whereas the amulet was to be
suspended on the person when employed, the charm was not necessarily
subjected to such a method of application. In days gone by, and even at
the present day, in country districts, so universal has been the use of
this source of supposed magical power that there is scarcely a disease
for which a charm has not been given. It is not only to diseases of body
and mind that the superstitious practice has been directed; having been
in popular request to avert evil, and to counteract supposed malignant
influences. As might be expected, Shakespeare has given various
allusions to this usage, as, for example, in “Cymbeline” (v. 3), where
Posthumus says:

    “To day, how many would have given their honours
    To have sav’d their carcases! took heel to do’t,
    And yet died too! I, in mine own woe charm’d,
    Could not find death where I did hear him groan,
    Nor feel him where he struck”

—this passage referring to the notion of certain charms being powerful
enough to keep men unhurt in battle.

    [940] “Medical Superstitions,” p. 55.

Othello (iii. 4), speaking of the handkerchief which he had given to
Desdemona, relates:

    “That handkerchief
    Did an Egyptian to my mother give;
    She was a charmer, and could almost read
    The thoughts of people.”

And in the same play (i. 1), Brabantio asks:

                      “Is there not charms,
    By which the property of youth and maidhood
    May be abus’d?”

Again, in “Much Ado About Nothing” (iii. 2), Benedick, who is
represented as having the toothache, after listening to the banter of
his comrades, replies: “Yet is this no charm for the toothache.”

Perfect silence seems to have been regarded as indispensable for the
success of any charm; and Pliny informs us that “favete linguis” was the
usual exclamation employed on such an occasion. From this circumstance
it has been suggested that the well-known phrase “to charm a tongue” may
have originated. Thus we have the following dialogue in “Othello” (v.

    “_Iago._                      Go to, charm your tongue.

    _Emilia._ I will not charm my tongue; I am bound to speak.”

Thus, on the appearance, amid thunder, of the first apparition to
Macbeth, after the witches have performed certain charms (iv. 1),
Shakespeare introduces the following dialogue:

    “_Macbeth._ Tell me, thou unknown power—

    _First Witch._             He knows thy thought:
    Hear his speech, but say thou nought.”

Again, in “The Tempest” (iv. 1), Prospero says:

                            “hush, and be mute,
    Or else our spell is marr’d.”

_Metrical Charms._ There was a superstition long prevalent that life
might be taken away by metrical charms.[941] Reginald Scot, in his
“Discovery of Witchcraft” (1584), says: “The Irishmen addict themselves,
etc.; yea, they will not sticke to affirme that they can _rime_ a man to
death.” In “1 Henry VI.” (i. 1), the Duke of Exeter, referring to the
lamented death of Henry V., says:

      “Shall we think the subtle-witted French
    Conjurers and sorcerers, that, afraid of him,
    By magic verses have contrived his end?”

    [941] See, under _Rat_, a similar superstition noticed.

These “magic verses,” to which the death of Henry V. is here attributed,
were not required to be uttered in his presence; their deadly energy
existing solely in the words of the imprecation and the malevolence of
the reciter, which were supposed to render them effectual at any

Again, the alphabet was called the Christ-cross-row; either because a
cross was prefixed to the alphabet in the old primers, or, more
probably, from a superstitious custom of writing the alphabet in the
form of a cross by way of a charm. In “Richard III.” (i. 1), Clarence
relates how King Edward—

    “Hearkens after prophecies and dreams;
    And from the cross-row plucks the letter G.”

_Dreams._ These, considered as prognostics of good or evil, are
frequently introduced by Shakespeare. In “Troilus and Cressida” (v. 3),
Andromache exclaims:

    “My dreams will, sure, prove ominous to the day.”

While Romeo (“Romeo and Juliet,” v. 1) declares:

    “My dreams presage some joyful news at hand.”

It is chiefly as precursors of misfortune that the poet has availed
himself of their supposed influence as omens of future fate. Thus, there
are few passages in his dramas more terrific than the dreams of Richard
III. and Clarence; the latter especially, as Mr. Drake says,[942] “is
replete with the most fearful imagery, and makes the blood run chill
with horror.”

    [942] “Shakespeare and his Times,” p. 355.

Dreaming of certain things has generally been supposed to be ominous
either of good or ill luck;[943] and at the present day the credulous
pay oftentimes no small attention to their dreams, should these happen
to have referred to what they consider unlucky things. In the same way
Shylock, in the “Merchant of Venice” (ii. 5), is a victim to much
superstitious dread:

                       “Jessica, my girl,
    Look to my house. I am right loath to go:
    There is some ill a brewing towards my rest,
    For I did dream of money-bags to-night.”

    [943] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. iii. pp. 127-141.

In “Julius Cæsar,” dreaming of banquet is supposed to presage

It was also supposed that malicious spirits took advantage of sleep to
torment their victims;[944] hence Macbeth (ii. 1) exclaims:

                             “Merciful powers,
    Restrain in me the cursed thoughts that nature
    Gives way to in repose!”[945]

    [944] See p. 283.

    [945] See Malone’s “Variorum Shakespeare,” 1821, vol. ii. p. 90.

_Duels._ The death of the vanquished person was always considered a
certain evidence of his guilt. Thus, in “2 Henry VI.” (ii. 3), King
Henry, speaking of the death of Horner in the duel with Peter,

    “Go, take hence that traitor from our sight;
    For, by his death, we do perceive his guilt:
    And God in justice hath reveal’d to us
    The truth and innocence of this poor fellow,
    Which he had thought to have murder’d wrongfully.—
    Come, fellow, follow us for thy reward.”

    [946] See Singer’s “Shakespeare,” vol. vi. p. 167.

We may also compare what Arcite says to Palamon in the “Two Noble
Kinsmen” (iii. 6):

    “If I fall, curse me, and say I was a coward;
    For none but such dare die in these just trials.”

Among the customs connected with duelling, it appears that, according to
an old law, knights were to fight with the lance and the sword, as those
of inferior rank fought with an ebon staff or baton, to the farther end
of which was fixed a bag crammed hard with sand.[947] Thus Shakespeare,
in “2 Henry VI.” (ii. 3), represents Horner entering “bearing his staff
with a sand-bag fastened to it.” Butler, in his “Hudibras,” alludes to
this custom:

    “Engag’d with money-bags, as bold
    As men with sand-bags did of old.”

    [947] See Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 765.

Steevens adds that “a passage in St. Chrysostom very clearly proves the
great antiquity of this practice.”

_Fortune-tellers._ A common method of fortune-tellers, in pretending to
tell future events, was by means of a beryl or glass. In an extract from
the “Penal Laws against Witches,” it is said, “they do answer either by
voice, or else set before their eyes, in glasses, chrystal stones, etc.,
the pictures or images of the persons or things sought for.” It is to
this kind of juggling prophecy that Angelo, in “Measure for Measure”
(ii. 2), refers, when he tells how the law—

                               “like a prophet,
    Looks in a glass, that shows what future evils,
    Either new, or by remissness new-conceiv’d.”

Again, Macbeth (iv. 1), when “a show of eight kings” is presented to
him, exclaims, after witnessing the seventh:

                           “I’ll see no more:—
    And yet the eighth appears, who bears a glass,
    Which shows me many more.”

Spenser[948] has given a circumstantial account of the glass which
Merlin made for King Ryence. A mirror of the same kind was presented to
Cambuscan, in the “Squier’s Tale” of Chaucer; and we are also told how
“a certain philosopher did the like to Pompey, the which showed him in a
glass the order of his enemies’ march.”[949] Brand, in his “Popular
Antiquities,”[950] gives several interesting accounts of this method of
fortune-telling; and quotes the following from Vallancey’s “Collectanea
de Rebus Hibernicis:” “In the Highlands of Scotland, a large chrystal,
of a figure somewhat oval, was kept by the priests to work charms by;
water poured upon it at this day is given to cattle against diseases;
these stones are now preserved by the oldest and most superstitious in
the country; they were once common in Ireland.”

    [948] “Fairy Queen,” bk. iii. c. 2; see Singer’s “Shakespeare,”
    vol. ix. p. 82.

    [949] Boisteau’s “Theatrum Mundi,” translated by John Alday (1574).

    [950] 1849, vol. iii. pp. 60, 61.

Further allusions to fortune-tellers occur in “Comedy of Errors” (v. 1),
and “Merry Wives of Windsor” (iv. 2).

It appears, too, that the trade of fortune-telling was, in Shakespeare’s
day, as now, exercised by the wandering hordes of gypsies. In “Antony
and Cleopatra” (iv. 12), the Roman complains that Cleopatra

    “Like a right gipsy, hath, at fast and loose,
    Beguil’d me to the very heart of loss.”

_Giants._ The belief in giants and other monsters was much credited in
olden times, and, “among the legends of nearly every race or tribe, few
are more universal than those relating to giants or men of colossal size
and superhuman power.”[951] That such stories were current in
Shakespeare’s day, is attested by the fact that the poet makes Othello
(i. 3), in his eloquent defence before the Senate of Venice, when
explaining his method of courtship, allude to

           “the Cannibals that each other eat,
    The Anthropophagi, and men whose heads
    Do grow beneath their shoulders.”

    [951] See Hardwick’s “Traditions, Superstitions, and
    Folk-Lore,” 1872, pp. 197, 224.

In “The Tempest” (iii. 3), Gonzalo relates how—

                            “When we were boys,
    Who would believe that there were mountaineers
    Dew-lapp’d like bulls, whose throats had hanging at ’em
    Wallets of flesh? or that there were such men,
    Whose heads stood in their breasts?”

And after the appearance of Prospero’s magic repast, Sebastian says:

                          “Now I will believe
    That there are unicorns; that in Arabia
    There is one tree, the phœnix’ throne; one phœnix
    At this hour reigning there.”

Among the numerous references to giants by Shakespeare, we may quote the
following. In “2 Henry VI.” (ii. 3), Horner says: “Peter, have at thee
with a downright blow [as Bevis of Southampton fell upon

    [952] The addition in brackets is rejected by the editors of
    the Globe edition.

Ascapart, according to the legend, was “ful thyrty fote longe,” and was
conquered by Sir Bevis of Southampton.

In “Cymbeline” (iii 3), Belarius says:

                    “the gates of monarchs
    Are arch’d so high, that giants may jet through
    And keep their impious turbans on, without
    Good morrow to the sun.”

In the “Merry Wives of Windsor” (ii. 1), Mrs. Page says: “I had rather
be a giantess, and lie under Mount Pelion.”[953]

    [953] Cf. “Measure for Measure,” ii. 2, iii. 1; “Much Ado About
    Nothing,” v. 1; “Loves Labour’s Lost,” iii. 1.

_Lucky Days._ From the most remote period certain days have been
supposed to be just as lucky as others are the reverse, a notion which
is not confined to any one country. In Shakespeare’s day great attention
was paid to this superstitious fancy, which is probably alluded to in
the “Winter’s Tale” (iii. 3), where the Shepherd says to the Clown,
“’Tis a lucky day, boy; and we’ll do good deeds on’t.”

In “King John” (iii. 1) Constance exclaims:

    “What hath this day deserv’d? what hath it done,
    That it in golden letters should be set
    Among the high tides in the calendar?
    Nay, rather turn this day out of the week,
    This day of shame, oppression, perjury:
    Or, if it must stand still, let wives with child
    Pray that their burthens may not fall this day,
    Lest that their hopes prodigiously be cross’d:
    But on this day let seamen fear no wreck;
    No bargains break that are not this day made:
    This day, all things begun come to ill end,
    Yea, faith itself to hollow falsehood change!”

Again, Macbeth (iv. 1) says:

                  “Let this pernicious hour
    Stand aye accursed in the calendar!”

In the old almanacs the days supposed to be favorable or unfavorable are
enumerated, allusion to which occurs in Webster’s “Duchess of Malfy,”

    “By the almanack, I think,
    To choose good days and shun the critical.”

At the present day this superstition still retains its hold on the
popular mind, and in the transactions of life exerts an important

    [954] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1879, vol. i. pp. 44-51;
    Jones’s “Credulities Past and Present,” pp. 493-507; Hampson’s
    “Œvi Medii Kalendarium,” vol. i. p. 210; see an article on “Day
    Fatality” in John Aubrey’s “Miscellanies.”

_Magic._ The system of magic, which holds such a prominent place in “The
Tempest,” was formerly an article in the popular creed, and as such is
frequently noticed by the writers of Shakespeare’s time. Thus, in
describing Prospero, Shakespeare has given him several of the adjuncts,
besides the costume, of the popular magician, much virtue being inherent
in his very garments. So Prospero, when addressing his daughter (i. 2),

                      “Lend thy hand,
    And pluck my magic garment from me.—So;
    Lie there, my art.”

A similar importance is assigned to his staff, for he tells Ferdinand
(i. 2):

          “I can here disarm thee with this stick,
    And make thy weapon drop.”

And when he abjures the practice of magic, one of the requisites is “to
break his staff,” and to (v. 1)

    “Bury it certain fathoms in the earth.”

The more immediate instruments of power were books, by means of which
spells were usually performed. Hence, in the old romances, the sorcerer
is always furnished with a book, by reading certain parts of which he is
enabled to summon to his aid what demons or spirits he has occasion to
employ. When he is deprived of his book his power ceases. Malone quotes,
in illustration of this notion, Caliban’s words in “The Tempest” (iii.

    First to possess his books; for without them
    He’s but a sot, as I am, nor hath not
    One spirit to command.”

Prospero, too, declares (iii. 1):

                    “I’ll to my book;
    For yet, ere supper time, must I perform
    Much business appertaining.”

And on his relinquishing his art he says that:

        “Deeper than did ever plummet sound
    I’ll drown my book.”

Those who practise nocturnal sorcery are styled, in “Troilus and
Cressida” (iv. 2), “venomous wights.”

_Merlin’s Prophecies._ In Shakespeare’s day there was an extensive
belief in strange and absurd prophecies, which were eagerly caught up
and repeated by one person to another. This form of superstition is
alluded to in “1 Henry IV.” (iii. 1), where, after Owen Glendower has
been descanting on the “omens and portents dire” which heralded his
nativity, and Hotspur’s unbelieving and taunting replies to the
chieftain’s assertions, the poet makes Hotspur, on Mortimer’s saying,

    “Fie, cousin Percy! how you cross my father!”

thus reply:

    “I cannot choose: sometime he angers me,
    With telling me of the moldwarp and the ant,
    Of the dreamer Merlin and his prophecies;
    And of a dragon and a finless fish.”

In “King Lear” (iii. 2) the Fool says

    “I’ll speak a prophecy ere I go:
                When priests are more in word than matter;
                When brewers mar their malt with water;
                When nobles are their tailors’ tutors;
                No heretics burn’d, but wenches’ suitors;
                When every case in law is right;
                No squire in debt, nor no poor knight;
                When slanders do not live in tongues.
                Nor cutpurses come not to throngs;
                When usurers tell their gold i’ the field;
                And bawds and whores do churches build;—
                Then shall the realm of Albion
                Come to great confusion:
                Then comes the time, who lives to see’t,
                That going shall be us’d with feet.
    This prophecy Merlin shall make; for I live before his time.”

This witty satire was probably against the prophecies attributed to
Merlin, which were then prevalent among the people.[955]

    [955] See Kelly’s “Notices Illustrative of the Drama and Other
    Amusements at Leicester,” 1865, pp. 116, 118.

Formerly, too, prophecies of apparent impossibilities were common in
Scotland; such as the removal of one place to another. So in “Macbeth”
(iv. 1), the apparition says:

    “Macbeth shall never vanquish’d be, until
    Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill
    Shall come against him.”

_Portents and Prodigies._ In years gone the belief in supernatural
occurrences was a common article of faith; and our ancestors made use of
every opportunity to prove the truth of this superstitious belief. The
most usual monitions of this kind were, “lamentings heard in the air;
shakings and tremblings of the earth; sudden gloom at noon-day; the
appearance of meteors; the shooting of stars; eclipses of the sun and
moon; the moon of a bloody hue; the shrieking of owls; the croaking of
ravens; the shrilling of crickets; night-howlings of dogs; the
death-watch; the chattering of pies; wild neighing of horses; blood
dropping from the nose; winding-sheets; strange and fearful noises,
etc.,” many of which Shakespeare has used, introducing them as the
precursors of murder, sudden death, disasters, and superhuman
events.[956] Thus in “Richard II.” (ii. 4), the following prodigies are
selected as the forerunners of the death or fall of kings:

    “’Tis thought, the king is dead: we will not stay.
    The bay-trees in our country are all wither’d,
    And meteors fright the fixed stars of heaven;
    The pale-fac’d moon looks bloody on the earth,
    And lean-look’d prophets whisper fearful change;
    Rich men look sad, and ruffians dance and leap,
    The one in fear to lose what they enjoy,
    The other to enjoy by rage and war:
    These signs forerun the death or fall of kings.”

    [956] Drake’s “Shakespeare and his Times,” p. 352.

Previous to the assassination of Julius Cæsar, we are told, in “Hamlet”
(i. 1), how:

    “In the most high and palmy state of Rome,
    A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,
    The graves stood tenantless, and the sheeted dead
    Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets;
    As stars with trains of fire and dews of blood,
    Disasters in the sun; and the moist star,
    Upon whose influence Neptune’s empire stands,
    Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse.”

More appalling still are the circumstances which preceded and
accompanied the murder of Duncan (“Macbeth,” ii. 3). We may also compare
the omens which marked the births of Owen Glendower and Richard III.
Indeed, the supposed sympathy of the elements with human joy or sorrow
or suffering is evidently a very ancient superstition; and this presumed
sensitiveness, not only of the elements, but of animated nature, to the
perpetration of deeds of darkness and blood by perverted nature, has in
all ages been extensively believed. It is again beautifully illustrated
in the lines where Shakespeare makes Lenox, on the morning following the
murder of Duncan by his host (“Macbeth,” ii. 3), give the following

    “The night has been unruly; where we lay,
    Our chimneys were blown down; and, as they say,
    Lamentings heard i’ the air; strange screams of death;
    And prophesying with accents terrible
    Of dire combustion, and confus’d events,
    New hatch’d to the woeful time: the obscure bird
    Clamour’d the livelong night: some say, the earth
    Was feverous and did shake.”

This idea is further illustrated in the dialogue which follows, between
Ross and an old man:

    “_Old Man._ Threescore and ten I can remember well:
    Within the volume of which time I have seen
    Hours dreadful, and things strange: but this sore night
    Hath trifled former knowings.

    _Ross._                         Ah, good father,
    Thou seest, the heavens, as troubled with man’s act,
    Threaten his bloody stage: by the clock, ’tis day,
    And yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp:
    Is’t night’s predominance, or the day’s shame,
    That darkness does the face of earth entomb,
    When living light should kiss it?”

_Supernatural Authority of Kings._ The belief in the supernatural
authority of monarchs is but a remnant of the long-supposed “divine
right” of kings to govern, which resulted from a conviction that they
could trace their pedigrees back to the deities themselves.[957] Thus
Shakespeare even puts into the mouth of the murderer and usurper
Claudius, King of Denmark, the following sentence:

    “Let him go, Gertrude: do not fear our person:
    There’s such divinity doth hedge a king,
    That treason can but peep to what it would,
    Acts little of his will.”

    [957] “Traditions, Superstitions, and Folk-Lore,” p. 81.

This notion is by no means confined to either civilized or
semi-civilized nations. It is, says Mr. Hardwick, “a universal feeling
among savage tribes.” The ignorant serf of Russia believed, and, indeed,
yet believes, that if the deity were to die the emperor would succeed to
his power and authority.

_Sympathetic Indications._ According to a very old tradition the wounds
of a murdered person were supposed to bleed afresh at the approach or
touch of the murderer. This effect, though impossible, remarks
Nares,[958] except it were by miracle, was firmly believed, and almost
universally, for a very long period. Poets, therefore, were fully
justified in their use of it. Thus Shakespeare, in “Richard III.” (i. 2)
makes Lady Anne, speaking of Richard, Duke of Gloster, say:

    “O, gentlemen, see, see! dead Henry’s wounds
    Open their congeal’d mouths, and bleed afresh!—
    Blush, blush, thou lump of foul deformity;
    For ’tis thy presence that exhales this blood
    From cold and empty veins, where no blood dwells;
    Thy deed, inhuman and unnatural,
    Provokes this deluge most unnatural.”

    [958] “Glossary,” vol. ii. p. 974.

Stow alludes to this circumstance in his “Annals” (p. 424). He says the
king’s body “was brought to St. Paul’s in an open coffin, barefaced,
where he bled; thence he was carried to the Blackfriars, and there
bled.” Matthew Paris also states that after Henry II.’s death his son
Richard came to view the body—“Quo superveniente, confestim erupit
sanguis ex naribus regis mortui; ac si indignaretur spiritus in adventue
ejus, qui ejusdem mortis causa esse credebatur, ut videretur sanguis
clamare ad Deum.”[959] In the “Athenian Oracle” (i. 106), this supposed
phenomenon is thus accounted for: “The blood is congealed in the body
for two or three days, and then becomes liquid again, in its tendency to
corruption. The air being heated by many persons coming about the body,
is the same thing to it as motion is. ’Tis observed that dead bodies
will bleed in a concourse of people, when murderers are absent, as well
as present, yet legislators have thought fit to authorize it, and use
this trial as an argument, at least to frighten, though ’tis no
conclusive one to condemn them.” Among other allusions to this
superstition may be mentioned one by King James in his “Dæmonology,”
where we read: “In a secret murder, if the dead carkasse be at any time
thereafter handled by the murderer, it will gush out of blood, as if the
blood were crying to heaven for revenge of the murderer.” It is spoken
of also in a note to chapter v. of the “Fair Maid of Perth,” that this
bleeding of a corpse was urged as an evidence of guilt in the High Court
of Justiciary at Edinburgh as late as the year 1668. An interesting
survival of this curious notion exists in Durham, where, says Mr.
Henderson,[960] “touching of the corpse by those who come to look at it
is still expected by the poor on the part of those who come to their
house while a dead body is lying in it, in token that they wished no ill
to the departed, and were in peace and amity with him.”

    [959] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. iii. pp. 229-231.

    [960] “Folk-Lore of Northern Counties,” 1849, p. 57.

We may also compare the following passage, where Macbeth (iii. 4),
speaking of the Ghost, says:

    “It will have blood; they say, blood will have blood:
    Stones have been known to move, and trees to speak;
    Augurs and understood relations have
    By magot-pies and choughs and rooks brought forth
    The secret’st man of blood.”

Shakespeare perhaps alludes to some story in which the stones covering
the corpse of a murdered man were said to have moved of themselves, and
so revealed the secret. The idea of trees speaking probably refers to
the story of the tree which revealed to Æneas the murder of Polydorus
(Verg., “Æneid,” iii. 22, 599). Indeed, in days gone by, this
superstition was carried to such an extent that we are told, in
D’Israeli’s “Curiosities of Literature,” “by the side of the bier, if
the slightest change was observable in the eyes, the mouth, feet, or
hands of the corpse, the murderer was conjectured to be present, and
many an innocent spectator must have suffered death. This practice forms
a rich picture in the imagination of our old writers; and their
histories and ballads are labored into pathos by dwelling on this



_Badge of Poverty._ In the reign of William III., those who received
parish relief had to wear a badge. It was the letter P, with the initial
of the parish to which they belonged, in red or blue cloth, on the
shoulder of the right sleeve. In “2 Henry VI.” (v. 1) Clifford says:

    “Might I but know thee by thy household badge.”

_Bedfellow._ A proof of the simplicity of manners in olden times is
evidenced by the fact that it was customary for men, even of the highest
rank, to sleep together. In “Henry V.” (ii. 2) Exeter says:

    “Nay, but the man that was his bedfellow,
    Whom he hath dull’d and cloy’d with gracious favours.”

“This unseemly custom,” says Malone, “continued common till the middle
of the last century, if not later.” Beaumont and Fletcher, in the
“Coxcomb” (i. 1), thus refer to it:

    “Must we, that have so long time been as one,
    Seen cities, countries, kingdoms, and their wonders,
    Been bedfellows, and in our various journey
    Mixt all our observations.”

In the same way, letters from noblemen to each other often began with
the appellation _bedfellow_.[961]

    [961] Nares’s “Glossary,” vol. i. p. 68.

_Curfew Bell_, which is generally supposed to be of Norman origin, is
still rung in some of our old country villages, although it has long
lost its significance. It seems to have been as important to ghosts as
to living men, it being their signal for walking, a license which
apparently lasted till the first cock. Fairies, too, and other spirits,
were under the same regulations; and hence Prospero, in “The Tempest”
(v. 1), says of his elves that they

    To hear the solemn curfew.”

In “King Lear” (iii. 4) we find the fiend Flibbertigibbet obeying the
same rule, for Edgar says: “This is the foul fiend Flibbertigibbet; he
begins at curfew, and walks till the first cock.”

In “Measure for Measure” (iv. 2) we find another allusion:

    “_Duke._ The best and wholesom’st spirits of the night
    Envelope you, good provost! Who call’d here of late?

    _Provost._ None, since the curfew rung.”

And, once more, in “Romeo and Juliet” (iv. 4), Capulet says:

    “Come, stir, stir, stir! the second cock hath crow’d,
    The curfew bell hath rung, ’tis three o’clock.”[962]

    [962] See Brand’s “Pop. Antiq.,” 1849, vol. iii. pp. 220-225;
    also, Harland and Wilkinson’s “Lancashire Folk-Lore,” 1867, p. 44.

_Sacring Bell._ This was a bell which rang for processions and other
holy ceremonies.[963] It is mentioned in “Henry VIII.” (iii. 2), by the
Earl of Surrey:

                  “I’ll startle you
    Worse than the sacring bell.”

    [963] Dyce’s “Glossary,” p. 379.

It is rung in the Romish Church to give notice that the “Host” is
approaching, and is now called “Sanctus bell,” from the words “Sanctus,
Sanctus, Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth,” pronounced by the priest.

On the graphic passage where Macbeth (ii. 1) says:

                     “The bell invites me.
    Hear it not, Duncan; for it is a knell
    That summons thee to heaven or to hell”—

Malone has this note: “Thus Raleigh, speaking of love, in England’s
‘Helicon’ (1600):

    “‘It is perhaps that sauncing bell
    That toules all into heaven or hell.’”

_Sauncing_ being probably a mistake for sacring or saint’s bell,
originally, perhaps, written “saintis bell.” In “Hudibras” we find:

    “The old saintis bell that rings all in.”

_Carpet-knights._ These were knights dubbed at court by mere favor, and
not on the field of battle, for their military exploits. In “Twelfth
Night” (iii. 4), Sir Toby defines one of them thus: “He is knight,
dubbed with unhatched rapier, and on carpet consideration.”

A “trencher knight” was probably synonymous, as in “Love’s Labour’s
Lost” (v. 2):

    “Some mumble-news, some trencher-knight, some Dick.”

These carpet-knights were sometimes called “knights of the green

    [964] See Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” pp. 65, 66.

_Chair Days._ Days of old age and infirmity. So, in “2 Henry VI.” (v.
2), young Clifford, on seeing his dead father, says:

                   “Wast thou ordain’d, dear father,
    To lose thy youth in peace, and to achieve
    The silver livery of advised age,
    And, in thy reverence, and thy chair-days, thus
    To die in ruffian battle?”

_Chivalry._ The expression “sworn brothers,” which Shakespeare several
times employs, refers to the “fratres jurati,” who, in the days of
chivalry, mutually bound themselves by oath to share each other’s
fortune. Thus, Falstaff says of Shallow, in “2 Henry IV.” (iii. 2): “He
talks as familiarly of John o’ Gaunt as if he had been sworn brother to
him.” In “Henry V.” (ii. 1), Bardolph says: “we’ll be all three sworn
brothers to France.” In course of time it was used in a laxer sense, to
denote intimacy, as in “Much Ado About Nothing” (i. 1), where Beatrice
says of Benedick, that “He hath every month a new sworn brother.”[965]

    [965] We may compare, too, what Coriolanus says (ii. 3): “I
    will, sir, flatter my sworn brother, the people.”

According to the laws of chivalry, a person of superior birth might not
be challenged by an inferior; or, if challenged, might refuse combat, a
reference to which seems to be made by Cleopatra (“Antony and
Cleopatra,” ii. 4):

                       “I will not hurt him.—
    These hands do lack nobility, that they strike
    A meaner than myself.”

Again, in “Troilus and Cressida” (v. 4), the same practice is alluded to
by Hector, who asks Thersites:

    “What art thou, Greek? art thou for Hector’s match?
    Art thou of blood and honour?”

Singer quotes from “Melville’s Memoirs” (1735, p. 165): “The Laird of
Grange offered to fight Bothwell, who answered that he was not his
equal. The like answer made he to Tullibardine. Then my Lord Lindsay
offered to fight him, which he could not well refuse; but his heart
failed him, and he grew cold on the business.”

_Clubs._ According to Malone, it was once a common custom, on the
breaking-out of a fray, to call out “Clubs, clubs!” to part the
combatants. Thus, in “1 Henry VI.” (i. 3), the Mayor declares:

    “I’ll call for clubs, if you will not away.”

In “Titus Andronicus” (ii. 1), Aaron says:

    “Clubs, clubs! these lovers will not keep the peace.”

“Clubs,” too, “was originally the popular cry to call forth the London
apprentices, who employed their clubs for the preservation of the public
peace. Sometimes, however, they used those weapons to raise a
disturbance, as they are described doing in the following passage in
‘Henry VIII.’ (v. 4): ‘I miss’d the meteor once, and hit that woman; who
cried out ‘Clubs!’ when I might see from far some forty truncheoners
draw to her succour, which were the hope o’ the Strand, where she was

    [966] Cf. “Romeo and Juliet,” i. 1; “As You Like It,” v. 2.

_Color-Lore._ Green eyes have been praised by poets of nearly every
land,[967] and, according to Armado, in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” (i. 2),
“Green, indeed, is the colour of lovers.”

    [967] See Singer’s “Shakespeare,” vol. viii. p. 204.

In “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream” (v. 1), Thisbe laments:

         “Lovers, make moan:
    His eyes were green as leeks.”

The Nurse, in her description of Romeo’s rival (“Romeo and Juliet,” iii.
5), says:

                         “An eagle, madam,
    Hath not so green, so quick, so fair an eye
    As Paris hath.”

In the “Two Noble Kinsmen” (v. 1), Emilia, praying to Diana, says:

                               “O vouchsafe,
    With that thy rare green eye—which never yet
    Beheld thing maculate—look on thy virgin.”

The words of Armado have been variously explained as alluding to green
eyes—Spanish writers being peculiarly enthusiastic in this praise—to the
willow worn by unsuccessful lovers, and to their melancholy.[968] It has
also been suggested[969] that, as green is the color most suggestive of
freshness and spring-time, it may have been considered the most
appropriate lover’s badge. At the same time, however, it is curious
that, as green has been regarded as an ominous color, it should be
connected with lovers, for, as an old couplet remarks:

    “Those dressed in blue
    Have lovers true;
    In green and white,
    Forsaken quite.”[970]

    [968] See Douce’s “Illustrations of Shakespeare,” p. 133.

    [969] See an article by Mr. Black, in _Antiquary_, 1881, vol. iii.

    [970] See Henderson’s “Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties,” pp.
    34, 35.

In “Merchant of Venice” (iii. 2), “green-eyed jealousy,” and in
“Othello” (iii. 3), its equivalent, “green-eyed monster,” are
expressions used by Shakespeare.

_Yellow_ is an epithet often, too, applied to jealousy, by the old
writers. In the “Merry Wives of Windsor” (i. 3), Nym says he will
possess Ford “with yellowness.” In “Much Ado About Nothing” (ii. 1)
Beatrice describes the Count as “civil as an orange, and something of
that jealous complexion.” In “Twelfth Night” (ii. 4), Viola tells the
Duke how her father’s daughter loved a man, but never told her love:

                   “She pin’d in thought,
    And with a green and yellow melancholy
    She sat like patience on a monument.”

_Dinner Customs._ In days gone by there was but one salt-cellar on the
table, which was a large piece of plate, generally much ornamented. The
tables being long, the salt was commonly placed about the middle, and
served as a kind of boundary to the different quality of the guests
invited. Those of distinction were ranked above; the space below being
assigned to the dependants, inferior relations of the master of the
house, etc.[971] Shakespeare would seem to allude to this custom in the
“Winter’s Tale” (i. 2), where Leontes says:

                           “lower messes,
    Perchance, are to this business purblind?”

    [971] Gifford’s note on “Massinger’s Works,” 1813, vol. i. p.
    170; see Dyce’s “Glossary to Shakespeare,” pp. 269, 380.

Upon which passage Steevens adds, “Leontes comprehends inferiority of
understanding in the idea of inferiority of rank.” Ben Jonson, speaking
of the characteristics of an insolent coxcomb, remarks: “His fashion is
not to take knowledge of him that is beneath him in clothes. He never
drinks below the salt.”

_Ordinary._ This was a public dinner, where each paid his share, an
allusion to which custom is made by Enobarbus, in “Antony and Cleopatra”
(ii. 2), who, speaking of Antony, says:

    “Being barber’d ten times o’er, goes to the feast,
    And, for his ordinary, pays his heart
    For what his eyes eat only.”

Again, in “All’s Well that Ends Well” (ii. 3), Lafeu says: “I did think
thee, for two ordinaries, to be a pretty wise fellow; thou didst make
tolerable vent of thy travel.”

The “ordinary” also denoted the lounging-place of the men of the town,
and the fantastic gallants who herded together. They were, says the
author of “Curiosities of Literature” (vol. iii. p. 82), “the exchange
for news, the echoing-places for all sorts of town talk; there they
might hear of the last new play and poem, and the last fresh widow
sighing for some knight to make her a lady; these resorts were attended
also to save charges of housekeeping.”

_Drinking Customs._ Shakespeare has given several allusions to the old
customs associated with drinking, which have always varied in different
countries. At the present day many of the drinking customs still
observed are very curious, especially those kept up at the universities
and inns-of-court.

_Alms-drink_ was a phrase in use, says Warburton, among good fellows, to
signify that liquor of another’s share which his companion drank to ease
him. So, in “Antony and Cleopatra” (ii. 7) one of the servants says of
Lepidus: “They have made him drink alms-drink.”

_By-drinkings._ This was a phrase for drinkings between meals, and is
used by the Hostess in “1 Henry IV.” (iii. 3), who says to Falstaff:
“You owe money here besides, Sir John, for your diet, and by-drinkings.”

_Hooped Pots._ In olden times drinking-pots were made with hoops, so
that, when two or more drank from the same tankard, no one should drink
more than his share. There were generally three hoops to the pots:
hence, in “2 Henry VI.” (iv. 2), Cade says: “The three-hooped pot shall
have ten hoops.” In Nash’s “Pierce Pennilesse” we read: “I believe
hoopes on quart pots were invented that every man should take his hoope,
and no more.”

The phrases “to do a man right” and “to do him reason” were, in years
gone by, the common expressions in pledging healths; he who drank a
bumper expected that a bumper should be drunk to his toast. To this
practice alludes the scrap of a song which Silence sings in “2 Henry
IV.” (v. 3):

    “Do me right,
    And dub me knight:

He who drank, too, a bumper on his knee to the health of his mistress
was dubbed a knight for the evening. The word Samingo is either a
corruption of, or an intended blunder for, San Domingo, but why this
saint should be the patron of topers is uncertain.

_Rouse._ According to Gifford,[972] a _rous