Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Animals in Shakespeare

Did you know dat William Shakespeare was one of da first playwrights to write in English[1] for regular people, rather than in French or Latin?[2][3] He wrote lots of animals into his plays.

Three come immediately to mind.
  • "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child" King Lear Act 1, scene 4, 281–289
  • "Let Hercules himself do what he may, The cat will mew and dog will have his day" Hamlet Act V, Scene I
  • “Cry 'Havoc', and let slip the dogs of war” Julius Caesar (1599) Act III Scene I

Plus I looked up some more:
  • "Thou call'st me dog before thou hadst a cause, But since I am a dog, beware my fangs" The Merchant of Venice
  • "And so disfigure her with it, that she shall have no more eyes to see withal than a cat." The Taming of the Shrew
  • "For all the rest, They'll take suggestion as a cat laps milk." The Tempest Act II., Scene 1
  • "I am as vigilant as a cat to steal cream." King Henry the Fourth, Act IV., Scene 2
  • Lady Macbeth points to the cautious habits of the cat:
    "Letting I dare not wait upon I would, Like the poor cat i' the adage."
  • Also in "Macbeth", the superstitious fear of the cat:
    "Thrice the brinded cat hath mewed."
  • "Cats, that can judge as fitly." Coriolanus, Act IV., Scene 2
  • "I am as melancholy as a gib cat." King Henry the Fourth
  • "A crouching lion and a ramping cat." King Henry the Fourth
  • "Slow in profit, and he sleeps by day More than the wild cat." Merchant of Venice
  • "Some men there are love not a gaping pig, Some, that are mad if they behold a cat." Merchant of Venice
  • "As there is no firm reason to be rendered Why he cannot abide a gaping pig, Why he, a harmless necessary cat." Merchant of Venice
  • "I could endure anything before but a cat, And now he's cat to me." All's Well that Ends Well
  • "Hang off, thou cat, thou burr, thou vile thing." Midsummer Night's Dream
  • "But will you woo this wild cat?" Midsummer Night's Dream
  • "And every cat and dog,
    And every little mouse, and every unworthy thing." Romeo and Juliet
  • "In killing creatures vile, as cats and dogs." Cymbeline
Oh oh oh and my new friend @Wwm_shakespeare on twitter reminded me of some more:
  • "And yet I bear a burthen like an ass" Richard II, Act V, Scene 5
  • "And in his needy shop a tortoise hung, An alligator stuff'd, and other skins Of ill-shaped fishes" Romeo and Juliet: Act 5, Scene 1, Page 2
  • How did I forget this one: "By this reckoning he is more shrew than she." Taming of the Shrew, Act IV, Scene 1

If you haven't read Shakespeare, there is an excellent online library at MIT called The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.
Da lady like hard copy better.




1. Since you asked, Christopher Marlowe was another.
2. Even though you didn't ask, Beware the Cat by William Baldwin was the first original English-language novel.
3. The very first English-language novel was Thomas Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur, however this is a retelling of half-mythological oral tradition rather than an original work.

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