Posts By: Haylie Swenson


Owls in the early modern imagination: Ominous omens and pitiable sages

Owls were bad omens for Shakespeare and his contemporaries. The general of the French forces, facing an English emissary in Henry VI, Part 1, calls him “Thou ominous and fearful owl of death, / Or nation’s terror and their bloody scourge!” (4.2.15) Similarly, when Richard III receives bad news on the battlefield, he reacts by… Continue Reading »


Hares, conies, and rabbits: The hunted and the melancholy

When, in Henry IV, Part II, Bardolph calls his page a “whoreson upright rabbit,” he’s not exactly thinking of the animal we now know as rabbits. (2.2.84) In Shakespeare’s day, “rabbit” referred specifically to the young of conies (the European rabbit); it was a word like puppy or kitten. Adult rabbits were always called conies,… Continue Reading »


Shakespeare’s much-maligned toads and frogs

There may not be a more insulted character in all of Shakespeare’s canon than Richard III. The woman he’s wooing, Anne, calls him a hedgehog. In the very next scene, Queen Margaret calls him an “abortive, rooting hog,” a “bottled spider,” and a “poisonous bunch-backed toad” (Richard III I.3.239, 256, 260-261). And this isn’t the… Continue Reading »


“Thorny hedgehogs, be not seen”: Hedgehogs in Shakespeare’s plays and the early modern imagination

While the global population of European hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) is stable, their numbers have been rapidly declining in the UK for decades, especially in rural areas. This has led to a huge upswell of conservation efforts as people try to protect the UK’s only spiny mammal, and one of these efforts is centered in Shakespeare’s… Continue Reading »



Introducing Wild Things: Animals in early modern life and culture

How many animals have you encountered today, and in what forms? From pets and urban species such as squirrels and sparrows, to meat products and leather, the number may surprise you. Even for those of us who live in human-built spaces, like cities and suburbs, animals and animal bodies are still everyday aspects of human… Continue Reading »