Today is St George’s Day and apparently Shakespeare’s birthday and the day he died too (how tidy!).
It is also the day when little owls, an introduced species, were first proved to breed in the UK – and that was in the county of Northants and just down the road from where I am writing. I still haven’t seen a little owl for a while – and I am looking for them.
St George was a Syrian soldier who went around killing wildlife – dragons anyway. Although it appears to be his dying rather than his killing for which we should admire him the most.
You can find just about everything in Shakespeare (maybe not mobile phones – although I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of an apparent allusion) and birds there are aplenty.
When Will wrote of the ‘vile squealing of the wry-neck’d fife‘ (Merchant of Venice) his audience would have been familiar with the arrival of the wryneck in March and its high-pitched piping call – but you and I aren’t, as, though the wryneck was a common and widespread bird across southern England a century ago it no longer is. I wonder how many readers of the M of V realise that the wryneck is actually a bird?
In All’s Well that Ends Well Shakespeare refers to the phrase ‘took this bunting for a lark‘ which refers to the disappointment of bird trappers when they catch a dull corn bunting rather than an exciting skylark. It may well be that bird-catchers these days might prize the bunting higher than the lark although their chances of making much of a living in the English countryside would now be very much reduced from Shakespeare’s time.
Looking from the cliffs of Dover, King Lear looked down at the choughs and jackdaws – just jackdaws now, I’m afraid.Kites were commonplace birds – and so they are becoming again these days (hooray!). Nowadays they are not feeding on corpses after battles with crows (eg Coriolanus) but may still pinch scraps of linen for their nests: ‘When the kite builds, look to lesser linen’ (Winter’s Tale). A former colleague used to tell of kites stealing knickers off clotheslines for their nests.
More information of birds and the Bard here. It’s clear that Shakespeare knew his birds but then he also assumed that his audience knew them too. Do we?
And if you can do much better than Shakespeare then why not enter the RSPB Rialto Poetry competition – you have until the end of April to submit your entry. I’m not quite sure why I am encouraging you but my efforts are already entered.
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