Did the Bard Hate Dogs?

In case you missed it, today was Talk Like Shakespeare Day, and we thought it might be interesting to talk about The Bard and dogs.

Some historians point out that out of all the comedies, histories, and tragedies written by Shakespeare, a dog makes an appearance in only one of them, “The Two Gentlemen of Verona,” and even then, the dog, “Crab,” has no lines and only one scene.

While dogs have typically been used as metaphors throughout history to describe fidelity and “dogged” determination and loyalty, it seems that Shakespeare’s references to dogs were mostly insults, or references to killers that did their masters’ bidding.  In an article written by Clive D. L. Wynne Ph.D entitled, “William Shakespeare Hated Dogs” (and well worth your read), Wynne shared the following examples: “As “Whoreson dog” (Cymbeline, King Lear, and Troilus and Cressida); “Slave, soulless villain, dog” (Anthony & Cleopatra); “egregious dog? O viper vile!” (Henry V); “cut throat dog” (Merchant of Venice); to name just a few. Often it is insult enough just to liken a person to a dog. When Richard III is killed at the end of the play of that name, victorious Richmond proclaims, “God and your arms be praised, victorious friends,/ The day is ours, the bloody dog is dead.”


That said, Dr John Caius described the Water Spaniel in 1570, and when Shakespeare referred to the `water rug’ in Macbeth,” and again in Act III Scene 1 of The Two Gentlemen of Verona when Launce says of his love, “She hath more qualities than a water-spaniel,” it suggests that Shakespeare was aware of the breed.

Certainly other breeds existed in Shakespeare’s day. We know that Elizabeth I favored pocket Beagles, and small “comfort” spaniels, and that Mastiffs, Greyhounds and Irish Wolfhounds were in existence at the time, albeit for use in war, hunting, and the horror of bear baiting. Why Shakespeare made no room for them in his plays is unknown (at least to us), but we figure Shakespeare knew what he was doing.

This bringeth to an end the brief discussion of dogs and Shakespeare. If ‘t be true you’d like to speaketh Shakespearan ere midnight, visit this translator just for fun.

Image of Elizabeth I with one of her dogs in a portrait known as the Wanstead or Welbeck Portrait by Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder



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