It would surprise few of us to learn that given the breed’s antiquity, the Greyhound was mentioned by Shakespeare in Henry V, but it wasn’t the only purebred dog to which Shakespeare made reference. In Two Gentleman of Verona:
Scene I. Milan. The Duke’s palace. Enter Duke, Thurio, and Proteus:
I am but a fool, look you; and yet I have the wit to
think my master is a kind of a knave: but that’s
all one, if he be but one knave. He lives not now
that knows me to be in love; yet I am in love; but a
team of horse shall not pluck that from me; nor who
’tis I love; and yet ’tis a woman; but what woman, I
will not tell myself; and yet ’tis a milkmaid; yet
’tis not a maid, for she hath had gossips; yet ’tis
a maid, for she is her master’s maid, and serves for
wages. She hath more qualities than a water-spaniel;
which is much in a bare Christian.
The breed to which Shakespeare referred was the Irish Water Spaniel.
Since the original posting, we’ve heard from Basset Hound enthusiasts who pointed out, “Not so fast.” To wit:
From “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
“My hounds are bred out of the Spartan kind,
So flewed, so sanded, and their heads are hung
With ears that sweep away the morning dew,
Crook-kneed, and dew-lapped like Thessalian bulls,
Slow in pursuit, but matched in mouth like bells,
Each under each. A cry more tunable
Was never hollaed to, nor cheered with horn,
In Crete, in Sparta, nor in Thessaly.
Judge when you hear.”
It’s suggested that the claim refers to the French forebears of the Basset Hound (since the Basset Hound, per se, didn’t exist as a distinct breed until the 1800’s).
But wait! Since making the last edit to include the Basset Hound, we were advised there William (Shakespeare) mentioned a fourth breed in Henry V, Scene II, Act 1
“Pish for thee, Iceland dog! thou prick-ear’d cur of Iceland!”
Image of Irish water Spaniel appeared in Stonehenge’s The Dogs of the British Islands, Being a Series of Articles and Letters by Various Contributors, Reprinted from the “Field” Newspaper (1872).