Four Dog Breeds of Shakespeare

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).

18 thoughts on “Four Dog Breeds of Shakespeare”

    • LOL, Karen, no doubt William would love to have taken credit for that one, but you got us wondering about the quote which lead us to this:

      The original source of the quote “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” is unknown. The phrase was first published in Francis Davison’s Poetical Rhapsody in 1602, where the words appear as the first phrase of a poem in the edition. However, the author of this poem was anonymous, and the identity of the writer remains unknown to this day.

      The first known writer to pen these words was Thomas Haynes Bayly in 1844 in his ballad entitled the “Isle of Beauty.” Even in modern times, the phrase “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” continues to have a profound place in and effect on society.

      Interesting, eh? No mention of Iceland dog, however. Shoulda.

      • I was playing with words, lamenting the absence of the Icelandic sheepdog in your dogs of Shakespeare. lol. William did indeed mention the Iceland dog, in Henry V, Scene II, Act 1

        “Pish for thee, Iceland dog! thou prick-ear’d cur of Iceland!”

        • Wow, Karen, this is awesome! LOL, we’ll rename the post (again), and edit it to include your information. NPDD friends are so smart!

          • 😀

            I hear a sound like an auctioneer: “We have four, four, four, do I hear five? Anyone? Five?”

          • LOL, Karen, we can hear it too!!!

    • Re Water Spaniels, Shakespeare does not specify Irish and there were also English water spaniels at that time. Long since gone as a breed but it is more likely that English was what he was referencing.

      • In Timon Shakespeare wrote about loose women saying “Get thee away, and take thy beagles with thee.”

        • A wonderful addition, Ki., thanks for adding the Bulldog, Beagle and Spaniels!

  1. I’ve always thought the following passage from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” has to be describing some variety of Basset Hounds.

    “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.”

  2. I’ve always thought the following passage from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” has to be describing some variety of Basset Hounds.

    “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.”

    • Linda, yours is the second comment we’ve gotten about this exact passage. Look for the piece to be retitled and edited!

    • Then there is the Bulldog – Bulldogs are adorable, with faces like toads that have been sat on. My hounds are bred out of the Spartan kind; So flew’d, so sanded; their heads are hung with ears that sweep away the morning dew… Mid Summer’s Night Dream. While in King Lear Mastiffs are mentioned as well when Edgar brags about scaring dogs away – “Avaunt, you curs! mastiff, greyhound, mongrel grim, hound or spaniel, brach [bitch] or lym (him), bobtail tyke or trundle-tail—For with throwing thus my head, dogs leap the hatch, and all are fled, be their mouth either black or white, or tooth that poisons if it bite.”

  3. Re Water Spaniels, Shakespear does not specify Irish and there were also English water spaniels at that time. Long since gone as a breed but it is more likely that English was what he was referencing.

  4. How about the Spaniel? Found in Scene I of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, in which the lovestruck Helena tries to woo the disparaging Demetrius.

    “And even for that do I love you the more.
    I am your spaniel; and, Demetrius,
    The more you beat me, I will fawn on you:
    Use me but as your spaniel, spurn me, strike me,
    Neglect me, lose me; only give me leave,
    Unworthy as I am, to follow you.
    What worser place can I beg in your love,–
    And yet a place of high respect with me,–
    Than to be used as you use your dog?”

    Fawning Spaniel was used as an insult Elizabethan times for men or women who courted favour with someone in power.

  5. And this from Henry V.

    RAMBURES
    That island of England breeds very valiant
    creatures; their mastiffs are of unmatchable courage.

    ORLEANS
    Foolish curs, that run winking into the mouth of a
    Russian bear and have their heads crushed like
    rotten apples! You may as well say, that’s a
    valiant flea that dare eat his breakfast on the lip of a lion.

    Constable
    Just, just; and the men do sympathize with the
    mastiffs in robustious and rough coming on, leaving
    their wits with their wives: and then give them
    great meals of beef and iron and steel, they will
    eat like wolves and fight like devils.

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