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"My shroud of white, stuck all with yew,
O, prepare it!

My part of death, no one so true

Did share it."

Through being reckoned poisonous, it is introduced in "Macbeth" (iv. 1) in connection with the witches:

"Gall of goat, and slips of yew,

Sliver'd in the moon's eclipse."

"How much the splitting or tearing off of the slip had to do with magic we learn from a piece of Slavonic folklore. It is unlucky to use for a beam a branch or a tree broken by the wind. The devil, or storm-spirit, claims it as his own, and, were it used, the evil spirit would haunt the house. It is a broken branch the witches choose; a sliver'd slip the woodman will have none of."1

Its epithet, "double-fatal" ("Richard II.," iii. 2), no doubt refers to the poisonous quality of the leaves, and on account of its wood being employed for instruments of death. Sir Stephen Scroop, when telling Richard of Bolingbroke's revolt, declares that

"Thy very beadsmen learn to bend their bows.
Of double-fatal yew against thy state."

It has been suggested that the poison intended by the Ghost in "Hamlet" (i. 5), when he speaks of the “juice of cursed hebenon," is that of the yew, and is the same as Marlowe's "juice of hebon" ("Jew of Malta," iii. 4). The yew is called hebon by Spenser and by other writers of Shakespeare's age; and, in its various forms of eben, eiben, hiben, etc., this tree is so named in no less than five different European languages. From medical authorities, both of ancient. and modern times, it would seem that the juice of the yew is a rapidly fatal poison; next, that the symptoms attendant upon yew-poisoning correspond, in a very remarkable manner, with those which follow the bites of poisonous snakes; and, lastly, that no other poison but the yew pro

1 "Notes and Queries," 5th series, vol. xii. p. 468.

duces the "lazar-like" ulcerations on the body upon which Shakespeare, in this passage, lays so much stress.'

Among the other explanations of this passage is the wellknown one which identifies "hebenon" with henbane. Mr. Beisly suggests that nightshade may be meant, while Nares considers that ebony is meant."

From certain ancient statutes it appears that every Englishman, while archery was practised, was obliged to keep. in his house either a bow of yew or some other wood.3

'Extract of a paper read by Rev. W. A. Harrison, New Shakespeare Society, 12th May, 1882.

2 See Douce's


Illustrations of Shakespeare;" Nares's “ 'Glossary,"

vol. i. p. 412; Beisly's "Shakespeare's Garden,” p. 4.


Singer's "Shakespeare,” vol. iv. p. 427. See a paper in the " Antiquary” (1882, vol. vi. p. 13), by Mr. George Black, on the yew in Shakespearian folk-lore.



As Dr. Johnson has truly remarked, Shakespeare is “the poet of nature," for "his attention was not confined to the actions of men; he was an exact surveyor of the inanimate world; his descriptions have always some peculiarity, gathered by contemplating things as they really exist. Whether life or nature be his subject, Shakespeare shows plainly that he has seen with his own eyes." So, too, he was in the habit of taking minute observation of the popular notions relating to natural history, so many of which he has introduced into his plays, using them to no small advantage. In numerous cases, also, the peculiarities of certain natural objects have furnished the poet with many excellent metaphors. Thus, in "Richard II." (ii. 3), Bolingbroke speaks of "the caterpillars of the commonwealth ;" and in "2 Henry VI." (iii. 1) the Duke of York's reflection on the destruction of his hopes is,

"Thus are my blossoms blasted in the bud,

And caterpillars eat my leaves away,"

their destructive powers being familiar.

Ant. An ancient name for the ant is "pismire," probably a Danish word, from paid and myre, signifying such ants as live in hillocks. In "I Henry IV." (i. 3) Hotspur says:

"Why, look you, I am whipp'd and scourg'd with rods,
Nettled, and stung with pismires, when I hear

Of this vile politician, Bolingbroke."

Blue-bottle. This well-known insect has often been used as a term of reproach. Thus, in "2 Henry IV.” (v. 4), it furnishes an epithet applied by the abusive tongue of Doll Tearsheet to the beadle who had her in custody. She re

viles him as a "blue-bottle rogue," a term, says Mr. Patterson,1" son, "evidently suggested by the similarity of the colors of his costume to that of the insect."

Bots. Our ancestors imagined that poverty or improper food engendered these worms, or that they were the offspring of putrefaction. In "I Henry IV." (ii. 1), one of the carriers says: "Peas and beans are as dank here as a dog, and that is the next way to give poor jades the bots." And one of the misfortunes of the miserable nag of Petru- ` chio ("Taming of the Shrew," iii. 2), is that he is so "begnawn with the bots."

Cricket. The presence of crickets in a house has generally been regarded as a good omen, and said to prognosticate cheerfulness and plenty. Thus, Poins, in answer to the Prince's question in "I Henry IV." (ii. 4), “Shall we be merry?" replies, "As merry as crickets." By many of our poets the cricket has been connected with cheerfulness and mirth. Thus, in Milton, "Il Penseroso" desires to be

"Far from all resort of mirth,

Save the cricket on the hearth."

It has not always, however, been regarded in the same light, for Gay, in his "Pastoral Dirge," among the rural prognostications of death, gives the following:

"And shrilling crickets in the chimney cry'd."

And in Dryden's "Edipus" occurs the subjoined:

"Owls, ravens, crickets, seem the watch of death."

Lady Macbeth, also ("Macbeth," ii. 2), in replying to the question of her husband after the murder of Duncan, says: "I heard the owl scream, and the crickets cry."

In " 'Cymbeline" (ii. 2), also, when Iachimo, at midnight, commences his survey of the chamber where Imogen lies sleeping, his first words refer to the chirping of crickets,


Insects Mentioned by Shakespeare," 1841, p. 181..

rendered all the more audible by the repose which at that moment prevailed throughout the palace:

"The crickets sing, and man's o'er-labour'd sense

Repairs itself by rest."

Gilbert White, in his "History of Selborne" (1853, p. 174), remarks that "it is the housewife's barometer, foretelling her when it will rain; and is prognostic, sometimes, she thinks, of ill or good luck, of the death of a near relation, or the approach of an absent lover. By being the constant companion of her solitary home, it naturally becomes the object of her superstition."1

Its supposed keen sense of hearing is referred to in the "Winter's Tale" (ii. 1) by Mamillius, who, on being asked by Hermione to tell a tale, replies:

"I will tell it softly;

Yond crickets shall not hear it."

Frog. In the "Two Noble Kinsmen " (iii. 4), the Gaoler's Daughter says:

"Would I could find a fine frog! he would tell me

News from all parts o' the world; then would I make

A carack of a cockle-shell, and sail

By east and north-east to the King of Pigmies,

For he tells fortunes rarely."

In days gone by frogs were extensively used for the purpose of divination.

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Gad-fly. A common name for this fly is the "brize" or "breese,' an allusion to which occurs in "Troilus and Cressida" (i. 3), where Nestor, speaking of the sufferings which cattle endure from this insect, says:

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The herd hath more annoyance by the breese
Than by the tiger."

And in "Antony and Cleopatra" (iii. 10) Shakespeare

1 See Brand's "Pop. Antiq.," 1849, vol. iii. pp. 190, 191.


2 See Patterson's Insects Mentioned by Shakespeare," 1841, pp.

104, 105.

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