Reason No. 23 to Believe Oxford = Shakespeare: Those “Haggards” That Fly From Man to Man

Before 1920, when J.T. Looney was searching for the true Shakespeare, he opened an anthology of sixteenth-century verse and looked for any poems in the stanza form that Shakespeare employed for Venus and Adonis.  The stanza in that narrative poem had six lines, each of ten syllables, with a rhyme scheme using a quatrain [a-b-a-b] followed by a couplet [c-c] … for example, the opening stanza:

Even as the sun with purple-colored face [a]

Had ta’en his last leave of the weeping morn, [b]

Rose-cheeked Adonis hied him to the chase; [a]

Hunting he loved, but love he laughed to scorn. [b]

Sick-thoughted Venus makes amain unto him, [c]

And like a bold-faced suitor ‘gins to woo him. [c]

Poems having this kind of stanza were “much fewer than I had anticipated,” Looney recalled; and he found just two that could have come from the same hand that wrote the Shakespearean verse.  One was anonymous, leaving only a poem about “Women” by Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, with this opening stanza:

If women would be fair and yet not fond, [a]

Or that their love were firm not fickle still, [b]

I would not marvel that they make men bond, [a]

By service long to purchase their good will: [b]

But when I see how frail these creatures are, [c]

I muse that men forget themselves so far.  [c]

Oxford’s verse stood out, conveying “a sense of its harmony with Shakespeare’s work” in terms of “diction, succinctness, cohesion and unity.”

What then caught Looney’s attention was Oxford’s use of “haggard” – a wild or imperfectly trained hawk or falcon — as a metaphor for “fickle” women in his second stanza:

Queen Elizabeth and her attendants out hawking -- Her Majesty is riding side-saddle; the man at left has just released his hawk, while above a hawk is bringing down a bird

To mark the choice they make and how they change,

How oft from Phoebus do they cleave to Pan,

Unsettled still like haggards wild they range,

These gentle birds that fly from man to man:

Who would not scorn and shake them from his fist

And let them fly (fair fools) which way they list?

In the several places where Shakespeare uses “haggards” he almost always employs it as a figure of speech referring to wild, untamed, fickle women.  In Oxford’s poem it refers to women who “fly from man to man,” a sentiment identical to Shakespeare’s use of the word in Othello:

“If I do prove her haggard, though that her jesses were my dear heart strings, I’d whistle her off and let her down the wind to play at fortune.”  [3.3.263]

As Ren Draya and Richard F. Whalen report in their edition of Othello from an Oxfordian perspective, the Moor’s speech is “an extended metaphor from falconry, the sport of aristocrats.”

[Haggard = “a young female hawk captured after getting its adult plumage, hence still wild, untamed”; Jesses = “leather straps tied to the legs of a hawk and attached to a leash”; “Whistle her off … down the wind” = to send her off the way a hawk is “usually sent off upwind to take flight and pursue prey, but downwind when turned loose because it’s not performing well.”]

Further striking parallels in Shakespeare are to be found in the third and final stanza of Oxford’s poem:

Yet for disport we fawn and flatter both,

To pass the time when nothing else can please,

And train them to our lure with subtle oath,

Till, weary of their wiles, ourselves we ease;

And then we say, when we their fancy try,

To play with fools, O what a fool was I. 

[The “lure” was a decoy bird made of feathers, with some flesh attached.]

A falconer in the sixteenth century

The Taming of the Shrew contains the same idea when Petruchio speaks of himself as a falconer training his wife Kate as a falcon who needs to be kept hungry (or less than “full-gorged”), so she’ll continue to follow his lure: 

“My falcon now is sharp and passing empty, and till she stoop she must not be full-gorged, for then she never looks upon her lure.  Another way I have to man my haggard, to make her come and know her keeper’s call, that is, to watch her, as we watch these kites that bate and beat and will not be obedient.” [4.1.176]

[Kitesbirds of prey, such as the falcon; to bate = to beat down and weaken, although she still won’t obey.]

Just as Oxford writes of men using “subtle oaths” (while “fawning and flattering”) as lures or bait to “train” women to their wills, Hero in Much Ado About Nothing speaks of “the false sweet bait that we lay” for Beatrice, of whom he says, “I know her spirits are as coy and wild as haggards of the rock.” (3.1.32-36)

Coming back full-circle, Venus and Adonis, contains an example Looney failed to mention, with Shakespeare writing of the goddess: “As falcons to the lure, away she flies…”

“What we have in this instance, as a matter of fact,” Looney wrote, “is a complete accordance at all points in the use of an unusual word and figure of speech.  Indeed if we make a piece of patchwork of all the passages in Shakespeare in which the word ‘haggard’ occurs we can reconstruct De Vere’s single poem on ‘Women.’  

“Such an agreement not only supports us in seeking to establish the general harmony of De Vere’s work with Shakespeare’s, but carries us beyond the immediate needs of our argument – for it constrains us to claim that either both sets of expression are actually from the same pen, or ‘Shakespeare’ pressed that license to borrow (which was prevalent in his day) far beyond its legitimate limits.  In our days we should not hesitate to describe such passages as glaring plagiarism, unless they happen to come from the same pen.”

Sonnet 91 speaks of hawks, hounds and horses; and if the Sonnets are autobiographical (and I have no doubt that they are), then we are hearing the voice of a nobleman spontaneously referring to various aspects of his everyday world:

Some glory in their birth, some in their skill,

Some in their wealth, some in their body’s force,

Some in their garments, though new-fangled ill,

Some in their hawks and hounds, some in their horse…

[Later in this sonnet the poet blurts out to the Earl of Southampton, “Thy love is better than high birth to me.”  Well, now, if Will of Stratford wrote that sonnet to Southampton, that high-born young lord would have retorted: “You, a base commoner, are offering to give up ‘high birth’ for me?  Even though you have no such high birth to sacrifice in the first place?  How dare you insult me by offering to give up what you don’t have?!”   Then the earl would have run his sword through him.  No … the Earl of Oxford writes in Sonnet 91 about his own high birth as hereditary Lord Great Chamberlain of England, saying he would give all that up for Southampton.

“Masters, you are all welcome,” Prince Hamlet exclaims to the players, spontaneously adding, “We’ll e’en to’t like French falconers, fly at anything we see!”

“Hst! Romeo, hist!” Julliet calls out.  “O for a falconer’s voice to lure this tassel-gentle back again!”

A falcon swooping down...

One of the most terrifying stanzas in The Rape of Lucrece portrays the rapist Tarquin as a falcon circling above his helpless prey:

This said, he shakes aloft his Roman blade,

Which, like a falcon towering in the skies,

Coucheth the  fowl below with his wings’ shade,

Whose crooked beak threats if he mount he dies;

So under his insulting falchion lies

Harmless Lucretia, marking what he tells

With trembling fear, as fowl hear falcons’ bells. [505-511]

(Coucheth the fowl = causing the bird to hug the ground; falchion = sword; marking = listening to; falcons’ bells = in hawking or falconry, bells were attached to the hawks or falcons.)

There’s no question that the Earl of Oxford was an expert falconer.  So was the author known as Shakespeare.  

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Falconry was not limited solely to the aristocracy. I have several books on falconry at home; the Book of St. Albans lists the laws of ownership:
    King: Gyr Falcon (male & female)

    Prince: Peregrine Falcon

    Duke: Rock Falcon (subspecies of Peregrine)

    Earl: Tiercel Peregrine Falcon (male)

    Baron: Bastarde Hawk

    Knight: Saker

    Squire: Lanner

    Lady: Female Merlin

    Yeoman: Goshawk or Hobby

    Priest: Female Sparrowhawk

    Holy water Clerk: Male Sparrowhawk

    Knaves: Kestrel

    Servants: Kestrel

    Children: Kestrel

    The rules and customs of training and husbandry were similar in all the classes.A servant with a kestrel entitled to fly his bird at rabbits for the pot would have been as familiar with the term “to fly a haggard” as any nobleman.To say otherwise is like saying a modern mechanic who services pickup trucks wouldn’t know what lay under the hood of a Rolls Royce,

    • You’re certainly correct about this. I must ask my colleague Richard Whalen to explain his remark that falconry was “the sport of aristocrats,” in the context of your comment. Thanks for making it. Meanwhile I suppose the main thrust of my “reason” is the similar metaphorical use of hawking words, in relation to women, by Oxford and the author of the Shakespeare works. Again, thanks, and I’ll see what else I can report back.

  2. Thank you for your courteous response. With such a contentious subject it’s nice to meet someone who can reply thoughtfully and with taking personal insult.

  3. Ooops, that’s “withOUT taking personal insult”

    • You’re welcome and thanks for the note. When I first began this inquiry (in 1987) I had the naive notion that virtually all individuals on all sides were simply interested in exploring and hopefully finding the truth. But it turns out that we’re all subject to those emotions of the ego, i.e., having to be “right” (which means that someone else has to be “wrong”), etc., and that can be pretty exhausting as well as a complete diversion. I include myself as subject to those tendencies, too, if they aren’t monitored from time to time. The point you raise deserves some serious study — among a thousand points, it seems! Anyway, again thanks. Best from Hank


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