Re-Posting No. 23 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford: Those “Haggards” that “Fly from Man to Man”

When John Thomas Looney was still searching for the true author in the early 1900s, he opened an anthology of sixteenth-century verse and looked for poems in the stanza form that Shakespeare employed for Venus and Adonis. Looney thought it likely that “Shakespeare,” whoever he was, had previously written poetry in that form, with six lines, each of ten syllables, using the rhyme scheme of a quatrain followed by a couplet [ababcc].

Poems in that form were “much fewer than I had anticipated,” Looney recalled; he found just two that could have come from the same hand that wrote the Shakespearean verse.  One was anonymous; the other was a poem about “Women” by Edward de Vere, 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 the earl’s use of “haggard” – a wild or imperfectly trained hawk or falcon — as a metaphor for “fickle” women in the 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” (or the singular form) he almost always employs it as a figure of speech referring to wild, untamed, fickle women.  In Oxford’s poem the word 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 prey 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 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” = send her off the way a hawk is turned loose when not performing well and sent downwind.]

Further striking parallels in Shakespeare are to be found in the third and final stanza of Oxford’s poem, which refers to the “lure” or decoy bird:

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!

A falconer in the sixteenth century

The same idea is expressed in The Taming of the Shrew when Petruchio speaks of himself as a falconer training his wife, Kate, as a falcon who needs to be kept hungry (or less than “fullgorged”), 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]

[Kites = birds of prey, such as the falcon; bate = beat down and weaken a female bird who still won’t obey.]

Just as Oxford writes of men who use a “subtle oath” as a lure 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 she says, “I know her spirits are as coy and wild as haggards of the rock.” [3.1.32-36]

Coming back full-circle, in Venus and Adonis the poet writes of the Goddess of Love and Beauty: “As falcons to the lure, away she flies…” [1027]

“What we have in this instance, as a matter of fact,” Looney writes, “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, as they appear to be, 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…

Prince Hamlet exclaims to the players, “Masters, you are all welcome,” adding spontaneously, “We’ll e’en to’t like French falconers, fly at anything we see!” [2.2]

Juliet calls out: “Hst! Romeo, hist! O for a falconer’s voice to lure this tassel-gentle back again!” [2.2]

A falcon swooping down…

A terrifying stanza 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 = bells were attached to the hawks or falcons.)

Oxford was an expert falconer; so, too, was the author known as Shakespeare.

This post is now number 23 of 100 Reasons Shake-speare was the Earl of Oxford (2016), edited by Alex McNeil (with other editorial help by Brian Bechtold)

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Nice post, Hank. Do I remember correctly that Othello would let the hawk prey at fortune? Or is it play? Helen G

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

    • Hi Helen! We have play … prey … pray. And it seems “pray” is the answer:-)

      (Unless I find out differently!) Thanks, Helen.

      • Helen, I have moved it back to “prey” — although, interestingly, if you look for the passage on web search engines, it often has “pray” — my Pelican edition has “prey” however, and it certainly seems more fitting. I think 🙂 Again, thanks!

  2. Hi Hank! You can find “prey” in the original at this page. Left column, at about the middle.

    http://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/Library/facsimile/book/SLNSW_F1/833/?zoom=1502

    • That link doesn’t seem to work.


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