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In Elizabethan England two of the most popular forms of public entertainment were animal baiting and hunting. Bull and bear baiting happened in a dedicated arena while hunting was usually done on private lands or hunting parks where private, usually very elite, groups of people would gather for the hunt. What each of these sports has in common is they both employ use of dogs. Hunting dogs were raised meticulously with manuals from Shakespeare’s lifetime outlining the detailed husbandry involved in how to build kennels, how to feed, and even how to groom hunting dogs. When it came to choosing the right dog for the job, there were specific breeds of dogs that were favored for particular sport. Shakespeare gives us a glimpse into the world of dogs and favoring specific breeds when he mentions “hounds and greyhounds, mongrels, spaniels, curs, Shoughs, water-rugs and demi-wolves” in Macbeth Act III. Shakespeare uses the word dog or hound over 200 times across his works, writing about spaniels, beagles, the Thessalian bull (considered to be an ancestor to the basset hound), and the Iceland dog in 4 additional plays.
Here today to help us explore the husbandry of dogs popular in Elizabethan England, which ones were used for bull and bear baiting, as well as what we can know about the breeds Shakespeare calls out by name in his plays are our guests and co authors of Little Lions, Bull Baiters, and Hunting Hounds, Jeff Crosby and Professor Shelley Ann Jackson.
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In this episode, I'll be asking Jeff Crosby and Professor Shelley Ann Jackson about:
- What was the most popular dog breed for bull baiting during Shakespeare’s lifetime? Would there have been a preferred dog for this sport?
One surprising dog breed that shows up in Shakespeare Macbeth is the water rug. Jeff and Shelly Ann, what was this dog breed in the 16th century and what attributes would it have been known for?
- Shakespeare’s Macbeth calls attention to the importance of naming a dog when he says “All by the name of dogs: the valued file Distinguishes the swift, the slow, the subtle, The housekeeper, the hunter, every one According to the gift which bounteous nature Hath in him closed” Jeff and Shelly Ann, we’ve identified dogs for hunting and bear baiting but what kind of dog is Shakespeare talking about when he mentions a dog that’s a good housekeeper?
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Jeff's latest book: Rockabilly Groat's Gruff