Welcome to Episode #017 of That Shakespeare Life, the podcast that takes you behind the curtain and into the life of William Shakespeare.

I believe that if you want to understand Shakespeare’s plays, then understanding the life of William Shakespeare, the man, is essential. This podcast is designed to help you explore early modern England as Shakespeare would have lived it by interviewing the historians, performers, authors, and experts that know him best.

Jennifer Jorm is our guide today, walking us through the history of companion animals in Elizabethan England. Animals and their emotions are the PhD research topic for Jennifer as she studies under Donna MacKinnon at University of Queensland. She joins us today to discuss pets, exotic display animals, William Shakespeare, and the role of cats, dogs, and even urban livestock that might have been seen in the city streets or market squares during the time William Shakespeare was living there.

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Jennifer Jorm is a PhD student at The University of Queensland, researching emotions and animals in eighteenth-century England under the supervision of Dolly MacKinnon. Her recently completed MPhil explored the material culture of love and loss during the eighteenth century. Learn more about Jennifer at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence For the History of Emotions.

In this episode, I’ll be asking Jennifer about :

  • Were pets something the average working person would have?
  • Did the aristocracy keep pets the way the modern day Queen Elizabeth keeps corgis?
  • What would the 16th century audience’s reaction would have been to seeing Crab on stage?
  • What kind of animals might of been found in or around Shakespeare’s daily life?
  • …and more!

The postcard in today’s episode

Jennifer mentions a postcard that she shares with us in the interview. She’s talking about how artwork often portrayed people keeping animals as pets and she shared this picture of a woman with a cat from the 17th century.

This is a painting by Philip Mercier from just after Shakespeare’s lifetime, around 1689. It’s entitled “Girl with Cat.” Image Source

There are numerous artwork examples of people from the working class all the way to nobility keeping cats in Shakespeare’s lifetime, as Jennifer mentions in this episode, and here are a few examples dated to within Shakespeare’s lifetime of artwork that demonstrates people like William Shakespeare would have kept companion animals, like cats and dogs, in their home and workplace.

Books Jennifer Recommends:

(These are affiliate links)

Animal by Eric Fudge

Beastly London by Hannah Velten

Paintings from Shakespeare’s lifetime that demonstrate animals in everyday life:

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