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It wasn’t only people who served as performers in Shakespeare’s lifetime, animals, too were often trained to perform in street demonstrations, and one very unique animal captured the hearts of the popular entertainment word as a famous dancing horse named Morocco. Morocco was famous during Shakespeare’s lifetime, with over 70 woodcuts published showcasing his talents at entertaining crowds of all sizes. He and his owner traveled across England and even internationally displaying circus feats, tricks, and even magic. Here today to share with us the history of Morocco the horse, including where his story overlaps with that of William Shakespeare, is our guest, Natalia Pikli. 

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Dr Natália Pikli is Associate Professor at the Department of English Studies, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary. She is the current President of the Hungarian Shakespeare Committee. Her research interests are wide-ranging, with a strong focus on early modern popular culture, Shakespeare, theatre, drama, cheap print and emblems, besides the present-day reception of Shakespeare in the theatre and popular culture. She has published extensively on these topics, and contributed chapters to several books. Her articles came out, for instance, in Shakespearean Criticism (Gale, USA), European Journal of English StudiesJournal of Early Modern Studies (Florence) Shakespeare Survey (Cambridge). She edited/co-edited five books and is the author of two monographs, The Prism of Laughter:  Shakespeare’s ’very tragical mirth’ (VDM Verlag, 2009) and Shakespeare’s Hobby-Horse and Early Modern Popular Culture (Routledge, 2022). In her free time she directs amateur student performances and writes theatre reviews. 

I’ll be asking Natalia Pikli about:

  • Who was the owner of Morocco the horse, and is the owner the same person who trained him? 
  • In a period woodcut of Morocco, he is shown dancing on his hind legs. Was this really a trick that Morocco knew how to perform, dancing upright like a person? 
  • What do we know about the rest of Morocco’s performance skills? What other tricks could Morocco perform?
  • …and more!

Books and Resources Natalia Pikli recommends:

Early English Books Online, read the biography about Moll Cutpurse. 

Kevin De Ornellas, The Horse in Early Modern English Culture. Bridled, Curbed and Tamed, Madison, Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 2014; a chapter “Morocco the Wonder Horse and the Humiliation of St Paul’s” (focus: theological implications of the walk upon St Paul’s Cathedral, 1601)

Erica Fudge, Brutal Reasoning. Animals, Rationality and Humanity in Early Modern England, Ithaca, London, Cornell University Press, 2006; a chapter “A Reasonable Animal?” main focus: human vs animal reason

More generally on horses in early Modern Europe:

The Culture of the Horse. Status, Discipline, and Identity in the Modern World, eds Karen Raben and Treva J. Tucker, New York, Palgrave, 2005

The Horse as Cultural Icon. The Real and the Symbolic Horse in Early Modern Europe. Eds. Peter Edwards, K.A.E Enenkel, Elspeth Graham, Leiden-Boston, Brill,2012 (breeding, training, health of early modern English horses in case studies – nothing on Morocco)

The Horse in Premodern European Culture, eds. Anastasija Ropa and Timothy Dawson, Berlin, De Gruyter, 2019. A chapter on “How to ride before a Prince: The Rise of Riding as a Performance Art” by Jennifer Jobst – late medieval/early modern/practiced by nobility

The Culture of the Horse. Status, Discipline and Identity I the Early Modern World, eds. Karen Raben, Palgrave, 2005. No mention of Morocco.

More generally and animals in early modern England:

Andreas Höfele, Stage, Stake and Scaffold. Humans and Animals in Shakespeare’s Theatre, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2011.

Bruce Boehrer, Shakespeare Among the Animals. Nature and Society in the Drama of Early Modern England, New York, Palgrave, 2002

Markham, Gervase. Cauelarice, or The English horseman contayning all the arte of horsemanship, as much as is necessary for any man to vnderstand, whether he be horse-breeder, horse-ryder, horse-hunter, horse-runner, horse-ambler, horse-farrier, horse-keeper, coachman, smith, or sadler. Together, with the discouery of the subtill trade or mistery of horse-coursers, & an explanatio[n] of the excellency of a horses vndersta[n]ding, or how to teach them to doe trickes like Bankes his curtall: and that horses may be made to drawe drie-foot like a hound. Secrets before vnpublished, & now carefully set down for the profit of this whole nation: by Geruase Markham. London: Edward Allde and W. Jaggard, 1608.

A few Extra Resources Cassidy thinks you will enjoy:

A new method, and extraordinary invention, to dress horses, and work them according to nature as also, to perfect nature by the subtility of art, which was never found out, but by … William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle, 1592-1676 (1667)

The horseman’s honor by Nicholas Morgan, 1620

The compleat horse- man. 1651, by Thomas DeGrey (Treatment and Farrier guide for horses, 17th Century)

A strange horse race, 1613, by Thomas Dekker

Here’s what’s available for this episode:

  • Woodcut of Morocco dancing and having a sword fight with William Bankes
  • Copy of Thomas Nashe’s account of Morocco the horse
  • 17thC horse training manual
  • 17th Century ink drawing of a rearing horse
  • 17th century ink drawing of a cart horse
  • 17th century illustration of a powerful and menacing war horse, ridden by the King of Sweden
  • 17th Century ink drawing of horses performing in an arena
  • 17th century ink drawing of a performance horse in full feathers and other costume
  • 17th century list of the names of bears, bulls, and horses used at The Bear Garden
  • 1505 illustrations by Albrecht Dürer of horses
  • 1650s diagram of horses performing in a ballet
  • 1607 Diagram of “the perfect horse”
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That’s it for this week! Thank you for listening! I’m Cassidy Cash and I hope you learn something new about the bard.

I’ll see you next time!