Renaissance Pigeon Post
|So, it turns out that Shakespeare was obsessed with pigeons. Most of them fly by pretty quickly. Hamlet calls himself "pigeon-livered" (2.2.573) -- a slightly less memorable phrase than "what a rogue and peasant slave am I?" or "what's he to Hecuba?" In Merchant, Salerio has some convoluted expression about the relative speed of "Venus' pigeons" when in heat (2.6.7). In Love's Labor's Lost Costard calls Moth a "pigeon egg of discretion," an expression that's really only tangentially related to pigeons themselves (5.1.71), though it seems to have brought these fine birds to Shakespeare's attention, since in the next scene Biron dismisses Boyet with the remark,|
This fellow pecks up wit as pigeons pease,
And utters it again when God doth please. (5.2.316-7)
Something like that thought seems to have hung around in Shakespeare's mind until As You Like It, when a pigeon eating again becomes a trope for poor wit: when Rosalind spots Le Beau arriving "With his mouth full of news," Celia responds, "Which he will put on us as pigeons feed their young" (1.2.89-91). So the pigeon, I guess, is associated with a kind of interpretive incompetence, pecking here and there for little bits which are then subsequently regurgitated for the benefit of others, but without being properly digested or internalized. Not at all like somebody combing Shakespeare search engines for references to pigeons, in order to write a blog post.
But maybe the weirdest pigeon-related scene occurs in a weird play, Titus Andronicus 4.3, in which Titus is ostensibly bonkers, shooting arrows (how do you do that with one hand?) up to the gods -- but actually, as we see in the next scene, into Saturninus' court. As he's doing this, someone else arrives on the scene:
"Enter the Clown with a basket and two pigeons in it."
Poor clown. He's just coming along with a little bribe to settle a conflict between his uncle and one of Saturninus's men, but then gets caught up in Titus's madness: Titus gives him a letter to deliver along with the pigeons, telling him that it's a supplication and that he'll be rewarded for delivering it. But in the next scene, when the clown turns up in court and hands the letter to Saturninus, he's sent off to be hanged.
No word on what happened to the pigeons. But I'm guessing they were already in a bad way.