Word of the Day: Parrot
There are nine occurances of this word in Shakespeare, which first entered the English language with Skelton’s satirical Speke Parrot around 1525. The nine instances focus on a variety of the bird’s aspects, and not just the most obvious. Testament, one supposes, to Shakespeare’s powers of perception, or, given his resemblance to a pirate in the Chandos portrait, perhaps even proof of a long and hitherto unsuggested experience with parrots.
Rather unsurprisingly, Shakespeare makes use of the parrot’s well known imitative abilities: Benedick calls Beatrice a “rare parrot teacher” for the way in which she teasingly repeats his words against him at the start of Much Ado About Nothing. Similarly drawing on the idea of repetition, Lorenzo in The Merchant of Venice sighs,
How every fool can play upon the word! I think the best grace of wit will shortly turn into silence,
and discourse grow commendable in none only but
parrots. Go in, sirrah; bid them prepare for dinner.
Less obvious observations on parrots also abound….
…Their noisy responses to the rain (As You Like It) and to bagpipes (The Merchant of Venice)
…Their habitual scratching of their head (Henry IV pt II)
…And, last but not least, the association between parrots and lechery:
THERSITES. Would I could meet that rogue Diomed! I would croak like a raven; I would bode, I would bode. Patroclus will give me anything for the intelligence of this whore; the parrot will not do more for an almond than he for a commodious drab. Lechery, lechery! Still wars and lechery! Nothing else holds fashion. A burning devil take them!
The association turns on the fact that parrots enjoyed ‘nuts’, and in Elizabethan times, as now, nuts had sexual overtones. Froth is described as “cracking the stones of the foresaid prunes” in Measure for Measure, for example.
Thus concludes Shakespeare’s observations on parrots, bagpipes, and sex. More soon.