QotW: 04 June 2018 (#44)

Students laugh when they hear it, but Anne was in deadly earnest …

BH Hedgehog-Flowers-Meadow-Field.jpg.653x0_q80_crop-smart

We have hedgehogs.

I say ‘we’, but I’m appropriating the cute nocturnal visitors at my Snowdonia home (also known as ‘her place‘) …

Having spent most of the week camping in the back garden – yes, by choice – I’ve become a lot more familiar with their comings and goings: their enthusiastic crunching of mealworms (these are spoiled, and resolutely ignore the slugs they are supposed to be eating – I’ve seen them nudge slugs aside with their snouts!); their irritated huffing and snorting when a rival appears at bowl number two, all within a couple of feet of my head.

Which, of course, makes me more sensitive to the hedgehogs – just three of them* – in Shakespeare

Dost grant me, hedgehog?’ RIII (I.ii) [a]

BH phoebe fox spits.gif

This is a slightly odd moment of comedy every time we look at Richard III in performance in class.  Those sniggers in the darkness always prompt me to query, ‘Why “hedgehog“?’  Students tend to make quick and useful links to Gloucester’s connection to the boar, and connotations of spikiness.  With some teasing out, we establish that all nocturnal creatures are viewed with a degree of suspicion and superstition in the Early Modern Period.  So far so good, in analysing the epithet, as we might say in C5 …

This week’s QotW takes our knowledge that little bit further …

‘folk tale and biblical references equate the hedgehog with either desolation or craftiness.  It seems likely that Shakespeare was inspired by the Celtic word for hedgehog, grainneog, which translates as ‘the horrible one’ when he casts it among other low beasts in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. […] And in Richard III, Lady Anne abuses Gloucester, soon to be the eponymous king, by calling him a hedgehog, linking the appearance of the hedgehog, and the Celtic horribleness asssociated with its name, to Gloucester’s misshapen form.'[b]

And if you’re looking for an entertaining and instructive read on these gentle creatures, disappearing so fast from our gardens and countryside, you should pick up Warwick’s book.

* If you want to know which is the last of the three plays that mentions hedgehogs, it’s … The Tempest, where Caliban complains that he’ll end up treading on them, barefoot, during the night, as one of the punishments Prospero has lined up for him.


[a] www.opensourceshakespeare.org

[b] Hugh Warwick, Hedgehog, (Reaktion Books:  London, 2016)


Author: Boar's Head, Eastcheap

Hyperactive English Teacher and Tutor; Shakespeare-obsessed 'Villainous abominable misleader of youth'; 'old white-bearded Satan'; Friend of the Orangutan

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