Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo, Grand Cormoran.

4 occurrences

The relationship between men and cormorants dates back long ago with cormorants being trained to catch fish without being able to swallow them because of a specially designed collar. HARTING points out that:

James I himself, who was a great sportsman, kept trained cormorants for many years, and was accustomed to travel about the country with them, fishing as he went. [...] The King had a regular establishment for his cormorants on the river at Westminster, and created a new office, "Master of the Royal Cormorants".

All of Shakespeare's four allusions to the cormorant have some reference to its voraciousness and it is attributed in turn to time (Love's Labour's Lost, 1 1 4), to vanity (Richard II, 2 1 38), to war (Troilus and Cressida, 2 2 6) and to illustrate hunger (Coriolanus, 1 1 120).

Chaucer, in the Parlement of Foulys, had already written about "The hote cormeraunt, of glotenye;" (l 362) and the cormorant became soon a way to describe any voracious or greedy person.

But Shakespeare pushed the metaphor a step further by applying it to other objects or concepts, thus both livening these things and giving them more importance, but also linking them to a beast, and so downsizing them at the same time and giving such a strong impact.

John DOEBLER in his Shakespeare's Speaking Pictures: Studies in Iconic Imagery (1974) (p. 42) provides us with an interesting interpretation about the character of Shylock:

The very name Shakespeare assigns him is possibly the English spelling of a Hebrew word meaning "cormorant". This bird, which preys on fish, was a proverbial emblem for anyone greedy and rapacious, but especially usurers.

Note 6, p. 197: Shylock as the English spellng of the Hebrew Shallach, the word for cormorant, was first suggested by Israel Gollancz, "Bits of Timber: Some Observations on Shakespearean Names - Shylock; Polonius; Malvolio, in A Book of Homage to Shakespeare, ed. Israel Gollancz (London, 1916), pp. 171-2.