Skylark Alauda arvensis, Alouette des champs.

29 occurrences (26 lark, 3 larks)

The lark owes probably its abundance to man's agricultural modification of Britain. It is the companion of farm-workers in the fields: "And merry larks are ploughman's clocks" (LLL 5 2 896) or "More tuneable than lark to shepherd's ear" (MND 1 1 184). The way Shakespeare uses the lark in order to stage the early morning atmosphere belongs to the literary tradition. HARTING quotes Chaucer and Milton as evidence:

The busy larke, messager of daye,

Salueth in hire song the morwe gray:

And fyry Phebus ryseth up so bright,

That al the orient laugheth of the light.

(Knightes Tale)

To hear the lark begin his flight,

And, singing, startle the dull night,

From his watch-tower in the skies,

Till the dappled dawn doth rise.


Indeed the use Shakespeare makes of the lark is very conventional. Three of the lark's main characteristics are exploited and can be summed up in a sentence: the lark sings early in the morning very high in the sky.

Of the first quality, the song in the Winter's Tale is a good example:

The lark, that tirra-lirra chants,

With heigh! with heigh! the thrush and the jay,

Are summer songs for me and my aunts,

While we lie tumbling in the hay.

(4 3 9-12)

On the eve of the battle of Bosworth Field and about an early morning rise, Richard recommends:

Stir with the lark tomorrow, gentle Norfolk.

(R3 5 3 57)

The height to which the lark ascends to sing enables Shakespeare to insist on the scenery of Dover cliffs in King Lear. After a passage where the elements of the lansdcape were given to assess the scale in comparison with a world in reduction (see CHOUGH).


Come on, sir; here's the place: stand still. How fearful

And dizzy 'tis to cast one's eyes so low!

The crows and choughs that wing the midway air

Show scarce so gross as beetles; half way down

(4 6 11-4)



From the dread summit of this chalky bourn.

Look up a-height: the shrill-gorg'd lark so far

Cannot be seen or heard: do but look up.


Alack, I have no eyes.

Is wretchedness depriv'd that benefit

To end itself by death? 'Twas yet some comfort,

When misery could beguile the tyrant's rage,

And frustrate his proud will.

Edgar guides his now blind father and has to describe the scenery to him, just as Shakespeare has to describe it in the absence of an elaborate stage setting. The audience, at first sharing Gloucester's infirmity, is now able to see the beauty of the lark, of the cliffs, of the world, thus realizing more vividly the horror of Gloucester's blindness, both figurative and real.

The three usages of the lark made by Shakespeare are found together when Romeo and Juliet have to part after a too short night.


Wilt thou be gone? It is not yet near day.

It was the nightingale, and not the lark

That pierc'd the fear-full hollow of thine ear.

Nightly she sings on yond pomegranate tree.

Believe me, love, it was the nightingale.


It was the lark, the herald of the morn,

No nightingale. Look, love, what envious streaks

Do lace the severing clouds in yonder east.

Night's candles are burnt out, and jocund day

Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

I must be gone and live, or stay and die.


Yond light is not daylight, I know it, I.

It is some meteor that the sun exhales

To be to thee this night a torchbearer

And light thee on thy way to Mantua.

Therefore stay yet: thou need'st not to be gone.


Let me be ta'en, let me be put to death,

I am content, so thou wilt have it so.

I'll say yon grey is not the morning's eye,

'Tis but the pale reflex of Cynthia's brow.

Nor that is not the lark whose notes do beat

The vaulty heaven so high above our heads.

I have more care to stay than will to go.

Come, death, and welcome. Juliet wills it so.

How is't, my soul? Let's talk. It is not day.


It is, it is. Hie hence, begone, away.

It is the lark that sings so out of tune,

Straining harsh discords and unpleasing sharps.

Some say the lark makes sweet division,

This doth not so, for she divideth us.

Some say the lark and loathed toad changed eyes.

O, now I would they had changed voices, too,

Since arm from arm that voice doth us affray,

Hunting thee hence with hunt's-up to the day.

O, now be gone! More light and light it grows.


More light and light, more dark and dark our woes.

(ROM 3 5 1-36, emphasis added)

HARTING (page 133) makes the following comment:

When Juliet spoke disparagingly of the lark's song, it was because she wished the night prolonged, and knew that his voice betokened the approach of day. [...].

The lark has ugly eyes, and the toad very fine ones; hence arose the saying that the lark and toad changed eyes. Juliet wished they had changed voices too; for then, as Heath has suggested, the croak of the toad would have been no indication of the day's approach, and consequently no signal for Romeo's departure.

The allusion to the song is clear, the time is again early morning and with: "Nor that is not the lark whose notes do beat / The vaulty heaven so high above our heads" (3 5 21-2). In this famous scene, Shakespeare uses the whole set of the lark's characteristics in order to strengthen the impact of the opposition between night and morning. He opposes the nightingale to the lark, the bird that sings at dusk, to the one that sings at dawn. Romeo ends this scene by saying: "More light and light, more dark and dark our woes" and produces an interesting chiasmus structure that plays on sonorities, light and words. "Dark" echoes "lark" but is the symbol of the night, whereas "light" echoes "nightingale" but is the symbol of the day. This intricate pattern captures and sums up the whole atmosphere and meaning of the scene.