OUSEL:

Blackbird Turdus merula, Merle noir.

2 occurrences (1 ousel, 1 woosel)



The old name of Ousel given to the Blackbird is nowadays applied only to the Ring Ouzel Turdus torquatus, Merle à plastron, which lives in mountainous areas and, while otherwise similar to the Blackbird, has a white breast-band.

The Blackbird is a very conspicuous and noisy bird whose alarm ends in hysterical screeching, but it is not this characteristic that Shakespeare used, he was more interested in the contrast of colours displayed by the male Blackbird: "so black of hue, / With orange-tawny bill" (MND 3 1 120-1) even in the song by Bottom which awakens Titania.

In 2 Henry IV it is the female Blackbird that is spoken of and colour is again important and used to illustrate the ancient contest between blondes and brunettes:

SHALLOW

And how doth my cousin your bedfellow? and your

fairest daughter and mine, my god-daughter Ellen?

SILENCE

Alas, a black woosel, cousin Shallow!

(2H4 3 2 5-7)

A.R. HUMPHREYS editor of the Arden edition quotes, WINSTANLEY (1918) in his footnotes in order to remind us that "at the court of the fair Elizabeth, blondes were fashionable and brunettes out of favour".