The mythical bird.

21 occurrences (8 phoenix, 8 Phoenix, 1 phoenix', 2 Phoenix, 2 Arabian bird)

The phoenix is the type of the mythical bird, and Sebastian, amazed at the wonders of Prospero's island and trying to assess them, compares them to two of the most famous travellers' tales:

Now I will believe

That there are unicorns; that in Arabia

There is one tree, the phoenix' throne; one phoenix

(TMP 3 3 21-3)

Pliny gives us the best description of the phoenix:

By report he is as big as an eagle in colour yellow, and bright as gold, namely all about the neck, the rest of the bodie in deepe red purple; the taile azure blue, intermingled with feathers among of rose carnation colour: and the head bravely adorned with a crest and panache finely wrought, having a tuft and plume thereupon right faire and goodly to be seen. (PHIPSON quoting Holland's translation of the Historia Naturalis, bk. 10, § 2).

But Shakespeare is more concerned with its other qualities. The phoenix is the proverbial symbol of rarity. TILLEY (P256) "As rare as the Phoenix" is found in both in As You Like It and in Cymbeline:

She calls me proud, and that she could not love me,

Were man as rare as Phoenix. 'Od's my will,

Her love is not the hare that I do hunt;

(AYL 4 3 16-8)

If she be furnish'd with a mind so rare,

She is alone, th' Arabian bird; and I

Have lost the wager.

(CYM 1 7 16-8)

The phoenix was said to live for 500 years - "long-lived" (SON 19 4) - in Arabian deserts, hence his name of "Arabian bird". At the end of its time it consumed itself by fire and rose renewed from its ashes.

My ashes, like the phoenix, may bring forth

A bird that will revenge upon you all;

(3H6 1 4 35-6)

In this case the avenging young bird is Edward, who became Edward IV.

The phoenix is also one of the two main protagonist the Phoenix and Turtle, an elegy for the two birds and Shakespeare's poetic expression of the loyalty of human love.