Feral Pigeon, domestic variation

of the Rock Dove Columba livia, Pigeon biset.

15 occurrences (12 pigeons, 1 cock-pigeon, 1 pigeon-egg, 1 pigeon liver'd)

The pigeon has long been domesticated by man, both as a food item and as a means of communication, as carrier pigeons.

Enter the Clown, with a basket, and two pigeons in it.

Upon which Titus exclaims:

News, news from heaven! Marcus, the post is come.

Sirrah, what tidings? Have you any letters?

Shall I have justice? What says Jupiter?

(TIT 4 3 76-78)

Following this, pigeons are mentioned five times within the remaining 40 lines of the scene. Pigeons and letters are found associated again when the clown says in the following scene:"I have brought you a letter and a couple of pigeons here" (4 4 44).

And even when Shakespeare uses another striking characteristic of the pigeon, the way they feed their young, there is an allusion to the messages they are sometimes made to carry:

Enter Le Beau


With his mouth full of news.


Which he will put on us, as pigeons feed their



Then shall we be news-crammed.

(AYL 1 2 86-9)

Pigeons stuff their young with pre-digested food they produce from their crops. Numerous beliefs were attached to this species which was well-known to everyone. One remarkable instance of this is found in Hamlet:

'Swounds, I should take it: for it cannot be

But I am pigeon-liver'd and lack gall

To make oppression bitter, or ere this

I should ha' fatted all the region kites

(2 2 572-5)

Harold JENKINS comments in his edition of Hamlet that

the pigeon was a symbol of meekness, being popularly believed to have no gall, which was notoriously the source within the liver of bitter and rancorous feelings. [...] Cf. also "Why, we have galls: and though we have some grace, / Yet have we some revenge" (OTH 4 3 93-3) and TILLEY (D574).

The case of the pigeon provides us with a good example of how Shakespeare uses many different characteristics of a bird in order to suit his purpose which is to always get the most evocative image fitting a particular moment.