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)
LLL 5 1 p thou halfpenny purse of wit, thou pigeon-egg of discretion.
LLL 5 2 315 This fellow pecks up wit, as pigeons peas,
MV 2 6 5 O, ten times faster Venus' pigeons fly (see DOVE)
AYL 1 2 89 p Which he will put on us, as pigeons feed their young.
AYL 3 3 73 p and as pigeons bill, so wedlock would be nibbling.
AYL 4 1 142 p more jealous of thee than a Barbary cock-pigeon over his hen,
2H4 5 1 14 p are there no young pigeons?
2H4 5 1 24 Some pigeons, Davy, a couple of short-legged hens,
TIT 4 3 86 Ay, of my pigeons, sir, nothing else.
TIT 4 3 90 p Why, I am going with my pigeons to the tribunal plebs,
TIT 4 3 94 p and let him deliver the pigeons to the emperor from you.
TIT 4 3 101 p But give your pigeons to the emperor:
TIT 4 3 109 P then deliver up your pigeons,
TIT 4 4 44 p I have brought you a letter and a couple of pigeons here.
HAM 2 2 573 But I am pigeon-liver'd and lack gall
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.