QUAILS:

Quail (Coturnix coturnix), Caille des blés.

2 occurrences



The quail is now an unpredictable summer visitor to southern England and south-east Ireland, but sporadically and in good years it might occur, and sometimes breed, almost anywhere.

But between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries, they appear to have been reasonably plentiful in the British Isles and regularly caught for food. Even if they started to decrease from the sixteenth century onwards, they were still hunted for the table as a luxury.

Therein lies perhaps the reason for its being castigated as a "bird no less salacious than the partridge, infamous also for obscene and unnatural lust" (THOMAS quoting Ray and Willoughby). Anyway in Troilus and Cressida, when Thersites describes Agamemnon, "quails" is clearly synonymous with whores:

Here's Agamemnon: an honest fellow enough,

and one that loves quails,

(5 1 50-1)

Concerning the amorous disposition of the quail, HARRISON, in The Description of England, makes the following comment in chap. 2: "...quail (who only with man are subject to the falling sickness)".

In Antony and Cleopatra the context is totally different:

His cocks do win the battle still of mine

When it is all to nought; and his quails ever

Beat mine, inhoop'd, at odds.

(2 3 35-7)

This refers to the habit of quail combat which was well known to Shakespeare through both the contemporary practice of cock-fighting and from the texts of the ancients as in North's translation of Plutarch (1579).