Raven Corvus corax, Grand Corbeau.

31 occurrences (16 raven, 6 ravens, 7 raven's, 1 raven-coloured, 1 raven-black)

For many centuries in historic times, possibly up to the eighteenth century, ravens seems to have been tolerated as scavengers, and like kites, were at one time offered protection for this service:

As doth a raven on a sick-fall'n beast,

(JN 4 3 153)

The raven is a bird of woodlands and mountainous areas. In Titus Andronicus Shakespeare provides us with a description of the nesting site of a raven:

A barren detested vale you see it is;

The trees, though summer, yet forlorn and lean,

Overcome with moss and baleful mistletoe:

Here never shines the sun: here nothing breeds,

Unless the nightly owl or fatal raven:

(TIT 2 3 93-7)


Some say that ravens foster forlorn children

The whilst their own birds famish in their nests.

(2 3 153-4)

Allusions to this curious belief are also found in the Bible:

He that giveth to the beast his food, and to the young raven which cry

(Psalm cxlvii)

Who provideth for the raven his food? When his young ones cry unto God, they wander for lack of meat.

(Job xxxviii, 41)

SEAGER quotes Batman uppon Bartholomew: "The raven is called corvus of Corax. It is said that ravens birdes be fed with deaw of heaven all the time that they have no black feathers by benefite of age." These quotations can be compared to what is found in Shakespeare:

and He that doth the ravens feed,

Yea providently caters for the sparrow,

Be comfort to my age.

(AYL 2 3 43-5)

As wicked dew as e'er my mother brushed

With raven's feather from unwholesome fen

Drop on you both!

(TMP 1 2 323-5)

TILLEY registered "Small Birds must have meat" (B397) and quoted:

Young ravens must have food.

(WIV 1 3 33 p)

About the quotation from The Tempest, it is interesting to point out that it was Caliban who spoke about "[his mother brushing] with raven's feather". The name of Caliban's mother, the witch, is Sycorax and ***** is the Greek for raven, others add *ús as the Greek for sow.

HARTING (p. 105) tries to put forward an explanation concerning the beliefs linked to the rearing of the young ravens:

It was certainly a current belief in olden times, that when the raven saw its young ones newly hatched, and coverd with down, it conceived such an aversion that it forsook them, and did not return to the nest until a darker plumage had shown itself.

Indeed, colour bears a great significance, and Shakespeare plays on it abundantly,

by associating raven with black:

The raven chides blackness.

(TRO 2 3 212 p)

using it as an adjective:

And let her joy her raven-coloured love;

(TIT 2 3 83)

by creating a new variety of black:

Therefore my mistress' eyes are raven-black,

(SON 127 9)

or by devising a contrast, the strongest of all, between the dove and the raven:

Who will not change a raven for a dove?

(MND 2 2 113)

This notion of contrast brings back the more general theme of inversion of qualities:

Dove-feather'd raven, wolvish-ravening lamb!

(ROM 3 2 76)

It is a device that enables Shakespeare to play on all the levels: on the level of colour (black and white: dove and lamb / raven and wolf), of texture (feather / wool), of the natural world (predator / prey) and of superstition (good and bad omens). Again, Shakespeare succeeds in mentioning twice the name of a bird within three words, as "ravening" finds itself so close to raven. In another instance, it is a bird of the same family that is added in a similar way:

I would croak like a raven: I would bode,

I would bode.

(TRO 5 3 189-90)

"Croak" echoes "crow", and the very croak of this human raven (see PARROT) "I would bode, I would bode" is clear for what concerns the reputation of the raven. The overall significance of the raven in Shakespeare's work shows strong similarities with that of the crow (see CROW).