House Sparrow Passer domesticus, Moineau domestique.

12 occurrences (8 sparrow, 4 sparrows)


As the most common and best-known bird it has often been taken as a pet bird. Philip was a favourite name for tame sparrows, hence this dialogue:


Good leave, good Philip.


Philip? - Sparrow! - James,

There's toys abroad: anon I'll tell thee more.

(JN 1 1 231-2)

HARTING (p. 145) quotes Lyly's Mother Bombie, as a possible explanation for this nickname:


Phip, phip, the sparrows as they fly.

But it is Skelton, who popularized this, with his long poem Phylyppe Sparrow which he wrote on the death of a pet sparrow.

Sparrows are also famous for their lecherousness: " As lustful as Sparrows" (TILLEY, S715).

Sparrows must not build in his house-

eaves, because they are lecherous.

(MM 3 2 169-70)

Bartholomew, quoted by SEAGER, wrote about the sparrow that it "is an undsteadfast bird [...] and is a full hot bird and lecherous, and the flesh of them oft taken in meat exciteth to carnal lust".

Two quotations from the Bible find much echo both in Troilus and Cressida and in Hamlet:

Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. (Matthew x. 29, emphasis added).

Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? (Luke xii. 6, idem).

I will buy nine sparrows for a penny, and his pia

mater is not worth the ninth part of a sparrow.

(TRO 2 1 73-4, idem).

We defy augury. There's a special providence

in the fall of a sparrow.

(HAM 5 2 214-5, idem).

Kenneth PALMER remarks in his edition of Troilus and Cressida that "nine sparrows for a penny" is "the average price between that of Matthew x. 29 (two for a farthing) and that of Luke xii. 6 (five for two farthings) as Variorum noted".

Moreover Hamlet "[defies] augury" and the tell-tale bird is this time the sparrow and bears a special meaning in regard to the Bible.

Again for this species there is no strict pattern concerning the use Shakespeare makes of it. The sparrow is either a nice pet bird, a symbol of lecherousness or a Bible reference. But within each context the image is so precisely woven that it only adds to its dimension.