Wren Troglodytes troglodytes, Troglodyte mignon.

10 occurrences (7 wren, 2 wrens, 1 wren's)

Often mistaken in French translations for the Goldcrest Regulus regulus, Roitelet huppé, as this species has long been called Golden-crested Wren and furthermore because in German the name of the Wren is Zaunkönig. The Goldcrest could only have been known to Shakespeare through Turner's Avium Praecipuarum (1544), a treatise in Latin he would have been unlikely to own. What is more the Goldcrest is a very shy bird, the smallest in Europe, living in woodlands.

Otherwise the behaviour of the bird described by Shakespeare leaves no doubt concerning its name. The Wren, though not much bigger than the Goldcrest, lives closer to man and has the habit of defending its territory noisily:

for the poor wren,

The most diminitive of birds, will fight,

Her young ones in her nest, against the owl.

All is the fear and nothing is the love,

As little is the wisdom, where the flight

So runs against all reason.

(MAC 4 2 9-14)

"The most diminitive of birds" is then used by Shakespeare to express the smallness of things: "as small a drop of pity / As a wren's eye" (CYM 4 2 304-5).

The amount of noise such a little bird can produce is always a wonder:

The crow doth sing as sweetly as the lark

When neither is attended: and I think

The nightingale, if she should sing by day,

When every goose is cackling, would be thought

No better a musician than the wren!

(MV 5 1 102-6)

Once again Shakespeare reverses the natural order of things, with Portia illustrating what she has just said before:

So doth the greater glory dim the less, -

A substitute shines brightly as a king

Until a king be by,

(5 1 93-5)

In Richard III, the reversal of the natural hierarchy is at the basis of the metaphor and vividly expresses Richard's state of mind:

The world is grown so bad

That wrens make prey where eagles dare not perch.

Since every jack became a gentleman,

There's many a gentle person made a jack.

(1 3 70-3)

Whereas in Pericles, the tradition of the tale-tell birds finds itself confronted to that of the auguries.

Be one of those that thinks

The petty wrens of Tharsus will fly hence,

And open this to Pericles.

(4 3 21-3)