The Birds of Shakespeare is a growing collection of paintings that will catalog every bird mentioned by Shakespeare— at least 64 species. Paintings visually communicate a mixture of natural science facts and references to how each bird is portrayed in Shakespeare’s world.
My project reflects scholars' research through the centuries, paired with precise, up-to-date ornithological data. My contribution is curating and synthesizing these materials and visually communicating the information through art.
Two new birds will be released monthly at Portland Art Gallery and birdsofshakespeare.com.
Researching Shakespeare’s Birds
Finding birds in Shakespeare’s writing is one puzzle and understanding the significance of each bird is another. I am investigating 17th-century folklore and naturalist beliefs that may have shaped how each species was perceived by the playwright, his characters, and his audiences. I am also collecting early modern scientific illustrations and reading the work of scholars who analyzed Shakespeare’s relationship to nature.
All illustrations of feathers, eggs, and nests are carefully measured and rendered at life-size, and eggs are numbered in average clutch size.
Sources and Advisors
My project was awarded a Folger Institute Fellowship in 2021, and I am maintaining a conversation with the Folger Shakespeare Library’s knowledgeable network of librarians and scholars. My research heavily relies on the Folger Shakespeare Library’s immense rare book collection, especially the LUNA Digital Image Collection and British Book Illustrations Collection— two digital archives generously made public through their website.
The master lists of Shakespeare's birds and plants were gathered before me by James Edmund Harting and Henry Nicholson Ellacombe, respectively. I cross-reference each species with opensourceshakespeare.com, pointing me to every word's exact location in Shakespeare's plays and poems. Finally, I read the scene to confirm and examine the species’ presence.
Each month, I send my latest paintings to three advisors: Haylie Swenson, a Shakespearean scholar to counsel my interpretations; Cody Deane, an avian ecologist to correct my bird renderings; and Harriet Rix, a botanist to review my plant illustrations.
The full collection of paintings will also include every plant mentioned by Shakespeare. My earliest compositions coincidentally included many of Shakespeare’s plants as allusions to avian habitats, food sources, and nesting materials. When I realized this overlap, I committed to having Shakespeare's 182 botanical species in the artwork. I refer to early modern botanical illustrations to capture how each plant species looked in the 17th century.
Limited Edition Prints
The original paintings measure 30x22 inches. I paint with acrylic ink on hot press watercolor paper. The originals are not for sale. Instead, I have gathered a team of Maine-based companies to create a limited run of signed, archival prints.
My paintings are scanned using state-of-the-art equipment by The Osher Map Library and Center for Cartographic Research. Then, they are professionally printed by Grapheteria in Portland. The first edition (1/75) is framed by Christine’s Gallery in Camden using local maple. Finally, the prints are exhibited and sold through Portland Art Gallery.
Prints measure 30x22 inches —the same size as the original artwork— and are created on comparable fine art paper. I took every precaution to ensure that the original paintings and their reproductions are identical when viewed side-by-side.
Edition numbers #2 - 75 are available unframed.
Would you like to become a collector? If you commit to acquiring five or more prints, Portland Art Gallery will provide a 10% discount. A commitment of ten or more gives a 20% discount.
Your Purchase Supports Wildlife Conservation
Most birds that Shakespeare admired can be viewed and appreciated in our backyards. Through nature, we can step back in time and experience Shakespeare’s world— if we preserve it. By highlighting the beauty of these creatures and the treasured literature they inspired, The Birds of Shakespeare reminds us that the destruction of wildlife is a cultural loss and an environmental one.
10% of profits are donated to wildlife conservation charities. Funds collected in 2022 will be sent to Avian Haven, an avian rehabilitation and refuge center in Maine. Avian Haven is one of the largest avian refuge centers in the American Northeast.
About the Artist, Missy Dunaway
I discovered a passion for Shakespeare as an undergraduate art student at Carnegie Mellon University, and I have been reading and watching his plays ever since. The Birds of Shakespeare is a product of my curiosity about birds, literature, and language.
I am an artist and author based in southern Maine. I released my first book in 2021, an international travelogue comprised of eighty paintings: The Traveling Artist: A Visual Journal.
You can learn more about my project and keep in touch at birdsofshakespeare.com.
Shakespeare Research References
Bach, Rebecca Ann. Birds and Other Creatures in Renaissance Literature. New York: Routledge, 2018.
Geikie, Archibald. The Birds of Shakespeare. Glasgow: James Maclehose and Sons, 1916.
Givens, Jean; Reeds, Karen; Touwaide, Alain. Visualizing Medieval Medicine and Natural History, 1200-1550. New York: Routledge, 2016.
Goodfellow, Peter. Shakespeare’s Birds. Madison: Magna Books, 1994.
Greenoak, Francesca. All The Birds of the Air. 2nd ed. Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1981.
Harting, James Edmund. The Birds of Shakespeare. London: J. Van Voorst, 1871.
Hunter, Matthew C. Wicked Intelligence: Visual Art and the Science of Experiment in Restoration London. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.
Kinney, Arthur. The Birds and Beasts of Shakespeare. Easthampton: Cheloniidae Press, 1990.
McColley, Diane Kelsey. Poetry and Ecology in the Age of Milton and Marvell. Farnham: Ashgate, 2007.
Norton Shakespeare Anthology. New York: Norton & Company, 2008.
Oxford Anthology of Shakespeare. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.
Phipson, Emma. Animal-Lore of Shakespeare’s Time. Glastonbury: The Lost Library, 1883.
Remmert, Volker. Picturing the Scientific Revolution. Philadelphia: Saint Josephs University Press, 2011.
Roos, Anna Marie. Martin Lister and His Remarkable Daughters: The Art of Science in the Seventeenth Century. Oxford: Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, 2019.
Schmidt, Alexander. Shakespeare Lexicon and Quotation Dictionary. New York: Dover, 1971.
Stochelbach, Lavonia. The Birds of Shakespeare. London: B. T. Batsford, 1953.
Thiselton-Dyer, Thomas Firminger. Folk-Lore of Shakespeare. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1884.
Turberville, George. Book of Falconrie, 1575. Held by British Library.
Folger Shakespeare Library - LUNA Digital Image Collection, British Book Illustrations Collection
The British Library
The Victoria and Albert Museum Collections
Ornithology Research References
Audubon, John James. Birds of America: Baby Elephant Folio. New York: Abbeville, 2009.
Coward, Thomas. The Birds of the British Isles and their Eggs. London: Frederick Warne and Co, 1926.
Sibley, David Allen. Hawks in Flight – Second Edition. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012.
Sibley, David Allen. The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001.
Sibley, David Allen. The Sibley Guide to Birds – Second Edition. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.
Svensson, Lars. Collins Bird Guide: The Most Complete Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe. London: Harper Collins, 2015.
British Trust for Ornithology
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of
Botany Research References
Besler, Basilius. The Hortus Eystettensis (1613). London: British Library, 1994.
Blackwell, Elizabeth. A Curious Herbal. London: John Nourse, 1737.
Ellacombe, Henry Nicholson. The Plant-Lore & Garden-Craft of Shakespeare. William Pollard, 1878.
Fisher, Celia. The Golden Age of Flowers: Botanical Illustration in the Age of Discovery 1600-1800. London: British Library, 2011.
Gerard, John. Gerards Herbal History of Plants (1597). London: Studio Limited, 1994.
Marshal, Alexander. The Florilegium of Alexander Marshal at Windsor Castle (1650). London: Royal Collection Trust, 2000.