Missy Dunaway

Birds of Shakespeare: Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus Colchicus), 2022 (1/75)

Limited Edition Giclee Print

30 x 22 in

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Painting Key

Fauna: 2 male ring-necked pheasants, 1 female ring-necked pheasant

Flora: Food sources: blackberry, gooseberry, grapes, maize; nesting materials: grass

Objects: 13 ring-necked pheasant feathers, 16 ring-necked pheasant eggs, 4 pieces of cutlery with carved ivory handles depicting Edward IV, Richard III, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I (c. 1607)1

Plants mentioned by Shakespeare: Blackberry, gooseberry, grapes, grass.


Literary Guide

Occurrences in text: 1 | Plays: The Winter’s Tale | Name as it appears in the text: “pheasant”


It is estimated the pheasant was introduced to England by the Romans in the 11th century.2 It flourished as a wild and domesticated bird and is now one of England’s most common game birds. Shakespeare only refers to the pheasant twice in The Winter’s Tale despite its prevalence.


The line is set up by the con artist Autolycus, who poses as a courtier to swindle a shepherd and clown. He asks them for an advocate, or a representative to validate their business with the king. The shepherd and clown are unfamiliar with court language and customs, so they misunderstand the request. The clown misinterprets “advocate” as a fancy word for a bribe, as it was common for gamebirds to be used as bribes for local magistrates.3


The Winter’s Tale, Act IV, Scene 4, Line 717


Shepherd: My business, sir, is to the king.
Autolycus: What advocate hast thou to him?
Shepherd: I know not, an't like you.
Clown: Advocate's the court-word for a pheasant: say you have none.

Shepherd: None, sir; I have no pheasant, cock nor hen.


The pheasant is mentioned with other domesticated birds raised for food, so I posed my pheasants with seventeenth century cutlery. The carved ivory handles depict kings from Shakespeare’s plays (Richard III, Edward IV, and Henry VIII) and Queen Elizabeth I.4


Surrounding flora are plants in the pheasant’s diet that are also mentioned by Shakespeare. Shakespeare uses the word “corn,” but the variety he was familiar with looked more like wheat.


The corn represented in my painting is maize, which was first harvested in Oaxaca, Tehuacan, Mexico, 10,000 years ago and was brought to Europe via Spain in 1493.5 It had been introduced to England by Shakespeare’s lifetime and was even described in Gerard’s Herbal as “Turky corne,” but it would have been a little-known novelty to the general public.6



[1] Set of 14 knives. Object 454-1869. Victoria and Albert Museum


[2] Harting, J., The Birds of Shakespeare, (London: John Van Voorst, Paternoster Row, 1871).

[3] Shakespeare, William. "The Winter’s Tale." The Norton Anthology. 2nd ed. Eds. Greenblatt, Stephen, Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard, and Katherine Eisaman Maus. New York: W.W Norton, 2008. 3106. Print.

[4] Set of 14 knives. Object 454-1869. Victoria and Albert Museum

[5] “The Natural History of Maize,” Encyclopedia.com. https://www.encyclopedia.com/food/encyclopedias-almanacs- transcripts-and-maps/natural-history-maize. Accessed on April 4, 2022.


[6] Gerard, J. Gerard’s Herbal. Studio Editions Ltd. (Guernsey: The Guernsey Press Co Ltd., 1994), Pg. 25.