Missy Dunaway

Birds of Shakespeare: Peregrine Falcon (Faclo Peregrinus), 2022 (1/75)

Limited Edition Giclee Print

30 x 22 in

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Painting Key


Fauna: 2 Peregrine falcons

Objects: 4 Peregrine falcon eggs, 15 peregrine falcon feathers, 1 imped peregrine falcon feather, assemblage of falconry gear: 3 falcon’s hoods of early 17th-century English designs2, 3 pairs of bells, 7 jesses, 1 harness with leash, 2 hood maker’s awls)

 

Literary Guide


Occurrences in text: 1 | Plays: Romeo and Juliet | Name as it appears in the text: “tassel-gentle”

 

Analysis: Shakespeare peppers falconry terminology throughout his dialogue, similar to how a baseball lover uses the phrases "home run," "out of the park," and "swing for the fences" in everyday conversation. The references are difficult to catch because they effortlessly weave in and out of casual dialogue. Should every mention to a jesse, bell, hood, or pitch count as a reference to the falcon? Those references are omitted from the count because they could refer to other birds used in falconry.

 

There is only one explicit reference to the peregrine falcon, or "tassel gentle," used by Juliet to describe Romeo:

 

Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene 2, Line 1019

 

Juliet: Hist! Romeo, hist! O, for a falconer's voice, To lure this tassel-gentle back again!
Bondage is hoarse, and may not speak aloud; Else would I tear the cave where Echo lies,

And make her airy tongue more hoarse than mine, With repetition of my Romeo's name.

 

Juliet is calling for Romeo to return like a falconer calls back its falcon. Juliet might have chosen to compare Romeo to a tassel-gentle instead of a merlin or kestrel due to his social status. In falconry, each species was flown by a different social class. Gyrfalcons were reserved for kings, peregrine falcons for nobility, merlins for high-born ladies, sparrowhawks for priests and clergy, and kestrels for commoners.3 Juliet’s choice to describe Romeo as a “tassel-gentle” indicates he is a “gentile” member of the nobility.

An illustration of birds that could be trained for falconry, from Simon Latham’s New and Second Booke on Falconrie, 1618. (Folger Shakespeare Library, LUNA Folger Digital Image Collection - Digital Image 065504)

Endnotes

 

[1] BirdLife International. 2021. Falco peregrinus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2021: e.T45354964A206217909.
[2] “Falcon’s Hood,” Leather tooled and gilded, with applied silk velvet embroidered with silver thread, and silk and silver braids and tuft, early 17th century, T.244-1960, (V&A South Kensington), https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O318742/falcons-hood-unknown/, Accessed July 7, 2021.
[3] Harting, J., The Birds of Shakespeare, (London: John Van Voorst, Paternoster Row, 1871), 52-53.