Peter Goodfellow's Shakespeare's Birds
illustrated by Peter Hayman
published in 1983 by Kestrel Books
This is not an earth-shattering book. It is not a weighty, academic study. It is gentle and unassuming, with the flavour of a pleasant conversation about it.
The illustrations are detailed and thoughtful.
I learned some stuff I didn't know - like, for example, some of the old country names for birds, such as ouzel for blackbird, throstle for song thrush and puttock for the red kite. Some of the conventions and stories Shakespeare would have drawn on in his use of bird imagery I knew, such as the swan who only sings as she dies, or the barnacle goose being born from barnacles and therefore being okay to eat during Lent (because it was technically a fish ...) But others were new to me - the kingfisher, for example (known as the halcyon as in halcyon days) was thought to build its nest out of fish-bones, floating on a calm sea. And a dead owl, nailed over a door, kept evil away.
But it isn't at heart an I'm-going-to-teach-you-stuff book. What it boils down to is, Goodfellow really likes birds, and he really likes Shakespeare, and he hopes you do too. And the one thing Shakespeare's Birds achieved above everything else was to remind me of just how utterly mellifluous the plays and sonnets are. It made me want to go back and re-read them.
So thank you to the second-hand bookshop I found this book in, and here's to many more pleasant surprises in the future. What would I quite like to find next? Well, J.E. Harting's The Ornithology of Shakespeare critically examined, explained and illustrated, published in 1871, and listed in Goodfellow's "Suggestions for Further Reading" would be nice.*
And how about you? Tell us about your favourite finds, in the random and serendipitous world of charity and second-hand bookshops - the books you maybe didn't even know existed, that now have a new home on your book shelves.
Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.
(*After typing those words I had a bash at googling Harting's book and lo and behold, I can read it on the Guggenheim online archive here - so that's my distraction for the day organised, without even leaving the house!)