April 23, 2016 is the 400th birthday of William Shakespeare. I have read nearly everything written by Shakespeare, and I have had the pleasure, yes I’m serious, of teaching Hamlet four times a day for a solid month for ten years during my tenure teaching English at a large boarding school. My corgis Winston, and later Comet, sat with me during much of the time I spent reading Shakespeare’s words, and Winston even helped grade many a paper written by a student struggling to understand a play or a poem. Shakespeare’s plays have been made into successful modern day films and one would be hard pressed to find someone unfamiliar with at least the tale of Romeo and Juliet.
Although there is no direct mention of the ancient dog breed of the corgi in the Bard’s works, the early word from which “corgi” is derived is “cur” which meant dog, without the contemptuous meaning it later implies. There are two mentions of “cur” in the plays. First, Macbeth compares men to dogs, saying that the word dog covers every type of dog or wolf, just as the word men encompasses a huge array of personalities and types. In MacBeth III.i.92 (Macbeth says to Murderers) “in the catalogue ye go for men, as hounds and greyhounds, mongrels, spaniels, curs…all by the name of dogs…And so of men.”
Another mention of “cur” appears in Merchant of Venice I.iii.115 (Shylock says to Antonio) “You, that did…foot me as you spurn a stranger cur/Over your threshold.” Here, Shylock accuses Antonio of dismissing him, just as one would eject a stray dog from one’s home.
Trystan was hard pressed to pick a play to read for the 4ooth birthday. The Riverside edition alone includes over 37 plays and over a hundred sonnets. Trystan also checked out the Cliff Notes for something shorter and in “plain English”–or so it seemed. Perhaps the original words as Shakespeare wrote them would be more appealing to the Celtic ears of the noble corgi?