Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Shrew

We're talking Common Shrew here - Sorex araneus.

The first thing to get clear is a shrew is not a mouse - you are very unlikely to come across one in the house, and unless you are something of a night hawk, not outside either. Mind you - if you have a cat, it could well have brought one in.

They are small - the UK's smallest mammal in fact (when it gets really small as the pygmy shrew) - and have a pointed nose. They don't look like mice.

Now, what on earth is Shakespeare doing naming one of his most feisty female characters after such a small harmless thing?

Well, they have a reputation - and what a reputation (and a deserved one to boot). Two shrews can't meet without a boxing match developing (they raise up on their back legs and wave the front ones about). They kick and they bite.

Try picking one up and see it go for you.

Shrews are also distinctly carnivorous - no use scattering a couple of grains of corn around and expecting a grateful shrew - give it meat - a big, juicy worm for preference - rare, not overdone - keep the blood flowing. They also take care of snails and slugs (although they have to get along on insects most of the time).

They are territorial - and active (they can't go more than a couple of hours without eating or they die).

Shakespeare seems to have been familiar with the little bugger. I can imagine him watching them in operation in the fields around Stratford - even in the garden of his own home.

Bit of a naturalist is old Shakey.

I'm about to turn to his second written play, The Taming of the Shrew - couldn't get there without at least a nod to the original.

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