Hedgehogs in Shakespeare’s plays and the early modern imagination

What did people in Shakespeare’s time think about hedgehogs? See where his plays reference them, and check out a 17th-century recipe for hedgehog pudding.

While the global population of European hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) is stable, their numbers have been rapidly declining in the UK for decades, especially in rural areas. This has led to a huge upswell of conservation efforts as people try to protect the UK’s only spiny mammal, and one of these efforts is centered in Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon, which has dubbed itself a Hedgehog-Friendly Town.

Stratford’s most famous resident paints a less-than-flattering picture of the humble hedgehog, however. In Richard III, for instance, Richard goads Anne about her father-in-law, King Henry VI, whom Richard has killed (according to Shakespeare, at least). Richard denies it until Anne, fed up, asks him the direct question:

ANNE
Didst thou not kill this king?

RICHARD
I grant you.

ANNE
Dost grant me, hedgehog? Then, God grant me too
Thou mayst be damned for that wicked deed.
O, he was gentle, mild, and virtuous. (1.2.108-111)

The Oxford English Dictionary cites this as an example of an obsolete Continue reading