In Shakespeare’s day, falconry and hawking were elite, expensive sports pursued by the upper classes. This beautifully illustrated manual, aimed at ‘Noblemen and Gentlemen’, offers advice on how to train hawks and conduct oneself in exclusive hunting circles.
The gendered language of falconry
Turberville makes fascinating use of strongly gendered language to describe the process of training birds, especially female hawks or ‘haggards’. In his instructions on how to ‘make a Falcon’ fly (pp. 79–80) and how to ‘make flight for a Haggard’ (pp. 151–52), the relationship between man and hawk seems based on subordination, but also the need for ‘care’ and ‘cherishing’ to make her do his will (p. 152).
The (male) human tames the wild (female) hawk by ‘hooding’ her and controlling her food. But he should ‘use hir gently’ to ensure she is ‘better manned’ (pp. 79, 128) – a term which makes taming seem masculine. However, Turberville also warns of the haggard’s rebellious power. Without careful treatment ‘she will not long be at your commaundement, but make you follow hir’ (p. 152).
The Taming of the Shrew
In Shakespeare’s play, The Taming of the Shew, men use animal terms to dehumanise women by comparing them to shrews, haggards and wild-cats. Petruchio employs the elite language of falconry to describe his taming methods, suggesting his dominant status, both in terms of social class and gender. He says he will ‘man’ his ‘haggard’ (4.1.193) by restricting Kate’s food and sleep, but insists ‘all this is reverend care of her’ (4.1.204). As a metaphor for marriage, falconry conveys the tension between respect and ruthless mastery.
Yet the falcon’s – and the woman’s – power is not fully suppressed by Shakespeare. Petruchio’s success is contrasted with Hortensio’s failure to win Bianca, ‘this proud disdainful haggard’ (4.2.39). Moreover, in John Fletcher’s play, The Woman’s Prize, or The Tamer Tamed (c. 1611), a comic sequel to Shakespeare’s, Petruchio’s new wife Maria proclaims herself a ‘free haggard’ (1.2.150).
Who was George Turberville?
George Turberville (1543?–c. 1597) was part of an established family with a long history in Dorset – they appear in Thomas Hardy’s famous novel, Tess of the D'Urbervilles. But because George was the fifth son, he didn’t inherit the family fortune and had to support himself financially. The Booke of Faulconrie or Hauking was perhaps compiled with the hope of securing noble patronage to fund Turberville’s other work as a poet and translator.
The Booke of Faulconrie is usually bound with The Noble Arte of Venerie or Hunting (1575), which was previously thought to be by Turberville, but is actually by George Gascoigne.