The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1770 Tuesday, 17 July 2001
From: Robin Hamilton <
Date: Friday, 13 Jul 2001 22:37:53 +0100
Subject: 12.1753 Cockerel's Stone
Comment: Re: SHK 12.1753 Cockerel's Stone
> From: Philip Weller <
> > ... the size of a cockerel's stone.
> That's something I've always wondered about. I thought that a cockerel
> didn't have a visible stone.
> Please tell what you found out.
The bump on Juliet's head was "about the bignesse of a beane".
But to go back a little (and with acknowledgement to Larry Weiss, who
raised the line in the context of this thread) to R&J I, iii, 52-54 ...
"and yet I warrant it had vpon it brow, a bump as big as a young
Cockrels stone: a perillous knock ... "
(Printed as prose in Q2, and with spelling and punctuation variants, F.
The Nurse's lines (50-57) are absent in Q1)
(The line from R&J is found in OED2 cited under BUMP n2 II.
Swelling. 3. A protuberance such as is caused by a blow or collision;
a swelling, an irregular prominence.)
The normal (e.g. Arden, 1980) and apparently obvious gloss to this is:
stone = testicle, and there is indeed some substantiation for this in
OED2. There (cited under STONE n. 11. a. A testicle: chiefly in pl.
Obs. exc. in vulgar use), we find:
1542 BOORDE _Dyetary_ xviii. The stones of a cockrell, & the stones of
other beestes that hath not done theyr kynde, be nutrytyue.
Under TESTICLE (b. Rarely applied to the corresponding organs in
non-mammals), we have:
1634 R.H._ Salerne's Regiment_ 36 Testicles or Stones, and especially
stones of fatte Cockes . be very good and great nourishers.
Against these two citations of a cockerel or cock's testicular equipment
in a culinary context, if we move on to "cock-stone", a different, or
further, possible interpretation begins to emerge.
Under "cock-stone" (1. A stone fabled to be found in a cock's gizzard),
we have as citations in OED2:
1586 BRIGHT Melanch. Xxxix 257 The Alectorian or Cockes stone .
wherewith (as it is reported) the famous Milo Crotonien always stoode
1611 COTG, _Alectoire_, the cocke stone; a Christall coloured stone (as
big as a beane) found in the gyzerne, or maw of some Cockes.
Ahha!! We have the size, and moreover colour -- crystal-coloured, and
as big as a bean. And dear Milo's invincible strides.
To brief what might become a somewhat tedious trail, in OED2 under
ALECTORIAN (A stone fabled to be found in a cock's gizzard), we have two
further references to the crystal-coloured bean-sized stone found in a
cock's gizzard. Under GIZZARD, we have two more references.
Moving to the EMEDD (with a slight overlap with the OED2 citations) we
have five references (from Thomas:1587, Florio:1598, Cotgrave:1611, and
Blount:1656 [not to mention two further Florio references to: "Radiano,
a bright black stone found in a cocks head"]) along the lines of, "A
stone in the mawe or gisard of a Cocke, of the bignesse of a Beane, and
in colour like Cristall."
The idea of a cock's stone as being found in its gizzard rather than
between its legs seems singularly widespread around the time Shakespeare
is writing _Romeo and Juliet_.
But where did this mysterious stone come from? For once, there is a
degree of certainty (and welcome back Milo, with your striding
Step forward Pliny, _Libros Naturalis Historiae_ (first translated into
English by Philomen Holland in 1603, but obviously widely known even
before then): Book 37, section 144:
144 Alectorias vocant in ventriculis gallinaceorum inventas crystallina
specie, magnitudine fabae, quibus Milonem Crotoniensem usum in
certaminibus invictum fuisse videri volunt. - Androdamas argenti nitorem
habet [ut adamas], quadratis semper tessellis similis. Magi putant nomen
inpositum ab eo, quod impetus hominum et iracundias domet. argyrodamas
eadem sit an alia, auctores non explicant.
So there we have it -- Pliny's magic stone, found in a cock's gizzard
and conferring invincibility on Milo of Croton, the size of a bean and
the colour of crystal, ends up by being confused by the Nurse with the
testicular stone to be found between a cockerel's legs.
But how did the Alectorian stone enter English, if not via Holland's
translation of Pliny? At this point, I'm moving into the area of
somewhat dubious inference, as I haven't yet had a chance to check the
We need to go to the earliest citation under "alectorian" in OED2:
1398 Trevisa Barth. De P.R. xvi. xvi. (1495) 558 Alectoria is a stone
that is founde in the mawes of capons and is lyke to dymme cristall.
This takes us to Bartholomaeus Anglicus (fl. 1230-50) and his _De
The Trevisa translation of 1398 was only the first of several English
translations of this work, the most important (and enormously popular)
of which was by Wynkyn de Worde in 1495. This finally settled down as
the sixteenth-century best-selling pop-philosophy handbook, _Batman on
Bartholomew_, a shortened version of de Worde's text, printed in 1582.
It is this text, I suspect, that popularises Pliny's Alectorian stone in
[As everyone's patience has by now presumably run out, I'll refrain from
raising the question as to why, in Giambattista della Porta's _Magiae
Naturalis_ of 1558 (referred to by Huysman in _La Bas_), the stone may
be located in the cock's stomach rather than its gizzard, and The
Curious Case of Culpeper's _Herbal_.]
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