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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: December ::
What's a "meacock"?
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.2420  Tuesday, 17 December 2002

From:           Al Magary <
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Date:           Friday, 13 Dec 2002 23:51:54 -0800
Subject:        What's a "meacock"?

[Xposted Shaksper and MedTextL]

I need help identifying what may be a bird name, used figuratively:
"meicocke" or "mecocke," standardized by OED1 as "meacock," meaning
effeminate person, coward, weakling.  That edition says the origin is
obscure, "perhaps the name of some bird," referring the user to a 1575
quotation:  "As stoute as a Stockefish, as meeke as a mecocke."

This epithet occurs at least twice in one of Shakespeare's sources,
Hall's Chronicle (citations to 1550 ed.), and both times is used with
either "dastard" or "bastard":

*In the late days of Richard II, in 1399, as Henry of Bolingbroke, Duke
of Lancaster, is marching to overthrow the king (Fol. 6r, ll. 11-18):
"When the Duke hadde perceaued the fauour of the Nobilitie, the
affection of the Cleargie and the sincere loue of the comminalte towarde
hym and hys procedynges, he marched forewarde with a greate company
toward the West countrey, and in passynge by the waie, the people
assembled in great and houge multitudes (as the nature of the common
people is, euer desirous of newe changes) callynge hym their kyng,
deprauynge and railyng on kyng Richard, as an innocent a dastarde, a
meicocke and not worthy to beare the name of a kynge."

*In connection with one of the numerous plots against the king during
Henry VII, about 1499-1500 (Fol. 50v, ll. 8-15):   "The skoler like a
good disciple, did not denye to folow his masters discipline &
counsayll, but more & more desired & put his master remembraunce to
performe & accoplish with al spede that thing which of his awn
liberalite, he before had to him both promised & assured, saiyng, what
Mecocke or bastard so sore afearde of trasgressing the law, or tymerous
of punishment, the which for to obteine a kingdo wil not attept to do
and suffre all thinges that be possible to be assayed & tasted."  (The
1809 transcription of the text has "dastard" in place of "bastard".)

Al Magary

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