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Shakespeare’s Hay Day

Never in a million years would I have thought I would voluntarily take on a Shakespeare quote to decode.

Yet here I am, several decades from the perils of high school English doing just that.

This idea came to me when I was researching the subject of spavins and I came across a passage from Taming of the Shrew, as you do, which proved interesting. 

“…his horse hipped, with an old mothy saddle and stirrups of no kindred; besides, possessed with the glanders and like to mose in the chine, troubled with the lampass, infected with the fashions, full of windgalls, sped with spavins, rayed with the yellows, past cure of the fives, stark spoiled with the staggers, begnawn with the bots, swayed in the back and shoulder-shotten; near-legged before…” Act 3, Scene 2.

I’ve whittled the paragraph down to only the section that talks about lameness and disease and removed the bits about clothing and tack. 

I was surprised that some terms such as windgalls, spavins and bots are still around some 500 years later. Let’s be honest, the other words and sentences are strange and so I thought why not plunge into Shakespeare once more, for old-time sake?

We’ll start at the beginning for obvious reasons.

“Horse hipped” 

The word hipped came about in the 1500s which fits in well with Shakespeare’s time. Hipped means to have hips, which we all do but I assume if you are hipped you have prominent hip bones, which I most certainly do not. A“horse hipped” therefore must mean a horse with protruding hip bones, like that of a Jersey cow, due to lack of condition and/or health.

“Stirrups of no kindred” 

When I first read this, I wondered what stirrups had to do with family. Nothing as it happens. “Stirrups of no kindred” is a confusing way of saying that Petruchio’s stirrups didn’t match. I tend to take things quite literally. It is written; therefore, it is. 

“Possessed with glanders 

Glanders is a bacterial disease that is highly contagious and fatal. It has been around since the 15 century and is characterized by ulcerating growths found in the upper respiratory tract, lungs and skin and comes with a perfuse amount of nasal discharge. Today this disease is largely under control but was once prevalent worldwide.

This is an artistic way of referencing thedark discharge coming from a horse’s nostrils due to glanders. 

“Mose in the chine” 

Mose means to be infected with glanders. 

Chine means spine. The word has been around since the 1300s and I have no idea what it has to do with glanders or nasal discharge unless we are referencing the overall appearance of a hipped horse with glanders. 

“Troubled with lampass” 

Now, lampass is a swelling of the mucous membrane on the roof of a horse’s mouth about the size of a nut, which is caused by…glanders. 

“Infected with the fashions” 

Despite what almost every dictionary in the world will tell you fashions have nothing to do with clothing but rather a horse disease that affects the nose and mouth, much like glanders, or perhaps the same as. 

“Full of windgalls” 

I think we know what this means.

“Sped with spavins” 

We learnt the word spavin (noun) a few weeks ago regarding bone and bog spavins, but we were also introduced to the word spavined (adjective) which means old and decrepit. It was this “sped” part of the sentence that threwme for a loop, but eventually, I found that “sped with spavins” means done for, which leaves things unclear and confusing.

Thankfully, I’m not being graded, and I think it’s safe to say that the horse has both bog and bone spavins and is indeed spavined. 

“Rayed with the yellows” 

The term “yellows” is a fungal or viral plant disease, but it also means to be jaundiced. So, our poor horse here was experiencing some liver issues on top of everything else.

“Past cure of the fives” 

The first part of this makes sense, but what are fives

This wasn’t easy to find, but I did manage to find a peer review journal that said in ancient times the term “fives” was used to describe the five signs of inflammation which are redness, swelling, heat, pain and loss of function. This idea dates back to35 B.C. or thereabouts so it makes sense that Shakespeare would say this.

“Stark spoiled with staggers” 

Stark means, amongst other things, stiff and rigid and was commonly used in the 1400s when you might hear someone say, “He is stark dead.” Horses with staggers, I suspect, walk in a stiff and rigid way. 

There are two types of staggers. The first is grass staggers,which is a disorder where the horse adopts a staggering gait due to a lack of coordination, muscle spasms and tremors. And thesecond is rye-grass staggers with the same symptoms as above but they are also unable to eat, drink, or pass manure and urine.

“Begnaw with the bots” 

The same old bots that we have today, Shakespeare just added the descriptive word of begnawwhich is to say the bots are gnawing at the horse. 

“Swayed in the back” 

I think we can decode this one without help.


Shotten in the 1500s meant exhausted by sickness, however, shoulder-shotten means a sprained or dislocated shoulder, which I expect, is exhausting and painful especially when Petruchio hops on for a ride.

“Near legged before” 

A confusing way of saying the horse is narrow-chested and therefore his front legs are rather close together.

I’m not claiming to have read Taming of the Shrew but there issome discussion out there that the horse in question is a symbolic description of Petruchio’s wife Katharine. Who by all accounts wasn’t the healthiest sounding woman.

It astounds me that 500 years after Shakespeare’s hay day, so much horse terminology has remained the same. Thankfully, the same does not hold true for the way we speak. 


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