Unicorns in Shakespeare

William Shakespeare mentioned unicorns three times in his plays: Julius Caesar (1599), Timon of Athens (1605), and The Tempest (1610).

In Julius Caesar, Decius described how a unicorn could be caught by a tree, “That Unicornes may be betrayed with Trees,” – insinuating that a unicorn would charge a hunter who would then sidestep at the last second causing the unicorn to lodge his horn into the tree.

In Timon of Athens, while Timon was raging against mankind and wishing ill will on everyone, he yelled at Apemantus, “wert thou the unicorn, pride and wrath would confound thee and make thine own self the conquest of thy fury.”timon-of-athens-shakespeare-unicornIn the Tempest, the veracity behind travellers’ tales were brought into question. Perhaps referencing the unicorn witnessed in Mecca by Ludovico di Varthema in 1503, Sebastian said, “A living drollery. Now I will believe / That there are unicorns, that in Arabia / There is one tree, the phoenix’ throne, one phoenix / At this hour reigning there.”the-tempest-shakespeare-unicorn

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