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The Accommodated Animal
“In an epiphany of mad reason, Lear considers the naked Edgar, who has stripped himself to put on the disguise of a madman.

"'Thou art the thing itself,' Lear declaims.; 'unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor, bare, forked animal as thou art (3.4.105-7).'

"Each point of specification the old king offers in this familiar line assesses the human estate by comparative reference to the bodily forms and natural capacities of nonhuman animals.

"It is worth reminding ourselves how sharoly negative these comparisons are."

The Accommodated Animal
Cosmopolity in Shakespearean Locales
by Laurie Shannon
University Of Chicago Press, 2012

"Likewise to every beast of the earth and to every foule of the heaven, and to every thing that moveth upon the earth, which hath life in it selfe, every greene herbe shall be for meate."
Genesis 1:30

While the early Bible attentively noted the presence of other creatures in our world, they are never referred to by the English word "animal" in the Great Bible of 1539, the Geneva Bible of 1560 or the King James Version of 1611.

The widely used noun is likewise missing from almost all of Shakespeare's oeuvre, save eight instances, while the words "beast" and "creature" appear more than a hundred times and references to specific species are everywhere:

"Exit, pursued by a bear."

The distinction is significant, acccording to professor Laurie Shannon, reflecting an important change in our relationship with the natural world and its non-human creatures, denying "animals" a place in the world that our thinking previously accommodated.

Field Hare by Albrecht Durer
Field Hare by Albrecht Durer

The Divine Appointment of Animals

In 1542, the great German monk and Protestant reformer Martin Luther lived in a household that included horses, pigs, cows, calves, chicken, pigeons, geese and a dog Tölpel "whom Luther expected to meet in heaven."

Luther believed that animals were witnesses and messengers of God's glory -- an intended worldly presence -- and not simply created for the convenience and sustenance of man, according to Shannon's analysis.

"Fruits were created chiefly as food for people and for beasts; the latter were created to the end we should laud and praise God."

In his Lectures on Genesis 1-5, Luther writes that "the mouse, too, is a divine creature... It has a very beautiful form - such pretty feet and such delicate hair that it is clear that it was created by the word of God with a definite plan in view. Therefore here, too, we admire God's creation and workmanship. The same thing may be said about flies."

Shannon's analysis of Luther's comments concludes that "the here-and-now facticity of observed animals grounds their privilege and divine appointment, and their presence as such warrants a spiritual attention."

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