Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (1591-95)

Benvolio.         Here comes Romeo, here comes Romeo.

Mercutio.         Without his roe, like a dried herring: flesh, flesh, how art thou fishified! Now is he for the numbers that Petrarch flowed in: Laura to his lady was but a kitchen-wench; marry, she had a better love to be-rhyme her; Dido a dowdy; Cleopatra a gipsy; Helen and Hero hildings and harlots; Thisbe a grey eye or so, but not to the purpose. Signior Romeo, Bon jour, there’s a French salutation to your French slop…             (II.iii.32­–40)


Marston, The Dutch Courtesan (c. 1604)—Moll’s defense of prostitutes:

…Fish that must needs bite or themselves be bitten,
Such hungry things as these may soon be took
With a worm fast’ned on a golden hook;
Those are the lecher’s food, his prey.   (III.i.97–100)

And Cockledemoy: “I must have the salmon, too” (3.3.109).


Beaumont and Fletcher, The Woman Hater (1607)

Laz.     Thither must I to see my Loves face, the caste Virgin head
Of a dear Fish, yet pure and undeflowered,
Not known of man no rough bred countrey hand,
Hath once toucht thee, no Pandars withered paw,
Nor an un-napkin’d Lawyers greasie fist,
Hath once slubbered thee: no Ladies supple hand,
Wash’d o’er with Urine, hath yet seiz’d on thee
With her two nimble talents: no Court hand,
Whom his own natural filth, or change of air,
Hath bedeck’d with scabs, hath marr’d they whiter frace:
Oh let it be thought lawful then for me,
To crop the flower of thy Virginity.     (I.iii)

Laz.     …Shew me but any Lady in the Court,
That hath so full an eye, so sweet a breath,
So soft and white a flesh: this doth not lie
In almond floves, nor ever hath bin washt
In artificiall baths: no traveler
That hath brought doctor home with him, hath dar’d
With all his waters, powders, Fucusses,
To make thy lovely corps sophisticate. (III.iii)


Laz.     Boy, whereabouts are we?

Boy      Sir, by all tokens this is the house, bawdy I am sure, by the broken windows, the Fish head is within; if ye dare venture, here you may surprise it.


Laz.     I will go in and live; pretend some love to the Gentlewoman, screw my self in affection, and so be satisfied… only my appetite shall go along with me, arm’d with whose strength, I fearless will attempt the greatest danger dare oppose my fury: I am resolv’d where ever that thou art; most sacred dish, hid from unhallow’d eyes, to find thee out.
Be’st thou in Hell, rap’t by Proserpina,
To be a rival in black Pluto’s love;
Or mov’st thou in heavens, a form Divine:
Lashing the lazie Sphear[s],
Or if thou be’st return’d to thy first Being,
Thy mother Sea, there will I seek thee forth.
Earth, Air, nor Fire,
Nor the black shades below shall bar my sight
So daring is my powerful appetite.

Boy.     Sir, you may save yourself this long voyage, and take a shorter cur: you have forgot your self, the fish head’s here, your own imaginations have made you mad.


Laz.     The looks of my sweet love are fair,
Fresh and feeding as the air
Was never seen so rare a head
Of any Fish alive or dead.