Ep 162: The Grass Snake and the Basilisk with Rob Lenders


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In Elizabethan England, the basilisk was a feared and hateful creature, capable of killing someone with just a glance. Of the 8 references to basilisks in Shakespeare’s plays, half of these invoke the reputation of being able to kill with a look. European bestiaries record the basilisk as a legendary serpent ruling as King of the reptiles and while the folklore far outpaces the science, recent historical studies of animals from Elizabethan England reveal that the basilisk may have been a term applied to a real snake that made its home across Northern Europe when Shakespeare was writing about basilisks in his plays. Our guest this week is author of The Grass Snake and the Basilisk, a research project that takes a historical perspective on how the specific attributes of human life in Elizabethan England created an ideal home for the grass snake, an animal who defends itself by creating a death like gaze. We are pleased to welcome Rob Lender to the show this week to explain the history of the real animal Shakespeare calls a basilisk.

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