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Stuffed Alligator trope sourced!
Bar Harbor
alexx_kay
I was talking more with kestrell about possible sources for the "witches all have stuffed alligators hanging from the ceiling" trope. She opined that many such odd notions have their origin in Shakespeare, which seemed worth following up on.

A quick google of "alligator shakespeare" produced the information that Shakespeare is credited with first *use* of the word alligator, at least in more-or-less its modern form! And then I looked up that first use, and found...

Romeo & Juliet, V.i
I do remember an Appothacarie,
And here abouts a dwells which late I noted,
In tattred weeds with ouerwhelming browes,
Culling of simples, meager were his lookes,
Sharpe miserie had worne him to the bones:
And in his needie shop a tortoyes hung,
An allegater stuft
, and other skins
Of ill shapte fishes, and about his shelues,
A beggerly account of emptie boxes,
Greene earthen pots, bladders and mustie seedes,
Remnants of packthred, and old cakes of Roses
Were thinly scattered, to make vp a shew.
Noting this penury, to my selfe I said,
An if a man did need a poyson now,
Whose sale is present death in Mantua,
Here liues a Catiffe wretch would sell it him.
Now, in its original context, Romeo is clearly saying, "This guy's shop was so run-down, pathetic, and shabby, that I figured he was desperately poor, and thus would be willing to sell me poison." But one can easily see how the folk process could twist that into, "This is guy is evil, and will thus sell me poison," and from there to, "Romeo can tell this guy is evil *because* of the kinds of things hanging in his shop; they must be the sort of things evil poisoners (i.e. witches) always have."

I'd still be interested in tracking down, if possible, the intermediate steps that first made (or popularized) those memetic mutations. But I am confident that that's the primal source, and basic evolution of the notion.

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This is an interesting synchronicity with our "Double, double, toilet trouble" incident of this morning; since I have been reading that spell to the kids, reading this description is fun.

You've got an OED there -- what does it list for Alligator? (I've got one too, but I'm half-asleep.)

Further thinking about the original intent: I don't think it was odd, at the time, to use the ceiling for storage; many pictures show things depending from hooks in shops, so it must be the things themselves that are weird. The tortoise, the alligator, the ill-shaped fish. (Do you have any sense that S. was including the foregoing in the category "ill-shaped fish?" That somewhat simplistic taxonomy of things that go in the water all being fishes, etc...?)

Well, 'here' is currently 'at work', so no OED handy.

Yes, I'm pretty sure 'alligator' counts as a subset of 'fish', at least in Shakespeare's mind.

these are the sorts of things an alchemist would have -- exotic fish, reptiles and the like. In a slightly later age, they are the sorts of things a "natural philosopher" would have. The items themselves are not noteworthy except to describe his profession -- the key points are that the boxes are empty, the seeds are musty, the cakes of roses are old, and scattered about rather pathetically to make up a display.

I agree with your analysis of Shakespeare's intent and emphasis. But his presentation is a bit clumsy in construction, with the alternating emphasis on 'things which indicate poverty' and 'things which indicate alchemist'. I can easily see, say, Victorian Bardolaters thinking along the lines, "Shakespeare couldn't *ever* use an apparently clumsy construction like that without some Deep Meaning, so the hanging things must be Significant."

Interesting network of associations. A search on "Alchemist and alligator" brought me to Lisa Goldstein's "The Alchemist's Door," her fantasy involving John Dee and Edward Kelley. They enter an alchemist's shop which is furnished with all of the R&J apothecary's paraphernalia, including the stuffed alligator.

Alligators and apothecaries and alchemists. . .what a fascinating trail to follow.
I think the transfer of the stuffed alligator to witches happened much later, though, since the distinction between "book-learned" white magician or alchemist and "folkloric and traditional" witch persisted into the 19th century.

Quite likely. The earliest direct association I've found is from 1898. Moreover the chain of 'logic' I describe above smells Victorian to me.

Hm. Come to think of it, all the sources I know of that associate stuffed alligators with witches also have witches that are far more friendly than scary. Which again points to roughly Victorian.

What a book! It was published in 1898, but purports to be set in the mid-18th century, so the alligator and other curiosities in the witch's shop are taken straight from the 18th century satire that's cited in several of the editions of Shakespeare. .. and the witch herself appears (on quick reading) to be a medium with decidedly late-Victorian ideas about spirits.

I wonder if Shakespeare was making one of his (sometimes rather obscure) puns, this one on the fact that, even to this day alligation alternate is one of the most common of pharmaceutical calculations.

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