Having blogged last month about groundhogs and quirky associations to the month of February, my mind automatically turned to thoughts of the March Hare for this months post :-)
The phrase “Mad as a March hare” has been bumping around in my head for as long as I can remember, but I never took the time to wonder “WHY?”. What is a march hare, where did he originate from and why is he bonkers?
Turns out this turn of phrase has everything to do with the crazy behavior of British bunnies, the European hare to be exact. A long-held view is that the hare will behave strangely and excitedly throughout its breeding season, which in Europe begins in March. This odd behavior includes boxing at other hares, jumping vertically for seemingly no reason and generally displaying abnormal behavior. Early observations of the boxing hares was believed to be between males fighting for breeding supremacy, but was later proven to be the defensive moves of females fighting off advances of overzealous frisky suitors.
An early verbal record of this animal’s strange behavior occurred in about 1500, in the poem Blowbol’s Test where the original poet said:
- “Thanne þey begyn to swere and to stare, And be as braynles as a Marshe hare”
- (Then they begin to swerve and to stare, And be as brainless as a March hare)
The March hare also has some association with our preferred time period of the 1800’s, as it was author Lewis Carroll’s book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, published in 1865, that truly coined the phrase and popularized (and there by immortalized) the saying with his character March Hare, whom most will recognize as the friend and tea party host of the Mad Hatter. The phrase “mad as a March Hare” was a popular saying of his time and in the early illustrations of Carroll’s book the March Hare wears straw around his head, a common way to depict madness in Victorian times. Lewis Carroll’s most famous writings, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass, as well as the poems “The Hunting of the Snark” and “Jabberwocky“, are all examples of the genre of literary nonsense. He is noted for his facility at word play, logic, and fantasy, and there are societies dedicated to the enjoyment and promotion of his works. The March Hare is Atlantic Canada’s largest poetry festival. The March Hare initiated in the 1980’s and began as an evening of poetry and entertainment in Corner Brook, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, and has evolved into an annual island-wide celebration of words and music. The festival took its name from the character in Carroll’s book. The name is also intended as a pun on the words here, celebrating a sense of place, and hear, since its focus is the spoken word.
So there you have it, the saying “mad as a March hare” originates from the crazy antics of horny Euro bunnies, an English idiomatic phrase which inspired the brilliance behind a genre of literary nonsense! Or is this more proof that love is what really drives us ALL mad? ;-)
Wishing everyone a happy March!