The dogs of war (phrase)

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Punch cartoon from 17 June 1876. Russia preparing to let slip the "Dogs of War," its imminent engagement in the growing Balkan conflict between Slavic states and Turkey, while policeman John Bull (Britain) warns Russia to take care. The Slavic states of Serbia and Montenegro would declare war on Turkey two weeks later.

In English, the dogs of war is a phrase from Act 3, Scene 1, line 273 of William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: "Cry 'Havoc!', and let slip the dogs of war". Dog has its ordinary meaning; havoc is a military order permitting the seizure of spoil after a victory and let slip is to release from the leash.[1][2][3] Shakespeare's source for Julius Caesar was The Life of Marcus Brutus from Plutarch's Lives and the concept of the war dog appears in that work, in the section devoted to the Greek warrior Aratus.[4][5]

Apart from the literal meaning, parallels have been drawn with the prologue to Henry V, where the warlike king is described as having at his heels, awaiting employment, the hounds "famine, sword and fire".[6]

The phrase has now so far entered into general usage, in books, music, film and television, that it is now regarded as a cliché.[7]

See also


  1. ^ "dog, n1 1(d); havoc, n". Oxford English Dictionary (2 ed.). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. 1989. "esp[ecially] in Shakespearian phr[ase] the dogs of war" 
  2. ^ From the fourteenth century an unauthorised call to "havoc" during battle was punishable by death. Keen, Maurice (1995). "Richard II's Ordinances of War of 1385". In Archer, Rowena; Walker, Simon. Rulers and Ruled in Late Medieval England: Essays Presented to Gerald Harriss. London: Hambledon Press. pp. 33, 36. ISBN 1-85285-133-3. 
  3. ^ Bate, Jonathan (2007). "The Tragedy of Julius Caesar". William Shakespeare Complete Works. Rasmussen, Eric. London: Macmillan. p. 1834. "unleash" 
  4. ^ Bate (2007: 1803)
  5. ^ Lives Volume XX, chapter 24, in the Bernadotte Perrin translation
  6. ^ Cornwall, Barry (1843). The Works of Shakspere, Revised. 2. London: Robert Tyas. p. 518. OCLC 57461190. 
  7. ^ Partridge, Eric (1940). A Dictionary of Clichés. London: Routledge. p. 253. OCLC 460036269.