- That an owl's cry means death or disaster is an old and widespread motif, both in folk belief and as a literary convention; it applies most strongly to the screech of the barn owl. To see an owl by daylight, or to have one knock against the window, is especially ominous (Opie and Tatem, 1989: 295-6).Ophelia in her madness remarks 'They say the owl was a baker's daughter' (Hamlet, iv. v), a reference to a medieval legend of the widespread type which offers an 'explanation' based on some imaginary incident in Jesus's life. Jesus, passing a baker's shop, asked for bread; the baker's wife was about to put a good slab of dough into her oven for him, when her daughter snatched most of it back, saying it was far too much for a beggar. But at once it swelled up enormously. 'Oo, ooo, oooo!' she cried, and turned into an owl (Howard Staunton (ed.), The Plays of Shakespeare (1858)).
A Dictionary of English folklore. Jacqueline Simpson & Steve Roud. 2014.
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