The typical depiction of a rabbit, especially when used in Medieval art and literature, is an image of purity and innocence—a harmless puff of cuddly cuteness. Another common association with the rabbit is that of fertility, a sensical comparison when one is aware of the speed at which the species copulates. In some medieval illuminated manuscripts however, the illustration of a rabbit turns from harmless to violent, with several examples showcasing the formerly innocent creature in the act of decapitation and other sword-wielding wrongdoings.
A way to analyze these drolleries, or medieval margin illustrations, is to think about the violent role reversals as humorous symbolism. Because these animals were so low on the totem pole of fear, it was quite amusing to the medieval illustrator to draw them enacting a revenge—silly animals on the opposite side of the slaughtering. This was also a way for the artist to show the stupidity of the human who was the object of the rabbits’ anger, one who was foolish enough to be bludgeoned by bunny.
If all of this is hitting a little too close to Monty Python and the Holy Grail for you, read this comparison by Sexy Codicology between the historical illustrations and the film. Oh, and of course watch the killer bunny scene to see a modern day take on these vengeful rabbits.
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