Jump to content

The dogs of war (phrase)

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

The dogs of war is a phrase spoken by Mark Antony in Act 3, Scene 1, line 273 of English playwright William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: "Cry 'Havoc!', and let slip the dogs of war."


In the scene, Mark Antony is alone with Julius Caesar's body, shortly after Caesar's assassination. In a soliloquy, he reveals his intention to incite the crowd at Caesar's funeral to rise up against the assassins. Foreseeing violence throughout Rome, Antony even imagines Caesar's spirit joining in the exhortations: "raging for revenge, with Ate by his side come hot from hell, shall in these confines with a Monarch's voice cry 'Havoc!' and let slip the dogs of war."[1]


In a literal reading, "dogs" are the familiar animals, trained for warfare; "havoc" is a military order permitting the seizure of spoil after a victory and "let slip" is to release from the leash.[2][3][4] 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.[5][6]

Apart from the literal meaning, a parallel can be drawn with the prologue to Henry V, where the warlike king is described as having at his heels, awaiting employment, like hounds "famine, sword and fire".[7]

Along those lines, an alternative proposed meaning is that "the dogs of war" refers figuratively to the wild pack of soldiers "let slip" by war's breakdown of civilized behavior and/or their commanders' orders to wreak "havoc", i.e., rape, pillage, and plunder.[8][9][unreliable source][unreliable source]

Based on the original meaning of "dog" in its mechanical sense ("any of various usually simple mechanical devices for holding, gripping, or fastening that consist of a spike, bar, or hook"),[10] the "dogs" are "let slip" as an act of releasing. Thus, the "dogs of war" are the political and societal restraints against war that operate during times of peace.

In popular culture[edit]

The phrase has entered so far into general usage that it is now regarded as a cliché.[11]

Many books, films, video games, songs, and television episodes are titled using variations of the phrase "Dogs of War."

Victor Hugo used "dogs of war" as a metaphor for cannon fire in chapter XIV of Les Misérables:

Another cannonade was audible at some distance. At the same time that the two guns were furiously attacking the redoubt from the Rue de la Chanvrerie, two other cannons, trained one from the Rue Saint-Denis, the other from the Rue Aubry-le-Boucher, were riddling the Saint-Merry barricade. The four cannons echoed each other mournfully. The barking of these sombre dogs of war replied to each other.[12][13]

Lex Luthor wielded the expression against his father in an argument during the Season 1 finale of Smallville.[14]

The phrase was used by Christopher Plummer's character General Chang in the film Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, in a scene which featured Chang's Klingon Bird of Prey attacking the USS Enterprise.[15]

Jeremy Clarkson used the phrase during a Top Gear special, before attempting a speed run at the Bonneville Salt Flats in a Chevrolet Corvette C6 ZR1, adding "They probably think that's a Bon Jovi lyric here."[16]

Sterling Archer misquotes the phrase before embarking on a rampage to find the chemotherapy drugs for his aforementioned breast cancer.[17]

Kevin Spacey in his role as Frank Underwood in the Series House of Cards used the phrase as he began a political attack to undermine the power of the President of the United States and move forward on his silent plan to take control of the White House and the executive power.

The phrase is spoken by Alexander Skarsgård portraying Sergeant Brad 'Iceman' Colbert in the Series Generation Kill as Bravo Company drives towards the enemy lines in Episode 6.

In 2017, it was used on a tifo at the King Power Stadium during the Champions League last 16 match featuring Leicester City and Sevilla FC. The tifo displayed a person holding onto dogs via a chain, with the phrase "Let Slip the Dogs of War" underneath.[18][19]

The term "Dogs of War" is used in the boardgame Warhammer as a colloquial for various mercenary groups selling their swords for loot, plunder, and adventure. [20]

The title of the 2000 PlayStation 1 game Hogs of War (a turn based 3D tactics game with similarities to Worms, but with pigs of many national stereotypes) was a direct reference.

The Troy University Marching Band announcer reads the passage as part of the band's pregame show at every home football game.[21]

The 2008 video game Wizard101 added enemies named "Dog of War" in 2022. After defeating an enemy named Brutus, a reference to the origin of the phrase, players earn the badge "Let slip the dogs of war."[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Shakespeare, William (1996). The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Wordsworth Editions. p. 597. ISBN 978-1-85326-895-3.
  2. ^ "dog, n1 1(d); havoc, n". Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed.). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. 1989. esp[ecially] in Shakespearian phr[ase] the dogs of war
  3. ^ 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 (eds.). Rulers and Ruled in Late Medieval England: Essays Presented to Gerald Harriss. London: Hambledon Press. pp. 33, 36. ISBN 1-85285-133-3.
  4. ^ Bate & Rasmussen (2007), p. 1834.
  5. ^ Bate & Rasmussen (2007), p. 1803.
  6. ^ Plutarch (1926) [1914]. "The Life of Aratus". Parallel Lives. Translated by Bernadotte Perrin. Loeb Classical Library. 24 – via University of Chicago.
  7. ^ Cornwall (1843), p. 517.
  8. ^ Martin, Gary. "The phrase 'Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war'". The Phrase Finder. Retrieved April 2, 2021.
  9. ^ Peter Pappas, "Shakespeare for All Time" blog. "Cry Havoc and Let Slip the Dogs of War".
  10. ^ "Definition of DOG". www.merriam-webster.com.
  11. ^ Partridge, Eric (1940). A Dictionary of Clichés. London: Routledge. p. 253. OCLC 460036269.
  12. ^ "Les Misérables, Five Volumes, Complete by Victor Hugo". www.gutenberg.org.
  14. ^ "Smallville Tempest Quotes". imdb.com. 2002. Retrieved 2023-11-11.
  15. ^ "Star Trek VI: General Chang as Shakespeare | Transmedial Shakespeare". Transmedialshakespeare.wordpress.com. 15 January 2011. Retrieved 2018-10-03.
  16. ^ "Bonneville Salt Flats, USA Muscle Car Road Trip". Youtube. Top Gear. Retrieved 19 November 2021.
  17. ^ "Placebo Effect". FX. 24 March 2011. FX.
  18. ^ Butler, A (14 March 2017). "Leicester unveil enormous pre-match Shakespeare-related tifo". Dream Team FC. Retrieved 19 November 2021.
  19. ^ "Leicester's giant banner has got everyone a bit confused". Irish News. 14 March 2017. Retrieved 19 November 2021.
  20. ^ Warhammer Armies: Dogs of War (5th Edition), ISBN 1-872372-02-3
  21. ^ "Troy University Sound of the South - Pregame 2019". Youtube. Retrieved 30 December 2022.
  22. ^ "Basic:Badges - Wizard101 Wiki", Wizard101 Wiki, 20 November 2022, retrieved 18 January 2024


External links[edit]

  • The dictionary definition of cry havoc at Wiktionary