Cry Havoc And Let Slip The Dogs Of War

Meanings of “Cry Havoc And Let Slip The Dogs Of War”

The phrase “cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war” means to start a war after raising a slogan of charging. However, for every army, this slogan could be different. The term “let slip” implies the slip collars that restrained dogs and when it was said that they were “let slip,” it meant that the dogs were allowed to run and hunt.

Origin of “Cry Havoc And Let Slip The Dogs Of War”

The phrase “cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war” is stated to have been derived from a military order that used to be given to the English army during the Middle Ages. The commander used to raise the cry of “havoc” to call the soldiers to attack the enemies. Later the phrase was expanded to this in literature.

Its first use in these words appeared in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, but half of it appeared earlier in Military Antiquities, a history by Grose published in 1801.

The phrase appeared as “cried havoke” in this book but later after Shakespeare used it in Julius Caesar, it became popular in these words.

Examples in Literature

Example #1

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare


Blood and destruction shall be so in use,
And dreadful objects so familiar,
That mothers shall but smile when they behold
Their infants quartered with the hands of war,
All pity choked with custom of fell deeds,

And Caesar’s spirit, ranging 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,
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth

These lines occur in a popular play of the poet. Mark Antony delivers this address to his soldiers when attacking the collaborators who killed Julius Caesar. From the very start, he addresses them to make the world a hell for the enemy soldiers. The phrase occurs in the third last line, giving sense to the situation that now the war is imminent and that  Mark Antony’s soldiers would fight unto death. Therefore, the phrase is used as a metaphor.

Example #2

The Dogs of War  by Ross Mabey

The dogs of war are baying,
I hear their mournful song.
Their wailing echoes through,
The tense and waiting throng.

When will it all begin,
When is that fateful day?
When innocent lives are sacrificed,
In another, useless foray.

Is it written in the stars,
Does it have to be?
That mankind in his arrogance,
Creates this destiny.

This poem comprising of three stanzas throws light on the man’s penchant for wars, saying that again the dogs of war are baying in mournful songs. The poet questions this and asks another question in the third stanza if the man’s arrogance has charted out his own destiny of war in every few years. The phrase has been used in the title, while the poet presents its metaphorical representation.

Example #3

 The Dogs of War by Norah Smith

“Time was, and not so long ago, as men count time,
When dogs were symbols of uncleanliness,
Wretched, abhorred, ranked with the scum of earth.
No taunt, no insult deeper could be thought,
When taunts were needed, than the old, old phrase:
“Dog that thou art! Thou shameless and impenitent!”

Dogs such as these have had their evil day;
No more they crawl and fawn, abased and suffering;
No more they slink in gutters, feed from offal heaps.
Theirs is the post of pow’r, the warlike field,
And man, who once abused them, trusts to-day
In doggish fortitude, in doggish constancy.”

These two stanzas from the poem present different interpretations of people, saying that people were put to shame after they were called dogs, for this creature was hated. No metaphors, similes, or symbols were used to paint the dogs in positive meanings. The second stanza throws light on this interpretation, saying that this hatred has let these dogs, even if they were human beings, show their doggish fortitude and initiate wars to show their bravery and avenge those insults.

Example #4

The Dogs Of War by Pink Floyd

Dogs of war and men of hate
With no cause, we ’don’t discriminate
Discovery is to be disowned
Our currency is flesh and bone
Hell opened up and put on sale
Gather”” ““’round and haggle
For hard cash, we will lie and deceive
Even our masters ’don’t know the web we weave

One world, ””” ‘’it’s a battleground
One world, and we will smash it down
One world, one world

Starting this poem with a metaphor comparing dogs of war with the men having been insulted, the poet goes on to say that both of them create situations that lead to wars in which they avenge insults and show bravery, but there is just one world that becomes their battleground. The repetition of the one world shows poetic consciousness that we as human beings are going to devastate this beautiful planet God has blessed us with. The phrase has been used as a metaphor with the exact meaning.

Example in Sentences

Example #1: “They cried havoc and let slipped the dogs of war on the town until more than one million innocent civilians were displaced and half of them killed.”

Example #2: “The British cried havoc and let slipped the dogs of war.”

Example #3: “When I went out, my kids cried havoc and let slipped the dogs of war at home and everything was a mess by the time I returned.”

Example #4: “Let them cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war; they are just barking dogs who never bite.”

Example #5: “Like crying havoc and letting slips the dogs of war, they also cried and did nothing but stand and watch.”