“As mad as a March hare” is a popular British expression that dates back more than 500 years. It refers to someone behaving in an excited and unpredictable manner. (In England, mad does not mean angry, but crazy.) It is based on the belief that European hares seem to go nuts during their spring mating season. They can often be seen boxing and kicking at one another at the start of their breeding time. (Could this have been the inspiration for the song “every bunny was kung fu fighting?”) They also can be seen doing impressive binkies — doing vertical jumps for no apparent reason. It was commonly thought that these scenes involved two males fighting over territory or females. In truth, these displays are more likely to be unwilling females fending off overly enthusiastic males. Their mating season in Britain can start as early as February and continue through until September.
Literature’s famous March Hare appears in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Along with the Mad Hatter and the Dormouse, he is featured in the mad tea party scene. This was dramatized on film in 1951 by Disney in “Alice and Wonderland,” and again in a 2010 movie directed by Tim Burton. In the later film we learn that the March Hare’s full name is Thackery Earwicket.
The earliest known usage of the phrase “mad as a March hare” comes from the poem Blowbol’s Test, dated at about 1500. The line, as originally written was: Thanne þey begyn to swere and to stare, And be as braynles as a Marshe hare. When translated into modern English, this becomes: Then they begin to swerve and to stare, And be as brainless as a March hare.