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"Clo. What hast here? ballads ?

Mop. Pray now, buy some: I love a ballad in print, a'-life for then we are sure they are true. Aut. Here's one to a very doleful tune, How a usurer's wife was brought to bed of twenty money-bags at a burden; and how she longed to eat adder's heads, and toads carbonadoed.

Mop. Is it true, think you?

Aut. Very true; and but a month old.

Dor. Bless me from marrying a usurer!

Aut. Here's the midwife's name to't, one mistress Taleporter; and five or six honest wives that were present: why should I carry lies abroad?

Mop. 'Pray you now, buy it.

Clo. Come on, lay it by: And let's first see more ballads; we'll buy the other things anon. Aut. Here's another ballad, Of a fish, that appeared upon the coast, on Wednesday the fourscore of April, forty thousand fathom above water, and sung this ballad against the hard hearts of maids: it was thought she was a woman, and was turned into a cold fish, for she would not exchange flesh with one that loved her: the ballad is very pitiful, and as true.

Dor. Is it true, think you?

Aut. Five justices' hands at it; and witnesses, more than my pack will hold.

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Aut. Why, this is a passing merry one; and goes to the tune of, Two maids wooing a man: there's scarce a maid westward, but she sings it; 'tis in request, I can tell you."-Act iv. sc. 3.

The request, in fact, for these popular pieces of poetry was then infinitely greater than has since been obtained in more modern times; not a murder, or an execution, not a battle or a tempest, not a wonderful event or a laughable adventure, could occur, but what was immediately thrown into the form of a ballad, and the muse supplied what humble prose now details to us among the miscellaneous articles of a newspaper; a statement which is fully confirmed by the observation of another character in this very play, who tells us that "such a deal of wonder is broken out within this hour, that ballad-makers cannot be able to express it."-Act v. sc. 2.

In the Second Part of King Henry the Fourth, Falstaff enters a room, in the Boar's Head Tavern, singing the first two lines of ballad which Dr. Percy has reprinted under the title of "Sir Lancelot Du Lake." This, which is merely a metrical version of three chapters from the first part of Morte Arthur, is quoted imperfectly by the knight, owing to the interruptions attending his situation; the opening lines of the ballad are,

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which Falstaff mutilates and alters, by omitting the last word of the first line, and converting approved into worthy; the version and quotation, it may be remarked, are strong proofs of the popularity of the romance,

To the admirably drawn character of Silence in this play, we are indebted for several valuable fragments of popular poesy. This curious personage, who, when sober, has not a word to say, is no sooner exhilarated by the circling glass, than he chaunts forth an abundance of unconnected stanzas from the minstrelsy of his times. Having nothing original in his ideas, no fund of his own on which to draw, he marks his festivity by the vociferous repetition of scraps of catches, songs, and glees. We may, therefore, conceive the poet to have appropriated to this simple justice in his cups, the most generally known and, of course, the favourite, convivial songs of the age. They are of such a character, indeed, as to

Cloudesly," and the second to "King Cophetua and the Beggar-Maid;" popular pieces which are again the objects of allusion in "Much Ado about Nothing," act i.; and in the Second Part of Henry IV. act v. 3-Percy's Reliques vol. i. pp. 154, 198.

The same play will afford us three or four additional references; Mercutio, ridiculing the old Nurse, gives us a ludicrous fragment commencing "An old hare hoar," vol. xx. p. 116; and Peter, after calling for two songs called "Heart's ease," and "My heart is full of woe," attempts to puzzle the musicians by asking for an explanation of the epithet silver in the first stanza of "A Song to the Lute in Musicke," written by Richard Edwards, in the "Paradise of Daintie Devises," and commencing,

"Where griping griefs the hart would wounde.",

warrant the belief, that there was not a hall in Shakspeare's days but what had echoed to these jovial strains; a conclusion which almost imperatively calls for the admission of a few, as specimens of the vocal hilarity of our ancestors, when warmed, according to Shallow's confession, by" too much sack at supper."


Do nothing but eat and make good cheer,
And praise heaven for the merry year;
When flesh is cheap and females dear,*
And lusty lads roam here and there,
So merrily,

And ever among so merrily.


Fal. There's a merry heart!-Good master Silence, I'll give you a health for that anon.


Be merry, be merry, my wife's as all; †

For women are shrews, both short and tall:
'Tis merry in hall, when beards wag all,
And welcome merry shrove-tide.

Be merry, be merry, &c.

Fal. I did not think, master Silence had been a man of this mettle.

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Sil. And we shall be merry ;-now comes in the sweet of the night.
Fal. Health and long life to you, master Silence.

Sil. Fill the cup and let it come;

I'll pledge you a mile to the bottom."

Act v. sc. 3.

After drinking another bumper, and singing another song, allusive to the rights of pledging, "Do me right, And dub me knight"; and quoting the old ballad of Robin Hood, and the Pindar of Wakefield, master Silence is carried to bed, fully saturated with sack and good cheer.

A character equally versed in minstrel lore, and equally prodigal of his stock, though wanting the excuse of inebriation, has been drawn by Beaumont and Fletcher, in the of person Old Merry thought in their "Knight of the Burning Pestle," printed in the year 1613; but, in point of nature and humour, it is a picture which falls infinitely short of Shakspeare's sketch.

Many of the old songs, or rather the fragments, of them, which are scattered through the dramas of our poet, either proceed from the professed clown or fool of the play, or are given as the wild and desultory recollections of derangement, real or feigned; the ebullitions of a broken heart, and the unconnected sallies of a disordered mind.

Shakspeare's fools may be considered, in fact, as exact copies of the living manners and costume of these singular personages, who, in his era, formed a necessary part of the household establishment of the great. To the due execution of their functions, a lively fancy, and a copious fund of wit and sarcasm, together with an unlimited license of uttering what imagination and the occasion prompted. were essential; but it was likewise required, that bitterness of allusion, and aspe rity of remark, should be softened by the constant assumption of a playful and unintentional manner. For this purpose, the indirect method of quotation, and generally from ludicrous songs and ballads, is resorted to, with the evident intention of covering what would otherwise have been too naked and too severely felt. Thus, in an old play, entitled "A very mery and pythie Comedy, called, The longer thou livest the more Foole thou art," printed about 1580, the appearance of a character of this description is prefaced by the following stage-note:-"Entreth Moros, counterfaiting a vaine gesture and a foolish countenance, synging the foote of many songs, as fools were wont."

The simple yet sarcastic drollery of the fool, and the wild ravings of the madman, have been alike employed by Shakspeare, to deepen the gloom of distress. In the

* Dear is here to be remembered in its double sense.-Farmer. My wife's as all, that is, as all women are.-Steevens.

tragedy of Lear it is difficult to ascertain whether the horrors of the scene are more heightened by the seeming thoughtless levity of the former, or by the delirious imagery of the latter. The greater part of the bitterly sportive metres, attributed to the fool, in this drama, appears evidently to have been written for the character; and as the reliques drawn from more ancient minstrelsy seem rather the foot or burden of each song than the commencement, and are at the same time of little poetical value, we shall forbear enumerating them. The fragments, however, allotted to Edgar are both characteristic and apparently initial; the line which Mr. Steevens asserts to have seen in an old ballad,

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Through the sharp hawthown blows the cold wind,"

is so impressive as absolutely to chill the blood; and the legendary pieces beginning 66 Saint Withold footed thrice the wold,"


"Child Rowland to the dark tower came,"

Act iii. sc. 4.

are reliques which well accord with the dreadful peculiarity of his situation. The two subsequent quotations are from pastoral songs, of which the first,

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as Mr. Malone observes, has a marked propriety, alluding to an association then common; for in a description of beggars, published in 1607, one class of these vagabonds is represented as counterfeiting madness;

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The second seems to have been suggested to the mind of Edgar by some connection, however distant and obscure, with the business of the scene. Lear fancies he is trying his daughters; and the lines of Edgar, who is appointed one of the commission, allude to a trespass which takes place in consequence of the folly of a shepherd in neglecting his charge, the lines appear to be the opening stanza of a lyris pastoral. "A shepherd," remarks Dr. Johnson," is desired to pipe, and the request is enforced by a promise, that though his sheep be in the corn, i. e. committing a trespass by his negligence-yet a single tune upon his pipe. shall secure them from the pound.

"Sleepest, or wakest thou, jolly shepherd ?

Thy sheep be in the corn;

And for one blast of thy minikin mouth,

Thy sheep shall take no harm."

If the assumed madness of Edgar is heightened by the casual repetition of these artless strains, how is the real distraction of the heart-broken Ophelia augmented in its pathos by a similar appeal! The interesting fragments which she sings, certainly do not produce their effect, as Sir Joshua Reynolds imagined, by marking an utter insensibility to her own misfortunes;" for they manifestly refer both to her father's death, and to her own unfortunate attachment, their influence over the heart being felt as the consequence of this indirect allusion.

Of the first three fragments, which appear to be parts of the same ballad, and, as the king observes, are a "conceit upon her father," the two prior have been beautifully incorporated by Dr. Percy in his "Friar of Orders Gray:"

"How should I your true love know,

From another one?

By his cockle hat and staff,

And his sandal shoon."

This finely descriptive line, Dr. Percy has interwoven in his ballad of The Friar of Orders Gray.

He is dead and gone, lady,

He is dead and gone;

At his head a grass-green turf,

At his heels a stone."

The first line of the third,

Act iv. sc. 5.

"White his shroud as the mountain snow,"

has been parodied by Chatterton, in the Mynstrelle's Songe in OElla,

"Whyte his rode as the sommer snowe."

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were, there is little doubt, suggested to the fair sufferer's mind, by an obscure and distant association with the issue of her unfortunate amour, a connection, however, which is soon dissipated by reverting to the fate of her father, the scene closing with two fragments exquisitely adapted to unfold the workings of her mind on this melancholy event.

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passages of which Dr. Percy has admirably availed himself in his "Friar of Orders Gray," and to which the Mynstrelle's song in OElla is indebted for its pathetic burden:

"Mie love ys dedde,

Gonne to his deathe-bedde,

Alle underre the wyllowe tree.""

The vacillation of poor Ophelia amid her heavy afflictions is rendered strikingly apparent by the insertion of two ballad lines between the stanzas last quoted. which again manifestly allude to her lover :

"Oph. You must sing, Down a-down, an you call him a down-a. O, how the wheel becomes it! It is the false steward, that stole his master's daughter.

"For bonny sweet Robin is all my joy."


We may remark that the expression "O how the wheel becomes it!" is meant to imply the popularity of the song, that

"The spinsters and the knitters in the sun
Do use to chaunt it,

a custom which, as exercised in the winter, is beautifully exemplified by Mr. Malone, in a passage frem Sir Thomas Overbury's characters, 1614:-"She makes her hands hard with labour, and her head soft with pittie; and when winter evenings fall early, sitting at her merry wheele, she sings a defiance to the giddy wheele of fortune."

In the churchyard scene of this play, one of the grave-diggers, after amusing himself and his companion by queries, which, as Mr. Steevens observes, "perhaps composed the chief festivity of our ancestors by an evening fire," sings three

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Poems, supposed to have been written at Bristol, by Thomas Rowley, and others. Cambridge edition, 1794, p. 70.

stanzas, though somewhat corrupted either by design or accident, of "A dyttie or sonet made by the lord Vaus, in the time of the noble quene Marye, representing the image of death." This poem was originally published in Tottel's edition of Surrey and Wyatt, and the Poems of Uncertain Authors; the earliest poetical miscellany in our language, and first printed in 1557 under the title of "Songes and sonettes by the right honourable Henry Howard, late earl of Surrey, and other." To this very popular collection, which underwent many editions during the sixteenth century, Slender alludes, in the Merry Wives of Windsor, where he exclaims, "I had rather than forty shillings, I had my book of Songs and Sonnets here;" from which we may conclude that this was the fashionable manual for lovers in the age of Elizabeth. Lord Vaux's lines have been reprinted by Dr. Percy, who remarks on the apparent corruptions of Shakspeare's transcript, that they were "perhaps so designed by the poet himself, the better to suit the character of an illiterate clown.”

No fragment of our minstrel poetry has been introduced by Shakspeare with greater beauty and effect, than the melancholy ditty which he represents Desdemona as singing, under a presentiment of her approaching fate:

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Of this song of willow, ushered in with such a powerful appeal to the heart, Dr. Percy has given us a copy in his reliques; it is in two parts, and proves that the poet has not only materially altered the few lines which he quotes, but has changed also the sex of its subject; for in the original in the Pepys collection, it is entitled "A Lover's Complaint, being forsaken of his Love."

From the ample, we may almost say complete, enumeration, which we have now given, of the fragments selected by Shakspeare from the minstrel-poetry of his country, together with the accompanying remarks, may be formed, not only a tolerably accurate estimate of the most popular songs of this period, but a clear idea of the use to which Shakspeare has applied them. They will be found, in fact, with scarcely any exceptions, either elucidatory of the business of the scene, illustrative of the progress of the passions, or powerfully assistant in developing the features and the shades of character.


It will appear also, from the view which has been taken of romantic literature, as comprehending all the branches noticed in this chapter, that its influence, in the age of our poet, was great and universally diffused that he was himself, perhaps more than any other individual, if we except Spenser, addicted to its study and partial to its fictions; and that, if we take into consideration, what will hereafter be mentioned, the bases of his various plays, he may be affirmed to have availed himself of its stores often with great skill, and with as much frequency as the nature of the province which he cultivated would admit.

Namely in 1565, 1567, 1569, 1574, 1585, 1587, &c.

To form a complete enumeration of the songs of the Elizabethan era, it would be necessary not only to consult all the dramatic writers of this age, but to acquire a perfect series of the very numerous Cof lections of Madrigals which were published during the same period.

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