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“Clo. What hast here? ballads ?
Aut. Here's one to a very doleful tune, How a usurer's wife was brought to bed of twenty mo-
Aut. Here's the midwife’s name to't, one mistress Taleporter; and five or siz honest wives that were present: why should I carry lies abroad ?
Mop. 'Pray you now, buy it.
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 ?
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 a 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,
When Arthur first in court began,
And was approved king,” 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 Copbetua 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. se. 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," wrillen by Ricbard Edwards, in the « Paradise of Daintie Devises,” and coinmeucing,
“Where griping griefs the hart would wounde.”.
warrant the belief, that there was not a hall in Shakspeare's days but
A d ever among so merrily. Fal. There's a merry heart !-Good master Silence, l'll give you a health for that anon.
Sil. Be merry, be merry, my wife's as all ;
For women are shrews, both short and tall:
Be merry, be merry, &c.
Sil. A eup pf wine, that's brisk and fine,
And drink unto the leman mine;
And a merry heart lives long-a.
Sil. Fill the cup and let it come;
I'll pledge you a mile to the bottom." Act y. 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 asperity 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 selt. Thus, in an old play, entitled “A very mery and pythie Comedy, called, The longer thou livest the more Foole thou ari,” 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.