Friday, March 28, 2008
The Four-Legg'd Quaker, 1664
I don't really know what to say about this one. At first I thought that the order of images couldn't be narrative, but I was quickly proven wrong. The ballad actually is about bestiality, believe it or not, and it doesn't omit any of the gory details. Basically this Quaker, Ralph Green, "caught a foal and mounted her," but not, shall we say, in the normal equestrian fashion. When the horse's owner catches him in the act, Green tries to bribe him, but the owner replies, "dost think it lawful for a piece / a filly foal to bugger?" Well, there's really no way to answer that question, so Green is sent to jail. Then it seems he marries the horse because it can't be proven that he raped it, or something like that, and the final stanzas call for the gelding of all Quakers because if they joined the army they would give all their fellow soldiers "the staggers," which I take is some venereal disease.
This ballad reminded me of a movie that I heard about last year, Zoo, which I am too afraid to see. Also, is the Quaker lecherously sticking out his tongue? And I don't even want to think how many animals and animal-human hybrids had to have sex with each other to create the figure on the far right. That's a lot of bestiality! Although he may be a cast member from an early modern Island of Dr. Moreau.
This ballad is indicative of a strand of Royalist writing during the Interregnum that used bestiality as a metaphor to satirize religious, political, or social disorder. Apparently, Cavaliers really hated Quakers, who they viewed as sexually perverted, horse-loving, incestuous freaks. It seems like the real concern, however, is that the Quakers would join the army or otherwise gain lots of power in Parliament. The author of the ballad, Sir John Berkenhead, wrote many such satires. The Four-Legg'd Quaker was included in a collection of Royalist poems, ballads, jokes, satires, and bits of poesy called The Rump, published in the 1660s. This just goes to show us once again how much fun the Cavaliers were! I love the idea of them all roving around during the English Civil War writing dirty satires about Puritans fucking horses.
Would you like to learn more about bestiality metaphors in Reformation satire? Of course you do! I suggest Mark R. Blackwell's "Bestial Metaphors: John Berkenhead and Satiric Royalist Propaganda of the 1640s and 50s." Modern Language Studies. 29.1 (Spring, 1999): 105-130.