Saturday, May 1, 2010

Shepherd's ingenuity: or, The praise of the green gown, 1688

May is International Make-out Month*! It's true! I'll explain: May 1st, or May Day, is a traditional celebration welcoming the coming of Spring. Originally a pagan holiday, "going a-Maying" was embraced by people in medieval and Renaissance cultures, and still remains an important holiday (it's kind of like Labor Day for everyone except Americans. Lame.).

Anyway, it has a sexy history! Celebrating the "Rites of May" was supposed to be about running around in the fields all night to ostensibly gather flowers and greenery and maypoles or whatever, but really you could use it as an excuse for getting trashed and hitting on people. Many Protestants opposed these celebrations on account of all these unchaperoned young people doing who-knows-what in the woods. Phillip Stubbes thought it was the worst, citing May Day's potentiality for moral bankruptcy and sexual hedonism in his Anatomie of Abuses:

"I have heard it credibly reported (and that viva voce) by men of great gravitie and reputation, that of fortie, threescore, or a hundred maides going to the wood over night, there have scarecely the thirde parte of them returned home againe undefiled" (Ch. XIII).

Really? Wow. Robert Herrick liked it, though. The author of Shepherd's ingenuity seems to like it too, explaining the joys of woodland make-out sessions and "green gowns," a phrase alluding to the ruined dress a girl would receive from rolling around in the grass with her lover. To be said to have a "green gown" eventually came to mean a woman was promiscuous. In addition to the super-hot picture, the ballad has some terrific advice for getting ladies:

"Some for to gain their Ladies Love,
will give them Chains and Rings,
Some gives them Fans and Fancies too,
but these ate foolish things;
If you wou'd fain her Love obtain,
let this be your endeavour,
To give her a fair Gown of Green,
and then she's yours for ever. "

See, it's easy! And today is the only day you can act like a 'ho and say it's "historical research!"

*Unofficial, and mostly made up by me.

Oh, and in other sexy news, I did an Andrew Marvell makeover.