Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Dead Mans Song, 1685

This is a preview of my new hit blog  ERMAHGERD, MAHNERSCRERPTS! You're gonna lerv it. (Seriously, I think that girl is amazing.)

Anyway, The Dead Mans Song is pretty good. It's a lot like the Inferno -- a man dies and is shown Heaven for a few stanzas and it is super nice!  Everything's made of diamonds and pearls and gold and it smells like flowers! "ERMAHGERD, HERVERN! ERTS DA BERST!" we're obviously meant to think.

But then, our narrator sees "a cole-black Den / all tan'd with soot and smoak." Guess what? It's Hell. Then we get a litany of all the sinners who are punished according to their crimes. For example, a man damned for the sin of pride whose "face with knives was slasht / And in a Cauldron of poyson filth /  his ugly corps were washt." Other people have vipers tearing out their bowels and molten gold poured in their mouths; Judas makes a cameo, some hell hounds show get the picture. Anyway, hell scares him so much that he comes back to life and promises to be really, really super good. DA ERND.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Cryes of the Dead, 1620

"The Cryes of the Dead" is a nice and gory murder ballad about a man, Richard Price the Weaver, who tortured and killed three young boys. Most ballads in the early modern era dealt with something scandalous or exploitive, as you may have noticed. And the more dramatic or disturbing the crime, the better for 17th century printers (of course, this principle remains basically exactly the same for modern news media as well).

But the "Cryes of the Dead" is also interesting in that it exposes how absolutely fucking terrible it was to be an apprentice in England during this time. Guys, it was the worst! Boys were usually sent away to an apprenticeship when they were between 10 -13 years old. There were few laws to protect them from brutality from their masters. For example, in this ballad's section of A Pepysian Garland, we get the story of how, on "October 8, 1655, Mathew Nicholas was discharged from his apprenticeship to an Uxbridge tool-maker, William Lovejoy, because it was proved that Lovejoy had grossly mistreated the boy, 'tyinge and fetteringe him to the shoppe, and that the said master his wife and mother did most cruelly and inhumanely beate his said apprentice, and also whip'd him until he was very blooddy and his flesh rawe over a great part of his body, and then salted him, and held him naked to the fyre, beinge soe salted to add to his paine.'" Yikes.

Richard Price is an even nastier character. We learn that:

Many poore Prentisses
to himselfe did he bind [...]
Beating them cruelly
for no cause, tel they syed:
Spurning and kicking them,                                                     
as if dogs they had beene,
Careles in cruelty,                                                     
was this wretch ever seene.

Price beats to death one apprentice, and then another. Here's one of the gorier/more upsetting parts, when the third murdered boy's body is discovered:

his poor mangled corpse,
By neighbors there was found,
bruised and beaten sore,
with many a deadly wound.
His brains ny broken forth,
and his neck burst in twain,
On his Limbs over all,
spots of blood did remain.

Yuck, right? This finally leads people to start thinking that maybe they should tell the po-po about Price, and he gets arrested. But for most apprentices who were cruelly treated, they had no recourse and were expected to endure the abuse in hopes that they would learn the trade and eventually have some economic independence.

So the woodcut is really odd and funny, but I had to spoil it by actually reading the ballad and now I'm depressed. Leave those kids alone! They just wanted to weave! And we all know weaving is a man's game.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Chastities Conquest; or, No Trusting before Marriage, 1672

By now, we've all been subjected to the undeniable appeal of teen pop sensation Carley Rae Jepson's infectious summer hit, "Call Me Maybe." America loves it!

But, as with all things, it has its antecedents in the 17th century. Much like "Call Me Maybe," the ballad "Chastities Conquest" is also a beautiful paen to sweet sweet love. Also, you can sing it to the tune of "Call Me Maybe"!:

If as you say you Love
make I'se your wedded Mate,
And you shall freely have

whatever you'd be at.
Will you not then my Joy
without your wedded strike.
No by my troth not I
Such lovins I'se not like.
But wedded my Arms shall bless
thy passion to the light
And with a consenting kiss
my Love to his Joys invite.

For when I touch thy Breasts
thy charms so fire me
Yet needless is a Priest,
then come no nigher me

Let's no kind minutes wast
I'le lead thee to my Bed,
Where Loves delights we'll taste
and so tomorrow be wed.

It sort of works, right? A little bit more emphasis on premarital sex, but still -- close! "Chastities Conquest"  is actually sung to the tune of "Canst thou not weave Bone-lace" (that old standard), which is obviously the exact same song.

I bet in the summer of 1672, "Chastities Conquest" was EVERYWHERE! People were singing it all the time -- in the streets and the fields and while they were in the shower dying of preventable diseases. I'faith, it is my jam.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

A Maydens Lamentation for a Bedfellow. Or, I can, nor will no longer lye alone, 1615

Don't pretend you don't watch Toddlers & Tiaras. Just don't. We need to all be open and honest. This is a safe space. Now admit that it's your favorite show and this past season was AMAZING. Exhibit A: Honey Boo Boo Child, who I learned today is getting her own show! So drink your Go-Go Juice and listen up.

It is by wonderful coincidence that "A Maydens Lamentation for a Bedfellow. Or, I can, nor will no longer lye alone" had the perfect pageant picture, because this ballad is so absolutely appropriate. It perfectly expresses a perspective that all those pageant kids are going to have when they realize that their self worth has been completely based how they look. What does one do with that knowledge? Here's a representative stanza:

Some Maides are coy, and proud withall,
When alas their beauty is but small
Whilst I live Ile nere be coy to none,
Because I will no longer ly alone.

That's right girls -- don't be coy! Sparkle, baby!

Live every day like you've just been crowned Ultimate Grand Supreme.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Honour of a London 'Prentice; Being an Account of his Matchless Manhood and brave Adventures done in Turkey, 1763

Listen, we need to talk about something. Something important. Something that is a documentary and the name of the documentary is CAT DANCERS.

It is the best, most beautiful, most bizarre and insane thing I have ever seen. The official summary reads: "the mesmerizing and haunting tale of the husband-and-wife team who first engaged the world in the art and tragedy of exotic cat entertainment." And now you can watch it in full on Hulu! Basically, there's no reason why everyone isn't obsessed with this documentary. It is a classic case of escalation in storytelling. You think it's about one thing and you're like, "whoa" and then another thing happens and you're like, "NO!" and then another thing happens and you're like, "AAAAHHH!"

Anyway, "The Honour of a London 'Prentice; Being an Account of his Matchless Manhood and brave Adventures done in Turkey" is about an English dude who goes to Turkey and talks about how great England is. So they throw him to the Lions, but because they starved the lions for 10 days they're super tired and kind of sluggish. Then he does what we would all do in that situation:

Into each Throat he thrust his Arm
with all his Might and Power;
From thence with manly Force,
He tore their Hearts asunder,
And at the King he threw them
To all the People's Wonder.

After that impressive display, the 'Prentice is pardoned, and the king gives him his daughter to marry! Huzzah! 

Basically this ballad is exactly like the movie CAT DANCERS if there were more weird sexual politics and sparkly costumes and also the lions won.