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The Bacchanalian Music of Shakespeare-Early English Drink. ing-songs-Skelton's Ale-song-Tavern Life and CustomsCatches Ancient Rounds - -"Three-men's Songs."

THE era of drinking-songs did not begin with Shakespeare, nor did they end with his time; if the reader will consult Ritson's famous "Collection of English Songs" he will find English drinking-songs of all epochs and styles. Probably the oldest Eng lish drinking-song of any literary merit is to be found in "A ryght pithy, pleasaunt and merie comedie ; intytuled Gammer Gurton's Nedle. London 1575-" This wild song (by no means the basest of the author's licentious writings) was probably written. by the John Skelton referred to in Chapter V. Scott has, we think erroneously, attributed the song to John Still; it was originally marked "by Mr. S." and there is little doubt but this vague signature referred to the man most capable, at this epoch, of producing such an effusion. The drinking-song, which was the prototype of many that followed, ran thus:

"Backe and syde go bare, go bare,
Both foote and hande go colde:

But bellye, God sende thee good ale ynoughe,

Whether it be newe or olde.

I cannot eat but lytle meate,

My stomacke is not good,

But sure I thinke that I can drinke
With him that weares a hood.

"Thoughe I go bare, take ye no care, I am nothinge acolde;

I stuff my skyn so full within,

Of joly good ale and olde.

Backe and syde go bare, go bare, etc.

"I love no rost, but a nut-browne toste, And a crab laid in the fyre;

A little breade shall do me stead,

Much breade I not desyre.

No frost nor snow, nor winde I trowe,

Can hurte mee if I wolde;

I am so wrapt, and throwly lapt,
Of joly good ale and olde.

Backe and syde go bare, go bare, etc.

"And Tyb my wyfe, that as her lyfe,
Loveth well good ale to seeke;

Full oft drynkes shee, tyll ye may see
The teares run downe her cheeke;
Then doth shee trowle to mee the bowle,
Even as a mault-worme shuld;

And sayth, sweete hart, I tooke my part
Of this joly good ale and olde.

Backe and syde go bare, go bare, etc.

"Now let them drynke, till they nod and winke, Even as good felowes shoulde doe:

They shall not mysse to have the blisse,

Good ale doth bringe men to.

And all poore soules that have scowred boules,

Or have them lustely trolde,

God save the lyves of them and their wyves,
Whether they be yonge or olde.

Backe and syde go bare, go bare, etc."

There is little doubt but that Shakespeare enjoyed this branch of literature. At Stratford-on-Avon the visitor is shown a chair whereon the poet is said to have sat at the tavern and joined in the jovial singing there. Vicar Ward's account (first made public fifty years after the event), that

"Shakespeare, Drayton and Ben Jonson had a merrie meeting, and it seems drank too hard, for Shakespeare died of a feavour ther contracted,"

may or may not be true, but such an event would not be greatly out of character with the times nor with the company which Shakespeare enjoyed, the rollicking Bohemian circle of Elizabethan and Jacobean days. Cowley died, subsequently, from about the same cause, and his boon companions were of much more dignified station.

If Shakespeare did not copy his drinking-songs from Skelton, he gave to his clowns and vagabonds a certain device which one can find in the earlier poet, the habit of throwing in the refrain or a line from a catch or song here and there. We find

this custom used in Skelton's "Moral Plays" a good half-century before the poet's days.

If Shakespeare was familiar with the tavern at Stratford-on-Avon, he was probably still more so with the taverns in London, for these were not merely places of refreshment, but became the clubs of the time, as the coffee-houses were at a later period, houses where friend met friend, a rendezvous of social intercourse. At the Mermaid Tavern, in Bread Street, many of the poets and dramatists of the epoch were wont to congregate, and, although we can find no distinct record of the fact, it is extremely probable that Shakespeare often formed one of the gathering. Most minute are the details which Shakespeare gives us of the life in these resorts.

The jests were not always of the highest order in these taverns, and a practical joke was prized above almost any other form of wit. On the wall there was often a picture of two asses' heads, or fools' heads with cap and bells, with a legend of "We be three," or "When shall we three meet again?" In "Twelfth Night" (Act ii. Sc. 3), the clown Feste asks of Sir Toby, "Did you never see the picture of we three'?" and Sir Toby at once catches the implied meaning, responding, "Welcome, ass!" as the guests in the tavern did when any simpleton inquired for the third ass spoken of in the inscription, yet invisible in the picture.

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