"He is turned a ballad-maker": Broadside Appropriations in Early Modern England
Joshua B. Fisher
Wingate University

Fisher, Joshua. "He is turned a ballad-maker": Broadside Appropriations in Early Modern England" Early Modern Literary Studies 9.2 (September, 2003): 3.1-21 <URL:

  1. In the often anthologized but infrequently discussed "A Proper New Ballad Intitled The Faeryes Farewell: or God-A-Mercy Will" (1628), Richard Corbett (1582-1635) specifies that the poem should "be sung or whistled to the Tune of the Meddow Brow by the Learned; by the unlearned, to the Tune of Fortune." Assigning tunes and tune variants to specific poems and ballads was not uncommon during the seventeenth century. Quite unprecedented, however, was the gesture of designating separate tunes based on the social class of the reader. By appropriating the ballad form and specifying different tunes for different readers, Corbett underscores the mobility of the broadside form across boundaries of social class as well as literary genre. While the fuller ramifications of Corbett's tune assignments will be discussed below, it is first necessary to identify the significance of his appropriation of the broadside ballad form. Corbett was by no means unique as an early modern poet who occasionally wrote ballad poems and embraced the metrical features of the ballad stanza. [1] Nevertheless, his participation in the production and transmission of ballads, as well as his frequent appropriation of tunes and other broadside characteristics within his poems underscores the complex position of the broadside ballad in seventeenth century literary culture. Clearly, such appropriations attest to the mobility of the broadside medium in early modern England. Yet Corbett also appropriates the ballad form for a number of distinct purposes, embracing the broadside as a useful vehicle 1) to critique and libel the Puritan movement, 2) to lament the loss of folk traditions (including the singing of ballads) threatened by Puritan reform, and 3) to exploit the possibilities of textual propriety by blurring boundaries of literary genre in relation to social status. As a form situated across a wide range of media and therefore transmitted across a broad social spectrum, the broadside serves as a powerful tool for expressing religious, political, and social concern. At the same time, Corbett's ballad appropriations highlight the volatile and unstable intersection of literary genre, social class, and political ideology within early modern culture. Exploring the ballad appropriations of Corbett along with those of contemporary seventeenth century poets such as Sir John Suckling (1609-1642) attests to the complexity of cultural boundaries as well as the exchanges across them in the early modern period.

  2. The broadside ballad provides an ideal medium to illustrate how interpenetrations across categories of social class contribute to the production, dissemination, and reception of literary texts. The very livelihood of the broadside ballad in early modern England was fuelled by its transmission across oral, printed, and scribal traditions. Frequently originating in printed form, broadsides would be orally sung by ballad-sellers peddling their wares, and subsequently purchased, overheard orally, memorized, or even copied in manuscript form by audiences representing a wide range of social classes and evincing various degrees of literacy. Describing the ways in which the three media of speech, script, and print "infused and interacted with each other in a myriad of ways" during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Adam Fox underscores the interpenetrations between oral and literate cultures:

    Then, as now, a song or a story, an expression or a piece of news, could migrate promiscuously between these three vehicles of transmission as it circulated around the country, throughout society, and over time. There was no necessary antithesis between oral and literate forms of communication and preservation; the one did not have to destroy or undermine the other. If anything, the written word tended to augment the spoken, reinventing it and making it anew, propagating its contents, heightening its exposure, and ensuring its continued vitality, albeit sometimes in different forms. [2]

    In turn, such reciprocity between oral and literate cultures and across social classes ensures a "spectrum of participation" that complicates the ballad's situatedness in a distinct socio-cultural and literary position by underscoring the mobility of the broadside form.

  3. The mobility of the ballad across social classes, coupled with its position at the intersection of print, oral, and scribal media, reinforces the notion of the broadside ballad as a "vagrant form." [3] Indeed, an aesthetic of vagrancy characterizes a number of key stylistic and thematic elements of the ballad including the woodcut image, the tune, and the text of the broadside. The woodcut images that frequently adorn printed broadsides were often recycled, wandering somewhat indiscriminately from one ballad to another. The positioning of these images on the page reinforces this notion of vagrant unfixity, since woodcut images often hover beyond the decorative borderlines that circumscribe the text of the broadsheet. The tune designated to accompany a ballad was similarly vagrant, often reused in numerous ballads and sometimes identified by multiple names. Finally, many ballads embrace a thematic of vagrancy, describing the exploits of "The Wandering Jew," outlaws on the run, and the social decline of aristocratic men and women.

  4. Extending beyond formal and thematic elements, notions of vagrancy also characterize the transmission and dissemination of broadside ballads. During the early modern period, ballad-mongers and ballad-writers were classified along with actors, beggars, and street peddlers as vagabonds and ballads themselves were frequently distinguished as doggerel-a vagabond literary form. [4] In addition, the roaming nature of ballad dissemination between various media and across social boundaries reinforces the form's vagrant tendencies. Although ballad-authorship was frequently anonymous, ballad-writers including Thomas Deloney, Martin Parker, Laurence Price, and William Elderton etched out potentially notorious identities as vagabond authors. Moreover, as Adam Fox and other scholars have suggested, the close proximity between ballads and libels in early modern culture underscores the roving and unsettled nature of broadsides. Often employing musical and metrical characteristics of the ballad, libels

    …were intended to be repeated aloud to those who could not read; as songs also, they were often set to popular tunes. 'Better to be sung than to be redd, to the tune of Bonny Nell,' instructed one verse composed at Nottingham in 1617; an apothecary of the town, Thomas Aldred, certainly thought it was hilarious 'in regarde of the strangness and conceyted tune sett to it.' The celebrated tunes 'Phillida Flouts Me' and 'Fortune my Foe' were among the musical backings to the libelous song drama performed by a group of traveling players at Osmotherley, North Yorkshire, in December 1601… Joseph Turpin and his accomplices set their rhymes to 'Tom of Bedlam' and 'Watch Currants.' [5]

    Like ballads, libellous rhymes and verses were intended for circulation across oral, scribal, and printed media. Setting libels to tunes and posting printed or written libels in public places would ensure wide-ranging transmission. In addition, familiar ballad tunes often accompanied libels, relying on the associative meanings of the tune to heighten the defamatory effect of the libellous rhymes. As Fox identifies, the tune of Mad Tom, familiar as an accompaniment to ballads dealing with madness, "manifestly mocked the idiocy of the libel victim." Fortune My Foe, one of the most widely familiar ballad tunes of the seventeenth century, was generally known as "the hanging tune" because of its association with ballads of penitence prior to execution. As an accompaniment to rhymed libels, the tune of Fortune would remind listeners of the libel victim's perceived distance from a virtuous position. [6] Finding their way into the space of rhymed libel, unfixed and itinerant tunes reinforce the vagrancy of the ballad medium. As we will see, poets such as Richard Corbett capitalized on these kinds of intersections between ballads and libels, appropriating distinctive elements of the broadside form to libel and critique socio-religious reform.

  5. In light of the vagrant mobility of the form, the ballad's cultural fluidity was a source of anxiety for those invested in promoting and protecting a distinct notion of literary and generic propriety in the early modern period and beyond. Hotspur's comment to Glendower in I Henry IV that "I had rather be a kitten and cry mew/Than one of these same metre ballad-mongers" (III.i.127-28) exemplifies this attitude, as does an earlier statement by Thomas Brice in Against Filthy Writing (1561) equating "the rimes that run thus large in euery shop" with a notion of "ethnicke" inferiority that threatens to marginalize England itself as culturally destitute. [7] In a similar vein, nearly every author of poetic defence from Stephen Gossen and Thomas Lodge to Philip Stubbes, George Puttenham, and William Webbe condemns the "vncountable rabble of ryming ballat makers and compylers of senceless sonnets" and reiterates the corrupting threat that such materials pose to the "good and godly practices" of the dominant literary tradition. [8] Even as he admits to finding pleasure in old ballads such as "Chevy Chase," Sir Philip Sidney reiterates the conventional view of ballads as culturally destitute by announcing his "own barbarousness" in taking pleasure in ballads sung in the "rude style" of "that uncivil age." [9] While Sidney exhibits faith in the transformative potential of the ballad by imagining how much better the material would sound if sung by the "gorgeous eloquence of Pindar" than by a "blind crowder," his discussion of ballads in the Defence of Poesy (1595) ultimately resonates with other early modern critics by confirming conventional distinctions between viable and inferior literary forms. Yet even as critics voiced anxieties about how ballads threatened the integrity of literary boundaries, such criticism attests to the unfixity and mutability of the ballad form.

  6. In order to outline the parameters of the early modern broadside ballad in encompassing a "spectrum of participation" across boundaries of media as well as social class, it is useful to look at a preliminary example. Frequently ignored by scholars of broadside ballads, a 1584 collection of poems entitled A Handful of Pleasant Delights raises some unique and provocative problems. As Hyder Rollins points out in his 1924 introduction to the collection, every previous edition of the volume (those of Thomas Park, James Crossley, and Edward Arber) disregards the fact that the poems are broadside ballads. While the page headings refer to the poems as "sonets and histories," every poem is "orderly pointed to his proper tune" and the poems display other features common to the broadside including empty lines such as "Tantara tara tantara," frequent refrains, and the distinctive fourteen-syllable quatrain. Despite these features, it is perhaps not surprising that most scholars have ignored the poems' identities as broadsides. Like other contemporary poetic collections such as Tottel's Miscellany (1557) and A Gorgeous Gallery of Gallant Inventions (1578), A Handful is reminiscent of the hand-written poetry collections that circulated among exclusive readers in coterie manuscripts in terms of its organization and presentation of diverse poems and authors. While readership of A Handful was unlikely to include this elite audience, the gesture of collecting the poems in a unified volume distinguishes the poems from the individual broadsheets sold for a penny each at the stalls of London booksellers or hawked by ballad-sellers at markets and fairs.

  7. The fact that the ballads in A Handful are bound together in a printed book further complicates the boundary between oral and literate cultures, since the transaction of selling the book would likely not include the kind of oral performance that accompanies the selling of individual broadsheets on the streets or at fairs and markets. As such, A Handful more closely resembles the eighteenth and nineteenth century collections of traditional and literary ballads transcribed and edited by scholars such as Thomas Percy, Sir Walter Scott, William Motherwell, and Francis James Child. That the ballads in A Handful are for the most part not included in the corpus of traditional ballads (determined by the aesthetic and theoretical assumptions of collectors) has led to their conventional treatment as lyric poetry rather than as broadside ballads-a label that would potentially reduce the cultural value of the poems.

  8. Furthermore, the enduring tendency to distinguish the poems in A Handful from broadside ballads is fuelled by the inclusion of "A Nosegay Always Sweet for Lovers to Send" in the volume. Distinguished as the source for Ophelia's "there's rosemary, that's for remembrance" at the onset of madness in IV.v of Hamlet, the poem (and by extension the entire volume) has been treated with the kind of reverence that transcends conventional attitudes toward broadsides. However, Rollins' editorial reminder that the poems are in fact broadside ballads confirms Alexandra Halasz's assertion that "the distinction between ephemeral, devalued discourses and transcendent, valued ones is always unstable, always susceptible to economic and ideological exploitation." [10] In this light, tracing the reception of A Handful of Pleasant Delights suggests the ways in which containing the broadside within the tradition of miscellany poetry attests to the ballad's mobility across boundaries of social class and literary genre.

  9. Increasingly during the seventeenth century, appropriations of broadside ballads underscore the unfixity of the form. A number of ballads whose authorship is attributed to "lad[ies] of quality," literary poets, and even monarchs themselves similarly attest to interpenetrations across lines of genre and class. One of the most notable among these is a ballad included among the Child corpus as "The Jolly Beggar" (Child, number 279). While Child himself discounts the tradition of attributing the ballad to King James V of Scotland, the very fact that such an attribution exists articulates the porous social interactions that we have been tracing. That the narrative action of the ballad highlights the ambiguity of the Jolly Beggar's social status (is he really a beggar or a "gentleman"?) further reiterates the permeable nature of class boundaries in the space of the ballad. Another notable example is a broadside entitled "On the Lord Mayor and Court Aldermen, presenting the late King and Duke of York each with a Copy of their Freedoms, Anno Dom. 1647," which editors including Margoliouth attribute to Andrew Marvell. Once again, the authenticity of this attribution is less important than the fact that it exists. By appropriating the ballad form to criticize the Royalist government (equating the idea of kingship with being bound in servitude), Marvell's authorial persona truncates the distance between social classes while the author simultaneously displaces his own poetic and political identities within the authorially ambiguous space of the ballad. One final example of attributing the broadside ballad to uncertain authors is the late seventeenth century poem entitled "A Ballad upon the Popish Plot written by a Lady of Quality." This authorial assertion is undercut by the inclusion of "by John Gadbury" under the title heading of the poem. Within the enduring oral context of the ballad, this strategy of ambiguating authorship plays a protective role. Given the political uncertainties of the 1670's, Gadbury can easily evade responsibility for condemning the Popish Plot by displacing authorial responsibility upon an anonymous "lady of quality." Whether utilized to assert conventional political and religious ideologies or to subvert and challenge dominant institutions, appropriations of the broadside attest to the inextricable influences across social classes, reinforced by the growth of print and a heightened awareness of the tension between a distinct authorial autonomy and a rapidly expanding and less-discriminating print market.

  10. Certain poems by Sir John Suckling similarly appropriate ballad conventions to express specific agendas, particularly the possibility of subverting dominant literary and social hierarchies by way of engaging with popular tradition. In "A Sessions of the Poets" (1637), for example, aspiring poets become amusing caricatures by which to criticize the laureate process and entice an audience outside the sophisticated expectations of the literary establishment. "Suckling next was called, but did not appear,/But straight one whispered Apollo i' th' ear,/That of all men living he cared not for't/He loved not the Muses so well as his sport…" (82-85). The fact that the poem is set in ballad metre (apparently originally accompanied by a well-known tune) reinforces this break from elite literary tradition. Through this gesture, the popular tradition of the ballad becomes a means of critiquing and inevitably escaping expectations dictated by the laureate conventions. Rather than praise or glorify the lower classes, Suckling appropriates the ballad to confirm his own set of assumptions regarding his position as an autonomous poet.

  11. One of Suckling's later works, "A Ballad Upon a Wedding" (1638), clearly reveals how popular forms are appropriated to critique and confirm dominant hierarchies of order. The use of the ballad form is not the only way in which popular culture is ventriloquized in the poem. More importantly, Suckling creates a rustic speaking persona outside the confines of his own identity as a gentleman of the Privy Chamber. This fictional context ensures a completely controlled freedom in which Suckling is distanced from his poem. The naïve and wide-eyed convictions that the speaker imparts to his companion "Dick" seem worlds apart from Suckling's own position at court. However, this distance does not necessarily suggest that the speaker and Suckling are in no way related. Rather, the rustic voice is dictated in part by Suckling's own stereotypical expectations regarding the popular sphere. The fact that the poem stands as an example of an epithalamion links its focus to an elite context. However, unlike more traditional examples of that form such as John Donne's "On the Lady Elizabeth and Count Palatine" (1635), Suckling's poem subverts conventions with its rusticated and uncomplimentary perspective.

  12. As the first stanza opens, cultural distinctions within the poem become evident, but more importantly, the popular voice is informed by elite expectations that are similar to other poets such as John Cleveland and Robert Herrick. [11] Within this context, peasant festivals essentially define the existence of the lower class. The so-called 'little tradition' [12] becomes incapable of anything beyond playing, dancing, and celebrating, and it is from this complacent standpoint that the speaking voice of Suckling's ballad draws comparisons to the elite activities he witnesses. Referring to the groom, the speaker states, "At course-a-park, without a doubt,/He should have been first taken out/By all the maids i' th' town" (19-21). Several stanzas later, he similarly describes his subjects in terms of popular pastimes: "The maid (and thereby hangs a tale,/For such a maid no Whitsun-ale/Could ever yet produce)" (31-33). From this vantage point, the perceived gap between high and low class status is bridged as the nobility becomes immersed in the language of popular pastimes. Even the groom, presumably John Lord Lovelace (brother of Richard Lovelace), is debased as the speaker compares his beard to that of his rustic companion Dick: "Amongst the rest, one pest'lent fine/(His beard no bigger, though, than thine)/Walked on before the rest" (13-15).

  13. Rejecting the traditional imagery of compliment, the speaker describes the aristocratic bride (presumably Lady Anne Wentworth) by way of comparisons drawn from country life:

    Her fingers were so small, the ring
    Would not stay on which they did bring,
    It was too wide a peck;
    And to say truth (for out it must),
    It looked like the great collar (just)
    About our young colt's neck. (37-42)

    Along with the image of the colt, the bride is described by way of the flora and fauna that comprise rural existence including mice, daisies, pears, and grapes. Such images contrast with the more conventional and spiritually inspired images that Donne employs to describe Lady Elizabeth in his epithalamion:

    Up, up, faire Bride, and call,
    Thy starres, from out their severall boxes, take
    Thy Rubies, Pearles, and Diamonds forth, and make
    Thy selfe a constellation of them All . . . (33-36)

    On the one hand, Suckling's unconventional use of figurative language offers an original take on the epithalamion form and therefore enables the poetic freedom that Suckling seeks. At the same time, these kinds of juxtapositions of high and low reinforce the poet's renunciation of popular culture, since Suckling ventriloquizes his own stereotypical and condescending expectations within the 'inferior' voice of the rustic speaker. While this position has enabled freedom and escape from tradition for the poet, the commonfolk are nevertheless depicted as naïve simpletons, their inferior positions merely heightened by overlapping the ballad and epithalamion traditions. As we have seen elsewhere, however, this kind of appropriation can neither be read solely as a critique of the popular sphere (and thus a confirmation of social boundaries) nor as an attempt to challenge and disrupt the social hierarchy. Rather, Suckling's ballads embrace conflicting agendas in order to respond to tensions within print culture. The desire to assert authorial autonomy in the face of a rapidly expanding reading and writing public thus accounts for the seemingly contradictory incentives to appropriate the ballad form.

  14. Poetry by Richard Corbett that appropriates the content, form, and narrative strategies of the broadside ballad reveals how the unfixity of a vagrant form ensures the ballad's capacity to transcend and problematize binaries distinguishing elite and popular as well as literary distinctions based on genre and type. Like Suckling's poems, Corbett's ballad appropriations serve particular socio-political agendas, in this case embracing the formal and thematic characteristics of broadsides as a means of upholding folk traditions (including ballad-singing itself) threatened at the hands of Puritan reform while embracing the ballad form to libel and critique Puritanism. In several instances, Corbett heightens this critique by setting his poetry to well-known ballad tunes. For example, "The Distracted Puritan" is set to the tune Tom O' Bedlam, familiar as an accompaniment to ballads about madness, but also employed (as noted above) in the space of rhymed libels. Along with the tune, each stanza of the poem includes a ballad refrain to reinforce the depiction of Puritans as delusional and misguided: "Boldly I preach, hate a Crosse, hate a Surplice,/Miters, Copes, and Rotchets:/Come heare mee pray nine times a day,/And fill your head with Crotchets." The insistence on excessive prayer typifies anti-Puritan caricature, as do the frequent reminders throughout the poem of the close proximity between Puritan faith and madness: "They bound mee like a Bedlam,/They lash't my foure poore quarters;/Whilst this I endure/Faith makes mee sure/To be one of Foxes Martyrs." The satirical and potentially libellous thrust of Corbett's lines is exacerbated within the space of the ballad form, particularly by way of the repeated refrain and the use of a tune that sometimes accompanied rhymed libels.

  15. In a similar instance, Corbett specifies that "A Certain Poeme" recounting King James' historic 1615 visit to Cambridge University has been "made rather to be sung than read, to the tune of Bonny Nell." Like the tune of Tom O' Bedlam, evidence links Bonny Nell to libels. [13] Once again, the link between Corbett's appropriation of ballads and the rhymed libel is fitting, given that "A Certain Poeme" uses the occasion of King James' visit to Cambridge as an opportunity to critique the Puritan leanings of that University. This critique is particularly pertinent when Corbett discusses Emmanuel College, at the time the most staunchly Puritan of Cambridge's colleges:

    But the pure house of Emanuel
    Would not be like proud Jesabel,
    Nor shew her self before the King,
    An Hypocrite, or painted thing:
    But, that the wayes might all prove faire,
    Conceiv'd a tedious mile of Prayer.

    As in the case of "The Distracted Puritan," the anti-Puritan critique is heightened through the use of a familiar tune, itself associated with libellous rhymes. Circumscribing Puritan subjects and speaking voices within the space of the ballad reinforces this critique, since Puritans themselves strongly objected to the 'lewd' practice of singing and selling ballads.

  16. Corbett's "A Proper New Ballad Intitled The Faeryes Farewell: or God-A-Mercy Will" (1628) provides another example of the ways in which blurring boundaries between elite and popular cultures works to affirm a conventional religio-political belief system. As Bishop of Norwich (1632), Corbett advocated Laudian, Anti-Puritan beliefs that utilized popular tradition as a means to reinforce a well-established religious ideology in the face of moral reform. This appropriation of the popular sphere echoes King James's highly influential Book of Sports (1603), which embraces popular pastimes and traditions including may games, dancing, and other festivities as a way to ensure the integrity of the social order. [14] Corbett similarly utilized popular traditions for such purposes. After becoming a doctor of divinity, he apparently borrowed the leather jerkin of a professional ballad-singer and proceeded to sing ballads at Abington Cross. [15] A news writer in 1629 states, "Dr. Corbett has not forgotten his old trade. I have heard he was a ballad-singer when he was a mad lad at Oxford, and now he is the grave Bishop of Oxford he is turned a ballad-maker." [16] Such behaviour is consistent with the ventriloquizing of popular elements in Corbett's poetry. "The Faeryes Farewell" contains a heading appropriate to the ballad form, namely the tune to which the piece should be sung. As we have seen, however, Corbett breaks from convention by employing two distinct tunes: "To be sung or whistled to the Tune of Meddow Brow by the Learned; by the un Learned; To the Tune of FORTUNE." The fact that the ballad is to be sung to differing tunes depending on one's education and social class seems to acknowledge that the work is intended for a broad but clearly stratified readership. The tune of Meddow Brow corresponds to a ballad in the Roxburghe collection entitled "Death's Dance, to be sung to a pleasant new Tune called Oh no, no, no, not yet, or the Meddow Brow" which deals with themes of expiration. The tune of Fortune is "Fortune My Foe," a frequently used tune usually associated with ballads that deal with penitence prior to execution. [17]

  17. In light of its potential as an accompaniment to themes of mourning and loss, each tune reflects the sense of lamentation for popular traditions inherent in the poem's content. However, the notion that the ballad is directed to a popular audience is countered by two important facts. First, Corbett never published the poem. Circulated only in primarily anonymous manuscript copies until the posthumous publication of Certain Elegant Poems (1647), Corbett's poetry was thus rendered virtually inaccessible to a wide, popular audience. Furthermore, as the editors of The Poems of Richard Corbett (1954) point out, the meter of "The Faeryes Farewell" does not correspond to the tune of Fortune designated as the tune to be sung by members of the lower classes. The fact that the tune Meddow Brow does correspond metrically to Corbett's verse suggests the relevance of a 'learned' readership. While this emphasis may reiterate the unprinted and thus exclusive nature of the poems, the distinction between tunes is undermined by the fact that both The Meddow Brow and Fortune were melodies to accompany ballads of lamentation. Whether or not the popular sphere can be included in the audience of the ballad, the inclusion of the "learned" as well as the "unlearned" in the heading suggests that the content of the poem will in one way or another address the entire social spectrum.

  18. The ballad opens with two immediate consequences of Puritan reform, namely the loss of popular folk tradition, inherent in the lines "Farewell Rewards and Faeries," as well as a threat to cultural homogeneity elicited by moral reform. With the disappearance of these traditions, superstitious and fantastic beliefs will fade as well: "Yet who of late for Cleanliness/Finds six-pence in her Shoe?" Stanza two correlates Anglican religious tradition with popular culture:

    Lament, lament old Abbies
    The Faries lost Command
    They did but change Priests Babies
    But some have changd your Land.
    And all your Children sprung from thence
    Are now growne Puritanes:
    Who live as Changelings ever since
    For love of your Demaines. (9-16)

    As these lines emphasize, both the tradition of Anglican faith and popular folk belief are directly threatened by Puritan reform. In this light, the motivations behind the poet's appropriation of popular tradition, as a metaphor for upholding religious tradition, begin to crystallize. The use of the broadside ballad form reinforces this agenda, since Corbett employs conventions such as the empty line ("Then merrily, merrily went theyre Tabor/and nimbly went theyre Toes") to celebrate practices condemned by Puritan authorities that include both ballad singing and dancing. For Corbett, the support of such activities does not require him to step outside the bounds of his clerical duties (as Puritan critics would argue). Rather, the popular theme enables the poet to lament a time past when divine beneficence had been communicated through popular customs and traditions. Fairies become linked to "the old profession" in stanza five, where they are associated with a tradition of "Ave Maryes" and "Procession" lost in the wake of Puritan reform. In this light, the "pinching" of Anglican practices by Puritan forces directly threatens the livelihood of an older religious authority, just as the prohibition of popular pastimes jeopardizes Royalist social control over the population at large.

  19. Toward the end of the poem, Corbett suggests that there is hope in terms of preserving religious and folk traditions. It is from the resources of a cultural mediator that the potential to retain the "fairy" tradition comes into focus. As a servant to the sub-dean of Christ Church, the figure of William Chourne occupies a position of mobility across the social spectrum, enabling him to retain and appropriate popular stories and songs. This figure appears elsewhere in Corbett's poetry to provide a similar function. Written several years before "The Faeryes Farewell," "Iter Boreal" highlights popular folk traditions as a necessary instrument of protection and preservation. Lost in the woods while searching for the historic Bosworth battlefield during a journey through Britain, the speaker and his fellow travellers are successfully guided by William Chourne's wealth of knowledge regarding popular superstition:

    Such Monsters by Cole-herton bankes there sitt,
    After their resurrection from the pitt.
    Whilst in this Mill wee labour and turne round
    As in a Coniurers circle, William found
    A menes of our deliverance; Turne your Cloakes,
    Quoth hee, for Puck is busy in these Oakes:
    If ever wee Bosworth will be found
    Then turne your Cloakes, for this Fayry-ground,
    But, ere this witchcraft was perform'd wee meete,
    A very man who had no Cloven feete;
    Though William, still of little faith, doth doubt
    Tis Robin, or some Sprite that walkes about;
    Strike him, quoth hee, and it will turne to ayre,
    Crosse your selves thrice and strike it: strike that dare
    Thought I, for sure this massy Forrester
    In stroakes will prove the better Coniurer. (303-318)

    While knowledge of folk tradition aids the speaker and his companions here, the superstitious elements are seen as a threat from which they must turn, perhaps suggesting that the values of popular tradition must be embraced merely to symbolize religious and political convictions, rather than to serve as a distinctive ideology in which to become immersed.

  20. The final stanzas of "The Faeryes Farewell" reinforce this mediating position, since the interest of a more learned audience, including 'the celebrated wit' Corbett, the sub-dean of Christ Church Leonard Hutton, and others provokes the transmission of the material to a learned audience that broadens and complicates the designation of folk tradition. To give thanks to William Chourne, as Corbett implores one to do in the final stanza, is to praise this cultural mediator in his ability to speak to more than one sort of tradition. By calling attention to this mediating role, Corbett's own position is similarly underscored. As a Cavalier poet defending the interests of Royalism in the face of Puritan reform, Corbett likewise bridges cultural categories by embracing both the broadside form and the thematic emphasis on folk beliefs to buttress his own ideological convictions. While the question of audience and readership makes it difficult to identify the poem as a gesture toward social levelling, the poem nevertheless underscores how shared values and interactions across the social spectrum prove central to the work's literary and political identity.

  21. Corbett's ballad appropriations highlight how intersecting categories of literary genre, social class, and political ideology complicate the definition of static and fixed identities within the cultural and textual space of early modern England. Certainly, poets and dramatists appropriated the broadside ballad form for a number of reasons ranging from scurrilous mockery to the celebration of popular traditions and pastimes. Yet, as Corbett's poems illustrate, it is not possible to distinguish ballads as entirely the product of an isolated and hermetic "popular" tradition. Rather, ballads were produced, transmitted, and consumed within a "shared spectrum of participation" across printed, scribal, and oral media as well as across boundaries of social class. As such, ballad appropriations including those of Richard Corbett and Sir John Suckling provide an ideal site within which to explore the contradictory and complex forces inherent in shaping literary and cultural identities.


1. See poems that appropriate ballad metre and other formal conventions such as John Heywood's "A Ballad on the Marriage of Philip and Mary," Anne Askew's "The Balade whych Anne Askewe made and sange whan she was in Newgate," Michael Drayton's "The Muses Elizium," Sir John Suckling's "A Ballad Upon a Wedding," Isabella Whitney's "I. W. To her Unconstant Lover," Richard Lovelace's "Song: To Lucasta, Going to the Warres" and "To Althea, From Prison," Katherine Philips' "An Answer to another perswading a Lady to Marriage" and "To My Excellent Lucasia, on Our Friendship," and Morgan Llwyd's "The Summer."

2. Adam Fox, Oral and Literate Culture in England 1500-1700 (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000), 5.

3. See Patricia Fumerton, "London's Vagrant Economy: Making Space for Low Subjectivity" in Lena Cowen Orlin (ed.), Material London Circa 1600 (Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2000) as well as Fumerton, Vagrant Subjects in Early Modern England: The Case of Edward Barlow (U of Chicago P, Forthcoming).

4. The analogy between vagrant and balladeer appeared in Queen Elizabeth's statute of 1572 and the Vagrancy Act of 1597. These measures applied vagrancy laws to all "common players in interludes and minstrels" who were not under aristocratic or royal patronage and included ballad-writers, peddlers, and performers." The fact that most records of ballad-sellers and hawkers come from their prosecution as vagrants underscores the effectiveness of this kind of control.

5. Fox, 318-19.

6. See especially Fox, 319.

7. Brice, Against Filthy Writing (1570). Quoted in Herbert Collman, Ballads Chiefly of the Elizabethan Period (1912), 13.

8. Webbe, Discourse of English Poetrie (1586), 246.

9. Sidney, Defence of Poesy, 819.

10. Halasz, The Marketplace of Print, 189.

11. Robert Herrick's Hesperides contains numerous poems that potentially undermine stable boundaries between categories of elite and popular, including the well-known "Corrina's Going a Maying."

12. On the conventional distinction between the "great" and "little" traditions, see Robert Redfield, Peasant Society and Culture, 1956.

13. See Fox, 3.

14. For a discussion of James's Book of Sports in relation to popular pastimes, see especially Leah Marcus, The Politics of Mirth: Jonson, Herrick, Milton, Marvell, and the Defense of Old Holiday Pastimes (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1986).

15. See John Aubrey's entry on Corbett in his Brief Lives for this anecdote.

16. Quoted in The Poems of Richard Corbett, xxxii-iii. Regarding Corbett's episcopate positions, it is useful to note that he was first Bishop of Oxford (1628) and then made Bishop of Norwich in 1632.

17. For examples of ballads accompanied by the tune of "Fortune My Foe," see especially the following in Rollins, A Pepysian Garland: "John Flodden," "Anne Wallen's Lamentation," "The Lamentable Burning of Cork."

Works Cited

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.

© 2003-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).