Saturday, January 14, 2012

Historical context of Some Popular Nursery Rhymes

     Is there anybody who never loved to recite rhyme during their childhood? Of course not. Almost all children love rhymes but many of us don't know that most of these popular rhymes have a strong historical background. Today I am going to discuss about the origin of some popular English Nursery Rhymes. 

       Rhyme is a kind of short poem, derived its name from Old Frankish or German term 'rim' meaning "series, sequence".The spelling rhyme was introduced at the beginning of the Modern English period. And the term nursery rhyme is used in Britain for "traditional" poems for young children. The history of nursery rhyme dates back to the Middle age. From the mid-16th century they begin to be recorded in English plays. Most nursery rhymes were not written down until the 18th century, when the publishers start to publish children books for educational purpose. 

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star 

Twinkle twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are?
Up above the world so high , like a diamond in the sky.......

People all around the world are familiar with the popular English nursery rhyme Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" but few have much knowledge of it's origin, growth, adaptations, nor have many heard the full version. This rhyme is actually the first verse of a poem called 'The Star' written in 1806 by Jane Taylor an English poet and novelist. She wrote the words for the song Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star at age 23, while living in Shilling Street, Lavenham, England.The melody is based on the french lullaby Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman (Ah! Let me tell you, Mama) first published in 1761.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall......
All the King's horses, And all the King's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again! 

Humpty Dumpty was first printed in 1810. At the time, a humpty dumpty was a common "nickname", used in 15th century England, to describe large or obese people. There were various, but inaccurate, theories surrounding the identity of Humpty Dumpty. Some people says Humpty Dumpty represents King Richard III of England and the wall his horse. Others have suggested that Humpty Dumpty was in fact to be a large cannon that was used by Royalist forces to defend Colchester in 1648. Colchester was a town with a castle and several churches and was protected by the city wall . During the civil war a shot from Parliamentary cannon succeeded in damaging the wall beneath Humpty Dumpty that resulted in “a great fall” from the tower and it broke into many pieces, and the king’s men could not put it together again.
Baa baa black sheep
Baa baa black sheep, have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full!
One for the master, one for the dame,
And one for the little boy who lives down the lane. 

The nursery rhyme, Baa, Baa, Black Sheep, was first published in 1744 and was seen as a most obvious historical incidence of unrest among those oppressed by the Master and the Dame who collect all the wool dates back to 1275 when Edward I imposed an export tax in Britain in 1275 that allowed him to collect a tax on any wool exported from any port in the country. 
Little Miss Muffet 
Eating her curds and whey,
Along came a spider,
Who sat down beside her
And frightened Miss Muffet away .

Some believe Little Miss Muffet was step daughter of Dr. Muffet (1553-1604) was a famous entomologist who wrote the first scientific catalogue of British Insects. Whilst eating her breakfast of curds and whey Little Miss Muffet was frightened by one of his spiders and ran away.Another story attributes the origin of this nursery rhyme to Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587) and John Knox (1505-1572) a minister who wanted to scare her off the throne due to religious differences. 

Pussycat Pussycat 
"Pussycat pussycat, where have you been?"
"I've been up to London to visit the Queen." ........

The origins of the "Pussycat pussycat" rhyme dates back to the history of 16th century Tudor England. Once an old cat of the waiting ladies of Queen Elizabeth I roamed throughout Windsor castle and suddenly the cat ran beneath the throne where its tail brushed against the Queen's foot, startling her. 

Jack and Jill 
Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water
Jack fell down and broke his crown
And Jill came tumbling after.
Up got Jack, and home did trot ....

The roots of the rhyme Jack and Jill are in France. Jack and Jill referred to are said to be King Louis XVI - Jack -who was beheaded (lost his crown) followed by his Queen Marie Antoinette - Jill. The words and lyrics to the Jack and Jill poem were made more acceptable as a story for children by providing a happy ending! 

There was an Old Woman 
There was an old woman who lived in a shoe,
She had so many children she didn't know what to do!
So she gave them some broth without any bread,
And she whipped them all soundly and sent them to bed! 

"There was an old woman" is believed to have origins in English history. Some relates it to Queen Caroline the wife of King George II who had eight children.other theory refers to refers to King George who began the men's fashion for wearing white powdered wigs. He was consequently referred to as the old woman! The children were the members of parliament and the bed was the Houses of Parliament .

Goosey Goosey Gander 
Goosey Goosey Gander where shall I wander,
Upstairs, downstairs and in my lady's chamber
There I met an old man who wouldn't say his prayers,
I took him by the left leg and threw him down the stairs 

The origins of the nursery rhyme are believed to date back to the 16th century and refer to the horror story of Catholic priests who hide in 'Priest Holes' to avoid persecution from zealous Protestants who were totally against the old Catholic religion. If caught both the priest and members of any family found harbouring them were executed.

Ding Dong Bell
Ding dong bell
Pussy's in the well
Who put her in?......

The lyrics were used to encourage a child to understand that it was unacceptable and cruel to harm any animal that had done no harm. 

Rain Rain go Away 
Rain rain go away,
Come again another day.
Little Johnny wants to play;
Rain, rain, go to Spain,
Never show your face again! 

The origin of the lyrics to "Rain rain go away" are said to date back to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603). The rhyme mainly focuses on the constant rivalry between Spain and England. In 1588 more than 130 Spanish Armada consisted of many Spanish galleons and was sent to invade England. But they were defeated by the English. It's not only because of the swift nature of the smaller English ships but also by the stormy weather which scattered the Armada fleet !

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