Monday, June 16, 2014

The ballad of The Cruel Shrew

© 2014 Christy K Robinson
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Seventeenth-century broadsheets, like today’s tabloid newspapers, told lurid tales of witches and monster babies (born of heretical women like Anne Hutchinson and Mary Dyer), or murders or political scandals. Sometimes broadsheets were long ballads of romance or comedy, to be sung in taverns. And sometimes, they were sermons or political articles like we’d see on a blog today.

From 1200-1250, when the upper class spoke Norman French, the Middle-English word "shrew" began to describe a bad-tempered, spiteful man or woman. A shrew is a tiny rodent of two to three inches in length, weighing half an ounce at best. The European common shrew, an insectivore, is described as having red-tipped teeth, suggesting blood, and a powerful bite, so perhaps that’s the source of calling a scold or gossip a shrew. Another similarity might be the long nose, getting into others' business!

In about 1590-92, William Shakespeare wrote The Taming of the Shrew, and described a shrewish woman in this way: 
"Petruchio, since we are stepp'd thus far in,
I will continue that I broach'd in jest.
I can, Petruchio, help thee to a wife
With wealth enough and young and beauteous,
Brought up as best becomes a gentlewoman:
Her only fault, and that is faults enough,
Is that she is intolerable curst
And shrewd and froward, so beyond all measure
That, were my state far worser than it is,
I would not wed her for a mine of gold."
In the southern counties of England, a shrewish woman might be forced to undergo the ducking stool, which was a life-endangering ordeal where she’d be at risk of drowning while bound to a chair—and possibly gagged. In Scotland and the north of England, a shrew was sometimes dehumanized by being bridled or branked for her disrespectful utterances. In 1655, Dorothy Waugh, a young Quaker known well to Mary Dyer, was bridled in Carlyle, northwest England. Dorothy sailed to New England in 1656, and was further persecuted and beaten for sharing her faith and defying the theocratic colonial governments.  

The Cruell Shrow (shrew) was written by Arthur Halliarg, between 1607 and 1641. (Based on the clothing worn in the broadsheet drawings, I'd guess the earlier date.) This is the sort of humorous entertainment that William Dyer or any of his colleagues and family might have enjoyed in their leisure time in England. 

The Cruell Shrow
Or, The Patient Man's Woe

Declaring the misery, and the great pain,
By his unquiet wife he doth daily sustain.
To the tune of "Cuckolds -All A-row"

Come, bachelors and married men, and listen to my song,
And I will show you plainly, then, the injury and wrong
That constantly I do sustain by the unhappy life,
The which does put me to great pain, by my unquiet wife.

She never lins' her bawling, her tongue it is so loud;
But always she'll be railing, and will not be controlled.
For she the breeches still will wear, although it breeds my strife.
If I were now a bachelor, I'd never have a wife.

Sometime I go i'the morning about my daily work,
My wife she will be snorting, and in her bed she'll lurk
Until the chimes do go at eight, then she'll begin to wake.
Her morning's draught, well-spicèd' straight, to clear her eyes she'll take.

As soon as she is out of bed her looking-glass she takes,
(So vainly is she daily led); her morning's work she makes
In putting on her brave attire, that fine and costly be,
Whilst I work hard in dirt and mire. Alack! What remedy?

Then she goes forth a-gossiping amongst her own comrades;
And then she falls a-boozing with her merry blades.
When I come home from my labor hard, then she'll begin to scold,
And calls me rogue, without regard, which makes my heart full cold.

When I come home into my house, thinking to take my rest,
Then she'll begin me to abuse (before she did but jest),
With -- "Out, you rascal! you have been abroad to meet your whore!"
Then she takes up a cudgel's end, and breaks my head full sore.
When I, for quietness' sake, desire my wife for to be still,
She will not grant what I require, but swears she'll have her will.
Then if I chance to heave my hand, straightway she'll "murder!" cry;
Then judge all men that here do stand,  in what a case am I

To the Same Tune 
"Husband, beware the Stocks," she says to the drunk man
with overturned cups and jugs

And if a friend by chance me call to drink a pot of beer,
Then she'll begin to curse and brawl, and fight, and scratch, and tear,
And swears unto my work she'll send me straight, without delay,
Or else, with the same cudgel's end, she will me soundly pay.

And if I chance to sit at meat upon some holy day,
She is so sullen, she will not eat, but vex me ever and ay;
She'll pout, and lour, and curse, and bann. This is the weary life
That I do lead, poor harmless man, with my most doggèd wife.

Then is not this a piteous cause? Let all men now it try,
And give their verdicts, by the laws, between my wife and I,
And judge the cause, who is to blame. I'll to their judgment stand,
And be contented with the same, and put thereto my hand.

If I abroad go anywhere, my business for to do,
Then will my wife anon be there, for to increase my woe.
Straightway she such a noise will make with her most wicked tongue,
That all her mates, her part to take, about me soon will throng.

Thus am I now tormented still with my most cruel wife;
All through her wicked tongue so ill, I am weary of my life.
I know not truly what to do, nor how my self to mend.
This ling'ring life doth breed my woe; I would 'twere at an end.

Oh that some harmless honest man, whom death did so befriend,
To take his wife from of his hand, his sorrows for to end,
Would change with me, to rid my care, and take my wife alive
For his dead wife unto his share; then I would hope to thrive.

But so it likely will not be, (that is the worst of all!)
For, to increase my daily woe, and for to breed my fall,
My wife is still most froward bent - such is my luckless fate! -
There is no man will be content with my unhappy state.

Thus to conclude and make an end of these my verses rude,
I pray all wives for to amend, and with peace to be endued.
Take warning, all men, by the life that I sustainèd long:
Be careful how you'll choose a wife, and so I'll end my song.


Like this article? Read my non-fiction book on 17th-century life and times (click this highlighted title),
The Dyers of London, Boston, & Newport, by Christy K Robinson.
Nonfiction, illustrated. The research and recent discoveries behind the Mary Dyer books. The Dyers is a lively nonfiction account of background color, culture, short stories, personality sketches, food, medicine, interests, recreation, cosmic events, and all the "stuff" that made up the world of William and Mary Dyer in the 1600s.  Chapters on John Winthrop, Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson, John Endecott, and many others. More than 70 chapters, and all-new, exclusive content found nowhere else!

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