Wednesday, March 24, 2010

It Was a Lover and His Lass by William Shakespeare

From Act V, sc. 3 of As You Like It, one of the plays I discussed last June as part of "Brush Up Your Shakespeare Month", comes a delightful (and secretly bawdy) song, "It Was a Lover and His Lass". This particular scene consists of Touchstone, the clown, and his intended bride, Audrey (who is on record as saying "I am not a slut, though I thank the gods I am foul." Act III, sc.3) running into two pages, who dance in a circle with them while one of the pages sings this song. Part of the joke is that Touchstone is really only after Audrey because he wants a tumble, the other part is in the lyrics of the song itself, about an amorous couple getting busy in a cornfield.

During last year's event, I mentioned all the songs in the play, and the other two songs, "Under the Greenwood Tree" and "Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind" have each had their own dedicated posts, leaving this perfect-for-spring selection for today:

It Was a Lover and His Lass
by William Shakespeare

It was a lover and his lass,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
That o'er the green cornfield did pass
In springtime, the only pretty ringtime,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding,
Sweet lovers love the spring.


Between the acres of the rye,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
These pretty country folks would lie
In springtime, etc.

This carol they began that hour,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
How that a life was but a flower
In springtime, etc.

And therefore take the present time,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
For love is crownèd with the prime
In springtime, etc.


If you are interested in hearing a contemporary setting of this song, meaning one that was written by one of Shakespeare's contemporaries, Thomas Morley, then you may click here to launch a QuickTime file from the University of Victoria in British Columbia, part of Shakespeare's Life and Times, Internet Shakespeare Editions, University of Victoria: Victoria, BC, 2001-2005.

Form: The song consists of four verses and a chorus, which is repeated after each verse. The verses themselves are composed of a rhymed couplet separated by a hey, and a ho and a hey nonino. The chorus includes rhyme (springtime/ringtime, sing/ding/spring).

A word on meaning: The song tells the story of a lover and his lass who quite literally have a roll in the hay - or at least in the rye. The "nonsense" syllable, "nonny", is here subsumed in the word "nonino", pronounced "nonny no". The word "nonny" in Shakespeare's time was not mere nonsense, but was one of many, many slang terms for the vagina - the interlineation, therefore, of "with a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonny no" is in part a term to sexual (inter)action between the Lover and his Lass, and also attributed to them as the "song" they sing while thus engaged. Because although we think of him as "highbrow" today, that was not exactly how Shakespeare rolled - he was the master of double meanings and sexual puns, and this song is one example of it. This is a simple country tune (and yes, there's a double meaning in that) - you may accept is as innocent or giggle at its suggestiveness, as is your wont.

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2 comments:

pr8ngkiet said...

Thank you very much,From Thailand. I have studied this poem from my Teacher Mr Teddy Chase long long time ago.

Anonymous said...

Ah ! I have learned something today... Thank you so much for that !