Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Last-minute gift ideas from the Bard

In The Winter's Tale, Act IV, scene 4, Autolycus (a pedlar and a pickpocket, who ultimately helps Perdita and Florinzel to escape and avoid Florinzel's father's wrath - man, do I need to re-read that play and blog about it come next June!) comes into the shepherd's house where Perdita has been raised, singing about his wares. Perhaps those of you in need of a last-minute gift will find something here. At the very least, I hope you will enjoy the lovely rhyme:

Lawn as white as driven snow;
Cyprus black as e'er was crow;
Gloves as sweet as damask roses;
Masks for faces and for noses;
Bugle bracelet, necklace amber,
Perfume for a lady's chamber;
Golden quoifs and stomachers,
For my lads to give their dears:
Pins and poking-sticks of steel,
What maids lack from head to heel:
Come buy of me, come; come buy, come buy;
Buy lads, or else your lasses cry: Come buy.
Form: The poem is written in trochaic tetrameter. Tetrameter means there are four poetic feet per line, and "trochaic" means that the feet are trochees (TROkeys) - two-syllable feet composed of a stressed followed by an unstressed syllable: DUMta DUMta DUMta DUM(ta). That last "ta" is in parentheses because sometimes Shakespeare leaves it off, truncating the final foot.

"Cyprus" here refers to a kind of black lawn or crape fabric made in Holland. A "quoif" is a variant spelling for a "coif," a type of close-fitting cap to be worn on the head. A "stomacher" was usually a jeweled or heavily embroidered piece to be worn around the waist. "Poking-sticks" were small sticks or rods used to adjust the pleats on ruffs.

You can hear a recording of John Coates singing this over at YouTube, starting at the 4:37 mark, if you're so inclined.


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