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On October 13th, nine members of the Chrisman Shakespeare Club met at the home of Nancy Harper. Harper, along with Trudi Brinkley were serving as hostesses for the meeting. Members had a choice of apple pie, cherry pie or lemon meringue for their treat.
Nancy Harper then led members in the Club Collect. There were no matters of new business, unfinished business or news from the special committees.
Front Street Market in Hume will be catering the Chrisman Luncheon this year. Members will cast their votes at the next meeting on what will be on the menu. For roll call, members were to read a line from a Shakespearean Sonnet.
Alice Lientz had the program for the meeting and chose the real history behind the nursery rhymes that we heard as children, read to our children or grandchildren or perhaps a child we were baby sitting.
The term “Lullaby” is a derivative from Jewish Folklore meaning ‘Lilith abi’, which when translated to English tongue, simply means ‘Lilith, go away’.
In this folklore, Lilith was a she-demon who was said to be Adam’s wife before Eve, so the term ‘lullaby’ was coined to protect children from her. However, history shows us that some lullabies meant to be soothing are in fact horrifying if you understand their origin and know how to read between the lines.
Examples of these lullabies include, ‘Ring Around the Rosie’, ‘Rock a bye baby’, ‘Jack and Jill’ and possibly the craziest, if true, ‘The Muffin Man’.
Let’s start with ‘Ring Around the Rosie’- Ring around the Rosie, pocket full of posies,-ashes, ashes, we all fall down. This nursery rhyme references ‘The Black Death’ in Europe, a bubonic plague pandemic that lasted from 1346 to 1352. The plague would appear as black sores on the bodies of the afflicted. People stuffed posies, a type of flower, into their pockets so they couldn’t smell the dead bodies that were piled everywhere. The ashes fell after they burned the bodies to prevent the spread of infection. Although not everyone ‘fell down’, The Black Death wiped out a significant twenty percent of the worlds population.
Rock a bye baby- Rock a bye baby, on the tree top, when the wind blows, the cradle will rock, when the bough breaks, the cradle will fall, and down will come baby, cradle and all. If you listen to the words of the version we know today, you can easily assume it depicts a horrific setting for a child.
One popular story is that the child in the rhyme is the son of James VII, who some believed was smuggled into the birthing chamber in order to give James a Catholic heir. The wind is thought to refer to James’s family members coming in to over throw the child, and the cradle is a reference to the Royal House.
When the original was first printed, it has a footnote that read, ‘This may serve as a warning to the proud and ambitious, who climb so high that they generally fall at last’. Some interpret this as a threat, but others see it as plain mockery.
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. People often question the validity of this nursery rhyme since water is typically found at the bottom of a hill instead of the top.
However, other theories suggest that it has a much deeper meaning that originally thought. Jack and Jill are assumed to represent France’s King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette- a couple who was said to be greedy and carelessly wasting money on finery. Although at some point out that the dates don’t necessarily correlate. King Louis XVI was beheaded (lost his crown) and Marie Antoinette was beheaded (came tumbling down) around ten months later.
The Muffin Man- Do you know the Muffin Man, the Muffin Man, the Muffin Man. Do you know the Muffin Man, who lives on Drury Lane?
If this lullaby/nursery rhyme is true, you may not have wanted to know the Muffin Man. The popular rhyme supposedly originated as caution, a warning for children to be aware of a 16th Century baker turned serial killer who enticed his young victims by pulling a muffin down the cobblestone streets of London.
His name was Frank Thomas Lynwood and the children’s song was made up to help children identify his MO, so they can report him to authorities. According to Uncylopedia, Lynwood also went by the nickname, ‘The Drury Lane Dicer’ and was known as England’s first serial killer.
By local folklore, it is said Frank would tie a muffin to a string and as a child tried to get it, he pulled the string, eventually luring the child to his house, giving him ample time to knock the child out with a wooden spoon.
This is either one heck of a folklore story or one of history’s most creepy mysteries. Lynwood supposedly was born in 1563 and died in 1612 and would often deliver his freshly baked goods to homes on Drury Lane.
There are small grains of truth to this rumored claim. A passage recorded in the Cambridge World History of Food confirmed that households during the Victorian period, which spanned between 1837-1901, not during Lynwood’s alleged reign of terror, would often have fresh food delivered door to door by a ‘muffin man’.
The ‘muffin’ of the rhyme is believed to have been an English Muffin baked of bread, not the sweeter U.S. version. And the rhyme could very well have been inspired by a real muffin man of Drury Lane, which is a thoroughfare bordering Covent Garden in Downtown London.
Another English version substitutes ‘Drury Lane’ with ‘Dorset Lane’, an area of East London. Dorset Lane was once reputed as the ‘worst street in London’, marking the 1888 murder sight of Mary Jane Kelly, the youngest of Jack the Ripper’s victims.
But that’s where the similarities stop. There are no historical accounts of the so-named Lynwood rumored to have been the first serial killer in England. In fact, that title goes to Mary Ann Cotton. At the time of her 1873 hanging for the murder of her fourth husband’s son, the 40 year old Cotton was known to have committed at least twenty one murders, including eleven on her thirteen children, three of her for husbands, one lover and her mother.
The real meaning behind some of the nursery rhymes/lullabies are a mystery, but they are worth exploring.
The next meeting of the Chrisman Shakespeare Club will be on Thursday, November 10th with Paula Bouton and Kay Fidler as hostesses.