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Home :: Archive :: 2008 :: February ::
The Pious Chanson in Hamlet II.ii
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0057  Friday, 1 February 2008

From:		Arnie Perlstein <
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Date:		Thursday, 31 Jan 2008 09:17:08 -0500
Subject:	The Pious Chanson in Hamlet II.ii

I have found the answer to my question posed earlier this week, in which 
I wrote:

"The early Shakespeare commentator Steevens thinks that the pious 
chanson to which Hamlet is alluding is from the 2nd and 3rd edition of 
Dr. Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry. I am not sure if the 
text of those Reliques is available online, but does anyone happen to 
know the text of that particular "pious chanson"? I think that Hamlet is 
hinting to Polonius that if Polonius reads the first line of that song, 
he will understand Hamlet's veiled meaning, and in particular Polonius 
should look at precisely the point in that first line where Hamlet's has 
abridged it."

I have since then located the text of Percy's book at Google Books, and 
have read the "pious chanson," and here it is. It seems that Hamlet's 
hint about the first line of the song is merely a reference that the 
song is all about Jephthah and the sacrifice of his daughter, and I see 
no more than that in the rest of the chanson.

Here is the full text of the chanson, which apparently was rescued from 
oblivion in the 18th century by a friend of the Shakespeare scholar 
Steevens:

Have you not heard these many years ago, Jeptha was judge of Israel?
He had one only daughter and no mo,
The which he loved passing well:
And, as by lott,
God wot,
It so came to pass,
As Gods will was,
That great wars there should be,
And none should be chosen chief but he.
And when he was appointed judge,
And chieftain of the company,
A solemn vow to God he made;
If he returned with victory,
  At his return
To burn
  The first live thing,
  That should meet with him then,
  Off his house, when he should return agen.
It came to pass, the wars was oer,
  And he returned with victory;
  His dear and only daughter first of all Came to meet her father 
foremostly:
  And all the way,
She did play
On tabret and pipe,
Full many a stripe,
With note so high,
For joy that her father is come so nigh.
But when he saw his daughter dear
  Coming on most foremostly,
He wrung his hands, and tore his hair.
And cryed out most piteously;
Oh ! it's thou, said he,
  That have brought me Low,
And troubled me so,
That I know not what to do.
  For I have made a vow, he sed,
  'I he which must be replenished:
What thou hast spoke
  Do not revoke :
What thou hast said.
Be not affraid;
  Altho' it be I;
  Keep promises to God on high.
But, dear father, grant me one request, That I may go to the wilderness,
Three months there with my friends to stay; There to bewail my virginity;
And let there be, Said she, Some two or three Young maids with me."
  So he sent her away.
For to mourn, for to mourn, tin her dying day.

Arnie Perlstein
Weston, Florida

[Editor's Note: I don't know if this Note most properly belongs here or 
in the latest iteration of the "Books to Buy" thread as initiated by 
Gabriel Egan; however, I have learned from Terry Grey's blog to his 
enormously important website - "Mr. Shakespeare and the Internet" that 
Google Books now has many of the significant 18th editions of 
Shakespeare. For example, at the end of the long 18th century series of 
editions, links to the Google Books 21 volumes of the monumental James 
Boswell-Edmond Malone "third variorum" of 1821 can be found at 
http://mrshakespeare.typepad.com/mrshakespeare/2008/01/the-third-vario.html 
and 
http://mrshakespeare.typepad.com/mrshakespeare/2008/01/the-third-var-1.html 
I love Google Books, and think its mission of creating a digitalizing 
library of as many books as it can is a noble one. I myself love and 
collect facsimiles, especially electronic ones; in fact, my co-edited 
SHAKE-SPEARES SONNETS 1609 is the e-text used as the searchable "live 
text" for the Octavo edition. Having so many facsimiles of printed 
artifacts of the quartos, folios, and early editions of Shakespeare on 
my hard drive or a few clicks away on the internet - I am thinking here 
of the British Library's 93 pre-1642 quartos 
http://www.bl.uk/treasures/shakespeare/homepage.html and LION's 
collection of the editions and adaptations of Shakespeare (previously 
released as a CD) - while not replacing exactly trips to the Folger, the 
British Library, or the Bodleian are certainly one of the great joys of 
the electronic age and certainly less time consuming than a Metro or car 
ride to the Folger or a plane flight to the BL or the Bodleian. -Hardy]

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