Friday, 25 October 2013

Nursery Rhymes, cute or evil?

I was laying in bed listening to the rain hitting the window and this popped into my head..

It's raining, it's pouring,
The old man is snoring.
He went to bed,
And bumped his head,
And couldn't get up in the morning.

Something that I was taught and encouraged to recite as a child, but it got me thinking.  What is it about?  Are we encouraging children to find pleasure in an old man who, at the very least, has incapacitated himself badly.

I started to think about other nursery rhymes that we were all taught as children.

Mary, Mary, quite contrary
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockleshells,
And pretty maids all in a row.

Here we have a rhyme about Mary I of England, or 'Bloody Mary' as she came to be known.  Silver Bells and cockleshells were instruments of torture, silver bells being thumbscrews and cockleshells being attached somewhat lower on the male body. The pretty maids were the guillotines and the garden the cemetery where the bodies were buried.

Three blind mice, three blind mice,
See how they run, see how they run,
They all ran after the farmer's wife
Who cut off their tails with a carving knife,
Did you ever see such a thing in your life
As three blind mice.

Now this is pretty horrific already, three mice, already compromised by being blind, are now left in agony by having their tails chopped off.  However, this is yet another rhyme about Bloody Mary.

The three mice were three nobleman who realised that the Queen was not fit to reign and were discovered and burnt at the stake for treason.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the King's horses and all the King's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.

Humpty Dumpty was the name of a cannon which sat on top of a fort wall.  The cannon fell and broke, when the soldiers tried to repair it they were slaughtered by their opponents.

Goosey, goosey gander,
Where shall I wander?
Upstairs, downstairs and in my lady's chamber
There I met an old man who wouldn't say his prayers.
So I took him by his left leg and threw him down the stairs.

Again, a tale pretty violent in its own right.  Goosey or Goose is believed to be 16th Century slang for a prostitute, in fact the red bumps caused by STI were known as Goose Bumps (remember that next time you are cold and tell everyone you have Goose Bumps).  The punishment for refusing to convert to the Church of England and say prayers in English instead of Latin as the Catholic faith required at the time, was having your legs tied together and being thrown down the stairs.

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children, she didn't know what to do;
She gave them some broth without any bread;
Then whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.
Then out went th' old woman to bespeak 'em a coffin,
And when she came back, she found 'em all a-loffeing.

And finally, for now anyway, we have a woman who has too many children to cope with, so she starves them and beats them adn then leaves them alone in bed whilst she goes and buys coffins for them.  Lovely.

1 comment:

  1. They are pretty evil....One that springs to mind for me is ...

    Rock-a-bye baby, in the treetop
    When the wind blows, the cradle will rock
    When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall
    And down will come baby, cradle and all