Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Secret History of the Nursery Rhyme

I had no idea until a few years ago that most nursery rhymes are associated with actual events in history. I was watching CSI New York last night and one of the murders had some slight similarities to the nursery rhyme Ring around the roses, which inspired me to write this post. I had no idea until a few years ago that most nursery rhymes are associated with actual events in history. Ever since then I've been fascinated with this nursery rhyme history. For example Ring around the Rosy has connections to the Bubonic Plague (Black Death)?

The words to the Ring around the rosy children's ring game have their origin in English history . The historical period dates back to the Great Plague of London in 1665 (bubonic plague) or even before when the first outbreak of the Plague hit England in the 1300's. The symptoms of the plague included a rosy red rash in the shape of a ring on the skin (Ring around the rosy). Pockets and pouches were filled with sweet smelling herbs ( or posies) which were carried due to the belief that the disease was transmitted by bad smells. The term "Ashes Ashes" refers to the cremation of the dead bodies! The death rate was over 60% and the plague was only halted by the Great Fire of London in 1666 which killed the rats which carried the disease which was transmitting via water sources. The English version of "Ring around the rosy" replaces Ashes with (A-tishoo, A-tishoo) as violent sneezing was another symptom of the disease.

Another nursery Rhyme that I was amazed with was Jack and Jill went up the hill. The Jack and Jill story has a French connection.
The roots of the story, or poem, of Jack and Jill are in France. Jack and Jill referred to are said to be King Louis XVI - Jack -who was beheaded (lost his crown) followed by his Queen Marie Antoinette - Jill - (who came tumbling after). The words and lyrics to the Jack and Jill poem were made more acceptable as a story for children by providing a happy ending! The actual beheadings occurred in during the Reign of Terror in 1793. The first publication date for the lyrics of Jack and Jill rhyme is 1795 - which ties-in with the history and origins. The Jack and Jill poem is also known as Jack and Gill - the mis-spelling of Gill is not uncommon in nursery rhymes as they are usually passed from generation to generation by word of mouth.
Death by Beheading!
On the gruesome subject of beheading it was the custom that following execution the severed head was held up by the hair by the executioner. This was not, as many people think, to show the crowd the head but in fact to show the head the crowd and it's own body! Consciousness remains for at least eight seconds after beheading until lack of oxygen causes unconsciousness and eventually death. The guillotine is associated with the French but the English were the first to use this device as described in our section containing Mary Mary Quite Contrary Rhyme.

Nursery rhymes don't have the same magical effect on my inner child like they use to. My daughter loves to play ring around the rosy. I don't know about other people but every time we play this game I get a creepy feeling. Nursery rhymes don't seem so cute to me anymore but I still am totally amazed with the history they hide.

1 comment:

  1. I did know this. I think we studied it in high school. It is kinda sick when you think about it. I guess I just look at them as fun things to do with kid's and not think about the word's.


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