Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Christmas -12th Night - A Tiny Bit of English Literature

First Folio William Shakespeare wrote the play Twelfth Night, circa 1601.

William Shakespeare wrote a play called Twelfth Night, Or What You Will, but it did not deal with the traditional religious holiday. Steve Sohmertells us that Shakespeare wrote Twelth Night for two performances: (1) on Twelfth Night 1602 Gregorian, and (2) on Candlemas 2 February Julian. The title 'Or What You Will' refers to Queen Elizabeth's decision to retain England's Old Julian calendar (27 Dec Julian = 6 Jan Gregorian).

Those interested in Elizabethan Christmas - Twelfth Night customs in literature might be interested in the details imparted in Steve Roth's “Hamlet as The Christmas Prince: Certain Speculations on Hamlet, the Calendar, Revels, and Misrule” in Early Modern Literary Studies 7.3 (January, 2002). Among cited sources of this article, one might read, Popular and Popish Superstitions and Customs On Saints’-Days and Holy-Days in Germany and Other Papist Lands A. D. 1553, Being the Fourth Booke of “The Popish Kingdome, or reigne of Anitchrist, written in Latine verse by Thomas Naogeorgus (or Kirchmaier), and englyshed by Barnabe Googe. . . Anno 1570.

Ben Jonson's The Masque of Blackness was performed on 6 January 1605 at the Banqueting House in Whitehall. It was originally entitled The Twelvth Nights Revells. The accompanying Masque, The Masque of Beauty was performed in the same court the Sunday night after the Twelfth Night in 1608.

Robert Herrick's(1591-1674)poem Twelfe-Night, or King and Queene, published in 1648, describes the election of king and queen by bean and pea in a plum cake, and the homage done to them by the draining of wassail bowls of "lamb's-wool", a drink of sugar, nutmeg, ginger and ale.

Twelfth Night: or, King and Queen

NOW, now the mirth comes

With the cake full of plums,
Where bean's the king of the sport here ;
Beside we must know,
The pea also
Must revel, as queen, in the court here.

Begin then to choose,

This night as ye use,
Who shall for the present delight here,
Be a king by the lot,
And who shall not
Be Twelfth-day queen for the night here.

Which known, let us make

Joy-sops with the cake ;
And let not a man then be seen here,
Who unurg'd will not drink
To the base from the brink
A health to the king and queen here.

Next crown a bowl full

With gentle lamb's wool :
Add sugar, nutmeg, and ginger,
With store of ale too ;
And thus ye must do
To make the wassail a swinger.

Give then to the king

And queen wassailing :
And though with ale ye be whet here,
Yet part from hence
As free from offence
As when ye innocent met here.
Charles Dickens' 1843 A Christmas Carol briefly mentions Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present visiting a children's Twelfth Night party. "It was a long night, if it were only a night; but Scrooge had his doubts of this, because the Christmas Holidays appeared to be condensed into the space of time they passed together. It was strange, too, that while Scrooge remained unaltered in his outward form, the Ghost grew older, clearly older. Scrooge had observed this change, but never spoke of it, until they left a children's Twelfth Night party, when, looking at the Spirit as they stood together in an open place, he noticed that its hair was grey."
In Chapter 6 of Harrison Ainsworth's 1858 novel Mervyn Clitheroe, the eponymous hero is elected King of festivities at the Twelfth Night celebrations held in Tom Shakeshaft's barn, by receiving the slice of plum cake containing the bean; his companion Cissy obtains the pea and becomes queen, and they are seated together in a high corner to view the proceedings. The distribution has been rigged to prevent another person gaining the role. The festivities include country dances, and the introduction of a "Fool Plough", a plough decked with ribands brought into the barn by a dozen mummers together with a grotesque "Old Bessie" (played by a man) and a Fool dressed in animal skins with a fool's hat. The mummers carry wooden swords and perform revelries. The scene in the novel is illustrated by Hablot Knight Browne ("Phiz"). In the course of the evening, the fool's antics cause a fight to break out, but Mervyn restores order. Three bowls of gin punch are disposed of, and at eleven o'clock the young men make the necessary arrangements to see the young ladies safely home across the fields.