Percy's Reliques - King Cophetua and the Beggar-Maid.

King Cophetua and the Beggar-Maid.

            This story is often alluded to by our old dramatic writers. Shakspeare, in his Romeo and Juliet, act. ii. sc. 1, makes Mercutio say,

"-- Her (Venus's) purblind son and heir,
Young Adam[ 1] Cupid, he that shot so true,
When King Cophetua loved the beggar-maid."

            As the thirteenth line of the following ballad seems here particularly alluded to, it is not improbable that Shakspeare wrote it shot so trim, which the players or printers, not perceiving the allusion, might alter to true. The former, as being the more humorous expression, seems most likely to have come from the mouth of Mercutio.[ 2]

            In the Second Part of Hen. IV. act v. sc. 3, Falstaff is introduced affectedly saying to Pistoll,

"O base Assyrian knight, what is thy news?
Let King Cophetua know the truth thereof."

            These lines, Dr. Warburton thinks, were taken from an old bombast play of "King Cophetua." No such play is, I believe, now to be found; but it does not therefore follow that it never existed. Many dramatic pieces are referred to by old writers, which are not now extant, or even mentioned in any list.[ 3] In the infancy of the stage, plays were often exhibited that were never printed.

            It is probably in allusion to the same play that Ben Jonson says, in his Comedy of "Every Man in his Humour," act iii. sc. 4:--

"I have not the heart to devour thee, an' I might be made as rich as King Cophetua."

            At least there is no mention of King Cophetua's riches in the present ballad, which is the oldest I have met with on the subject.

It is printed from Rich. Johnson's Crown Garland of Goulden Roses, 1612, 12mo. (where it is intitled simply A Song of a Beggar and a King): corrected by another copy.

I READ that once in Affrica
A princely wight did raine,
Who had to name Cophetua,
As poets they did faine:
From natures lawes he did decline,
For sure he was not of my mind.
He cared not for women-kinde,
But did them all disdaine.
But marke what hapened on a day,
As he out of his window lay,
He saw a beggar all in gray,
The which did cause his paine.

The blinded boy, that shootes so trim,
From heaven downe did hie;
He drew a dart and shot at him,
In place where he did lye:
Which soone did pierse him to the quicke,
And when he felt the arrow pricke,
Which in his tender heart did sticke,
He looketh as he would dye.
"What sudden chance is this," quoth he,
"That I to love must subject be,
Which never thereto would agree,
But still did it defie?"

Then from the window he did come,
And laid him on his bed,
A thousand heapes of care did runne
Within his troubled head:
For now he meanes to crave her love,
And now he seekes which way to prove
How he his fancie might remoove,
And not this beggar wed.
But Cupid had him so in snare,
That this poor begger must prepare
A salve to cure him of his care,
Or els he would be dead.

And, as he musing thus did lye,
He thought for to devise
How he might have her companye,
That so did 'maze his eyes.
"In thee," quoth he, "doth rest my life;
For surely thou shalt be my wife,
Or else this hand with bloody knife
The Gods shall sure suffice."
Then from his bed he soon arose,
And to his pallace gate he goes;
Full little then this begger knowes
When she the king espies.

"The Gods preserve your majesty,"
The beggers all gan cry:
"Vouchsafe to give your charity
Our childrens food to buy."
The king to them his purse did cast,
And they to part it made great haste;
This silly woman was the last
That after them did hye.
The king he cal'd her back againe,
And unto her he gave his chaine;
And said, "With us you shal remaine
Till such time as we dye.

"For thou," quoth he, "shalt be my wife,
And honoured for my queene;
With thee I meane to lead my life,
As shortly shall be seene:
Our wedding shall appointed be,
And every thing in its degree:
Come on," quoth he, "and follow me,
Thou shalt go shift thee cleane.
What is thy name, faire maid?" quoth he.
"Penelophon,[ 4] O king," quoth she;
With that she made a lowe courtsey;
A trim one as I weene.

Thus hand in hand along they walke
Unto the king's pallące:
The king with curteous comly talke
This beggar doth imbrace:
The begger blusheth scarlet red,
And straight againe as pale as lead,
But not a word at all she said,
She was in such amaze.
At last she spake with trembling voyce,
And said, "O king, I doe rejoyce
That you wil take me from your choyce,
And my degree's so base."

And when the wedding day was come,
The king commanded strait
The noblemen both all and some
Upon the queene to wait.
And she behaved herself that day,
As if she had never walkt the way; [ 5]
She had forgot her gown of gray,
Which she did weare of late.
The proverbe old is come to passe,
The priest, when he begins his masse,
Forgets that ever clerke he was;
He knowth not his estate.

Here you may read, Cophetua,
Though long time fancie-fed,
Compelled by the blinded boy
The begger for to wed:
He that did lovers lookes disdaine,
To do the same was glad and faine,
Or else he would himselfe have slaine,
In storie, as we read.
Disdaine no whit, O lady deere,[ 6]
But pitty now thy servant heere,
Least that it hap to thee this yeare,
As to that king it did.

And thus they led a quiet life
Duringe their princely raigne;
And in a tombe were buried both,
As writers sheweth [ 7] plaine.
The lords they tooke it grievously,
The ladies tooke it heavily,
The commons cryed pitiously,
Their death to them was paine,
Their fame did sound so passingly,
That it did pierce the starry sky,
And throughout all the world did flye
To every princes realme.[ 8]

NOTES

1. See above, Preface to Song i. Book ii.

2. Since this conjecture first occurred, it has been discovered that shot so trim was the genuine reading.-- See Shaksp. ed, 1793, xiv. 393.

3. See Mere's Wits Treas. fol. 283. Arte of Eng. Poes. 1589, p. 51, 111, 143, 169.

4. Shakspeare (who alludes to this ballad in his Love's Labour Lost, act iv. sc. 1.) gives the Beggars name Zenelophon, according to all the old editions: but this seems to be a corruption; for Penelophon, in the text, sounds more like the name of a woman. The story of the King and the Beggar is also alluded to in King Rich. II. act v. sc. 3.

5. i.e. Tramped the streets.

6. Here the poet addresses himself to his mistress.

7. Sheweth was anciently the plural number.

8. An ingenious friend thinks the last two stanzas should change place.

 

VII.
Take Thy Auld Cloak About Thee.

            This is supposed to have been originally a Scotch ballad. The reader here has an ancient copy in the English idiom, with an additional stanza (the second) never before printed. This curiosity is preserved in the Editor's folio manuscript, but not without corruptions, which are here removed by the assistance of the Scottish edition. Shakspeare, in his Othello, act ii. has quoted one stanza, with some variations, which are here adopted.

THIS winters weather it waxeth cold,
And frost doth freese on every hill,
And Boreas blowes his blasts sae bold,
That all our cattell are like to spill;
Bell my wiffe, who loves noe strife,
She sayd unto me quietlye,
"Rise up, and save cow Crumbockes life,
Man, put thine old cloake about thee."

HE

"O Bell, why dost thou flyte and scorne?
Thou kenst my cloak is very thin:
Itt is soe bare and overworne
A cricke he theron cannot runn:
Then Ile noe longer borrowe nor lend,
For once Ile new appareld bee,
To-morrow Ile to towne and spend,
For Ile have a new cloake about mee."

SHE

"Cow Crumbocke is a very good cowe,
Shee has beene alwayes true to the payle,
Shee has helpt us to butter and cheese, I trow,
And other things shee will not fayle;
I wold be loth to see her pine,
Good husband, counsell take of mee,
It is not for us to go soe fine,
Man, take thine old cloake about thee."

HE

"My cloake it was a verry good cloake,
Itt hath been alwayes true to the weare,
But now it is not worth a groat;
I have had it four and forty yeere:
Sometime itt was of cloth in graine,
'Tis now but a sigh clout as you may see,
It will neither hold out winde nor raine;
And Ile have a new cloake about mee."

SHE

"It is four and fortye yeeres agoe
Since the one of us the other did ken,
And we have had betwixt us towe
Of children either nine or ten;
Wee have brought them up to women and men;
In the feare of God I trow they bee;
And why wilt thou thyselfe misken?
Man, take thine old cloake about thee."

HE

"O Bell my wife, why dost thou floute!
Now is nowe, and then was then:
Seeke now all the world throughout,
Thou kenst not clownes from gentlemen.
They are cladd in blacke, greene, yellowe, or gray,
Soe far above their owne degree:
Once in my life Ile doe as they,
For Ile have a new cloake about mee."

SHE

"King Stephen was a worthy peere,
His breeches cost him but a crowne,
He held them sixpence all too deere;
Therefore he calld the taylor Lowne.
He was a wight of high renowne
And thouse but of a low degree:
Itt's pride that putts this countrye downe,
Then take thine old cloake about thee."

HE

"Bell my wife she loves not strife,
Yet she will lead me if she can;
And oft, to live a quiet life,
I am forced to yield, though Ime good-man;
Itt's not for a man with a woman to threape,
Unlesse he first gave oer the plea:
As wee began wee now will leave,
And Ile take mine old cloake about mee."

 

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