Internet Shakespeare Editions

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Academic comedy

An academic. Reproduced in Social England, ed. H.D.Traill. University of Victoria Library.

Names like Ralph Roister Doister and Gammer Gurton's Needle do not sound especially academic--but they are the titles of plays written by university scholars in the mid sixteenth century.

Both plays adhere carefully to the neoclassic "unities" of place and time, but they are by no means academic in subject matter or manner.

Ralph Roister Doister is set in middle-class London, and concerns a braggart soldier--a character type borrowed from Roman comedy who was to surface later in Lyly's court comedy and Shakespeare's Falstaff.

Gammer Gurton's Needle, as its name suggests, concerns the search for a lost needle, a precious commodity in the rural world of the play. It is broadly farcical and immensely good-humoured.

"Back and side go bare"

Both plays include some fine songs. This drinking song is from Gammer Gurton's Needle:

Back and side go bare, go bare;
Both foot and hand go cold;
But belly, God send thee good ale enough,
Whether it be new or old!

I cannot eat but little meat,
My stomach is not good;
But sure I think that I can drink
With him that wears a hood [i.e. a friar].

Though I go bare, take ye no care,
I am nothing acold,
I stuff my skin so full within
Of jolly good ale and old.

Click here to go to the section on taverns, where there are other drinking songs.