Singing

Singing

It is a commonplace that songs use a distinctive language, the selection and ordering of words being conditioned by the rhythmical demands of the line, the repetitive character of the verses, and the nature of the subject-matter - nostalgic, romantic, convivial, etc. The word willow, for example, is associated with sadness and unrequited love, as in the Wooer’s description of the Gaoler’s Daughter’s singing: ‘she sung / Nothing but “Willow, willow, willow”’ (TNK IV.i.82).   The vocabulary of Shakespearian songs is notable in two respects, neither of which is easily treatable within an A--Z Glossary. First, we find the addition of a or another word as an extra syllable to satisfy the needs of the metre in a line.

Item
Location
Example
-a TNK III.v.61 The George Alaw came from the south, From the coast of Barbary-a; And there he met with brave gallants of war, By one, by two, by three-a.
and-a Oth II.iii.84 King Stephen was and-a worthy peer
a-down Ham IV.v.172 You must sing ‘A-down a-down, and you call him a-down-a.’
down-a, down-a TNK IV.iii.12 [of a song] the burden on’t was ‘down-a, down-a’

Second, there is the use of nonsense words, such as heigh, derry, and nonny, to fill up a line or forming a line in a chorus. They are often repeated, as in the Gaoler’s Daughter’s ‘Hey, nonny, nonny, nonny’ (TNK III.iv.21) or the Pages’ ‘With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino’ (AYL V.iii.16).

Item
Location
Example
derry ... down TNK III.v.138 Ladies, if we have been merry, And have pleased ye with a derry, And a derry, and a down, Say the schoolmaster’s no clown
heigh WT IV.iii.2 When daffodils begin to peer, With heigh, the doxy over the dale
hey ding a ding ding AYL V.iii.19 When birds do sing, hey ding a ding ding, Sweet lovers love the spring
hey-ho AYL II.vii.181 Then hey-ho, the holly, This life is most jolly
hey non nony Ham IV.v.167 They bore him barefaced on the bier, Hey non nony, nony, hey nony