9 January 2018
I always found Prospero’s masque at the end of The Tempest difficult. Back in the late sixties I was too inexperienced to sense how it was a mockery of itself; and studying for “A” level, it was just not an option, to see the play performed on any stage or in any film. So it was that the masque never lived for me on the page. The peerless Arden could have lightened up. Just over half way through the plot it is real fun to look “behind the scenes” where Cupid has been trying to get the lovers to indulge in pre-marital intercourse. Cupid has now run off “cutting the clouds towards Paphos”. The light-hearted references to agriculture tie the borderlands of Scotland to Cinque Port marshes of the South. In the way that Penny Lane by The Beatles is wistful, the masque is also fun.
I must blame Arden 2 because that masque seemed to be the final straw or “stover”. Stover is that female-tennis-player-of-a-word used by Ceres when she is summoning a rainbow to that “short-grassed green” that Miranda’s father has prepared with Ariel for his masque to mark the covenants of his daughter and her beloved. “And flat meads thatch’d with stover” is footnoted in the Arden 3 as “meadows covered with growth of fodder for sheep. Stover is any kind of grass that is stored to make fodder”. The Arden 2 says “winter food for sheep”. This is not helpful comment. How can a field be “thatched”? There should be the clarification that only when cut and left to dry may the field be described as “thatched”. Arden might have added perhaps a “long note” to the fact that even today, in some places, depending on geography, region, climate, and culture, hay is still gathered loose and stacked into stooks without being baled first. “Thatched” means arranged in such a manner that the hay itself "sheds" water when it falls as rain; much as a garden “shed” does.
When Iris the rainbow is summoning Ceres, she asks Ceres to leave her wheat and oat crops and the rye and barley. The “turfy mountains” bring to mind the hills of Scotland and The North “where live nibbling sheep”. The Arden 3 struggles to shed real light onto the words “pioned and twilled brims”. It admits that this is a “long-debated phrase”. Anyone familiar today with the lowlands of Romney Marsh will have seen that the reeds all along the drainage dykes are pulled back these days with mechanical diggers. In Shakespeare’s time the drainage channels also needed to be freed of reeds and obstruction from time to time. This is done in autumn after the reeds and sedges are done. The growth is uprooted and pulled back to clear the channel. In spring this provides good soil for plants to grow. The flowers that grow in spring to garnish that unsightly mud include arrowhead and starry flowers which could in the same way be woven into “chaste crowns” for nymphs (and lovers and children).
The Arden 3 is particularly obtuse when it deals with the words that describe a particularly Scottish plant, the broom. Iris beckons Ceres to leave “thy broomgroves Whose shadow the dismissed bachelor loves, Being lass-lorn.” Here is Arden 3: “Broomgroves: areas of terrain covered with yellow-flowered shrubs. Although editors have debated whether broom, which Gerard defines as ‘a bush or shrubbie plant”’(Gerard 1130) can be described as growing in a grove, which usually consists of trees (var,201.2) we agree with Orgel that the passage should be taken as Shakespeare’s invention. Orgel also notes that “broom figures significantly in magic spells designed to ensure the success of love affairs”, which explains why the dismissed bachelor loves it (Oxf, 174)”.
Child’s reference work “The Scottish and English Ballads” lists a song (#217) that is relevant to the study of The Tempest. You can read the original published pages on Archive.org. The song is called “Broom of the Cowdenknows”. When Iris, the wife of Juno, materialises, as a rainbow, for Prospero, in the masque played out as the last hurrah of the Magus before he drowns his book, Iris, the messenger from “the queen o’ th’ sky” calls upon Ceres to leave her crops and cereals and the pastures she calls home. The call to leave in The Tempest is a little difficult to follow at first. The call, simplified reads “Ceres, leave your cereal fields, leave your sheep, your hay-stacked fields, leave your dykes whose banks of drawn up reeds and mud will soon, in rainy April, be laced with flowers that nymphs and shepherds will use in much the same way to make “chaste crowns” for themselves. Iris also asks Ceres to leave “thy broomgroves Whose shadow the dismissed bachelor loves”.
The Daily Mail late in 2016 reported that “Cowdenknowes mansion in Earlston, Berwickshire, a medieval estate that once sheltered Mary Queen of Scots has had £450,000 slashed from its original £2million asking price”.
When I studied this play for the London GCE back in 1969, using the Arden 2 the reference to “broomgroves” joined the fleet of sinking phrases I tried to keep afloat in my memory for the exam. It was only, years later, in Stratford’s New Place Garden that I saw the words, as it were, “for the first time”. The line was taken out of context, engraved on a plate with the words “ BROOM Cytisus scoparius”. Why was it, I asked myself, that the groves of broom were loved by the “dismissèd bachelor”? Was he moping under the arches of the yellow broom, as I have done myself, as a boy under the bracken or the gorse?
Child’s reference work “The Scottish and English Ballads” offers an exhaustive collection of songs that refer to the broom of the Cowdenknows. You can hear Ewan MacColl singing one of them on YouTube.
However … and I quote from Child:
There is an English " ditty " (not a traditional ballad) of a northern lass who got harm while milking her father's ewes, which was printed in the first half of the seventeenth century. It is here given in an appendix.
This ditty is "to a pleasant Scotch tune called The broom of Cowden Knowes," and the burden is :
With, O the broome, the bonny broome,
The broome of Cowden Knowes !
Fain would I be in the North Countrey,
To milk my dadyes ewes.
The tune was remarkably popular, and the burden is found, variously modified, in connection with several songs. Burton, in the fifth edition of his Anatomy of Melancholy, Oxford, 1638, p. 636, says : " The very rusticks and hog-rubbers . . . have their ballads, country tunes, the broome, the bonny, bonny broome," etc. (Chappell). This remark is not found in the fourth edition, Oxford, 1632, p. 544.
This song or “English ditty” was widely known. Burton’s reference in 1638 seems to be the earliest. The Tempest, if we are to believe the dating “experts” was written in 1610, the last of Shakespeare’s plays, written in the reign of the Scottish James 1. Ceres is asked to leave the broomgroves of the Scottish Border country to come down “here on this grass plot”.
It is my contention that this song provides all the explanation necessary. It is a beautiful song, the version of it, sung by a “dismissed bachelor” can be heard by North Sea Gas (and others) on YouTube. He is longing for the Scotch broom that grew in abundance around the castle of Cowdenknowes where in 1566 Mary Queen of Scots famously stayed some years before being beheaded. If James 1 ever saw the play he would have been touched.