The Meaning of Nursery Rhymes

 

The origins of nursery rhymes have been argued for centuries. Literally. Many people swear that nursery rhymes have dark and hidden meanings. This is in part true, especially when one considers that nursery rhymes were not initially intended for children and were rather, a means of spreading news or saying ill things about someone. It was John Bellenden Ker who lived from 1765 until 1842 Jack and Jill Nursery Rhymeduring which time he wrote four books which argued that the original English nursery rhymes were originally written in “Low Saxon” which many believe to be an early form of Dutch. He claimed that he had been the one to translate the text into modern English and in doing so, revealed that there was a strong tendency throughout the text for anti-clericalism.

It was Katherine Elwes who published the book in 1930 The Real Personages of Mother Goose. It was in this publication that the idea about a link between nursery rhymes and historical events or people was put forth. She linked some of the most famous nursery rhymes, which we still use today, to real people, without any real evidence. She had assumed that these nursery rhymes were a type of coded message, such as propaganda, covert protests, or narratives and she rejected the idea that they could have been written down for the sake of entertainment.

The figure used in this text — that of Mother Goose — is actually historic in and of itself. This figure has appeared in the Christmas pantomime which was performed in England called Mother Goose. The stories of Mother Goose are actually what formed the foundation for many of the classic pantomimes in Britain. This character is often depicted in book illustrations and literature as an older woman wearing a shawl and a tall hat, which is a costume almost identical to that worn by a peasant in Wales. There are other instances where the character is a literal goose.

But it was not Katherine Elwes who was first credited with writing about the character. In fact, it was Charles Perrault back in 1695 who wrote a collection of fairy tales under the name of his son. The name when translated from the original French reads “My Mother Goose”. This is the authenticated point at which the Mother Goose stories were started. His works were translated into English in 1729 and contained such as pieces as Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella, as narrated by Mother Goose. This character was first published in conjunction with English nursery rhymes by John Newbery during the 1760’s. Ever since then, Mother Goose was associated with poetry and children’s books. Her character made an appearance in the second volume of John Bellenden Ker’s books as well.

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