Beggars Bush: A Perambulation through the Disciplines of History, Geography, Archaeology, Literature, Philology, Natural History, Botany, Biography & Beggary

The Droll The Lame Common-Wealth 1673

This is a droll in The Wits, by Francis Kirkman (1673) which is based on  the text of Act 2, Scene 1 of Beggar’s Bush, by Fletcher & Massinger.

This text is taken from The Wits, or Sport Upon Sport”, ed. J. J. Elson (1932). The spelling is uncorrected.

The notes on canting are based on the glossary in A. V. Judges, The Elizabethan Underworld. [1]


A sort of Beggars meet at their Randevouze, and contend about choosing them a King, but are silenced by a Passenger, whose casting voice ends the controversy. [2]

Actors Names

Higgen, Ferret [3], Prig [4], Clause, Snap [5], Ginkes, Jaculine, Goswin a Merchant, and Hubert a Gentleman.

Higgen. Come Princes of the ragged Regiment, You o the blood, Prig my most upright Lord [6], and these (what name or title e’re they beare) Jarkman [7] or Patrico [8], Cranke [9], or Clapperdudgeon [10], Frater [11], or Abram-man [12]; I speak to all that stand in faire election for the title of King of Beggers, with the command adjoyning, Higgen your Orator, in this inter-Regnum, that Whilom was your Dommerer [13], doth beseech you all to stand faire, and put your selves in rank, that the first comer may at his first view make a free choice to say up the question.

Fer.  Prig. ‘Tis done Lord Higgen.                                Enter Clause.

Higgen. Thankes to Prince Prig, Prince Ferret. But where is Clause.

Ferret. Behold the man.  But pray my Masters all, Ferret be chosen, y’are like to have a mercifull mild Prince of me.

Prig. A very Tyrant, I, an arrant Tyrant.  If e’re I come to reign; therefore look to’t, except you do provide me Hum enough, and Lour [14], to bouze [15] with: I must have my Capons and Turkies brought me in, with my green Geese, and Ducklings i’th season: fine fat Chickens, Or, if you chance where an eye of tame Phesants or Partridges are kept, see they be mine, or straight I seize on all your priviledges, places, revenues, offices, as forfeit, call in your crutches, wooden legs, false bellies, forc’d eyes, and teeth, with your dead armes; nor leave you a durty clout to beg with on your heads, or an old rag with butter, frankinsense, brimstone and rozen, birdlime, blood, and cream to make you an old sore [16]: not so much sope as you may fome with i’th falling-sickness; the very bag you beare, and the brown dish shall be escheated, all your daintiest dells [17] too I will deflowre, and take your dearest Doxies [18] from your warme sides; and then some one cold night I’le watch you what old Barne you go to roust in, and there I’le smother you all i’th musty Hay.

Higgen. This is Tyrant like indeed: but what would Ginkes or Clause be here, if either of them should reigne?

Clause. Best ask an Asse, if he were made a Camell, what he would be; or a Dog and he were a Lyon.

Ginkes. I care not what you are, Sirs, I shall be a Beggar still, I am sure, find my selfe there.

Enter Goswin.

Snap. O here a judge comes.

Higgen. Cry a Judge, a Judge.

Goswin. What ayle you sirs? what meanes this out-cry?

Higgen. Master, a sort of poor soules met: Gods-fools, good Master, have had some little variance amongst our selves who should be honestest of us; and which uprightest in his call: now cause me thought we ne’re should gree on’t our selves, because indeed ’tis hard to say; we all dissolv’d, to put it to whom that should come next, and that’s your Mastership, who I hope, will termine it as your minde serves you, right, and no otherwise we ask it: which? which does your worship think is he? sweet Master look over us all, and tell us; we are seaven of us, like to the seaven wise Masters [19], or the Planets.

Goswin. I should judge this the man with the grave beard, and if he be not ——

Clause. Bless you good Master, bless you.

Goswin. I would he were: there’s something too amongst you to keep you all honest.

Snap. King of Heaven go with you.

Omnes. Now God reward him, may he never want it, to comfort still the poor in a good houre.

Ferret. What i’st? see; Snap has got it.

Snap. A good Crown marry:

Prig. A crown of Gold.

Ferret. For our new King; good luck.

Ginkes. To the common treasury with it; if’t be Gold thither it must.

Prig. Spoke like a Patriot, Ferret ——-

King Clause, I bid God save the first, first, Clause, after this golden token of a Crown; where’s Orator Higgen with his gratuling speech now in all our names?

Ferret. Here he is pumping for it.

Ginkes. H’has cough’d the second time, ’tis but once more and then it comes.

Ferret. So, out withall ; expect now ——

Higgen. That thou art’ chosen venerable Clause, our King and Soveraign; Monarch o’th Maunders [20], thus we throw up our Nabcheats [21], first for joy, & then our filches [22]; last we clap our fambles [23], three subject signes, we do it without envy: for who is he here did not wish thee chosen, now thou art chosen? ask ‘um: all will say so, nay swear’t, ’tis for the King, but let that pass; when last in conference at the bouzing Ken [24] this other day we sat about our dead Prince of famous memory: (rest, go with his rags:) and that I saw thee at the Tables end, rise mov’d, and gravely leaning on one Crutch [25], lift the other like a Scepter at my head, I then presag’d thou shortly would’st be King, and now thou art so: but what needs presage to us, that might have read it in thy beard: Oh happy beard! but happier Prince whose beard was so remark’d, as marked out our Prince, not baiting us a haire.  Long may it grow, and thick and faire, that who lives under it, may live as safe, as under Beggars-Bush, of which this is the thing, that but the Type.

Omnes. Excellent, excellent Oratour, forward good Higgen, give him leave to spit: the fine, well spoken Higgen.

Higgen. This is the beard, the bush, or bushy-beard under whose Gold and Silver raign ’twas said so many ages since, we all should smile on impositions, taxes, grievances, knots in a State, and whips unto a subject, lye lurking in his beard, but all kem’dl out: if now the Beard be such, what is the Prince that owes the Beard? a father; no, a Grandfather; nay the great Grandfather of you his people.  He will not force away your Hens, your Bacon, when you have ventur’d hard for’t, nor take from you the fattest of your puddings: under him each Man shall cat his own stolne Eggs and Butter, in his own shade, or Sun shine, and enjoy his own deare Dell, Doxy, or Mort, at night in his own straw, with his own shirt, or sheet, that he hath filtch’d that day, I, and possess what he can purchase, back, or belly-cheats [26], to his own prop: he will have no purveyors for Pigs, and Poultry.

Clause. That we must have, my Learned Oratour, it is our will, and every man to keep in his own Path and Circuite.

Higgen. Do you heare.

You must hereafter maundon your own pads he saies.

Clause. And what they get there, is their own, besides to give good words.

Higgen. Do you mark? to cut Bene-whids [27], that is the second Law.

Clause. And keep a foot the humble, and the common phrase of begging, least men discover us.

Higgen. Yes: and cry sometimes to move compassion; Sir, there is a Table, that doth command all these things, and enjoynes ‘cm; be perfect in their Crutches: their fain’d Plaisters, and their true passe-bords, with the wayes to stammer, and to be dumb, and deaf, and blind, and lame, There, all the halting paces are set down, i’th learned Language.

Clause. Thither I refer them, those, you at leisure shall interpret to them, we love no heapes of Lawes, where few will serve.

Omnes. O gracious Prince, ‘save the good King Clause.

Higgen. A song to Crown him.

Ferret. Set a Centinell out first.

Snap. The word?

Higgen. A cove comes. and fumbumbis [28] to it —- strike

A Song. Which ended.

Enter Snap, Hubert, and Hemskirke.

Snap. A Cove; Fumbumbis.

Prig. To your postures; Arme.

Hubert. Yonders the Town; I see it.

Hemskirk. There’s our danger indeed afore us, if our shadows save not.

Higgen. Blesse your good worships.

Ferret. One small peece of money.

Prig. Amongst us all poor wretches.

Clause. Blind and lame.

Ginks. For his sake that gives all.

Hig. Pittifull worships.

Snap. One little doit.

Enter Jaculine

Jaculine. King, by your leave, where are you?

Clause. To buy a little bread.

Higgen. To feed so many mouths as will ever pray for you.

Prig. Here be seven of us.

Higgen. Seven, good Master, O remember seven, seven blessings.

Ferret. Remember, gentle Worshipfull.

Higgen. ‘Gainst seven deadly sins.

Prig. And seven sleepers.

Higgen. If they be hard of heart, and will give nothing ——alas we had not a charity this three dayes.

Ferret. Heaven reward you.

Prig. Lord reward you.

Higgen. The Prince of pitty blesse thee.

Hub. Do I see? or is’t my fancy that would have it so? ha? .tis her face; come hither Maid.

Jaculine. What ha’ you Bells for my Squirrel?  I ha’ giv’n Bun meat, you do not lovetne do you? catch me a Butterfly, and I’le love you again; when? can you tell?  Peace, we go a birding; I shall have a fine thing.

Hub. Her voyce too sayes the same; but for my head I would not that her manners were so chang’d, hear me thou honest fellow; what’s this Maiden that lives amongst you here?

Ginks. Ao, ao, ao, ao.

Hub. How? nothing but signes?

Ginks. Ao, ao, ao, ao.

Hub. ‘Tis’ strange, I would fain have it her, but not her thus.

Higgen. He is de–de–de–de–dc–de– deaf, and du–du-du–dude-dumb sit.

Hub. ‘Slid they did al speak plain ev’n now me thought, dost thou know this same Maid?

Snap. Why, why, why, why, which, gu, gu, gu, gu, Gods fool she was bo–bo–bo–bo–born at the Barn yonder by be–be–be–be– Beggars Busb, bo–bo–Bush, her name is My – – my – – my – – my – – Match; so was her Mo – – Mo – – Mothers too too.

Hub. I understand no words he’ sayes; how long has she been here?

Snap. lo–lo–long enough to be in–in–ingled; and she ha go–go–go–good luck

Exeunt Beggers.

Hub. I must be better inform’d, then by this way. here was another face to that I mark’d, Oh the old man’s but they are vanisht all most suddainly; I will come here again, Oh that I were so happy, as to find it, what I yet hope?’ It is put on.

Exeunt Begger Hubert.

Enter Snap, and Ferret [29]

Snap. The Coast is cleare, Ferret, I bo – – bo – – bo – -‘d hence.

Ferret. I, thou wert at thy ha, be, bi, bo, bu, which shew’d thou wert a Schollar.

Snap. He durst not hold discourse with me, so much for the credit of the Snaps, as the word sayes, either Snap some, or Snap all.  That is if you cannot Snap all, Snap some.

Ferret. But thy snaping too short makes thee so  leane, I think I have ferreted you there Snap.

Snap, We shall not get a snap if we prate longer, our King is serv’d by this time, Dish, and bit, the Feast waites no man, but the man waits it.

Ferret. That is an eager stomack Snap; here I Ferret you again.



[1] J J Elson, the modern editor, suggest the title came from a line in Act 1, scene, 2, Have you a King and common-welth among you?”. In 1614 a pamphlet The Counter’s Commonwealth,  describing conditions in debtors prison was published by William Fennor. Fennor was challenged to appear on stage for a contest of wit by John Taylor, the Water-Poet, and failed to appear, much to Taylor’s disgust. The “Lame” element may come from the stage presentation of Clause with a crutch and other eqipment – see below footnote 25 and Francis Kirkman.The idea of a “commonwealth of beggars” is mentioned in John Wilson’s 1688 translation of Erasmus’s The Praise of Folly (1509).

[2] The plot is probably irrelevant for the droll, and would not necessarily have been known to contemporary audiences. Clause and Goswin are father and son, both merchants fallen on hard times, who are living under false names having have fallen in with a group of beggars. Jaculine is the daughter of  Clause, who is loved by Hubert, an honest merchant.  At this point in the play Clause has invited Goswin to meet the beggars who are due to elect a new leader.

[3] To cheat.

[4] To ride, to steal

[5] A thief; one who claims a share in the spoil of other thieves

[6] An Upright Man was one of the aristocracy of the vagabond world.

[7] Someone who made a living by forging licences. More than one village schoolmaster was found to be supplementing his income by this method.

[8] A hedge-priest.

[9] The falling sickness. A “counterfeit crank” is one who pretends to be a sufferer.

[10] A beggar born to a beggar.

[11] A Beggar armed with forged authorisation who pretends to collect money for a charity.

[12] One of a class of vagrants who excited sympathy or terror in beholders by feigning madness. Named from the Abraham Ward at Bedlam Hospital in London.

[13] A Beggar who feigned being deaf and dumb.

[14] Money.

[15] Liquor: to drink.

[16] Thomas Harman’s A Caveat for Common Cursitors and O Per se O, published in London in 1612, and attributed to Thomas Dekker, included recipes for producing sores. See also the technique used in 1618 by Dr Manoury on Sir Walter Raleigh, at the latter’s request, in Paul Hyland’s Raleigh’s Last Journey, (London, 2003).

[17] Young woman of the vagrant type.

[18] A female vagabond, travelling usually with a man.

[19] Wise men in a cycle of stories of Sanskrit origin, which came to Europe via the Arabs, and is known in numerous versions, three at least in England dating to the fourteenth century and one printed by Wynkyn de Word.

[20] Beggars. See the woodcut to John Taylor‘s Praise and Antiquity of Beggary

[21] A hat or cap.

[22] A Cudgel; a hooked staff used by thieves to hook objects out through open windows.

[23] Hands.

[24] Ale-house.

[25] In the frontispiece to The Wits Clause is shown with one crutch, and his leg in a loop of rope which appears to connected to another in his hand, so as to be able to lift and lower it. The theatrical possibilities of crutches and such devices are endless.

[26] Apron.

[27] Bene = good.

[28] I have found no definition but from the context it seems to mean to use incomprehensible language, so as to confuse Hemskirke, who is an outsider.

[29] The scene in the original play ends here. Elson suggests the next section was added to the droll to conclude the episode or may have been a bit of clown’s improvisation written down, noting the repetitions, the proverbial witticisms, and trick of each speaker licking up the last word of the previous line. They contrast with the canting in the section taken from the play. As this is the only droll to which such a section is added it is strong evidence of performance. However, the structure of the play allows plenty of room for comic improvisation and is not impossible that this episode was added in performance to the play before droll was created.

Posted: March 28th, 2011 | Filed under: The Play | Tags: , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

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