Four hundred, twenty years ago, Renaissance composer, lutenist and singer John Dowland (a contemporary of William Shakespeare) publishes his Second Book of Songs in London. There were 22 song titles in the book and the most well known of these is Flow, My Tears. Written as an aria and for a lute, its style and form is based on a pavane, a slow, couple-dance common in the 16th century. It’s original 1596 title was Lachrimae Pavane (literally “tears dance”) and Dowland added lyrics later.
Additional Reading & Sources:
John Dowland (Edition HH Music Publishers)
John Dowland Part I (Millenium of Music)
John Dowland Biography (Study Website)
Lachrimae: Continental Context (University of London Goldsmiths)
Flow, My Tears (Wikipedia)
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (Wikipedia)
Flow, my tears, fall from your springs!
Exiled for ever, let me mourn;
Where night’s black bird her sad infamy sings,
There let me live forlorn.
Down vain lights, shine you no more!
No nights are dark enough for those
That in despair their last fortunes deplore.
Light doth but shame disclose.
Never may my woes be relieved,
Since pity is fled;
And tears and sighs and groans my weary days, my weary days
Of all joys have deprived.
From the highest spire of contentment
My fortune is thrown;
And fear and grief and pain for my deserts, for my deserts
Are my hopes, since hope is gone.
Hark! you shadows that in darkness dwell,
Learn to contemn light
Happy, happy they that in hell
Feel not the world’s despite.
Moving forward to 1580…
A widespread belief exists that the song Greensleeves was composed by none other than King Henry VIII following an early rejection of his love by his future wife Anne Boleyn. The lyrics of this song of unrequited love have been seen to relate to his courtship of Anne in the 1520s. Many of the verses of Greensleeves imply a rich and extravagant courtship […]. Henry VIII was a composer and musician of some merit […]. [C]ourt officials […] attribute to Henry many compositions which were not his and the consensus of expert opinion, today, is that Greensleeves was composed rather later in the Tudor era, during the reign of Anne Boleyn’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth I. [T]he piece is based on an Italian style of composition that did not reach England until after Henry’s death […].
A broadside ballad […] was registered at the London Stationer’s Company in September [of] 1580, by [a] Richard Jones, as A Newe Northern Dittye of ye Ladye Greene Sleves. Six more ballads followed in less than a year, one on the same day […]. Needless to say the rights to the song were in very hot dispute. It was in 1584 that Jones printed his final version of the melody and this is the one we know today. It was titled A New Courtly Sonnet of the Lady Green Sleeves […].
Who was Lady Greensleeves
[W]hy would anyone be named for their green sleeves? Interpretations […] usually have a sexual connotation, most notably in the phrase “a green gown”, a reference to the grass stains on a woman’s dress from engaging in sexual intercourse outdoors. Was this lady a prostitute? [T]he song lyrics mention a “discourteous” rejection of the singer’s advances, suggesting to some that the lady in question was actually virtuous but, perhaps, was mistaken for a prostitute as a result of her green sleeves. [A]nother explanation is quite the opposite to promiscuity […]. [I]n heraldry, colour also had symbolisms and green indicated truth and fidelity […]. [A] knight may give a green armband to his true love to wear to show his devotion to her, giving rise to the familiar phrase “wearing your heart on your sleeve” meaning, to show your true feelings.
None of these theories, however, really seem to reflect the song’s true meaning, which clearly expresses an unrequited love by a rich man for a fair lady. All that we can confidently deduce, is that “Lady Greensleeves” is a nickname, not a title. Exactly who she was, remains a mystery.
♦ In Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, the character Mistress Ford refers, twice, to “the tune of ‘Greensleeves'”.
♦ The tune was the basis for “Home in the Meadow,” a recurring song throughout the 1962 epic film How the West Was Won.
♦ A rendering of the tune, titled the “Lassie Theme”, was used extensively in the Lassie television show, especially the ending credits.
Everyone will remember this tune as What Child Is This? ~Vic