The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #65185   Message #1071572
Posted By: Malcolm Douglas
13-Dec-03 - 12:26 PM
Thread Name: Why Is the Lady of Carlisle Speechless?
Subject: RE: Why Is the Lady of Carlisle Speechless?
That passage appears in a (very) few American versions of the song, but is absent, so far as I can tell, in most, nor does it appear in any Canadian or British example, oral or broadside, that I've seen so far (there are a number in Greig-Duncan that I don't have). In a set that Sharp got in Somerset, the lady goes up to Town (there were lions kept at the Tower of London until 1834) "...one single hour, The lions and tigers for to see", and then does her fan trick. It may be that the fainting episode is a dramatisation based upon that, but there might also be some borrowing from a different song.

My provisional feeling would be that it doesn't actually mean anything much in the broad context of the song because it really belongs somewhere else, but perhaps the singers who had that particular variant may have had specific thoughts on the subject; there's no indication with the examples I've seen, though, that they were asked. The essential story doesn't vary all that much, but the action is localised to a great many different places.

There are a few examples at  Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads:

The bold lieutenant in the lions' den ("In London city there lived a lady ...")

The lions' den ("In Reading Isles there lived a lady ...")

The underlying story is quite old, and appeared in Les Mémoires de Messire Pierre de Bourdeilles, Seigneur de Brantôme (1666, Discours 10e). Schiller based his Der Handschuh (1797) on it, as did Browning his The Glove, and Leigh Hunt his The Glove and the Lions. de Brantôme asserted that the original event took place in the reign of Francis I (1515 - 1547). (See Journal of the Folk Song Society, V (20) 1916 258-60). In literary forms, the victorious suitor, having recovered the glove, rejects the lady for her pride and presumption; but as a popular song it has acquired a conventional happy ending.

Perhaps the oldest English form is a broadside in the Percy Collection, The distressed lady; or, A trial of true love; in which the story is told at some length in five parts. There is a passage which may or may not have some bearing on the question:

And at last they back returning
Came unto the lion's den.
Loud they roar'd as they ca[me ne]ar 'em
Seemingly the earth did wak[ ]
She at first did seem to fear the[m]
But at length sh[e] thus did speak...

The variation in question is a device for increasing dramatic tension, of course, and likely enough suggested by the lady's dramatic pause before issuing her challenge. I'd guess, though, at the fainting fit being a late embroidery made to impress the audience rather than having any meaning intrinsic to the story being told.