“She cries forsooth let go…”
This song is usually better known as ‘I Care Not For These Ladies’, and was written by the composer Thomas Campion (1567 – 1620). There was a brief period, around the time of Shakespeare, when English composers like John Dowland, Philip Rosseter and Thomas Campion produced these brilliant lute songs, usually about love and frequently melancholy, that remind me so much of the modern singer / songwriters. And this song particularly sounded to me like it would really fit a much more modern arrangement. (Incidentally, I changed the line ‘we must give golden showers’ to ‘we must give gifts in showers’ because, to me at least, ‘golden showers’ are associated with urolagnia, and I didn’t want to giggle every time I sang it.)
A note on Thomas Campion and consent
When I adapted this song in 2012/13 I was aware it was potentially problematic. But I gave it the benefit of the doubt, for a number of reasons. The chorus is ‘When we court and kiss she cries “forsooth let go”, but when we go where comfort sits she never will say no’. I gave that the benefit of the doubt because the song seemed to me to be clearly fictional, and in the style of romantic pastoralism that was popular at the time. And I assumed that this guy wouldn’t make up a scenario where his romantic interest didn’t actually want his advances. And therefore this surely was a celebration of a down-to-earth country girl who was genuinely in love with the singer of the song, but wanted to put on a show of ‘propriety’ in public. Right? I was also distracted by the fact that I thought it had a great melody, and finding traditional music to adapt can be a tedious task. For every moderately good tune I find, there are at least 20 that don’t make the grade.
But since adapting this song, I’ve listened to quite a bit more from its composer, Thomas Campion. And I think I called it wrong. This was a guy who clearly enjoyed the idea of romantic scenarios where consent is ambiguous at best, and it’s a theme that recurs in a lot of his songs. (It Fell On A Soomer’s Day being just one example.) Does this matter, in a song whose author died centuries ago? Well, if you’re performing it as ‘traditional music’ and thus bringing it into a sense of cultural tradition, then yes, it does. This is some nasty shit right here. This kind of deliberate ambiguity is what makes sexual predators powerful: they use it to confuse and disorientate, and that’s part of what gets them off. And that’s something that as a society we’re currently trying to stamp out, rather than celebrate.
Will I keep performing this song? Yes. I don’t believe in censoring every song with objectionable content. But I do believe in making it clear that I find it objectionable. And I’m working on another version, which captures in the music this sinister predator aspect that I should have picked up on the first time around.
JCB (November 2017)
I care not for these ladies
That must be wooed and prayed,
Give me kind Amarillis
The wanton country maid,
Nature art disdaineth,
Her beauty is her own,
For when we court and kiss,
She cries forsooth let go
But when we come where comfort is
She never will say no.
If I love Amarillis,
She gives me fruit and flowers,
But if we love these ladies,
We must give gifts in showers,
Give them gold that sell love,
Give me the nutbrown lass,
Who when we court and kiss, etc.
These ladies must have pillows,
And beds by strangers wrought,
Give me a bower of willows,
Of moss and leaves unbought.
And fresh Amarillis
With milk and honey fed,
Who when we court and kiss, etc.
Credits & Copyright
Traditional, adapted and recorded by James Bell in 2012/3. Released in November 2013. Remastered in November 2017. (P) House of Lyra.