Sidebar 7: The Friar in the Well

This melody for "The Friar in the Well" (Child #276) is transcribed from Playford's 1650/1 English Dancing Master:

[friar in the well melody]

The alignment of the melody and the lyrics is a judgment call. In particular, I have used pairs of square brackets to indicate a part of the refrain where Playford's music seems to call for one more `la' than the broadside lyrics provide.

Our earliest complete lyrics for the ballad appear around 1660:

The Friar in the Well

1. As I lay musing all alone,
fa, la, la, la, la
A pretty jeast I thought upon;
fa, la, la, la, la
Then listen a while, and I will you tell
Of a fryer that loved a bonny lass well.
fa, la, la, la, la
fa, la, la, lang-tre-down-dilly

2. He came to the maid when she went to be,
Desiring to have her maidenhead,
But she denyëd his desire,
And told him that she feard hell-fire.

3. `Tush,' quoth the fryer, `thou needst not doubt
If thou wert in hell I could sing thee out:'
`Then,' quoth the maid, `thou shalt have they request;'
The fryer was glad as a fox in his nest.

4. `But one thing,' quoth she, `I do desire,
Before you have what you require;
Before that you shall do the thing,
An angel of mony thou shalt me bring.

5. `Tush,' quoth the fryer, `we shall agree,
No mony shall part my love and me;
Before that I will see thee lack
I'le pawn the grey gown from my back.'

6. The maid bethought her of a wile
How she the fryer might beguile;
While he was gone, the truth to tell,
She hung a cloth before the well.

7. The fryer came, as his covenant was,
With money to his bonny lass;
`Good morrow, fair maid!' `Good morrow!' qoth she.
`Here is the mony I promised thee."

8. She thankt the man, and she took his mony:
`Now let us go to `t,' quoth he, `sweet hony:'
`Oh stay,' quoth she, `some respite make,
My father comes, he will me take.'

9. `Alas!' quoth the fryer, `where shall I run,
To hide me till that he be gone?'
`Behinde the cloath run thou,' quoth she,
`And there my father cannot thee see."

10. Behind the cloath the fyer crept,
And into the well on the sudden he leapt;
`Alas,' quoth he, `I am in the well!'
No matter,' quoth she, `if thou wert in hell.

11. `Thou sayst thou couldst sing me out of hell,
Now prithee sing thy self out of the well:'
The fryer sung with a pitiful sound,
Oh help me out, or I shall be dround!

12. `I trow,' quoth she, `your courage is coold.'
Quoth the fryer, I was never so foold,
I never was servëd so before.
`Then take heed,' quoth she, `thou comst there no more.'

13. Quoth he, For sweet Saint Francis sake
On his disciple some pitty take:
Quoth she, Saint Francis never taught
His scholars to tempt young maids to naught.

14. The fryer did entreat her still
That she should help him out of the well;
She heard him make such pitious moan
She helpd him out, and bid him be gone.

15. Quoth he, Shall I have my mony again,
Which thou from me hast beforehand tane?
`Good sir,' said she, `there's no such matter;
I'le make you pay for fouling my water.'

16. The fryer went all along the street,
Droping wet, like a new-washd sheep;
Both old and young commended the maid
That such a witty prank had plaid.

When I've performed this song, I've omitted the last third, and ended by singing the first two lines of verse 11 to the same tune as the last two lines of verse 10. This seemed more in line with the audience's probable attention span.

As always, singers who have learned the music from modern performers, or from modern dance recordings, should verify that they haven't learned a modernized adaptation of the melody. (There is particularly the modern tendency to flatten the E's in the music given above.)

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