Jolly Wat

DESCRIPTION: Jolly Wat, a shepherd, sits on a hill and plays his pipes. He is awakened by an angel announcing the birth of Jesus. He finds the baby and offers him all he has. Mary and Joseph send him back to his flocks with their blessing
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: before 1537 (Richard Hill MS., Balliol Coll. Oxf. 354)
KEYWORDS: Jesus religious MiddleEnglish
FOUND IN:
REFERENCES (10 citations):
Greene-TheEarlyEnglishCarols, #78, p. 49, "(The sheperd vpon a hill he satt)" (1 text)
Rickert-AncientEnglishChristmasCarols, pp. 99-102, "The Jolly Shepherd Wat" (1 text)
Sidgwick/Chambers-EarlyEnglishLyrics LXVII, p. 127-129, "(no title)" (1 text)
Quiller-Couch-OxfordBookOfBallads 103, "Jolly Wat" (1 text)
Brown/Robbins-IndexOfMiddleEnglishVerse, #3460
DigitalIndexOfMiddleEnglishVerse #5459.4
ADDITIONAL: Roman Dyboski, _Songs, Carols, and Other Miscellaneous Poems from the Balliol Ms. 354, Richard Hill's Commonplace Book_, Kegan Paul, 1907 (there are now multiple print-on-demand reprints), #30, pp. 16-18, "[The Jolly Shepherd Wat]" (1 text)
Richard Greene, editor, _A Selection of English Carols_, Clarendon Medieval and Tudor Series, Oxford/Clarendon Press, 1962, #16, pp. 69-71, "(Can I not syng but hoy)" (1 text)
Celia and Kenneth Sisam, _The Oxford Book of Medieval English Verse_, Oxford University Press, 1970; corrected edition 1973, #252, p. 528, "The Jolly Shepherd Wat" (1 text)
MANUSCRIPT: {MSRichardHill}, The Richard Hill Manuscript, Oxford, Balliol College MS. 354, folio 224

ST OBB103 (Partial)
NOTES [377 words]: The tale of the shepherds visiting the new-born Jesus is found in the Bible in Luke 2:8-20. Greene, p. 196, declares, "The carol of Wat is justly famous for its gaiety and realism. Its similarity in conception and tone to the shepherd scenes in the mystery plays is striking." Rickert-AncientEnglishChristmasCarols, pp. 154-155, also sees similarity to the mystery plays, where the shepherds offer humble gifts such as a pipe (the musical type, not for smoking), a hat, and mittens; in the carol, it is a pipe, scrip, tar-box, and skirt. Greene suggests, based on several small clues in the language, that this probably originated in Yorkshire or somewhere else in the north of England.
Given the age and place of origin of the piece, we should not automatically assume that "Joly"="Jolly" means "happy" or "cheerful"; there is a good chance that it means "active" or "energetic."
David R. Parker, The Commonplace Book in Tudor London: An Examination of BL MSS Egerton 1995, Harley 2252, Lansdowne 762, and Oxford Balliol College MS354, University Press of America, 1998, on p. 76 says that this is one of three shepherd carols in this part of Richard Hill's manuscript, adding:
"Of the three... 'Joly Wat' most closely follows the image of the rustic. In the same way that the Second Shepherd's Pageant uses homely imagery to make Christ's nativity more accessible and affecting, 'Joly Wat' uses a convincingly realistic portrayal of Wat's appearance and life to draw the medieval listener (for this was almost certainly a song) into the story. Wat is introduced lying upon his hill, his tabard and pipe by his side, and his dog tied to his belt. When he sees the Star of Bethlehem (which here is 'rede as blod'), he makes his farewell to man and beast alike ('Dog, kepe well my shep fro ├że corn') and runs to Bethlehem so quickly that 'he swet: he had gon faster than a pace." He offers his gifts to the Christ Child: "my skrype, my tarbox, & my skyrte," homely gifts not unlike the tennis balls offered by the shepherds in the Second Shepherd's Pageant. This method of tying the common man to a significant religious event is completely appealing to Richard Hill, much of whose book is devoted to finding texts that help him make sense of his faith." - RBW
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File: OBB103

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