Medieval Rap

Long ago I mentioned that nursery rhymes were often originally disguised political statements from an era when freedom of speech didn’t exist. I understand people at fairs and street markets would chant or sing them in public to gather support without endangering themselves. (Of course lots of non-political rhymes were probably also shared that way.)
Ordinary people in those days didn’t know how to read and write English, much less music notation. Although the words of many rhymes and both words and melodies of many folk songs were passed on by oral tradition we have no record of tunes to go with most nursery rhymes. Even those we now sing were usually set to music in the last century or two.
It seems likely to me that the things we now call nursery rhymes were probably not sung at all, but called out in rhythmic speech, possibly accompanied by instruments like hand drums people could make themselves. If so, they must have sounded a lot like what we now call Rap music. Even the meter is often similar. Can’t you imagine “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall” done as rap? And I understand that rhyme was actually about overthrowing the king so it certainly wasn’t meant to be sung to children in nurseries.

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Janet Ann Collins

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