A&S Journey: Campion, I care not for these ladies

As promised, we resume our examination of Thomas Campion’s work. “I care not for these ladies” is probably one of Campion’s best known songs, capturing his keen eye social mores and the sexual politics of his day, and his delight in being comically naughty (often at the expense of women, and in ways that are concerning).

Nature of work: Song (or “air”) for one to two voices (Cantus/melody and Bassus/bass) and lute, lyrics in English

Historic source: Thomas Campion, (A Book of Ayres for Lute, Bass Viol and Voice, 1601)

Primary source: Facsimile can be downloaded here.

Secondary sources: Sheet music for the vocal parts in modern notation is available from ChoralWiki. Again, Campion’s accompaniment is largely not available online for free that I could find, even in standard music notation.

Lyric analysis: Campion mocks the courtship demands of upper-class English women, contrasting them unfavorably to the less-demanding (and presumably more fun) working-class Amarillis. A few of the contrasts include:

  • Amarillis (whose “beauty is her own”) is more innately attractive than upper-class women, evidenced by the “art” they employ–meaning they wear makeup.
  • Amarillis is praised as a giver, who offers “fruit and flowers” to her lover, whereas the noblewomen are interested in money: “Given them gold that sell love,” as good as calling them prostitutes.
  • The “ladies” require creature comforts of the city (notably, pillows and a bed), while Amarillis is of nature, because she’s apparently content to indulge the singer’s whims in the outdoors.

Of the many problematic concerns raised by the lyrics, we cannot overlook that the chorus can without any effort be read as an endorsement of coercive sex, ignoring Amaryllis’s cries of “Forsooth, let go” since “when we come where comfort is / She never will say no.” Campion implies with the gifts of fruit and flowers that Amaryllis is willing and just finds gentlemen’s courtship rituals time-wasting, but he never addresses the power differential between a man and a woman across the class boundaries. (I’ll also note that, while I have found no evidence that “golden showers” was slang for any bodily function during the Renaissance, there is little question that the syllable break on “count-ry maid” in the song was an intentional, and very crude, pun.)

We will, in a later post, examine in greater depth the treatment of Elizabethan women by Elizabethan men, as evidenced by songs like this one.

First experience with the piece: I actually first encountered this piece before I got involved in SCA bardic, through a Renaissance Fair music group my wife Jessa greatly enjoyed, called Wine, Woman, and Song. They have not been active for some time, but we have a couple of their CDs, and “I care not for these ladies” is one of the tracks.

Ultimately, as I started to expand my lute repertoire, this was the first piece I realized was straightforward enough to learn directly in lute tablature without translating it to guitar tab.

Ultimately, I performed this song for Concordian Bardic Champs a few years back, and it was a bit of a mess. (My willingness to play through my difficulties with the lute part, happily, impressed their Excellencies, and was part of why they ultimately chose me as baronial champion.) spent some little time recently brushing it up to create a somewhat better recording. This actually gets a bit better after the first verse, I think, and overall it’s…passable.

Examining the piece for a performer: Compared to the repertoire I’ve worked with, I’d rate this around a 3 (moderate) on a scale of 1 to 5. There are some unusual chords and sequences in it–nothing that won’t yield to some solid practice, but it has a different shape from some of the other repertoire.

I’ve never quite put in the full amount of work to be able to play it cleanly with less effort. This is more to do with the risque and problematic subject matter than the music, but it’s not a piece to play for all (or even most) occasions. The piece is pretty, and there is humor in it, but without a well-worded introduction about the content, there could be some risk to the reputation of the performer today, that is in no way a complaint on my part. I still quite like Campion as a songwriter, but these songs are very much of their time, and any person of any gender in the SCA would be well within their rights to find it objectionable.

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