the Annotated Popular Edition of

Gammer Gurton’s Needle

by Mr. S

c. 1562-4?


Featuring complete and easy-to-read annotations.


Annotations and notes © Copyright ElizabethanDrama.org, 2018
This annotated play may be freely copied and distributed.


A Ryght Pithy, Pleasaunt, anp Merie Comedie, Intytuled Gammer Gurtons Nedle: Played on Stage, not longe ago in Christes Colledge in Cambridge.
Made by Mr. S. Mr. of Art.

God Save the Queene.

The Names of the Speakers in this Comedy:


Gammer Gurton.

     Gammer Gurton's Needle is considered to be the

     Hodge, Gammer Gurton's Servant.

second-earliest proper English comedy extant. Gammer

     Tib, Gammer Gurton's Maid.

is also one of the most entertainingly - or grossly - 

     Cock, Gammer Gurton's Boy.

vulgar plays in the canon, but this is because of its

earthy humour based on bodily-functions rather than

Diccon, the Bedlam.

on sex. The characters are low-brow, and the dialogue

Doctor Rat, the Curate

full of colourful dialect, all of which is explained in the

Master Baily, the Bailiff.

annotations. The action is driven by the vagabond

     Scapethrift, Master Baily's Servant.

Diccon, a conniving trickster, who orchestrates all of

the play's confusion and violence.

Dame Chat.

     Doll, Dame Chat's Maid.



     The text of the play is taken from John Farmer's

1906 edition of Gammer, cited below at #3, with some

original spelling from the earliest known edition of

1575 reinstated.


     Mention of Farmer, Bradley, Hazlitt, Dodsley,

Gassner, Whitworth and Brett-Smith in the annotations

refers to the notes provided by each of these editors

in their respective editions of this play, each cited fully


     Mention of Clements refers to the stage directions

suggested in his abbreviated edition of the play.

     The most commonly cited sources are listed in the

footnotes immediately below. The complete list of

footnotes appears at the end of this play.

     1. Oxford English Dictionary (OED) online.

     2. Crystal, David and Ben. Shakespeare's Words.

London; New York: Penguin, 2002.

     3. Farmer, John S. Gammer Gurton's Needle.

London: Gibbings and Co., 1906.

     4. Bradley, Henry, ed. Gammer Gurton's Needle,

pp. 195-262. From Representative English Comedies,

Charles Mills Gayley, general editor. London: Mac-

Millan & Co., 1916.

     5. Hazlitt, W. Carew. A Selected Collection of Old

English Plays, Vol. III (originally published by Robert

Dodsley). London: Reeves and Turner, 1874.

     6. Dodsley, Robert. The Ancient British Drama.

Edinburgh: James Ballentyne & Co., 1810.

     7. Gassner, John. Medieval and Tudor Drama.

New York: Bantam Books Inc., 1968.

     8. Whitworth, Charles W. Three Sixteenth

Century Comedies. London: Ernest Benn Ltd., 1984.

     11. Brett-Smith, H.F.B. Gammer Gvrtons Needle.

Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1920.

     12. Clements, Colin Campbell. Gammer Gurton's

Needle, a Modern Adaptation. Samuel French, 1922.



A. Who Wrote Gammer Gurton's Needle?

     Much ink has been spent by detective-scholars trying to determine the identity of the author of Gammer. A starting point has been the notation in the play's title page, which tells us that the playwright was "Mr. S., Mr. (ie. Master) of Art.", and that Gammer was performed "not longe ago" - that is, some unspecified time before the play's publication date of 1575 - at Christ's College at Cambridge; the reasoning, reasonably enough, is that the shadowy Mr. S must have been a member of Christ's College, and that his surname must begin with the letter S.

     We see no reason to draw any conclusions on this score, but will simply identify who the candidates for authorship have been over the centuries:

     (1) the earliest nominee was John Still, a cleric who began his career at Christ's College, and was later promoted to the bishopric of Bath and Wales; however, the evidence against him is strong: as Gammer editor John Farmer, who had sifted the contemporary descriptions of Bishop Still, wrote in 1906, there is "(no) evidence that he ever made a joke."3

     (2) William Stevenson, a member of the faculty at Christ's College in the 1550's; the OED's numerous citations from Gammer attach Stevenson's name as Gammer's author; and

     (3) John Bridges, of Pembroke College at Cambridge. The supposition that Bridges is our author is based on a 16th century letter written to him critically accusing him of having written Gammer Gurton's Needle.

     A good summary of the history of this minor historical mystery can be found in the Introduction of Charles Whitworth's Three Sixteenth Century Comedies (London: Ernest Benn Ltd., 1984).

B. The Setting and Scenery of Gammer.

     A reading of the play makes it very clear that Gammer takes place entirely on the street and yards in front of two adjacent houses, the first the home of our play's heroine, Gammer Gurton, and the other that of Dame Chat; Chat's house also doubles as a tavern, or alehouse, run by the same lady. Characters will enter and exit the stage either through one of the doors of the two houses, or off-stage if they are entering or exiting the scene by means of the fronting road.

     Many of the scenes do not end clearly with all of the actors - no women were to play on the stage for another century - vacating the stage; our author often begins a new scene whenever a character or two enters the stage to join those already present.

     The original edition of Gammer included practically no stage directions; thus, except where noted, the stage directions in this edition of the play are all provided by the present editor or other early editors; a substantial number of our stage directions are borrowed from the practical and abbreviated edition of Gammer published by Colin Clements in 1922.12

C. Gammer's Gleeful Scatological Obsession.

     If anyone remembers Gammer today, it is likely for its incessant use of excrement and buttocks as a source of humour. Thus, we have one character unexpectedly picking a piece of cat's turd off his clothing, numerous references to arses, and most famously, perhaps the only character in all the canon who soils himself in the very worst way right on stage.

     Because the play was performed at an all-male college, - women did not attend university, nor receive any formal education at all in this century - it is not surprising, and perhaps even relieving, to know that young men of almost five centuries ago were as willing to laugh at poo-poo and pee-pee jokes as they are today.





D. Oaths and Swears.

     Gammer Gurton's Needle contains a dizzying range of oaths and swears, and almost all of them are of a religious nature, including many which will be familiar to any reader of Elizabethan drama, invoking the Lord's soul, heart and mother; but the observant reader will also note the presence of many unique and colourfully odd oaths, such as those invoking God's sacrament, malt and blest (ie. bliss).

     As you read the play, you may observe that the characters have no aversion to explicitly mentioning God and Jesus in their oaths, although God is often replaced euphemistically with Gog and Cock. Additionally, we find a by Gis and a by Gigs, rather silly euphemisms for by Jesus. It was only later, in the first decade of the 17th century, that the explicit use of God's name on stage was banned by a statute of Parliament, so that plays printed after 1606 generally contained no such explicit expressions.

E. Gammer's Use of Dialect.

     Probably the most difficult task a modern reader of Gammer may face is dealing with the heavy use of dialectical and regional words and phrases which appear densely throughout the play.

     The most obvious instances of dialect are those in which the pronoun 'I' is replaced by ich, and in which common two-word combinations, such as ich have and ich am (ie. "I have" and "I am") are abbreviated (to chave and cham in our examples respectively). This aspect of dialect is identified with the good people of south-western England, but it also became the go-to means by which an Elizabethan author would give his characters a rural flavour.

     We also find the occasional first-letter 'f' and 'v' of words interchanged, so that father becomes vather, but vixen becomes fixen; additionally, the author appears to take liberties in creating his own faux-dialectical words, such as glay for clay and feygh for fight, there being no authority for such modifications.

     A unique approach to this edition of Gammer is to restore the original spelling of a word whenever the original spelling suggests a variation in actual pronunciation; for example, we will keep ere written as or, and heard as hard, wherever these words were printed this way in the original 1575 edition of the play, even though all subsequent editions of Gammer which modernize the play's spelling publish or and usually heard.

F. Some Frequently Appearing Vocabulary.

     Speakers of English frequently take recourse to a number of pause-phrases which parenthetically indicate an individual's frame of mind - I believe, you think, don't you know: "The governor, I think, is not so tall" (such expressions are part of a larger category of sentence organizers called discourse markers).

     16th century English used some older words in these types of phrases, and these words appear repeatedly in this play:

     1. trow = to believe, suppose; examples: I trow, trowest now.

     2. ween = to expect, think; example: ich ween.

     3. wot = to know; examples: ich wot, I wot not.

     Some other unusual words upon which our author depends heavily include the following:

     4. warrant = guarantee, assure; used especially in phrases such as I warrant you, ie. "I guarantee it", or "I assure you".

     5. dress = used to mean "to treat", "to beat", and once even "to dress a wound", in addition to its modern meaning of "to attire".

     6. hold = to wager.

     Finally, we point out that the word and could be used to mean either "and" or "if". Mr. S. uses and in both senses regularly.




G. Gammer's Rhyme Scheme.

     The overwhelming majority of the play is written in rhyming couplets. Happily for the reader, the meter is completely irregular, or non-existent, and the number of syllables per line varies: this is a blessing, because otherwise the play would quickly begin to sound like a Dr. Seuss book, and the regular rhythm and rhyme would grow rapidly tiresome, indeed exhausting.

     As it is, the lines generally contain anywhere from 10 to 13 syllables; and as mentioned, thanks to there being no meter to speak of, - that is, no regular rhythm - the dialogue comes across as a little more natural, and you probably won't even be conscious of the rhyming.

     An interesting feature of the playwright's versifying is that he sometimes chose to use an obscure or rarely used alternative spelling or form of a word in order to make a rhyme work; for example, he uses streite instead of street in order to rhyme with sprite, and britch for breech to rhyme with stitch.

     Having said all that, we recommend you not get hung up on the rhyming as you read our play; The author used rhyming couplets only as a frame, or skeleton, on which to build Gammer, so we suggest that you will enjoy Gammer a great deal more if you do not think about the rhyming at all.



The Prologue: WARNING: the Prologue summarizes the complete plot of our play, so save your reading of it for last, unless you want to ruin the suspense for yourself!
     The Prologue, sometimes called a Chorus, is a device used to introduce the play to an audience, and is recited by a single actor.


As Gammer Gurton, with many a wide stitch,


Sat piecing and patching of Hodge her man's britch,

2: piercing = mending.2
     man's = servant's.
     britch = ie. breech, or breeches, probably referring to a loose garment worn like trousers, but only reaching below the knee.1 The playwright used this alternate spelling to rhyme the word with stitch.

By chance or misfortune, as she her gear tossed,

= the sense is "worked on her mending".
     gear = could mean business, stuff, or clothing.1


In Hodge' leather breeches her needle she lost.

= Hodge's; Hodge is another of Gammer's servants.

When Diccon the Bedlam had hard by report,

= Diccon is a beggar; see the note at the beginning
     of Act I.i below.
          hard = heard.


That good Gammer Gurton was robbed in this sort,

= manner.

He quietly persuaded with her in that stound

7: persuaded with her = ie. "persuaded Gammer"; the combination persuaded with, meaning "used persuasion on", was common in the 16th and 17th centuries.
     in that stound = in that moment;1 though Farmer and Gassner suggest stound here takes its alternate meaning of "crisis" or "difficult time".


Dame Chat, her dear gossip, this needle had found;

= read as "that Dame Chat".  = female friend.

Yet knew she no more of this matter (alas),

9-10: "but Gammer is as ignorant of what happened to


Than knoweth Tom, our clerk, what the priest saith at mass.

the needle as Tom the clerk is of what the priest is saying at Mass."
     Because the priest recites the mass in Latin, Tom the lay officer of the local church (clerk),1 who presumably was without formal education, would not comprehend it at all.
     This is the first of several lines in the play that suggest the characters might be Catholic; the English Reformation had taken place during the 1530's, but Mary I's reign (1553-8) brought about a violent pro-Catholic backlash, before official-English policy returned to the Protestant fold with Elizabeth's ascension in 1558.

Hereof there ensued so fearful a fray,

= from this.1


Mas Doctor was sent for, these gossips to stay,

= Master.  = ie. a cleric.  = comfort or support.1

Because he was curate, and esteemed full wise,


Who found that he sought not, by Diccon's device.

14: "who found that which he was not looking for,
     thanks to Diccon's scheme (device).

When all things were tumbled and clean out of fashion,

15: ie. "when the entire matter reached its climax,
     having dissolved into a big mess".
         out of fashion = out of shape.1


Whether it were by fortune, or some other constellation,

= ie. fate, referring to the position of the stars with
     respect to the influence they were believed to 
     maintain over the affairs of man.1

Suddenly the needle Hodge found by the pricking,

= ie. being stuck by it.


And drew it out of his buttock, where he felt it sticking.

Their hearts then at rest with perfect security,

= ie. without any further anxiety.


With a pot of good nale they stroke up their plauditè.

20: nale = alternate Middle English spelling for ale.1
         stroke up their plaudite = appealed to the
     audience for applause.




Settings of the Play: there are no settings provided in the original edition of Gammer: we will assume the stage is furnished with the facades of two adjacent houses, the first belonging to the elderly Gammer Gurton, and the other to Dame Chat, who also runs a tavern out of her home.
     The entire play takes place either directly in front of either of the two houses, or on the street fronting them.

Enter Diccon the Bedlam from off-stage.

Entering Character: Diccon is an itinerant beggar; he is identified in the character-list as a Bedlam, which could mean one of two things:
     (1) he had been a patient at Bethlehem Hospital, London's famous insane asylum, but, having partially recovered, had been released, and as such, is licensed to beg;7 or
     (2) when the religious houses were dissolved during the Reformation, all of the poor who had been provided for by these houses were forced to now roam the country begging for provisions. Many of these vagabonds notoriously pretended to be mad in order to elicit greater sympathy from the populace, and as such were known as "Abraham-men" or "Bedlam-beggars".6 We may note that Diccon is fully functional, even if he ignores normal social conventions.

     Diccon is a nickname for Richard. In Shakespeare's Richard III, an anonymous note insultingly referring to the King as Dickon was submitted to the Duke of Norfolk, warning him not to trust Richard.
     The original edition of Gammer does not list character entrances, but rather simply lists the names of the characters who take part in a given scene at the top of each scene. Characters will enter and exit the stage either through one of the doors of the two houses, or off-stage if they are entering or exiting the scene by means of the fronting road.
     All character entrances and departures are the suggestions of either the present editor or earlier editors.

Act I, Scene i: the first scene comprises a brief monologue, as Diccon addresses the audience.


Dic.  Many a mile have I walked divers and sundry ways,

= a common formula meaning simply "various".1


And many a good man's house have I been at in my days;

Many a gossip's cup in my time have I tasted,

3-4: Diccon remembers the food and drink he has


And many a broach and spit have I both turned and basted,

received thanks to the generosity of others
     gossip's cup = a sweet drink flavored with nutmeg and mixed with ale and roasted crab-apples, originally served at baptisms, but later also at special occasions generally.29
     broach and spit = synonyms for the pointed instrument used to pierce and rotate meat above a fire.1

Many a piece of bacon have I had out of their balks,

5: Diccon refers to the bacon he has received or more
     likely stolen from many a household.
         balks = beams or rafters, or horizontally-laid
     poles, used to hang things from.1,6


In ronning over the country with long and weary walks;

= unusual 16th century alternate spelling for running.

Yet came my foot never within those door cheeks,

= door-posts, the vertical side posts on either side of
     a door.1


To seek flesh or fish, garlick, onions, or leeks,

= ie. meat.

That ever I saw a sort in such a plight,

9-20: Diccon describes the uproar that he witnessed
     moments ago in the household of Gammer Gurton.
         That = "where" or "in which".
         sort = company or group of people.


As here within this house appeareth to my sight.

10: Diccon casts a glance to, or perhaps gestures
     towards, Gammer's house behind him.

There is howling and scowling, all cast in a dump,

= thrown into a state of perplexity.1


With whewling and puling, as though they had lost a trump.

12: whewling = moaning or howling.1
         puling = whining or complaining.
         lost a trump = lost a play at the obsolete card
     game known as trump.1

Sighing and sobbing, they weep and they wail;


I marvel in my mind what the devil they ail.

= wonder.  = ie. "ails them."

The old trot sits groaning, with alas and alas!

15: trot = hag, decrepit old woman, meaning Gammer.
         with alas and alas = ie. she sits there crying out
     "alas!" repeatedly.


And Tib wrings her hands, and takes on in worse case.

= Tib is Gammer's maid.  = exhibits great distress.1

With poor Cock, their boy, they be driven in such fits,

= ie. servant boy.


I fear me the folks be not well in their wits.

= of sound mind, the opposite of "out of their wits".1

Ask them what they ail, or who brought them in this stay?

= ie. "I asked them".  = "to this condition or situation."


They answer not at all, but "alack!" and "wellaway!"

= "do not answer me".  = an ancient cry of lament.1

When I saw it booted not, out at doors I hied me,

21: "when I saw how useless it was (booted not) to
     expect an answer, I hurried out the door".


And caught a slip of bacon, when I saw none spied me,

= ie. stole.  = thin strip.1

Which I intend not far hence, unless my purpose fail,


Shall serve me for a shoeing horn to draw on two pots of ale.

24: shoeing horn = older name for a shoe horn, which along with its still modern meaning was also used to refer to an appetizer,1 but more likely referring here to something that can "facilitate a transaction" (OED, def. 2b), meaning that Diccon expects to trade the bacon for alcohol.
     pots = pot was common term for a drinking vessel.

Scene Endings in Gammer Gurton's Needle: the scenes of our play do not always end sharply with all the characters exiting the stage; when one or more characters newly join those already on stage, our author usually begins a new scene.
     Hence Diccon remains on stage as Hodge enters the stage to begin Scene ii.


[Still on Stage: Diccon, standing on the street.]

Still on Stage: whenever characters remain on stage from the end of the previous scene, such will be noted in a stage direction in brackets, all added by the editor.

Enter Hodge from off-stage.
Sometime before line 32, Gammer and Tib
enter from Gammer's house
and sit down on dejectedly in their front yard.

Entering Character: Hodge is a servant of Gammer Gurton's, and specifically a farm or field labourer.4 Hodge is returning home after having spent the day toiling on Gammer's lands, but he first runs into Diccon on the street.
     We may note that Hodge is an ancient nick-name for Roger, and that Hodge in fact came to be used as the typical or conventional name of a farm-worker.1,4
     Most of the play's characters, and Hodge particularly, speak with a distinct rural dialect. This dialect is marked primarily by the following three characteristics:
     (1) use of the pronoun ich for 'I';
     (2) the use of numerous contracted words beginning with 'ch', which stands in for the pronoun 'I'; examples include cham for "I am" and chad for "I had" (these types of words were employed in the south-western counties);3 and
     (3) the occasional interchanging of 'v' and 'f' at the beginning of a word; Farmer suggests this particular dialecticism was a characteristic of the southern counties, though Shakespeare used the same transformation for his Welsh characters.


Hodge.  See, so cham arrayed with dabbling in the dirt!

= "see how soiled (arrayed)5 I am (cham) from
     splashing about (dabbling) in the dirt!"


She that set me to ditching, ich would she had the squirt!

= "I (ich) hope that she who set me to smearing myself in the mud (ditching) gets the runs!" Hodge is referring to his mistress, Gammer Gurton.
     the squirt = diarrhea.    

Was never poor soul that such a life had?


Gog's bones! this vilthy glay hase dressed me too bad!

4: Gog's bones = ie. "God's bones", an oath; Hodge generally, but not completely, avoids using God's name explicitly in his oaths, typically employing the euphemism Gog.
     vilthy glay = filthy clay; Farmer posits that glay for clay is a piece of faux-dialect, invented by the author. Gassner, we may note, thinks glay means day.
     hase = "has", an alternate spelling used frequently throughout the play.
     dressed me too bad = Diccon complains how he is unpleasantly besmeared with clay and other filth; dressed means "treated".1

Gog's soul! see how this stuff tears!

= referring to his clothing.


Ich were better to be a bearward, and set to keep bears!

= ie. a bear-keeper, one who is in charge of caring for a bear, which would be used in such public spectacles as bear-baiting; presumably a profession in which one's clothes run on the ragged side.

By the mass, here is a gash, a shameful hole indeed!

7: Hodge points out the large tear in the buttocks of his
         By the mass = a common oath.


And one stitch tear furder, a man may thrust in his head.

= 16th century alternate spelling for further, perhaps

     meant to sound dialectical.1


Dic.  By my father's soul, Hodge, if I should now be sworn,

I cannot choose but say thy breech is foul betorn.

= ie. breeches, probably referring to a loose garment
     worn like trousers, but only reaching below the


But the next remedy in such a case and hap

12: next = most obvious or direct.1
     case and hap = synonyms for "occurrence".

Is to planch on a piece as broad as thy cap.

13: planch = "attach".1


     piece = scrap of cloth used for mending, ie. patch.1

Hodge.  Gog's soul, man, 'tis not yet two days fully ended,


Since my dame Gurton (cham sure) these breeches amended;

= "I am sure".  = ie. mended, repaired.

But cham made such a drudge to trudge at every need,

= "but I am forced to do the most menial of tasks whenever a need arises".
     drudge = low-level servant.
     trudge = walk or go about without spirit.


Chwold rend it though it were stitched with sturdy packthread.

18: "I would (chwold) tear these breeches even if they
     were sewn together with pack-thread."
         packthread = heavy twine used for wrapping


Dic.  Hodge, let thy breeches go, and speak and tell me soon,

20: let thy breeches go = "forget about your breeches
     for a moment", but the clause also humorously
     suggests Hodge let his breeches drop to the floor.
         soon = ie. now.

What devil aileth Gammer Gurton and Tib her maid to frown?

= ie. "thus causing them to frown."


Hodge.  Tush, man, th'art deceived: 'tis their daily look:

= "thou art", ie. "you are".  = "that is how they look
     every day!"


They cow'r so over the coals, their eyes be bleared with smoke.

= crouch.  = ie. of the fire.


Dic.  Nay, by the mass, I perfectly perceived as I came hether,

= clearly saw.  = alternate spelling for hither (meaning
     "to here"), used to rhyme with together.

That either Tib and her dame hath been by the ears together,

= ie. her mistress, Gammer.  = ie. fighting.1


Or else as great a matter, as thou shalt shortly see.

= ie. something of the same magnitude has occurred.


Hodge.  Now, ich beseech our Lord they never better agree!

= "I".  = get along.


Dic.  By Gog's soul, there they sit as still as stones in the streite,

32: as Hodge and Diccon "walk" down the street, they "arrive" at Gammer's house, where Gammer and Tib are seen sitting dejectedly outside.
     streite = alternate spelling for street, used to rhyme with sprite.

As though they had been taken with fairies, or else with some

33: taken with = ie. charmed by.
     ill sprite = evil spirit.


Hodge.  Gog's heart! I durst have laid my cap to a crown,

35: durst = dared.
     laid = wagered.
     crown = gold coin worth five shillings.


Ch'would learn of some prancome as soon as ich came to town.

36: "that I would learn about some strange occurrence
     (prancome)3 as soon as I arrived in town."


Dic.  Why, Hodge, art thou inspired? or didst thou thereof hear?

38: "why, Hodge, did you get knowledge of what happened by divine inspiration (inspired)? Or did someone in town already tell you about it?"


Hodge.  Nay, but ich saw such a wonder, as ich saw
     nat this seven year.

40-44: Hodge explains that he saw a cow acting in a bizarre manner; observance of such unnatural phenomena was generally taken to be an omen of some other undesirable event.
nat this = "not this", ie. "not for the past"; nat was an alternate spelling for not.

Tom Tankard's cow (by Gog's bones) she set me up her sail,

= humorous metaphor of the cow raising its tail as if it were the sail of a ship anticipating some movement.
     set me up = "set up"; this is an example of the grammatical construction known as the ethical dative, in which the superfluous me of set me up adds emphasis to the clause.


And flinging about his half acre, fisking with her tail,

42: flinging = violently flying about, kicking, etc.1
     his = ie. Tom's.
     fisking = scampering about, whisking.1

As though there had been in her arse a swarm of bees;

= this most English of vulgarisms is at least 1000 years


And chad not cried "tphrowh, whore," she’ad leapt out of his

44: "and had I not cried out, 'tphrowh, you whore', she (the cow) would have leaped out of Tom's pasture".
     lees = alternate spelling for lease, meaning "pasture".10
     You may note as you read this play how our characters have a penchant for referring to each other as whore and whoreson.


Dic.  Why, Hodge, lies the cunning in Tom Tankard's cow's tail?

46: Diccon humorously wonders if the cow's tail was the key to its prophetic behaviour.
     cunning = usually meaning "skill" or "intelligence", but here probably taking its alternate meaning of "magic".1


Hodge.  Well, ich chave hard some say such tokens do not fail.

48: ich chave = "I have"; a grammatical "blunder" by the author, as Brett-Smith calls it, for its redundancy, since chave alone means "I have".
     hard = alternate spelling for heard, and used in place of heard almost everywhere in the play.
     tokens = signs, ie. predictors of future events.1

But ca[n]st thou not tell, in faith, Diccon, why she frowns, or

49: tell = the original edition prints till here; perhaps intended as dialect, perhaps just an error.
     she = ie. Gammer.
     whereat = ie. at what.


Hath no man stolen her ducks or hens, or gelded Gib, her cat?

50: no man = ie. some man.
     gelded = spayed: Gammer's cat is referred to throughout the play as she and her, indicating it is female.
     Gib = a common name given to cats of both sexes, though as Dodsley specifically observes, all male cats of the era were called Gib.


Dic.  What devil can I tell, man, I could not have one word!

= ie. "get one word (of explanation) out of them!"

They gave no more heed to my talk than thou wouldst to a lord.

53: the point of the line is not completely clear: Diccon
     possibly is being simply ironic; Whitworth changes
     lord to turd.


Hodge.  Ich cannot still but muse, what marvelous thing it is:

55: still = refrain, ie. help.1
     muse = ponder, think about.1


Chill in and know myself what matters are amiss.

= "I will go in".  = find out.


Dic.  Then farewell, Hodge, a while, since thou dost inward

58: inward haste = hurry inside.

For I will into the good wife Chat's, to feel how the ale doth taste.

59: I will into = ie. "I will go into"; note the common grammatical construction of this clause: in the presence of a verb of intent (will), the verb of action (go) is often omitted.
     good wife = ie. goodwife, a common title for a woman who runs an establishment, as Dame Chat does a tavern.


[Diccon exits into Chat's tavern.
 At some point after line 32,
Gammer and Tib have exited into their house.

61: Diccon, taking his stolen bacon with him, exits
     through the door into Chat's tavern.


[Still on Stage: Hodge, standing on the street

in front of Gammer's house.]


Hodge.  Cham aghast, by the mass, ich wot not what to do.

= "I am terrified".1  = "I know".


Chad need bless me well before ich go them to.

2: Hodge needs a blessing to protect him from what-
     ever evil lurks inside Gammer's house.
         Chad = "I had", ie. "I have".
         ich = "I".
         them to = ie. "to them."

Perchance some felon sprit may haunt our house indeed;

= cruel or terrible.1


And then chwere but a noddy to venture where cha' no need.

4: "in which case I would be a fool (noddy)2 to take a
     such a risk (by entering the house) when I have no
     need to."
         chwere = "I were", ie. "I would be".
         cha' = "I had"


Enter Tib from Gammer's house.

Entering Character: Tib is Gammer Gurton's maid.
     Tib initially talks to herself (or to the audience),
     before she sees Hodge at line 13.


Tib.  Cham worse than mad, by the mass, to be at this stay!

8: Cham = "I am".
         at this stay = the sense seems to be "in this (bad)
     situation", though the expression has a more literal
     meaning of "at this standstill".

Cham chid, cham blamed, and beaten, all th' hours on the day;

= rebuked.


Lamed and hunger-storved, pricked up all in jags,

10: storved = obsolete spelling for "starved".
     pricked up = dressed elaborately.28  
     jags = rags.1

Having no patch to hide my back, save a few rotten rags!

= ie. article of clothing.1  = except for.


Hodge.  I say, Tib, if thou be Tib, as I trow sure thou be,

= surely believe.


What devil make-ado is this, between our dame and thee?

= uproar.1  = mistress, ie. Gammer.


Tib.  Gog's bread, Hodge, thou had a good turn, thou wert
     not here this while!

= "goodness, Hodge, you were fortunate not to have
     been here all this while!"

It had been better for some of us to have been hence a mile;

= "a mile away from here".


My gammer is so out of course, and frantic all at once,

18-19: Gammer has been so put out by some yet

That Cock, our boy, and I, poor wench, have felt it on our bones.

undisclosed development, that she has taken to beating her two servants who had remained at home this day, Tib and Cock.
     out of course = out of sorts, ie. confused.1


Hodge.  What is the matter, say on, Tib, whereat she taketh
     so on?

= "for which".1


Tib.  She is undone, she saith, (alas!) her joy and life is gone!

= ruined.


If she hear not of some comfort, she is, faith, but dead;

24: comfort = comforting word or news.
     faith = truly; but it is not clear that faith is not saith - the "f" and "s" look almost identical in the font of the ancient text; Hazlitt, going with the latter, has amended the last clause of the line to read "she saith she is but dead".

Shall never come within her lips one inch of meat ne bread.

25: Shall never = ie. "never again shall".
     meat = food.
     ne = nor.


Hodge.  By'r lady, cham not very glad to see her in this dump;

27: By'r lady = "by our Lady", an oath, referring to the
     Virgin Mary.
         dump = common term for "state of depression".


Chold a noble her stool hath fallen, and she hath broke her rump.

28: Chold a noble = "I bet (hold) a noble"; a noble was a gold coin worth half a mark, or 6s 8d.1,3
     her stool hath fallen = that the stool Gammer was sitting on broke underneath her; in this era stools were the normal piece of furniture on which people sat; chairs were reserved for the very wealthy, and even then were used only in limited circumstances.


Tib.  Nay, and that were the worst, we would not greatly care,

= if.

For bursting of her huckle-bone, or breaking of her chair;

31: bursting = breaking.5
         huckle-bone = hip bone.1 
         chair = ie. stool, generic term for furniture on
     which to sit.


But greater, greater, is her grief, as, Hodge, we shall all feel!

= ie. by receiving further corporal punishment.


Hodge.  Gog's wounds, Tib, my gammer has never lost her

34: one wonders if a line was lost here; how did Hodge
     guess that Gammer lost her sewing needle?


Tib.  Her nee'le!


Hodge.  Her nee'le?


Tib.  Her nee'le! by Him that made me, it is true, Hodge, I
     tell thee.

= an oath, referring to God.


Hodge.  Gog's sacrament! I would she had lost th' arte
     out of her belly!

= wish.  = "the heart"; arte is an alternate, Middle
     English spelling for heart.

The devil, or else his dame, they ought her, sure a shame!

43: The devil, or else his dame = variation of the common expression, the devil and his dam, in which dam refers to the devil's mother.
     they ought her = "they owed her (an ill turn)".1
     sure a shame = "which is certainly a shame."


How a murrion came this chance, say Tib, unto our dame?

44: "tell me Tib, how the hell did this happen to our mistress?"
     murrion = plague; expressions such as how a murrion and what the murrion were used in the same way as we say "how in hell", "what the hell", etc.1
     chance = unfortunate occurrence.1


Tib.  My gammer sat her down on her pes, and bad me
     reach thy breeches,

46: pes = likely a variation of pess, meaning "hassock", a cushion stuffed with straw.3
     bad me = "asked me"; bad is the past tense of bid.
     reach thy breeches = "to reach for your breeches", ie. "grab your breeches to give to her".

And by and by, a vengeance in it, or she had take two stitches

47: "and right away (by and by), a pox on it, before she had made two stitches".
     a vengeance on it = common imprecation.
     or = ere, ie. before.


To clap a clout upon thine arse, by chance aside she leers,

= "to patch or mend the backside of your breeches with a patch, she happened to glance to the side, ie. away from her work".
     clap = place or set, ie. "slap".
     clout = patch or piece of cloth.1

And Gib, our cat, in the milk-pan she spied over head and ears.

49:" and she saw Gib the cat immersed (over head and ears) in the milk pan (where it should not have been)."
     milk pan = a large pan in which milk is kept and the cream is allowed to separate.1


"Ah, whore! out, thief!" she cried aloud, and swapt the
     breeches down;

50: Gammer screamed at the cat.
     whore = Gassner suggests whore is used to generally mean "rascal" in our play, but the OED does not support this usage.
     swapt the breeches down = ie. threw down Hodge's breeches.1

Up went her staff, and out leapt Gib at doors into the town.

51: Up went her staff = ie. she raised her walking stick to swat the cat with.
     town = the grounds or yard surrounding the house.1,4


And since that time, was never wight could set their eyes
     upon it.

= ie. "no one has"
         wight = Old English word meaning "person",
     the latter not entering the language until the 13th

Gog's malison, chave Cock and I bid twenty times light on it.

= "twenty times have Cock and I called down God's


     curse (malison) on it."

Hodge.  And is not then my breeches sewed up, to-morrow
     that I should wear?


Tib.  No, in faith, Hodge, thy breeches lie for all this never
     the near.

57: in faith = truly.
     never the near = ie. "never nearer to being done."


Hodge.  Now a vengeance light on all the sort that better
     should have kept it:

59-60: possibly an aside: "a plague on everything and everyone who should have attended to the needle more


The cat, the house, and Tib our maid, that better should have
     swept it!

carefully, including the cat, the house, and Tib, who should have swatted at the cat instead!"
     sort = group or company of people, animals or things.1

See where she cometh crawling! − come on, in twenty devils'

61: Hodge sees the door to Gammer's house open, and Gammer crawls onto the stage, searching for the needle.
     See...crawling = possibly an aside; after the dash, Hodge addresses Gammer directly.
     in twenty devils' way = "in the name of twenty devils",14 an expression signaling impatience.8 The combination twenty devils appears with some regularity in other expressions in the era's literature.


Ye have made a fair day's work, have you not? pray you, say!

= good, successful.  = "I ask you, tell me!"


[Still on Stage: Hodge and Tib in front of Gammer's house.]

Gammer Gurton has just crawled out of the front door
of her house, searching for her needle.

Entering Characters: we finally meet our elderly mistress, Gammer Gurton. Gammer should generally be imagined as carrying her walking stick with her, though the present scene may be an exception, since she is crawling around on all fours.
     The word gammer, used here as a form of address, is thought be an abbreviated form of "godmother" or "grandmother".1


Gamm.  Alas, Hodge, alas! I may well curse and ban

= damn or curse.1,2


This day, that ever I saw it, with Gib and the milk-pan;

= ie. along with.

For these and ill-luck together, as knoweth Cock, my boy,

= ie. servant-boy.


Have stack away my dear nee'le, and robbed me of my joy,

= hidden; the OED identifies stack as the past tense
     of the word steek, which normally means "to

My fair long straight nee'le, that was mine only treasure;


The first day of my sorrow is, and last end of my pleasure!

6: "today is the first day of my sorrow, and the end of
     my joy!"


Hodge.  [Aside]

8: Hazlitt suggests lines 9-10 are spoken as an aside.

Might ha' kept it, when ye had it; but fools will be fools still:

= always.


Lose that is vast in your hands, ye need not, but ye will.

10: "it was unnecessary to lose that which you had
     securely in your hands, but you did it."
         vast = dialect for fast, ie. securely, held tightly.


Gamm.  Go hie thee, Tib, and run thou, whore, to th' end
     here of the town.

12: hie thee = "hurry yourself".
     whore = rogue, per Gassner.
     th' end = ie. the far end.
     town = yard or grounds.

Didst carry out dust in thy lap? seek where thou pourest it down;


And as thou sawest me roking in the ashes where I mourned,

14: as = just as.
     roking in the ashes = ie. raking in the ashes: a reference to the custom of keeping a fire alive at night by covering the glowing coals with ashes (the scene takes place in the late afternoon or evening); roking is a likely regionalism for raking.
     More recent editors have yet another take, suggesting that roking is a variation for rucking, meaning "crouching".7,8

So see in all the heap of dust thou leave no straw unturned.

15: unusual variation of leave no stone unturned,
     which appeared also in the 16th century.


Tib.  That chall, Gammer, swith and tite, and soon be here again!

17: chall = "I shall".
     swith and tite = synonyms for "right away".
     be here again = ie. "return again".


Gamm.  Tib, stoop and look down to the ground − to it,
     and take some pain.

19: to it = "get to it".
     take some pain = "make an effort", "try hard."


     The dash after ground is a logical addition by Whitworth, as the second instruction is directed at Hodge.

[Exit Tib into the house.]


Hodge.  Here is a pretty matter, to see this gear how it goes:

23: pretty = awkward, deplorable.1
     see = perceive.1
     gear = business.


By Gog's soul, I thenk you would lose your arse, and it were

24: thenk = a Middle English spelling of think.
     and = if. 
     loose = unattached (to her body).

Your nee'le lost? it is pity you should lack care and endless

= anxiety; the sentence is sarcastic and ironic.


Gog's death, how shall my breeches be sewed?

Shall I go thus to-morrow?

= ie. "go about like this". Hodge presumably gestures
     towards his buttocks as he says this.


Gamm.  Ah, Hodge, Hodge! if that ich could find my nee'le,
     by the reed,

29: ich = I.
         by the reed = ie. "by the rood", an oath; reed is
     likely a regionalism for rood, which means "cross".


Chould sew thy breeches, ich promise thee, with full good
     double threed,

30: Chould = "I would".
         threed = alternate spelling for thread, used to
     rhyme with reed.

And set a patch on either knee should last this moneths twain.

= "which would last for the next two (twain) months."
         moneths = moneth was a common alternate
     spelling for month.


Now God and good Saint Sithe, I pray to send it home again!

32: Saint Sithe = two, or possibly three, candidates exist for the identity of this saint:
     (1) St. Osyth, or St. Osith, a 7th century Anglo-Saxon princess; serving as an abbess at a convent, she was murdered for her Christian faith by invading pirates, possibly Danes;4,8,15
     (2) St. Swithin or Swithun, a 9th century monk and Bishop of Winchester; Swithin dedicated himself to serving the poor, performing his pastoral duties barefoot. He was also the chief counsillor to King Aethelwulf. A century after Swithin's death (15 July 964), during a ceremony in which his relics were moved to a new shrine, such rain fell that a superstition arose, that if it rained on St. Swithin's Day (15 July), 40 days of rain would follow.6,15
     (3) St. Zita, a 13th century Italian maid-servant of the Fatinelli family; hated by her fellow-servants and treated illy by her employers, she remained imperturbable, and eventually won over those who had for so long mistreated her.13 Zita lived a devotional life, and was known to be "generous to the poor and kind to the sick and to prisoners" (McBrien, p. 178).30
     Richard McBrien, in his Lives of the Saints, writes that Zita was also known as Sitha, among other variations, and that she was popular with those on the lower rung of the social ladder, particularly in medieval England. In the 20th century Pope Pius declared Zita to be the "principal patron saint of domestic servants" (Ibid).
     home again = ie. back again.6


Hodge.  Whereto served your hands and eyes, but this your
     nee'le to keep?

= ie. "for what purpose do you have".

What devil had you else to do? ye keep, ich wot, no sheep!

= "I know".


Cham fain abroad to dig and delve, in water, mire, and clay,

36-39: Hodge expresses a slight variation of a modern stereotypical spouse's or parent's complaint: "I slave all day at work in the muck and mire, while all of you sit at home all day doing nothing, and you can't even do something as simple as not lose a needle."
     Cham fain = "I am compelled", "I am obliged".2
     abroad = away from home.

Sossing and possing in the dirt still from day to day.

= synonyms for "splashing".1


A hundred things that be abroad, cham set to see them weel,

38: ie. "I am sent to take care of a hundred different things away from the house (abroad)".
     set = Gassner suggests "ordered".
     weel = alternate spelling of
well, employed to rhyme with nee'le.

And four of you sit idle at home, and cannot keep a nee'le!

= ie. Gammer, Tib, Cock and the cat.


Gamm.  My nee'le, alas, ich lost it, Hodge, what time ich me
     up hasted,

41: what time ich me = "at the time I".
         up hasted = quickly jumped up.
         Note Gammer's use of the ethical dative with ich
     me up hasted


To save the milk set up for thee, which Gib, our cat, hath wasted.

42: Gammer explains she lost the needle while trying to
     save the milk, which she had set aside for Hodge,
     from the cat.


Hodge.  The devil he burst both Gib and Tib, with all the rest!

= "may he break or smash".2

Cham always sure of the worst end, whoever have the best!

45: Hodge always suffers the worst of any situation,
     regardless of who gets the best.


Where ha' you been fidging abroad, since you your nee'le lost?

= moving about restlessly.1  = away from home.


Gamm.  Within the house, and at the door, sitting by this
     same post,

Where I was looking a long hour, before these folks came here;

= Whitworth suggests Gammer is referring to the audience; such breaking of the "fourth wall" was common in interludes of the early 16th century, writes Whitworth (p. 15).8


But, wellaway, all was in vain, my nee'le is never the near!

= common term expressing regret.


Hodge. [Getting down on his hands and knees]

52: Hodge begins his own search for the needle.

Set me a candle, let me seek, and grope wherever it be.

= "light a candle for me"; it is evening, the sky darken-


Gog's heart, ye be foolish (ich think), you know it not when
     you it see!

= "you don't even recognize it".


Gamm.  Come hether, Cock: what, Cock, I say!

56, 60: a couple of unrhymed lines; any rhyme between
     lines 62-63 was also lost or neglected.


Enter Cock from Gammer's house.

Entering Character: Cock is Gammer's young boy-


Cock.  How, Gammer?

= "what is it".


Gamm.  Go, hie thee soon, and grope behind the old brass pan,

= ie. "move quickly".  = reach.

Which thing when thou hast done,


There shalt thou find an old shoe, wherein, if thou look well,

Thou shalt find lying an inch of a white tallow candle;

= candle made from animal fat.1


Light it, and bring it tite away.

= ie. right away.


Cock.                                      That shall be done anon.

= straightaway.


Cock exits into the house.


Gamm.  Nay, tarry, Hodge, till thou hast light, and then we'll
     seek each one.

72: tarry = wait.
     each one = ie. "every one of us".


Hodge.  [Calling into the house]

Come away, ye whoreson boy, are ye asleep? ye must have
     a crier!

75: Come away = "hurry up!"1
     ye must have a crier = a crier, more commonly known today as a town crier, was one employed to make public announcements; the sense of this sarcastic line is likely the same as the modern "do I need to send you an invitation?", an expression used to mock one's slowness to get something done.


Cock.  [From within]


Ich cannot get the candle light: here is almost no fire.

78: Cock has been trying and failing to get the candle
     lit in the ashes of the smouldering fire.


Hodge.  [Rising]

Chill hold thee a penny, chill make thee come, if that ich may
     catch thine ears! −

81: "I will (chill) bet (hold) you a penny, I will get you
     to come, if I can grab you by the ears!"


Art deaf, thou whoreson boy? Cock, I say; why, canst not hear?


Gamm.  Beat him not, Hodge, but help the boy, and come
     you two together.

84: responding to Gammer's entreaty, Hodge enters the house, where he will take the candle from the boy and work to try to light it from the ashes.


[Exit Hodge into the house.]


[Still on Stage: Gammer in front of her house.]

Enter Tib from the house.

Entering Character: Tib returns from her search for
     the needle in the dust in the backyard.


Gamm.  How now, Tib? quick, let's hear what news thou
     hast brought hether!

= alternate spelling for hither, used to rhyme with together, the last word of the previous scene; a clear indication of how many of the scenes seamlessly meld together on the stage.


Tib.  Chave tossed and tumbled yonder heap over and over again,

3: Tib has finished pouring through the dust pile,
     searching unsuccessfully for the needle.
         Chave = "I have".
         tumbled = searched by turning over.1


And winnowed it through my fingers, as men would winnow

Not so much as a hen's turd, but in pieces I tare it;

5: turd = an ancient word, first appearing in English
     letters around 1000 A.D.1
         tare = dialect for tore.1


Or whatsoever clod or clay I found, I did not spare it,

Looking within and eke without, to find your nee'le, alas!

= also.


But all in vain and without help, your nee'le is where it was.

= remains wherever it has been.


Gamm.  Alas, my nee'le, we shall never meet! adieu, adieu,
     for aye!

10: for aye = forever.


Tib.  Not so, Gammer, we might it find, if we knew where it lay.

12: possibly the least helpful comment ever.


Cock enters from the house.


Cock.  Gog's cross, Gammer, if ye will laugh, look in but at
     the door,

16: ie. "want to"

And see how Hodge lieth tumbling and tossing amids the flour,

= "in the middle of the floor"; flour was a dialectical


Raking there some fire to find among the ashes dead,

     form of floor.1

Where there is not one spark so big as a pin's head:


At last in a dark corner two sparks he thought he sees,

Which were indeed nought else but Gib our cat's two eyes.

= nothing.


"Puff!" quod Hodge, thinking thereby to have fire without doubt;

= quoth, said.

With that Gib shut her two eyes, and so the fire was out;


And by and by them opened, even as they were before;

= ie. "and then immediately or again".

With that the sparks appeared even as they had done of yore;

= an expression normally meaning "in ancient times"
     or "long ago", but here apparently meaning simply


And even as Hodge blew the fire (as he did think),

26: Hodge was blowing on the cat, when he thought
     he was blowing on a spark of fire.

Gib, as she felt the blast, straightway began to wink;

= blink.


Till Hodge fell of swearing, as came best to his turn,

= ie. fell to.  = as best suited him, his purpose, or his

The fire was sure bewitched, and therefore would not burn:

29: Cock is paraphrasing Hodge's cries in this line.


At last Gib up the stairs, among the old posts and pins,

= ie. raced up.

And Hodge he hied him after, till broke were both his shins:

= chased.  = he had hurt his shins, ie. his legs.1


Cursing and swearing oaths were never of his making,

32: the sense is, "which he could not possibly have
     invented himself".

That Gib would fire the house, if that she were not taken.

= ie. set the house on fire.  = caught.


Gamm.  See, here is all the thought that the foolish urchin

= ie. Cock.


And Tib, me-think, at his elbow almost as merry maketh.

This is all the wit ye have, when others make their moan: −

= intelligence.  = ie. are lamenting.


Come down, Hodge, where art thou? and let the cat alone.


Hodge.  [Appears above.]

40: I have adopted Clements' suggestion that Hodge
     sticks his head out of an upstairs window.12

Gog's heart, help and come up! Gib in her tail hath fire,


And is like to burn all, if she get a little higher!

= likely.

"Come down," quoth you? nay, then you might count me a

43: quoth you? = "you say?"
     count me a patch = "reckon me to be a fool".


The house cometh down on your heads, if it take once the thatch.

= ie. the fire catches.


Gamm.  It is the cat's eyes, fool, that shineth in the dark.


Hodge.  Hath the cat, do you think, in every eye a spark?


Gamm.  No, but they shine as like fire as ever man see.


Hodge.  By the mass, and she burn all, you sh' bear the
     blame for me!

52: and she burn all = "if she burns everything down".
     sh' = shall.
     for = ie. instead of.


Gamm.  Come down and help to seek here our nee'le,
     that it were found. −

54: that it were = so that it can be.

Down, Tib, on thy knees, I say! Down, Cock, to the ground!


Hodge enters from the house.


To God I make a vow, and so to good Saint Anne,

= Anne was the mother of the Virgin Mary.


A candle shall they have a-piece, get it where I can,

60-61: Gammer promises to light dedicatory candles

If I may my nee'le find in one place or in other.

     if only God and Saint Anne will help her find her


     needle; the early editors note that this is a Roman
     Catholic, and not a Protestant, practice.
         a-piece = each.

Hodge.  Now a vengeance on Gib light, on Gib and Gib's


And all the generation of cats both far and near! −

= Whitworth suggests "race".8

Look on the ground, whoreson, thinks thou the nee'le is here?

65: Hodge addresses Cock; Whitworth believes the dialogue from here to line 70 suggests that Cock and Tib are picking pieces of filth, including the mystery clod referred to by Tib in line 70, off of Hodge's dirty clothes


Cock.  By my troth, Gammer, me-thought your nee'le here I saw,

= truly.


But when my fingers touched it, I felt it was a straw.


Tib.  See, Hodge, what's this? may it not be within it?

70: Tib points to something suspicious she sees stuck

     to Hodge's clothing.


Hodge.  Break it, fool, with thy hand, and see and thou canst
     find it.


Tib.  Nay, break it you, Hodge, according to your word.

= the sense seems to be, "since you are the one who

suggested it;" Tib doesn't want to touch the unknown material, so Hodge picks it off instead, to his immediate regret.


Hodge.  Gog's sides, fie! it stinks! it is a cat's turd!

It were well done to make thee eat it, by the mass!

= it would be a good deed.


Gamm.  This matter amendeth not; my nee'le is still where it

= ie. "this situation has not fixed or resolved itself."


Our candle is at an end, let us all in quite

= ie. go in.

And come another time, when we have more light.

81: Clements notes that it has been getting darker in
     the last few minutes.


[Exeunt all into Gammer's house.]

End of Act I: the only time the stage is completely vacated is at the end of each act; we may assume a bit of music was performed between acts: such a musical interlude between acts became the norm of the era's plays.












First a Song.

The Song: the original edition of Gammer introduces the second Act by printing the following words, on the same line, in the same large font:

The ii Acte.               Fyrste a Songe.

     The play's director may decide who the singer or singers shall be, as no instructions are provided in the 1575 edition.


    Back and side go bare, go bare,

1-2: the singer begins by describing how threadbare


       Both foot and hand go cold:

     his clothing is.

    But, belly, God send thee good ale enough,


       Whether it be new or old.


I cannot eat but little meat,

= food.

   My stomach is not good;


But sure I think that I can drink

   With him that wears a hood.

9: ie. "as much as any friar";11 a satirical description
     of a monk: Farmer suggests there is a reference here
     to the Friars, who (says he) were stereotyped as


Though I go bare, take ye no care,

= "don't you worry about it".

   I am nothing a-cold;


I stuff my skin so full within

   Of  jolly good ale and old.


    Back and side go bare, go bare,


       Both foot and hand go cold:

    But, belly, God send thee good ale enough,


       Whether it be new or old.


I love no roast but a nut-brown toast,

20-21: the lines describe a traditional drink of spiced

   And a crab laid in the fire.

     ale or wine containing roasted crab-apples (crab)
     and topped with toast to act as a sop.16
         nut-brown = a common colour description.


A little bread shall do me stead:

= "satisfy or be enough for me."1

   Much bread I not desire.


No frost nor snow, no wind, I trow,

= believe or know.

   Can hurt me if I would;


I am so wrapt, and throughly lapt

26: wrapt = the OED suggests "dressed" or "wrapped

   Of jolly good ale and old.

in a cloth"; but "rapt", ie. enraptured, is also a possible


     throughly = thoroughly.
     lapt = lapped, meaning "enfolded", with the sense of being soothed or stupefied, ie. pleasantly buzzed.1

    Back and side go bare, go bare,


       Both foot and hand go cold:

    But, belly, God send thee good ale enough,


       Whether it be new or old.


And Tib my wife, that as her life

34-35: "my wife Tib, who loves good ale as much as 

   Loveth well good ale to seek,

     she loves her life". This is not the Tib of our play.


Full oft drinks she, till ye may see

= quite often.

   The tears run down her cheek:


Then doth she trowl to me the bowl,

38: the phrase troll (here written trowl) the bowl
means "to pass the bowl", the vessel containing
     the ale.

   Even as a malt-worm should;

= heavy drinker.2


And saith, sweet heart, I took my part

   Of this jolly good ale and old.


    Back and side go bare, go bare,


       Both foot and hand go cold:

    But, belly, God send thee good ale enough,


       Whether it be new or old.


Now let them drink, till they nod and wink,

= ie. "fall asleep" or "doze off"; to wink was to close

   Even as good fellows should do;

     one's eyes.


They shall not miss to have the bliss

   Good ale doth bring men to;


And all poor souls that have scoured bowls,

= cleaned out their drinking vessels, ie. finished their drinks; one is tempted to wonder if there is also a pun here, as scoured bowls would sound awfully like scoured bowels, a reference to one's digestive tract being purged with an emetic.

   Or have them lustly trolled,

= cheerfully passed around.1


God save the lives of them and their wives,

   Whether they be young or old.


    Back and side go bare, go bare,


       Both foot and hand go cold:

    But, belly, God send thee good ale enough,


       Whether it be new or old.


Diccon enters from Chat's tavern.


Dic.  Well done, by Gog's malt! well sung and well said! −

1: Diccon compliments the musicians and the singers.
     by Gog's malt = a unique oath.
     well said = common expression for "well done."


Come on, mother Chat, as thou art [a] true maid,

2-4: standing outside of the tavern run by Dame Chat,
     Diccon calls for a pot of ale.

One fresh pot of ale let's see, to make an end

3-4: to make…defend = Diccon wants alcohol to dull
     his sensitivity to the cold weather. 


Against this cold weather my naked arms to defend:

4: Brett-Smith observes that a bedlam such as Diccon
     would deliberately dress most scantily to elicit pity.

This gear it warms the soul: now, wind, blow on thy worst,

5: Diccon's ale arrives as he speaks this line.
     gear = stuff, ie. the booze.


And let us drink and swill till that our bellies burst!

Now were he a wise man by cunning could define

7-8: "now he would be a wise man who could, through


Which way my journey lieth, or where Diccon will dine:

     his skill or intelligence, tell me where I am going
     and where I will eat next."

But one good turn I have: be it by night or day,

= circumstance.1


South, east, north or west, I am never out of my way.

= ie. heading in the wrong direction.


Enter Hodge from Gammer's house,

carrying a piece of bread.


Hodge.  Chym goodly rewarded, cham I not, do you think?

15-18: Hodge bemoans his failure to get any dinner this
     evening; he is bitterly sarcastic.
         12: chym was an already obsolete variation of
     cham, both meaning "I am".1
         cham I = redundant, as cham alone means "I


Chad a goodly dinner for all my sweat and swink.

= "I had".  = labour, drudgery.3

Neither butter, cheese, milk, onions, flesh, nor fish,

= meat.


Save this poor piece of barley-bread: 'tis a pleasant costly dish!

= except for.  = typical coarse fare of the lower classes.


Dic.  Hail, fellow Hodge, and well to fare with thy meat,
     if you have any:

20: "greetings, friend Hodge, I wish you a pleasant
     meal, if you have any food."

But by thy words, as I them smelled, thy daintrels be not many.

21: "but based on what you said, as I understand
     (smelled) your words, you have not had many
     delicacies (daintrels) to eat."


Hodge.  Daintrels, Diccon? Gog's soul, man, save this piece
     of dry horsebread,

23: save = except for.
         horsebread = bread made of two-parts beans and
     one-part wheat, and fed to horses in the old days,
     under the belief it would add strength to the beast.9
         Hodge exaggerates - but not by much - the poor
     quality of his fare.


Cha bit no bit this livelong day, no crumb come in my head:

24: Cha bit no bit = "I have bitten not a bite".
         this livelong day = this still-familiar expression
     first appeared in the very early 15th century.1

My guts they yawl, crawl, and all my belly rumbleth,

= cry out.1  = rumble.1


The puddings cannot lie still, each one over other tumbleth.

= ie. "my bowels (ie. entrails or intestines)".1

By Gog's heart, cham so vexed, and in my belly penned,

27: cham so vexed = "I am so troubled or afflicted".
     penned = "pained (with hunger)"; the playwright employs an obsolete spelling to rhyme with end.


Chould one piece were at the spital-house, another at the
     castle end!

28: no author has tried to interpret this obscure line; perhaps Hodge means he wishes parts of his digestive tract were located elsewhere, where they would stand a better chance of being fed.
     Chould = "I would", ie. "I wish".
     spital-house = hospital, which could refer, as here, to a place in which the indigent are cared for.1


Dic.  Why, Hodge, was there none at home thy dinner for to set?

30: "to fix you dinner?"


Hodge.  Gog's bread, Diccon, ich came too late, was nothing
     there to get:

32: Hodge arrived home too late, there was no food
     remaining for him to eat.
         ich = "I".

Gib (a foul fiend might on her light!) licked the milk-pan so

33-34: humorous: Gib had so thoroughly licked the
     milk from the pan, that it could be said the pan had


See, Diccon, 'twas not so well washed this seven year, as
     ich ween!

     not been cleaned so well for seven years.
         as ich ween = "I think" or "I expect".

A pestilence light on all ill-luck! chad thought, yet for all this,

35-36: "damn all bad luck! Yet despite this, I had


Of a morsel of bacon behind the door at worst should not miss:

     remembered the slab of bacon that was hanging
     behind the door: now that would not fail (miss)
     to hit the spot!"

But when ich sought a slip to cut, as ich was wont to do,

= strip or slice.  = "I was accustomed".


Gog's soul, Diccon, Gib, our cat, had eat the bacon too!


[Which bacon Diccon stole, as is declared before.]

40: this reminder for the reader actually appeared in the
     original edition of Gammer; Hodge is unknowingly
     blaming the cat for Diccon's crime.


Dic.  "Ill-luck," quod he! − marry, swear it, Hodge this day,
     the truth tell,

42: "Ill-luck," quod he! = "'bad luck', he says!"; as Diccon speaks this likely aside, he no doubt chuckles as he recalls that he himself was the bacon-thief!
     marry = an oath, derived from the Virgin Mary.

Thou rose not on thy right side, or else blessed thee not well.

= early version of the expression, "to get up on
     the right (or wrong) wide of the bed": Diccon 
     acknowledges that this is not Hodge's day!


Thy milk slopped up! thy bacon filched! that was too bad
     luck, Hodge.

44: slopped up = lapped.1
        bad luck = this is the earliest known written
     appearance in English letters of this ubiquitous


Hodge.  Nay, nay, there was a fouler fault, my Gammer
     ga' me the dodge;

46: fault = deficiency or error, ie. problem.1 
         ga' me the dodge = ie. "gave me the slip", ie.
     "eluded me," or "let me down" (Whitworth).

Seest not how cham rent and torn, my heels, my knees,
     and my breech?

47: Hodge gestures towards his shredded clothing,
     especially his breeches.


Chad thought, as ich sat by the fire, help here and there a stitch;

48: Hodge had expected that, if nothing else, at least his
     clothes might be stitched up a bit this evening.

But there ich was pooped indeed.

= cheated or deceived.1,3


Dic.                                       Why, Hodge?


Hodge.                                              Boots not, man, to tell.

53: "it is useless to talk about it."
     boots not = there is no point.


Cham so dressed amongst a sort of fools, chad better be in hell.

54: "I am (so poorly) treated (dressed) amongst this
     company of fools, that I would be better off if I was
     in hell."

My Gammer (cham ashamed to say) by God, served me not

55: weele = well.


Dic.  How so, Hodge?


Hodge.  Hase she not gone, trowest now, and lost her nee'le?

= has.  = ie. "can you believe it".1


Dic.  Her eel, Hodge? who fished of late? that was a dainty

61: we may presume that Diccon has deliberately
     "misheard" Hodge.
         who fished of late? = "who was fishing recent-
         was = ie. was certainly.


Hodge.  Tush, tush, her nee'le, her nee'le, her nee'le, man!
     'tis neither flesh nor fish;

63: flesh = meat.


A little thing with an hole in the end, as bright as any siller,

= silver, an obsolete spelling.

Small, long, sharp at the point, and straight as any pillar.


Dic.  I know not what a devil thou meanest, thou bring'st me
     more in doubt.

67: doubt = uncertainty (as to what Hodge is talking


Hodge.  Knowest not with what Tom-tailor's man sits
     broaching through a clout?

69: man = employee or journeyman, one who has
     completed his service as an apprentice but still