“Greensleeves”

Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1580 (Stationer's Register; the first surviving printing is from _A Handful of Pleasant Delights_,1584, and we first find the tune in 1652)
Keywords: love courting rejection
Found in: Britain

Description

A song of a man rejected by "Lady Greensleeves," whom he describes as "all my joy" and "my delight." He offers various gifts and honors if she will return to him and complains about what he has already spent upon her.

Supplemental text

Greensleeves
  Complete text(s)

          *** A ***

From the earliest known printing in "A Handful of Pleasant Delights" (1584).
As printed in Norman Ault's Elizabethan Lyrics from the Original Texts (1949),
pp. 86-89. Spelling was modernized by Ault.

    Greensleeves was all my joy,
      Greensleeves was my delight;
    Greensleeves was my heart of gold,
      And who but Lady Greensleeves.

Alas, my Love! ye do me wrong
  To cast me off discourteously:
And I have loved you so long,
  Delighting in your company.
    Greensleeves was all my joy, &c.

I have been ready at your hand,
  To grant whatever you would crace.
I have both waged life and land,
  Your love and goodwill for to have.
    Greensleeves was all my joy, &c.

I bought thee kerchers to thy head,
  That were wrought fine and gallantly:
I kept the both at board and bed,
  Which cost my purse well favouredly.
    Greensleeves was all my joy, &c.

I bought thee petticoats of the best,
  The cloth so fine as fine might be:
I gave thee jewels for thy chest,
  And all this cost I spent on thee.
    Greensleeves was all my joy, &c.

Thy smock of silk, both fair and white,
  With gold embroidered gorgeously:
Thy petticoat of senal right:
  I thus I bought thee gladly.
    Greensleeves was all my joy, &c.

Thy girdle of gold so red,
  With pearls bedecked sumptuously:
The like no other lasses had,
  And yet thou wouldst not love me.
    Greensleeves was all my joy, &c.

Thy purse and eke thy gay gilt knives,
  Thy pincase gallant to the eye,
No better wore the burgess wives,
  And yet thou wouldst not love me.
    Greensleeves was all my joy, &c.

Thy crimson stockings all of silk,
  With gold all wrought above the knee;
Thy pumps as white as was the milk,
  And yet thou wouldst not love me.
    Greensleeves was all my joy, &c.

The gown was of the grossie green,
  Thy sleeves of satin hanging by,
Which made thee be our harvest queen,
  And yet thou wouldst not love me.
    Greensleeves was all my joy, &c.

Thy garters fringed with the gold,
  And silver aglets hanging by,
Which made thee blithe for to behold,
  And yet thou wouldst not love me.
    Greensleeves was all my joy, &c.

My gayest gelding I thee gave,
  To ride wherever liked thee;
No lady ever was so brave,
  And yet thou wouldst not love me.
    Greensleeves was all my joy, &c.

My men were clothed all in green,
  And they did ever wait on thee:
All this was gallant to be seen,
  And yet thou wouldst not love me.
    Greensleeves was all my joy, &c.

They set thee up, they took thee down,
  They served thee with humility;
Thy foot might not once touch the ground,
  And yet thou wouldst not love me.
    Greensleeves was all my joy, &c.

For every morning when thou rose,
  I sent thee dainties orderly,
To cheer thy stomach from all woes,
  And yet thou wouldst not love me.
    Greensleeves was all my joy, &c.

Thou couldst desire no earthly thing
  But still thou hadst it readily:
Thy music still to play and sing,
  And yet thou wouldst not love me.
    Greensleeves was all my joy, &c.

And who did pay for all this fear
  That thou didst spend when pleased thee?
Even I that am rejected here,
  And thou disdain'st to love me.
    Greensleeves was all my joy, &c.

Well, I will pray to God on high,
  That thou my constancy may'st see,
And that yet once before I die
  Thou wilt vouchsafe to love me.
    Greensleeves was all my joy, &c.

Greensleeves, now farewell! adieu!
  God I pray to prosper thee:
For I am still thy lover true --
  Come once again and love me.
    Greensleeves was all my joy,
      Greensleeves was my delight;
    Greensleeves was my heart of gold,
      And who but Lady Greensleeves.

Notes

I have heard that green sleeves betokened a prostitute, and that this song is about a young man who yearned for a woman he could not marry because of her occupation. Kelly Eberhard informs me of a contrary legend, that green sleeves betokened English royalty. (I wonder, in all seriousness, if green sleeves did not betoken a "queen," which means of course both the female member of the ruling family and a prostitute.)

The actual origin of this tune is unknown (some have credited it to Henry VIII!), but it became popular almost instantly after its registration. Shakespeare mentions it twice in "The Merry Wives of Windsor" (II.i.57 and V.v.18); Chappell lists many other mentions from before 1600. Ault notes that the title was registered to Jones (who would later print the _Handful of Pleasant Delights_ version) on Sept. 3, 1580 -- and, that, on the same day, another printer registered "The Lady Greenesleeve's Answer to Donkyn her friend," implying that the piece was already well enough known to draw knock-offs.

Whether the piece ever really took a place in the traditional repertoire is another matter. - RBW

The words perhaps [did] not [become traditional], but the tune certainly did, being found in various forms as a morris dance, a country dance ("Green Sleeves and Yellow Lace") and two carols ("What Child Is This," of course, and "Dame Get Up and Bake You Pies"). -PJS

Same tune

Cross references

Recordings

References

  1. Leather, p. 137, "Handkerchief Dance [Greensleeves]" (1 tune, with dance instructions but no text)
  2. Chappell/Wooldridge I, pp. 239-242, "Green Sleeves" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. Silber-FSWB, p. 140, "Greensleeves" (1 text)
  4. Fuld-WFM, p. 259, "Greensleeves"
  5. ADDITIONAL: Norman Ault, _Elizabethan Lyrics From the Original Texts_, pp. 86-89, "A New Courtly Sonnet of the Lady Greensleeves" (1 text)
  6. DT, GRNSLVS* GRNSLV3*
  7. ST ChWI239 (Full)
  8. BI, ChWI239