"Back And Side Go Bare, Go Bare"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Gammer Gurton's Needle, which dates from about 1553, is one of the first regular English comedies. In five acts, it follows the classic Latin pattern; but it is completely English in all other respects. The author, a "Mr. S.," has been identified with William Stevenson, M.A. of Christ's College, Cambridge, where the play was originally performed. The setting is an English village; the characters are likeable and morally upright, though their speech is earthy enough to have a certain shock value even today. The plot is complex. Gammer Gurton has lost her precious needle, an article of great value upon which many villagers depend. She was putting a patch on the breeches of Hodge, her servant (the entire seat had fallen out of them), when she saw Gib, her cat, in the milk pan. Throwing down her mending, she chased Gib out of the house. When she returned, the needle had vanished. Gammer, Tib her maid, and Hodge are equally upset when the play opens. Hodge is recounting the tragedy to Diccon, an eccentric who has been released from Bethlehem Hospital (Bedlam) and who now wanders harmlessly around the village. Diccon proceeds to the tavern where he hopes to beg some ale, while Hodge goes home to help in the search. The fire is out, and he sifts through the ashes; Gib has taken refuge at the back of the hearth, and Hodge sees her eyes glowing. She dashes up the stairs; Hodge, thinking the glowing eyes are sparks in her fur and fearing she will fire the thatched roof, charges up the stairway in pursuit. He is rewarded with two cracked shins. (The needle will not be found until the last act, when Hodge puts on his breeches and sits down on it). Diccon, meanwhile, arrives at the tavern in time to hear a robust drinking song; it is rendered by Dame Chat, tavern keeper and friend of Gammer Gurton:

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 cannot eat but little meat,
My stomach is not good;
But sure I think that I can drink
With him that wears a hood.
Though I go bare, take ye no care,
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, . . .
. . .
Now let them drink till they nod and wink,
Even as good fellows should do;
They shall not miss to have the bliss
Good ale doth bring men to;
And all pour souls that have scoured bowls,
Or have them lustly trolled,
God save the lives of them and their wives,
Whether they be young or old.
Back and side go bare, go bare, . . .