[Renascence Editions] 

The Lady of May

Sir Philip Sidney

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Her most Excellent Maiestie

one apparrelled like an honest mans wife of the countrey, where crying out
for iustice, and desiring all the Lords and Gentlemen to speake a
good word for her, she was brought to the presence of her
Maiestie to whom vpon her knees she offered
a supplication, and vsed this speech.

The Suitor

MOst faire Lady, for as for other your titles of state statelier persons shall giue you, and thus much mine owne eies are witnesses of, take here the complaint of me poore wretch, as deeply plunged in miserie, as I wish you to the highest point of happinesse.

One onely daughter I have, in whom I had placed all the hop[e]s of my good hap, so well had she with her good parts recompenced my paine of bearing her, and care of bringing her vp: but now alas that shee is come to the time I should reape my full comfort of her, so is shee troubled with that notable matter, which wee in the countrey call matrimonie, as I cannot chuse but feare the losse of her wits, at least of her honesty. Other women thinke they may bee vnhappily combred with one master husband, my poore daughter is oppressed with two, both louing her, both equally liked of her, both striuing to deserue her. But now lastly (as this iealousie forsooth is a vile matter) each haue brought their pertakers with them, and are at this present, (without your presence redresse it) in some bloudy controuersie now sweete Lady helpe, your owne way guides you to the place where they incomberd her: I dare stay here no longer, for our men say in the countrey, the sight of you is infectious.

And with that she went away a good pace, leauing the supplication with her Maiestie, which very formerly contained this.


        Most gracious Soueraigne,
To one whose state is raised over all,
Whose face doth oft, the bravest sort enchant,
Whose mind is such, as wisest minds appall,
Who in one selfe these diuerse gifts can plant;
    How dare I wretch seeke there my woes to rest,
    Where eares be burnt, eyes dazled, harts opprest?

Your State is great, your greatnesse is our shield,
Your face hurts oft, but still it doth delight,
Your mind is wise, your wisdome makes you mild,
Such planted gifts enrich even beggers sight:
    So dare I wretch my bashfull feare subdue,
    And feede mine eares, mine eyes, my hart in you.

Herewith the woman-suiter being gone, there was heard in the woods a confused noise & forth-with there came out six sheapheards with as many fosters hailing and pulling, to whether side they should draw the Ladie of May, who seemed to encline neither to the one or the other side. Among them was maister Rombus a schoolemaster of a village thereby, who being fully perswaded of his owne learned wisedome, came thither, with his authoritie to part their fray; where for aunswer he receiued many vnlearned blowes. But the Queene comming to the place where she was seene of them, though they knew not her estate, yet something there was which made them startle aside and gaze vpon her till old father Lalus stepped forth (one of the substantiallest shepheards) and making a legge or two, said these few words.

May it please your benignity to giue a little superfluous intelligence to that which with the opening of my mouth, my tongue and teeth shall deliuer unto you. So it is right worshipfull audience, that a certaine she creature, which we shepheards call a woman, of a minsicall countenance, but by my white Lambe not three quarters so beautious as your selfe, hath disanulled the braine pan of two of our featioust yong men. And wil you wot how? by my mother Kits soule, with a certain fransical maladie they call Loue, when I was a yong man they called it flat folly. But here is a substantiall schoole-master can better disnounce the whole foundation of the matter, although in sooth for all his loquence our young men were nothing dutious to his clarkeship; Come on, Come on maister schoole-maister, be not so bashlesse we say, that the fairest are ever the gentlest: tell the whole case, for you can much better vent the points of it then I.

Then came forward Maister Rombus, and with many speciall graces
made this learned oration.

Now the thunder-thumping Ioue transfund his dotes into your excellent formosity which haue with your resplendent beames thus segregated the enmitie of these rurall animals I am, Potentissima Domina, a schoole maister, that is to say, a Pedagogue, one not a little versed in the disciplinating of the iuuentall frie wherein (to my laud I say it) I vse such geometricall proportion, as neither wanted mansuetude nor correction, for so it is described.

Parcare Subiectos & debellare superbos.

Yet hath not the pulchritude of my vertues protected me from the contaminating hands of these plebians; for comming, solumm[o]do to haue parted their sanguinolent fray, they yeelded me no more reuerence, then if I had bin some Pecorius Asinus I, euen I, that am, who am I? Dixi verbus sapiento satum est. But what sayd that Troian Aeneas, when he soiorned in the surging sulkes of the sandiferous seas, Haec olim memonasse iuuebit. Well well ad popositos reuertebo the puritie of the veritie is, that a certaine Pulchra puella porfecto elected and constituted by the integrated determination of all this topographicall region, as the soueraine Lady of this Dame Maias month, hath bene quodammodo hunted, as you would say, pursued by two, a brace, a couple, a cast of yong men, to whom the crafty coward Cupid had inquam deliuered his dire-dolorous dart.

But here the May Lady interrupted his speech saying to him:

Away away you tedious foole, your eyes are not worthy to looke to yonder Princely sight, much lesse your foolish tongue to trouble her wise eares.

At which Maister Rombus in a great chafe cried out:

O Tempori, O Moribus! in profession a childe, in dignitie a woman, in years a Lady, in caet[e]ris a maid, should thus turpifie the reputation of my doctrine, with the superscription of a foole, O Tempori, O Moribus!

But here againe the May Ladie saying to him,

Leaue off good Latine foole, and let me satisfie the long desire I haue had to feede mine eyes with the only sight this age hath graunted to the world.

The poore scholem after went his way backe, and the Ladie kneeling
downe said in this manner

Do not thinke (sweete and gallant Lady) that I do abase my selfe thus much vnto you because of your gay apparell, for what is so braue as the naturall beautie of the flowers, nor because a certaine Gentleman hereby seekes to do you all the honour he can in his house; that is not the matter, he is but our neighbour, and these be our owne groues, nor yet because of your great estate, since no estate can be compared to be the Lady of the whole moneth of May as I am. So that since both this place and this time are my seruants, you may be sure I wold look for reuerence at your hands, if I did not see something in your face which makes me yeeld to you; the troth is, you excell me in that wherein I desire most to excell and that makes me giue this homage vnto you, as the beautifullest Lady these woods haue euer receiued. But now as old father Lalus directed me, I wil tel you my fortune, that you may be iudge of my mishaps and others worthines. Indeed so it is, that I am a faire wench or else I am decieued, and therefore by the consent of all our neighbours haue bene chosen for the absolute Lady of this mery moneth, with mee haue bene (alas I a ashamed to tell it) two yong men, the one a forrester named Therion, the other Espilus a shepheard very long euen in loue forsooth, I like them both, and loue neither, Espilus is the richer, but Therion the liuelier: Therion doth me many pleasures, as stealing me venison out of these forrests, and manie other such like prettie and pretier seruices, but with all he growes to such rages, that sometimes he strikes me, sometimes he rails at me. This shepheard Espilus of a mild disposition, as his fortune hath not beene to do me great seruice, so hath he neuer done me any wrong, but feeding his sheepe, sitting under some sweet bush, sometimes they say he recordes my name in dolefull verses. Now the question I am to aske you faire Lady, is, whether the many deserts and many faults of Therion, or the very small deserts and no faults of Espilus be to be preferred. But before you giue your iudgment (most excellent Lady) you shall heare what each of them can say for them selues in their rurall songs.

Therevpon Therion chalenged Espilus to sing with him,
speaking these six verses:

Come Espilus, come now declare thy skill,
Shew how thou canst deserue so braue desire,
Warme well thy wits, if thou wilt win her will,
For water cold did neuer promise fire:
    Great sure is she, on whom our hopes doe liue,
    Greater is she who must the iudgement giue.

But Espilus as if hee had beene inspired with the Muses, began forthwith to sing, whereto his fellow shepheardes set in with their recorders, which they bare in their bags like pipes, and so of Therions side did the foresters, with the cornets they wore about their neckes like hunting hornes in baudrikes.


Tune up my voice, a higher note I yeeld,
To high conceipts the song must needs be high,
More high then stars, more firme then flintie field
Are all my thoughts, in which I live or dye:
    Sweet soule, to whom I vowed I am a slaue,
    Let not wild woods so great a treasure haue.


The highest note comes oft from basest mind,
As shallow brooks do yeeld the greatest sound,
Seeke other thoughts thy life or death to find;
Thy stars be fal'n plowed in thy flinty ground:
    Sweet soule let not a wretch that serueth sheep
    Among his flocke so sweet a treasure keepe.


Two thousand sheep I have as white as milke,
Though not so white as is thy louely face,
The pasture rich, the wooll as soft as silke,
All this I giue, let me possesse thy grace,
    But still take heed least thou thy selfe submit
    To one that hath no wealth, and wants his wit.


Two thousand Deere in wildest woods I have,
Them can I take, but you I cannot hold:
He is not poore who can his freedome saue,
Bound but to you no wealth but you I would:
    But take this Beast, if beasts you feare to misse,
    For of his beasts the greatest beast he is.

Espilus kneeling to the Queene.

Iudge you to whom al beauties force is lent.


Iudge you of Loue, to whom al loue is bent.

But as they waited for the iugdment her Maiestie should giue of their deserts, the shepeheards and foresters grew to a great contention whether of their fellowes had sung better, and so whether the estate of shepheards or foresters were the more worshipfull. The speakers were Dorcas an olde shepeheard, and Rixus a young foster, betweene whom the schoole-maister Rombus came in as moderator.

Dorcas the shepheard.

Now all the blessings of mine old grandam (silly Espilus) light vpon thy shoulders for this honicombe singing of thine; now of mine honestie all the bels in the town could not have sung better, if the proud heart of the harlotrie ly not downe to thee now, the sheepes rot catch her, to teach her that a faire woman hath not her fairenesse to let it grow rustish.

Rixus the foster.

O Midas why art thou not aliue now to lend thine eares to this drivle, by the precious bones of a hunts-man, he knowes not the bleaying of a calfe from the song of a nightingale, but if yonder great Gentlewoman be as wise as she is faire, Therion thou shalt haue the prize, and thou old Dorcas with young maister Espilus shall remaine tame fooles, as you be.

Dorcas. And with cap and knee be it spoken, is it your pleasure neighbour Rixus to be a wild foole?

Rixus. Rather than a sheepish dolt.

Dorcas. It is much refreshing to my bowels, you haue made your choice, for my share I will bestow your leauings vpon one of your fellowes.

Rixus. And art thou not ashamed old foole, to liken Espilus a shepheard to Therion of the noble vocation of hunts-men, in the presence of such a one as euen with her eye onely can giue the cruell punishment?

Dorcas. Hold thy peace, I will neither meddle with her, nor her eyes, they sayne in our towne they are dangerous both, neither will I liken Therion to my boy Espilus, since one is a theeuish proller, and the other is as quiet as a lambe that new came from sucking.

Rombus the schoole-maister.

Heu Ehem, hei, Insipidum, Inscitium vulgorum & populorum. Why you brute Nebulons have you had my Corpusculum so long among you, and cannot yet tell how to edefie an argument? Attend and throw your eares to mee, for I am grauitated with child, till I haue endoctrinated your plumbeous cerebrosities. First you must divisionate your point, quasi you should cut a cheese into two particles, for thus must I vniforme my speech to your obtuse conceptions; for Prius dividendum oratio antequam definiendum exemplum gratia, either Therion must conquere this Dame Maias Nimphe, or Espilus must ouerthrow her, and that secundum their dignitie, which must also be subdiuisionated into three equal species, either according to the penetrancie of their singing, or the melioritie of their functions, or lastly the superancy of their merits De singing satis. Nunc are you to argumentate of the qualifying of their estate first, and then whether hath more infernally, I mean more deepely deserued.

Dorcas. O poore Dorcas, poore Dorcas, that I was not set in my young dayes to schoole, that I might haue purchased the vnderstanding of master Rombus misterious speeches. But yet thus much I conceiue of them, that I must euen giue vp what my conscience doth find in the behalfe of shepeheards. O sweet hony miken Lommes, and is there any so flintie a heart, that can find about him to speak against them that haue the charge of such good soules as you be, among whom there is no enuy, and all obedience, where it is lawfull for a man to be good if he list, and hath no outward cause to withdraw him from it, where the eye may be busied in considering the works of nature, and the heart quietly reioyced in the honest vsing them. If [con]templation as Clarks say, be the most excellent, which is so fit a life for Templars as this is, neither subiect to violent oppression, nor servile flatterie, how many Courtiers thinke you I haue heard vnder our field in bushes make their wofull complaints, some of the greatnesse of their Mistresse estate, which dazled their eies and yet burned their harts some of the extremitie of her beauty mixed with extreame crueltie, some of her too much wit, which made all their loving labours folly. O how often haue I heard one name sounded in many mouthes, making our vales witnesses of their doleful agonies! So that with long lost labour finding their thoughts bare no other wooll but dispaire of young Courtiers they grew old shepheards. Well sweet Lams I will ende with you as I began, hee that can open his mouth against such innocent soules, let him be hated as much as a filthy fox, let the tast of him be worse then musty cheese, the sound of him more dredfull then the howling of a wolfe, his sight more odible then a toade in ones parreage.

Rixus. Your life indeede hath some goodnesse.

Rombus the schoole-master.

O tace, tace, or the fat will be ignified, first let me dilucidate the very intrinsicall maribone of the matter. He doth vse a certaine rhetoricall inuasion into the point, as if indeed he had conference with his Lams, but the troth is, he doth equitate you in the meane time master Rixus, for thus he saith, that sheepe are good, ergo the shepheard is good, an Enthymeme a loco contingentibus, as my finger and my thumbs are contingentis. againe he saith, who liueth well is likewise good, but shepheards live well Ergo they are good; a Sillogisme in Darius king of Persia a Coniugatis, as you would say, a man coupled to his wife, two bodies but one soule: but do you but acquiescate to my exhortation, and you shall extinguish him. Tell him his major is a knaue, his minor is a foole, and his conclusion both. Et ecce homo blancatus quasi lilium.

Rixus. I was saying the shepheards life had some goodnesse in it, because it borrowed that quiet part, doth both strengthen the bodie, and raise vp the mind with this gallant sort of actiuitie. O sweet contentation to see the long life of the hurtlesse trees to see how in straight growing vp, though neuer so high they hinder not their fellowes, they only enuiously trouble, which are crookedly bent. What life is to be compared to ours where the very growing things are ensamples of goodnesse? wee haue no hopes, but we may quickly go about them, & going about them, we soone obtaine them; not like those that haue long followed one (in troth) most excellent chace, do now at length perceiue she could neuer be taken: but that if she stayed at any time neare the pursuers, it was never meant to tary with them, but onely to take breath to flie further from them. He therefore that doubts that our life doth not far excell all others, let him also doubt that the well deseruing and painfull Therion is not to be preferred before the idle Espilus, which euen as much to say, as that the Roes are not swifter then sheepe, nor the Stags more goodly than Gotes.

Rombus. Bene bene, nunc de questione prepositus, that is as much as to say, as well well, now of the proposed question, that was whether the many great seruices and many great faults of Therion, or the few smal seruices and no faults of Espilus, be to be preferred, incepted or accepted the former.

The May Lady.

No no, your ordinarie braines shall not deale in that matter, I haue alreadie submitted it to one, whose sweet spirit hath passed through greater difficulties, neither will I that your blockheads lie in her way.

Therefore O Ladie whorthie to see the accomplishment of your desires, since al your desires be most worthy of you, vouchsafe [our] eares such happinesse, & me that particular fauor as that you will iudge whether of [these] two be more worthy of me, or whether I be worthy of them: This I will say[, that in] iudging me, you iudge more than me in it.

This being said, it pleased her Maiesty to iudge that Espilus did the better deserue her: but what words, what reasons she vsed for it, this paper, which carieth so base names; is not worthy to containe. Sufficeth it, that vpon the iudgement giuen, the shepheards and forresters made a full consort of their cornets and recorders, and then did Espilus sing this song, tending to the greatnesse of his owne ioy, and yet to the comfort of the other side, since they were ouerthrowne by a most worthie aduersarie. The song contained two short tales, and thus it was.

Siluanus long in love, and long in vaine,
At length obtained the point of his desire,
When being askt, now that he did obtaine
His wished weale, what more he could require:
    Nothing sayd he, for most I ioy in this,
    That Goddesse mine, my blessed being sees.

When wanton Pan decieu'd with Lions skin,
Came to the bed where wound for kisse he got,
To wo and shame the wretch did enter in,
Till this he tooke for comfort of his lot,
    Poore Pan (he sayd) although thou beaten be,
    It is no shame, since Hercules was he.

Thus ioifully in chosen tunes reioice,
That such a one is witnesse of my hart,
Whose cleerest eyes I blisse, and sweetest voice,
That see my good, and iudgeth my desert:
    Thus wofully I in wo this salue do find,
    My foule mishap came yet from fairest mind.

The musicke fully ended, the May Lady tooke her leave in this sort.

Lady your selfe, for other titles do rather diminish then add vnto you. I and my
little company must now leaue you. I should doo you wrong to beseech
you to take our follies well since your bountie is such, as to pardon
greater faults. Therefore I will wish you good night, praying
to God according to the title I possesse, that as hitherto it
hath excellently done, so hence forward the
flourishing of May, may long remaine in
you and with you.

F I N I S.

This edition was transcribed, with an introduction, notes, and bibliography, by R.S. Bear at the University of Oregon, January 1992. Converted to HTML, June 1996. Frames added October 1996.