Act I

The Critically Edited Text of Wat Tyler




W. T. Sherwin's Introduction to the 1817 Edition
Wat Tyler at work within. A May-pole
before the Door.
CHEERFUL on this holiday, 1
Welcome we the merry May. 2
On ev'ry sunny hillock spread, 3
The pale primrose rears her head; 4
Rich with sweets the western gale 5
Sweeps along the cowslip'd dale. 6
Every bank with violets gay, 7
Smiles to welcome in the May. 8
The linnet from the budding grove, 9
Chirps her vernal song of love. 10
The copse resounds the throstle's notes, 11
On each wild gale sweet music floats; 12
And melody from every spray, 13
Welcomes in the merry May. 14
Cheerful on this holiday, 15
Welcome we the merry May. 16
During the Dance, Tyler lays down his
Hammer, and sits mournfully down before
his Door.
               [To him.
Why so sad, neighbour?—do not these gay sports, 17
This revelry of youth, recall the days 18
When we too mingled in the revelry; 19
And lightly tripping in the morris dance 20
Welcomed the merry month? 21
                                   Aye, we were young; 22
No cares had quell'd the hey-day of the blood: 23
We sported deftly in the April morning, 24
Nor mark'd the black clouds gathering o'er our noon; 25
Nor fear'd the storm of night. 26
                       Beshrew me, Tyler, 27
But my heart joys to see the imps so cheerful! 28
Young, hale, and happy, why should they destroy 29
These blessings by reflection? 30
                    Look ye, neighbour— 31
You have known me long. 32
                  Since we were boys together, 33
And play'd at barley-brake, and danc'd the morris:— 34
Some five-and-twenty years! 35
              Was not I young, 36
And hale and happy? 37
Cheerful as the best. 38
Have not I been a staid, hard-working man? 39
Up with the lark at labour—sober—honest— 40
Of an unblemish'd character? 41
                       Who doubts it, 42
There's never a man in Essex bears a better. 43
And shall not these, tho' young, and hale and happy, 44
Look on with sorrow to the future hour? 45
Shall not reflection poison all their pleasures? 46
When I—the honest, staid, hard-working 47
Tyler, Toil thro' the long course of the summer's day, 48
Still toiling, yet still poor! when with hard labour 49
Scarce can I furnish out my daily food— 50
And age comes on to steal away my strength, 51
And leave me poor and wretched! Why should this be? 52
My youth was regular—my labour constant— 53
I married an industrious, virtuous woman; 54
Nor while I toiled and sweated at the anvil, 55
Sat she neglectful of her spinning wheel.— 56
Hob—I have only six groats in the world, 57
And they must soon by law be taken from me. 58
Curse on these taxes—one succeeds another— 59
Our ministers—panders of a king's will— 60
Drain all our wealth away—waste it in revels— 61
And lure, or force away our boys, who should be 62
The props of our old age!—to fill their armies 63
And feed the crows of France! year follows year, 64
And still we madly prosecute the war;— 65
Draining our wealth—distressing our poor peasants— 66
Slaughtering our youths—and all to crown our chiefs 67
With Glory!—I detest the hell-sprung name. 68
What matters me who wears the crown of France? 69
Whether a Richard or a Charles possess it? 70
They reap the glory—they enjoy the spoil— 71
We pay—we bleed!—The sun would shine as cheerly 72
The rains of heaven as seasonably fall; 73
Tho' neither of these royal pests existed. 74
Nay—as for that, we poor men should fare better! 75
No legal robbers then should force away 76
The hard-earn'd wages of our honest toil. 77
The Parliament for ever cries more money, 78
The service of the state demands more money. 79
Just heaven! of what service is the state? 80
Oh! 'tis of vast importance! who should pay for 81
The luxuries and riots of the court? 82
Who should support the flaunting courtier's pride, 83
Pay for their midnight revels, their rich garments, 84
Did not the state enforce?—Think ye, my friend, 85
That I—a humble blacksmith, here at Deptford, 86
Would part with these six groats—earn'd by hard toil, 87
All that I have! To massacre the Frenchmen, 88
Murder as enemies men I never saw! 89
Did not the state compel me? 89
(Tax gatherers pass by)
There they go, privileg'd r———s!— 90
            (PIERS and ALICE advance to him. ) 90sd
Did we not dance it well to-day, my father? 91
You know I always lov'd these village sports, 92
Even from my infancy, and yet methinks 93
I never tript along the mead so gaily. 94
You know they chose me queen, and your friend Piers 95
Wreath'd me this cowslip garland for my head— 96
Is it not simple?—you are sad, my father! 97
You should have rested from your work to-day, 98
And given a few hours up to merriment— 99
But you are so serious! 100
                    Serious, my good girl! 101
I may well be so: when I look at thee 102
It makes me sad! thou art too fair a flower 103
To bear the wintry wind of poverty! 104
Yet I have often head you speak of riches 105
Even with contempt: they cannot purchase peace, 106
Or innocence; or virtue—sounder sleep 107
Waits on the weary plowman's lowly bed, 108
Than on the downy couch of luxury 109
Lulls the rich slave of pride and indolence. 110
I never wish for wealth! My arm is strong, 111
And I can purchase by it a coarse meal, 112
And hunger savours it. 113
                   Young man, thy mind 114
Has yet to bear the hard lesson of experience. 115
Thou art yet young, the blasting breath of want 116
Has not yet froze the current of thy blood. 117
Fare not the birds well, as from spray to spray 118
Blithsome they bound—yet find their simple food 119
Scattered abundantly? 120
No fancied boundaries of mine and thine 121
Restrain their wanderings: Nature gives enough 122
For all; but Man, with arrogant selfishness, 123
Proud of his heaps, hoards up superfluous stores 124
Robb'd from his weaker fellows, starves the poor, 125
Or gives to pity what he owes to justice! 126
So I have heard our good friend John Ball preach. 127
My father, wherefore was John Ball imprisoned? 128
Was he not charitable, good, and pious? 129
I have heard him say that all mankind are brethren, 130
And that like brethren they should love each other;— 131
Was not that doctrine pious? 132
               Rank sedition— 133
High treason, every syllable, my child! 134
The priests cry out on him for heresy, 135
The nobles all detest him as a rebel, 136
And this good man, this minister of Christ, 137
This man, the friend and brother of mankind, 138
Lingers in the dark dungeon!—my dear Alice, 139
Retire awhile. 140
           (Exit ALICE.)
                Piers, I would speak to thee 141
Even with a father's love! you are much with me, 142
And I believe do court my conversation; 143
Thou could'st not chuse thee forth a truer friend; 144
I would fain see thee happy, but I fear 145
Thy very virtues will destroy thy peace. 146
My daughter—she is young—not yet fifteen— 147
Piers, thou art generous, and thy youthful heart 148
Warm with affection; this close intimacy 149
Will ere long grow to love. 150
                        Suppose it so; 151
Were that an evil, Walter? She is mild 152
And cheerful, and industrious—now methinks 153
With such a partner life would be most happy! 154
Why would you warn me then of wretchedness? 155
Is there an evil that can harm our lot? 156
I have been told the virtuous must be happy, 157
And have believed it true; tell me, my friend, 158
What shall disturb the virtuous? 159
                       Poverty— 160
A bitter foe? 161
           Nay, you have often told me 162
That happiness does not consist in riches. 163
It is most true: but tell me, my dear boy, 164
Could'st thou be happy to behold thy wife 165
Pining with want?—the children of your loves 166
Clad in the squalid rags of wretchedness? 167
And when thy hard and unremitting toil 168
Had earn'd with pain a scanty recompense, 169
Could'st thou be patient when the law should rob thee, 170
And leave thee without bread and pennyless? 171
   It is a dreadful picture. 172
            'Tis a true one. 173
But yet methinks our sober industry 174
Might drive away the danger, 'tis but little 175
That I could wish—food for our frugal meals, 176
Raiment, however homely, and a bed 177
To shield us from the night. 178
                      Thy honest reason 179
Could wish no more: but were it not most wretched 180
To want the coarse food for the frugal meal? 181
And by the orders of your merciless lord, 182
If you by chance were guilty of being poor, 183
To be turned out adrift to the bleak world, 184
Unhoused, unfriended?—Piers, I have not been idle, 185
I never ate the bread of indolence— 186
Could Alice be more thrifty than her mother? 187
Yet but with one child, and that one, how good 188
Thou knowest, I scarcely can provide the wants 189
Of nature: look at these wolves of the law, 190
They come to drain me of my hard earn'd wages. 191
I have already paid the heavy tax 192
Laid on the wool that clothes me—on my leather, 193
On all the needful articles of life! 194
And now three groats (and I work'd hard to earn them) 195
The Parliament demands—and I must pay them, 196
Forsooth, for liberty to wear my head.— 197
            Enter Tax-gatherers.
Three groats a head for all your family. 198
Why is this money gathered?—'tis a hard tax 199
On the poor labourer!—It can never be 200
That government should thus distress the people. 201
Go to the rich for money—honest labour 202
Ought to enjoy its fruits. 203
                                                The state wants money. 204
War is expensive—'tis a glorious war, 205
A war of honour, and must be supported.— 206
Three groats a head. 207
                        There, three for my own head, 208
Three for my wife's!—what will the state tax next? 209
You have a daughter. 210
She is below the age—not yet fifteen. 211
You would evade the tax.— 212
              Sir Officer, 213
I have paid you fairly what the law demands. 214
(Alice and her Mother enter the Shop.   The Tax-gathers go to her. One of  them lays hold of her. She screams.    TYLER goes in.)
You say she's under age. 215
(ALICE screams again. TYLER knocks out the Tax-gatherer's Brains. His Companions fly.
A just revenge. 216
Most just indeed; but in the eye of the law 217
'Tis murder—and the murderer's lot is mine. 218
            (PIERS goes out.)
            (TYLER sits down mournfully. )
Fly, my dear father! let us leave this place 219
Before they raise pursuit. 220
                        Nay, nay, my child, 221
Flight would be useless—I have done my duty; 222
I have punish'd the brute insolence of lust, 223
And here will wait my doom. 224
                           Oh let us fly! 225
My husband, my dear husband! 226
             Quit but this place, 227
And we may yet be safe, and happy too. 228
It would be useless, Alice—'twould but lengthen 229
A wretched life in fear. 230
         (Cry without. )
Liberty! liberty! 231
           (Enter Mob , HOB CARTER, &c.)
(Cry ) Liberty! liberty!— No Poll tax!— No War! 232
We have broke our chains—we will arise in anger— 233
The mighty multitude shall trample down 234
The handful that oppress them. 235
         Have ye heard 236
So soon then of my murder? 237
                Of your vengeance. 237
Piers ran throughout the village—told the news— 238
Cried out, to arms!—arm, arm for Liberty! 239
For Liberty and Justice! 240
                          My good friends, 241
Heed well your danger, or be resolute; 242
Learn to laugh menaces and force to scorn, 243
Or leave me. I dare answer the bold deed— 244
Death must come once; return you to your homes, 245
Protect my wife and child, and on my grave 246
Write why I died; perhaps the time may come, 247
When honest Justice shall applaud the deed. 248
Nay, nay,—we are oppressed, and have too long 249
Knelt at our proud lords' feet—we have too long 250
Obey'd their orders—bow'd to their caprices— 251
Sweated for them the wearying summer's day, 252
Wasted for them the wages of our toil; 253
Fought for them, conquer'd for them, bled for them 254
Still to be trampled on and still despis'd; 255
But we have broke our chains. 256
               Piers is gone on 257
Thro' all the neighbouring villages, to spread 258
The glorious tidings. 259
                           He is hurried on 260
To Maidstone, to deliver good John Ball, 261
Our friend, our shepherd. 262
            (Mob increases.)
                              Friends and Countrymen, 263
Will ye then rise to save an honest man 264
From the fierce clutches of the bloody law? 265
Oh do not call to mind my private wrongs, 266
That the state drain'd my hard-earned pittance from me; 267
That, of his office proud, the foul Collector 268
Durst with lewd hand seize on my darling child, 269
Insult her maiden modesty, and force 270
A father's hand to vengeance; heed not this: 271
Think not, my countrymen, on private wrongs, 272
Remember what yourselves have long endured. 273
Think of the insults, wrongs, and contumelies, 274
Ye bear from your proud lords—that your hard toil 275
Manures their fertile fields—you plow the earth, 276
You sow the corn, you reap the ripen'd harvest,— 278
They riot on the produce!—That, like beasts, 279
They sell you with their land—claim all the fruits 280
Which the kindly earth produces as their own. 281
The privilege, forsooth, of noble birth! 282
On, on to Freedom; feel but your own strength, 283
Be but resolved, and these destructive tyrants 284
Shall shrink before your vengeance. 285
                            On to London— 286
The tidings fly before us—the court trembles— 287
Liberty!—Vengeance!—Justice! 288

Textual Notes

20  Morris dance:
A dance performed in ostentatious costumes, usually representing characters from the Robin Hood tradition such as Maid Marian and Friar Tuck. Hence, any mumming performance in which fantastic dancing is an important feature.

27  Beshrew:
An interjection meaning evil befall, mischief take, devil take, curse, hang!, etc.; often humorous or playful.
34  barley-brake (also spelled barley-break):
An old country game, usually played in a corn-field or stack-yard and somewhat resembling Prisoner's Bars, originally played by three couples. One, being left in a middle den called "hell," had to catch the others, who were allowed to separate or 'break' when hard-pressed and thus to change partners.

59  Curse on these taxes:
Parliament had raised considerable revenues from the poll tax of 1377; yet the graduated poll tax levied in 1379 raised less than half of the 50,000 pounds Parliament had hoped to obtain. They spent this money on Sir John Arundel's mission to aid Brittany; twenty-four of his ships were wrecked during a storm on the journey and Arundel himself perished (Oman, Political History 17-8). This debacle necessitated raising additional revenues, and Parliament authorized a disastrous third poll tax. At this point, over 250,000 pounds had been spent on the war with no accompanying military success.

70  Charles:
Charles VI, King of France from 1380 to 1422. Throughout his long reign he remained largely a figurehead, first because he was still a boy when he took the throne, and later because of his periodic fits of madness.

90   r———s!—:
Reads "ruffians" in the Cleave edition (London, 1835).

118  Fare not the birds well:
Invoking Matthew 6:26: "Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?"

124   hoards up superfluous stores:
Recalls Luke 12:17-18: "What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, this will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods." Likewise resembles Jesus's remarks in Matthew 6:19-21: "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal, / But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal, / For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

127  John Ball:
Sometime priest and leader of the Peasants' Revolt. Ball was excommunicated about 1366 for inflammatory sermons delivered at York and Colchester advocating a classless society, but he continued to preach in open marketplaces and elsewhere. After 1376 he was often imprisoned, and at the outbreak of the rebellion (June 1381) he was rescued from Maidstone prison by Kentish rebels, whom he accompanied to London. There he incited a crowd at Blackheath with the popular text "When Adam dalf [dug] and Eve span [spun], / Who was then a gentleman?" An account in the Anonimalle Chronicle by a witness of the London events states that he urged the killing of lords and prelates. After the rebellion collapsed, Ball was tried and hanged at St. Albans. Knowledge of his career comes almost entirely from prejudiced chroniclers. Jean Froissart calls him the mad priest of Kent. Ball is the subject of William Morris' romance The Dream of John Ball.

134  High treason:
Violation by a subject of his allegiance to his sovereign or to the state. Defined 1350-1 by Act 25 Edward III, Stat. 5, c. 2, as compassing or imagining the king's death, or that of his wife or eldest son, violating the wife of the king or of the heir apparent, or the king's eldest daughter being unmarried, levying war in the king's dominions, adhering to the king's enemies in his dominions, or aiding them in or out of the realm, or killing the chancellor or the judges in the execution of their offices. In 1795 the offence was extended to actual or contemplated use of force to make the king change his counsels, or to intimidate either or both of the Houses of Parliament. As in the judgment and sentencing scene of John Ball in Act III, the procedure in trials for treason was heavily weighted against the accused, the punishment being "hanging, disembowelling while still alive, beheading, quartering, the confiscation of all his possessions and the disinheritance of his heirs" (Myers 353). As a result of the Treason Act (1945), the procedure for murder was applied to treason cases.

261  Maidstone:
The archbishop's prison at Maidstone, Kent.

Collation of Witnesses

Line 4    

rears ] lifts   Cleave 1835     

Line 16 sd  

his Door. ] the door.  Cleave 1835

[To him ]  Works 1860


Line 17

HOB CARTER  ] Enter HOB CARTER. (To TYLER.)  Cleave 1835


Line 21  

Aye, we ]  e   Hone 1817


Line 90  

r——s!—  ]   ruffians!  Works 1860, Cleave 1835


Line 90 sd

and  ]   &  Works 1860  


Line 152

Walter?  ]   Tyler   Mendam 1850  


Line 231-232

(Cry without.)/ Liberty! liberty!/(Enter Mob, HOB CARTER, &c.)/ (Cry) Liberty! liberty!— No Poll tax!—No War!   ]    [Cry without, "Liberty! Liberty!" Enter Mob, /Hob Carter, &c., crying, "Liberty! liberty! / No poll-tax! no war!"]   Works 1860

(Cry without. Liberty, Liberty!)/Enter HOB CARTER, Mob, &c. (Crying—Liberty! Liberty!—/No Poll-Tax! No War!)    Cleave 1835


Line 288 sd

END OF THE FIRST ACT  ]   Works 1860, Mendam 1850


Go to Act I - Act II - Act III