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The figure of Mother Goose is an imaginary author of a collection of fairy tales and nursery rhymes which are often published as Mother Goose Rhymes. As a character, she appears in one "nursery rhyme". A Christmas pantomime called Mother Goose is often performed in the United Kingdom. The so-called "Mother Goose" rhymes and stories have formed the basis for many classic British pantomimes. Mother Goose is generally depicted in literature and book illustration as an elderly country woman in a tall hat and shawl, a costume identical to the peasant costume worn in Wales in the early 20th century, but is sometimes depicted as a goose (usually wearing a bonnet).
Mother Goose is the name given to an archetypal country woman. English readers were familiar with Mother Hubbard, already a stock figure when Edmund Spenser published his satire "Mother Hubbard's tale", 1590; with the superstitious advice on getting a husband or a wife of "Mother Bunch", who was credited with the fairy stories of Madame d'Aulnoy when they first appeared in English. Mother Goose is credited with the Mother Goose stories and rhymes; yet no specific writer has ever been identified with such a name. An early mention appears in an aside in a versified chronicle of weekly happenings that appeared regularly for several years, Jean Loret's La Muse Historique, collected in 1650. His remark, ...comme un conte de la Mère Oye ("...like a Mother Goose story") shows that the term was already familiar.
Other references to "mère l'oye" or "mère oye" occur in earlier French writings. A compilation of satires published in 1626 mentions "un conte d'Urgande et de ma mère l'Oye," (Les satyres de Saint-Regnier) Guy de la Brosse, in his 1628 work "De la nature, vertu et utilite de plantes", mentions "contes de la mère oye." And in Pieces Curieuses en suite de celles du Sieur de St. Germain, a piece written in 1638 reads "... tout ce que je fais imprimer dans mes Gazettes passe desormais pour des contes de ma mère l'oye, et des fables du moisne Bourry pour amuser le peuple... ." A side note reads: "Dont l'on fait peur aux petits enfans a Paris."
In spite of evidence to the contrary, there are doubtful reports, familiar to tourists to Boston, Massachusetts, that the original Mother Goose was a Bostonian wife of an Isaac Goose, either named Elizabeth Foster Goose (1665–1758) or Mary Goose (d. 1690, age 42) who is interred at the Granary Burying Ground on Tremont Street. According to Eleanor Early, a Boston travel and history writer of the 1930s and '40s, the original Mother Goose was a real person who lived in Boston in the 1660s. She was reportedly the second wife of Isaac Goose (alternatively named Vergoose or Vertigoose), who brought to the marriage six children of her own to add to Isaac's ten. After Isaac died, Elizabeth went to live with her eldest daughter, who had married Thomas Fleet, a publisher who lived on Pudding Lane (now Devonshire Street). According to Early, "Mother Goose" used to sing songs and ditties to her grandchildren all day, and other children swarmed to hear them. Finally, her son-in-law gathered her jingles together and printed them.
In The Real Personages of Mother Goose (1930), Katherine Elwes Thomas submits that the image and name "Mother Goose", or "Mère l'Oye", may be based upon ancient legends of the wife of King Robert II of France, Berthe la fileuse ("Bertha the Spinner") or Berthe pied d'oie ("Goose-Foot Bertha" ), called in the Midi the reine Pedauque who, according to Thomas, is often referred in French legends as spinning incredible tales that enraptured children. The authority on the Mother Goose tradition, Iona Opie, does not give any credence to either the Elwes Thomas or the Boston suppositions.
The initiator of the literary fairy tale genre, Charles Perrault, published in 1695 under the name of his son a collection of fairy tales Histoires ou contes du temps passés, avec des moralités, which grew better known under its subtitle, Contes de ma mère l'Oye or Tales of My Mother Goose. Perrault's publication marks the first authenticated starting-point for Mother Goose stories.
In 1729 there appeared an English translation of Perrault's collection, Robert Samber's Histories or Tales of Past Times, Told by Mother Goose (London, 1729), which introduced Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, Puss in Boots, Cinderella and other Perrault tales to English-speaking audiences. These were fairy tales.
John Newbery was once believed to have published a compilation of English nursery rhymes entitled Mother Goose's Melody, or, Sonnets for the cradle some time in the 1760s. However, this is now thought to be an error, and the first edition was probably published in 1780 or 1781 by Thomas Carnan, one of Newbery's successors. This edition was registered with the Stationers' Company in 1780. However, no copy has been traced, and the earliest surviving edition is dated 1784. The name "Mother Goose" has been associated, in the English-speaking world, with children's poetry ever since.
In music, Maurice Ravel wrote Ma mère l'oye, a suite for the piano, which he then orchestrated for a ballet. There is also a song called "Mother Goose" by progressive rock band Jethro Tull from their 1971 Aqualung album. The song seems to be unrelated to the figure of Mother Goose since she is only the first of many surreal images that the narrator encounters and describes through the lyrics.
In addition to being the purported author of nursery rhymes, Mother Goose is herself the title character of one such rhyme:
The transition from a shadowy generic figure to one with such concrete actions was effected at a pantomime Harlequin and Mother Goose: or, The Golden Egg in 1806-07, Ryoji Tsurumi has shown; The pantomime was first performed at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, 29 December, and many times repeated in the new year. Harlequin and Mother Goose: or, The Golden Egg, starring the famous clown Joseph Grimaldi, was written by Thomas Dibdin, who invented the actions suitable for a Mother Goose brought to the stage, and recreated her as a witch-figure, Tsurumi notes: in the first scene the stage directions show her raising a storm and, for the very first time, flying a gander. The magical Mother Goose transformed the old miser into Pantaloon of the commedia dell'arte and the British pantomime tradition, and the young lovers Colin and Colinette, into Harlequin and Columbine. Played en travesti by Samuel Simmons— a pantomime tradition that survives today— she also raises a ghost in a macabre churchyard scene.
The classic Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes revamped with a distinct motif by modern authors.
Regionally flavored Mother Geese.
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