Mother Goose

Mother Goose
A page from a late 17th century handwritten and illustrated version of Charles Perrault's Contes de ma mère l'Oye, depicting Puss in Boots

The familiar figure of Mother Goose is an imaginary author of a collection of fairy tales and nursery rhymes[1] which are often published as Mother Goose Rhymes. As a character, she appears in one "nursery rhyme".[2] 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.[3] 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.[4] His remark, ...comme un conte de la Mère Oye (" 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."

Mary Goose's gravestone in Granary Burying Ground is shown to tourists in Boston, Massachusetts

In spite of evidence to the contrary,[5] 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.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9]

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.

Perrault's "Tales of my Mother Goose"

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),[10] which introduced "Sleeping Beauty", "Little Red Riding Hood", "Puss in Boots", "Cinderella" and other Perrault tales to English-speaking audiences. These were fairy tales.

The first public appearance of the Mother Goose stories in the New World was in Worcester, Massachusetts, where printer Isaiah Thomas reprinted Samber's volume under the same title, in 1786.[11]

Mother Goose as nursery rhymes

John Newbery published a compilation of English rhymes, Mother Goose's Melody, or, Sonnets for the Cradl 1791 edition of Mother Goose's Melody (on-line) which switched the focus from fairy tales to nursery rhymes, and in English this was until recently the primary connotation for Mother Goose.

A book of poems for children entitled Mother Goose's Melody was published in England in 1781, and the name "Mother Goose" has been associated with children's poetry ever since.[12]

In 1837, John Bellenden Ker Gawler published a book (with a 2nd-volume sequel in 1840) deriving the origin of the Mother Goose rhymes from Flemish ('Low Dutch') puns.[13]

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.

"Old Mother Goose"

Blanche Fisher Wright's cover artwork for the Rand McNally 1916 book The Real Mother Goose

In addition to being the purported authoress of nursery rhymes, Mother Goose is herself the title character of one such rhyme:

Old Mother Goose,
When she wanted to wander,
Would ride through the air
On a very fine gander.
Jack's mother came in,
And caught the goose soon,
And mounting its back,
Flew up to the moon.[14]


Dan Leno as Mother Goose

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;[15] 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 Columbine and "Clown". Played en travesti by Samuel Simmons[16]— a pantomime tradition that survives today— she also raises a ghost in a macabre churchyard scene.

Other examples

man wearing crown has stick in one hand and nervous lad in the other
The King of Hearts, from "The Queen of Hearts" poem for an edition of Mother Goose published 1901. Illustration by William Wallace Denslow.
  • Books by L. Frank Baum and illustrator W.W. Denslow in the late 1890s featured Mother Goose and Father Goose.
  • Tales of Brother Goose by Brett Nicholas Moore, a book of short stories published in 2006, satirizes Mother Goose stories with modern dialogue and cynical humor.

List of Adaptations of Mother Goose

The classic Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes revamped with a distinct motif by modern authors.

  • Mother Goose in Prose by L. Frank Baum
  • "Mother Goose and her Fabulous Puppet Friends" by Diane Ligon
  • The Space Child's Mother Goose by Frederick Winsor: Mother Goose for scientific children.
  • eNursery Rhymes by Mother Mouse: Mother Goose in the computer nursery.
  • Nursery Rhymes Old and New: Mother Goose meets Mother Mouse face to face.
  • Mother Goose Tells the Truth About Middle Age by Sydney Altman: Mother Goose for baby boomers.
  • New Adventures Of Mother Goose by Bruce Lansky: Mother Goose with the violence abridged.
  • Christian Mother Goose by Marjorie Ainsborough Decker: Mother Goose gets religion.
  • The Inner City Mother Goose by Eve Merriam: Urban Mother Goose.
  • Black Mother Goose Book by Elizabeth Murphy Oliver: Ethnic Mother Goose.
  • Mother Goosed - Brighton Gay Panto, by the Pure Corn Company 2010.

Regionally flavored Mother Geese.

  • The Alaska Mother Goose: North Country Nursery Rhymes by Shelley Gill
  • An Appalachian Mother Goose by James Still
  • Tutu Nene: The Hawaiian Mother Goose Rhymes by Debra Ryll
  • Texas Mother Goose by David Davis
  • Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes Texas Style by Vicki Nichols
  • Deep in the Desert by Rhonda Lucas Donald, illustrated by Sherry Neidigh

See also


  1. ^ Macmillan Dictionary for Students Macmillan, Pan Ltd. (1981), page 663. Retrieved 2010-7-15.
  2. ^ Margaret Lima Norgaard, "Mother Goose", Encyclopedia Americana 1987; see, for instance, Peter and Iona Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (1951) 1989.
  3. ^ Ryoji Tsurumi, "The Development of Mother Goose in Britain in the Nineteenth Century" Folklore 101.1 (1990:28-35) p. 330 instances these, as well as the "Mother Carey" of sailor lore— "Mother Carey's Chicken" being the European Storm-petrel— and the Tudor period prophetess "Mother Shipton".
  4. ^ Collected editions were published in 1650, 1660 and 1665; the 1650 reference to "ma mère l"Oye" was noted by William Bracy in Encyclopedia Americana, s.v. "Mother Goose" 1965:512), according to Syed Mohammed Sahed, "a Common nomenclature for traditional rhymes", Asian Folklore Studies, 54 (1995:307-14).
  5. ^ "Mother Goose; Longevity of the Boston Myth— The Facts of History in this Matter, The New York Times, 4 February 1899 (on-line text).
  6. ^ Listed as "Elizabeth" but the grave marker is distinctly inscribed "Mary Goose"
  7. ^ Eleanor Early's material was drawn from The New York Times "Mother Goose", 20 October 1886 (on-line): compare gravestone date.
  8. ^ Wilson, Susan. Literary Trail of Greater Boston. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000: 23. ISBN 0-618-05013-2
  9. ^ Reader's Digest April 1939:28.
  10. ^ Reprinted, Garland Publishing Co., 1977.
  11. ^ Charles Francis Potter, "Mother Goose", Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legends II (1950), p. 751f.
  12. ^ Driscoll, Michael; Meredith Hamiltion, Marie Coons (May 2003). A Child's Introduction Poetry. 151 West 19th Street New York, NY 10011: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers. pp. 10. ISBN 1-57912-282-5. 
  13. ^ Shilling, Jane (20 May 2005). "?". The Sunday Times (London). Retrieved 26 September 2010. 
  14. ^ I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), pp. 88-90.
  15. ^ Tsurumi 1990:28-35.
  16. ^ Tsurumi (1990:30) notes that Simmon's "Mother Goose" was memorialised at the time in a popular engraving.

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Mother Goose — n. The supposed author of a book of nursery rhymes first published as Mother Goose s Melodies, and usually called simply Mother Goose. The first English edition is said to have been printed in 1719 in London. The actual persons who composed the… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Mother Goose — puede referirse a: Mother Goose es nombre en ingles de Mamá Oca . Mother Goose es el título de una canción en el álbum Aqualung de la banda de rock progresivo Jethro Tull. Mother Goose también es el sobrenombre de un personaje en la película Mad… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Mother Goose — probably a translation of mid 17c. Fr. contes de ma mère l oye, which meant fairy tales. The phrase appeared on the frontispiece of Charles Perrault s 1697 collection of eight fairy tales ( Contes du Temps Passé ), which was translated in English …   Etymology dictionary

  • Mother Goose — AmE the imaginary writer of a book of ↑nursery rhymes (=old songs or poems for young children) , or the nursery rhymes themselves ▪ If you re good I ll read you some Mother Goose before you go to bed …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • Mother Goose — n. 1. the imaginary narrator of a collection of tales ( c. 1697) by Charles Perrault 2. the imaginary creator of a collection of nursery rhymes first published (1765?) in London …   English World dictionary

  • Mother Goose — Frontispiz von Contes de ma mère l Oye von Charles Perrault (1697) Mother Goose (französisch Ma Mère l Oye, deutsch Mutter Gans) ist eine literarische Figur aus Kinderreimen und Märchen, die beson …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Mother Goose — the fictitious author of a collection of nursery rhymes first published in London (about 1760) under the title of Mother Goose s Melody. * * * Fictitious old woman, reputedly the source of the body of traditional children s songs and verses known …   Universalium

  • Mother Goose — noun the imaginary author of a collection of nursery rhymes • Instance Hypernyms: ↑fictional character, ↑fictitious character, ↑character * * * Mother Goose [Mother Goose] an old woman who is supposed to have written ↑nursery rhymes. She is shown …   Useful english dictionary

  • Mother Goose —    In mid 17th century France, the phrase contes de ma mere l oye meant fairytales , and in 1697 it appeared on the frontispiece of Charles *Perrault s Contes du Temps Passe; when these were printed in English from 1729 onwards, they were… …   A Dictionary of English folklore

  • Mother Goose — Les Contes de ma mère l Oye Ma mère l Oye en frontispice du recueil, illustration de Gustave Doré de 1867 Les Contes de ma mère l Oye est un recueil de huit contes de fées de Charles Perrault paru en 1697, sous le titre Histoires ou contes du… …   Wikipédia en Français

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