This colorfully-illustrated book, now available on Amazon.com, is a new take on a tale dating to Shakespeare’s days—the one about a king who falls in love with a beggar woman. Does he woo her and marry her and make her his queen? In this retelling, the Beggar Woman turns the King’s world upside down.
From the award-winning creative team that created the cult classic The Jamais Vu Papers, this charming story-poem is written by Wim Coleman and illustrated by Pat Perrin.
A great little book for a gift or personal collection.
Is there not a ballad, boy, of the King and the Beggar?
The pompous Spaniard Don Armado asks this question of his page, Moth, in William Shakespeare’s early comedy Love’s Labour’s Lost. Moth makes this reply:
The world was very guilty of such a ballad some three ages since: but I think now ’tis not to be found …
But the ballad seemed to have reappeared a short time later, when Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet. It comes up again when Romeos’ friend Mercutio mentions Venus’s “purblind son and heir”:
Young Adam Cupid, he that shot so trim,
When King Cophetua loved the beggar-maid!
So a ballad about “The King and the Beggar-Maid” was already known when Shakespeare wrote both of these plays during the 1590s. The oldest known version appeared in an anthology in 1612. It tells the tale of the wealthy King Cophetua, who disdains women and marriage until he falls in love with a beggar named Penelophon. And just as Mercutio says, Cupid is to blame for the king’s unexpected passion:
The blinded boy that shootes so trim
From heaven down did hie,
He drew a dart and shot at him,
In place where he did lye …
The ballad unfolds in a traditional fairytale manner. The King woos Penelephon, who (of course) is overwhelmed and honored by his attentions:
At last she spake with trembling voyce,
And said, “O King, I do rejoyce
That you will take me for your choice,
And my degree so base.”
And (of course) she marries the King, and they live happily ever after:
And thus they led a quiet life
During their princely raine,
And in a tombe were buried both,
As writers sheweth plaine.
The story especially inspired artists and writers during Victorian times. The poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, wrote a couple of stanzas about the story, which was also a subject for the Pre-Raphaelite painters Edmund Blair Leighton and Edward Burne-Jones. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (better known as Lewis Carroll) took a photograph of Alice Liddell, thought to be the model for the title character in his most famous books, costumed as the beggar-maid.
If the story has fallen from fashion, it may be because we’ve become less enthusiastic about Cinderella-like tales in which a handsome nobleman rescues a poor but beautiful (and vacuous) maiden from a life of misery and turns her into a princess.
In our own version of the ballad, we decided to turn things around a bit.