A Dramaturgical Study of Conscience’s Broom Song in
The Three Ladies of London

Katrine Wong

This paper examining Conscience's broom-selling song offers a comparative reading of the structure of Conscience's song with that of other item-selling songs; for instance, market songs by Ancient and his crew (which carry ulterior purposes) in Fletcher's The Loyal Subject, Autolycus's peddling songs in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, Nightingale's ballad-selling songs in Jonson's Bartholomew Fair, through which we can deduce a formula of musical promotion of products in early modern England. The discussion proposes a theatrical distinction between street cries, typically sung or chanted fragments, and vendor songs, typically full songs. One other aim of this paper is to explore possible tune(s) for Conscience's song, the musicality of which may shed light on stage performance of what were originally impromptu street cries.

Nestled in the deck of cards ‘Cries of London’1 which illustrates the calls of sellers of fruit, vegetables, offal, fish, bread, kitchenware and flowers, as well as the cries of street performers and entertainers (puppeteer, balladeer, fiddler, hurdy-gurdy man, owner/manager of a dancing bear), service providers (shoeshiner, lamplighter, corn remover), ragpickers and beggars, the 3 of diamonds shows a broom seller who cries ‘Buy a Broom a Birch Broom or a Heath Broom’.

Woodcut image from Samuel Pepy's <em>Cryes consisting of Severall Setts thereof, Antient 
& Moderne: with the differ Stiles us’d therein by the Cryers</em>.
Fig. 1 In Samuel Pepy’s collection Cryes consisting of Severall Setts thereof, Antient & Moderne: with the differ Stiles us’d therein by the Cryers, there, too, are woodcut images of broom sellers, which are believed to date from the early 16th century.

Fig. 1 Click the picture to view caption information.

Collected in the part ‘A very antient Sett thereof, in Wood, with the Words then used by the 
Fig. 2 Collected in the part ‘A very antient Sett thereof, in Wood, with the Words then used by the Cryers’.

Fig. 2 Click the picture to view caption information.2

Collected in the part ‘A later Sett, in Wood – with Words also then in use’.
Fig. 3 Collected in the part ‘A later Sett, in Wood – with Words also then in use’.

Fig. 3 Click the picture to view caption information.3

Conscience resorts to selling brooms as ‘a quiet meane to keepe [her] selfe from begging’ (D3r) in Robert Wilson’s The Three Ladies of London (ca 1583)4 after she has been turned out of her home by Lucar. As she appears ‘with broomes at her back’ (D4r), she sings about her item:

New broomes, greene broomes, will you by any,
     Come maydens, come quickly, let me take a peny.

My broomes are not steeped,
     but very well bound:
My broomes be not crooked,
     but smooth cut and round.
I wish it should please you,
     to buy of my broome:
Then would it well ease me,
     if market were done.

Haue you any olde bootes,
     or any olde shoone:
Powch-ringes or Buskins,
     to cope for new broome.
If so you haue maydens,
     I pray you bring hether:
That you and I frendly,
     may bargen together.

New broomes, greeme bromes, will you buy any:
     Come maydens, come quickly, let me take a peny.
Haue ye any old shoes, or haue ye any bootes, haue ye any buskines, or will ye buy any brome.
Who bargen or chop with conscience, what will no customer come? (D4r-v)5

Conscience sings about two forms of transaction – selling for money (‘let me take a peny’) and goods exchanging (old boots, shoes, pouch rings, or buskins ‘to cope for new broome’) – and she eventually sells all her brooms and receives from her nemesis ‘a peece of gould’, which is far more than the original asking price of a shilling (E1r). While both methods are illustrated in the above pictorial representations, bartering is more commonly seen in early modern musical compositions which contain references to broom-selling, such as ‘Broomes for old Shooes, Pouchrings, Bootes and Buskings’ (D1r), one of the city rounds in Thomas Ravenscroft’s Melismata; ‘Old boots, old shoes, pouchrings for broom’ in Orlando Gibbons’s ‘The Cries of London’; ‘Broom, broom, broom; broom for old shoes and pouch rings, boots or buskins for new broom. … An old pair of boots, maids, or a old pair of shoon, or an old pair of buskins for all my green broom’ in Thomas Weelkes’s ‘The Cries of London’; ‘Broom, broom, broom! Old boots, old shoes, pouchrings or buskins for green broom!’ in Richard Dering’s ‘The City Cries’. These three quodlibets by Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625), Thomas Weelkes (1576-1623) and Richard Dering (1580-1630) are regarded as the canonical ‘three fantasias for voices and instruments’.6 John Fletcher’s The Loyal Subject (ca 1618) presents an ancient and his soldiers ‘crying Broomes … crying other things’ (sd 3.5.0);7 their cry-songs carry satiric messages about the corrupted court, in particular, selling Honesty ‘openly by day’ (3.5.24) and mending ‘crackt maiden-heads’ (3.5.33). The Ancient’s song ‘Broom, Broom, the bonnie Broom, / Come buy my Birchen Broom’ (3.5.1-11) is one other rare example of broom-selling song found on the Renaissance stage. Indication of a possible blank song ‘Broom-maid, and Rush-maid’ (C4r) appears in a masque scene in George Chapman’s The Gentleman Usher (1602-3),8 which, however, provides no concrete clue as to whether or not the song deals with the selling of brooms, especially when a broom-maid, like broom-man, refers to one who ‘uses a broom’, or a street-sweeper, rather than one who sells a broom (‘broom-man’, OED Online).

Only very few other characters sing in detail about their goods; for example, Autolycus peddles his wares through ‘Lawn as white as driven snow’ (4.4.220-31) and ‘Will you buy any tape’ (4.4.313-21) in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale (ca 1609),9 and Architophel, a Jew, attempts to ‘with gentle ayre, beat upon eares of passengers’ (C4r) in Herod and Antipater (ca 1622) by Gervase Markham and William Sampson.10 While Autolycus has two signature peddling songs among his other numbers of various subject matters, Architophel the ‘famous Mountebank’ (C4r) sings six songs about his sundry items which are advertised as ‘unknown, unseen, / The best that is, or ere hath beene’ (H1v): ‘the rarest Gummes’ (C4r), ‘that [which] will make your pale cheeks plumpe and fat’ (C4v), ‘a rare Mercurian Pill’ (C4v), ‘an Anodine [that] helps every ill’ (C4v), ‘a Balme [that] will cure all sores’ (D1r), and an assortment of simples (H1r-v). Architophel’s musical loquacity is an example of mountebanks’ salesmanship which commodifies ‘the incomparably efficacious power and sovereign virtue of … unavailable medicine’.11 Singing excessively about his goods of alleged super powers also fits a further description that a mountebank’s key sales tactic relies on the ability ‘to attract and hold an audience around the charlatan in the open air’,12 and Architophel’s string of songs certainly helps in attracting and holding some attention around him since people are less likely to interrupt one who is singing than one who is speaking.13 Autolycus’s and Architophel’s vendor songs are much more elaborate than cries captured in plays and depicted in the deck of cards ‘Cries of London’, which we can loosely group into four types as shown in this table:

Mode of cry14 Examples from deck of cards ‘Cries of London’ Examples from Elizabethan and Jacobean plays15
Declarative ‘The wonderfull & surprizing dancing Bear from Russia’; ‘Green and large Cucumbers Six a Penny Cucumbers’. ‘Rattles, drums, halberts, horses, babies o’ the best? Fiddles o’ the finest?’ (2.2.29-30), Bartholomew Fair (1614)16 by Ben Jonson.
Invitational Imperative ‘Buy a Broom a Birch Broom or a Heath Broom’; ‘Buy my Shrimps. Come buy my Shrimps’. ‘Buy any pears, pears, fine, very fine pears!’; ‘Buy any gingerbread, gilt gingerbread!’ (2.2.31-2), Bartholomew Fair.
Interrogative ‘Have you got any broken Bottles for a poor Woman to Day’; ‘Have you got any Hare’s or Rabbett’s Skin’. ‘Have ye any Cony-skins’ (3.1.115), Beggars’ Bush (1615-22?) by John Fletcher;17 ‘What is’t you buy?’; ‘What is’t you lack’; ‘What will you you?’; or their variants in 2.2.28-9 Bartholomew Fair, 3.4.21-3 The Shoemaker’s Holiday (1600)18 by Thomas Dekker; 1.5.9-12 The Honest Whore I (160419) ; 2.1.1-3 The Roaring Girl (1611)20 by Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton; 2.1.12-13, 21 Match me in London (ca 1611-13)21 by Dekker; and C3r-v, C4r Any thing for a quiet life by Middleton and John Webster (ca 1621)22
Quasi-Rhetorical ‘Do you want a Boat for the Evening to Vauxhall’ ‘oyntments for a scab, do you neede?’ (F3r), Promos and Cassandra I (1578)23 by George Whetsone; ‘wil you buy any smal Coale?’ (3.3.61-62), Westward Hoe (1604) by Thomas Dekker and John Webster;24 ‘Will you buy any handkerchers, sir?’ (B1r), Greenes tu Quoque (1611)25 by Jo Cooke

In Thomas Heywood’s The Rape of Lucrece (1607), Valerius’s extended song of ‘The Cries of Rome’26 is essentially a long list of cries of all four different modes, the nature of which is very similar to the cry medleys by Weelkes, Dering, and Gibbons mentioned earlier, which aesthetically showcase the chaotically symphonic soundscape of an early modern market place. One purpose of this discussion is to make a theatrical distinction between street cries, typically short shout- or chant-fragments, and vendor songs, typically full songs. Street cries are more frequently heard than full vendor songs. In terms of modern-day marketing strategy, if the former are promotional signs or banners inside a supermarket, the latter would be full advertisements with narrative and descriptive details which would typically be designed in such a way to attract one’s attention, target specific customer base, create one’s desire, match the features of the product to one’s needs, and caress, or appeal to, one’s ego (or in early modern vendor songs, appeal to one’s pity and charity). Conscience’s broom-selling song exhibits such formulaic characteristics, for instance, a slogan-type refrain ‘New broomes, green broomes’, identification of her target customers (‘maydens’), description of her brooms (‘well bound’, ‘smooth cut’, ‘round’), and an appeal to the charity of passers-by (‘it well ease me, / if market were done’).

Street cries themselves are lyrical in their own right, and have their own ‘acoustic profile’,27 as the musical composition of cries evidences. Such distinctive sound bites originating from the streets have been ‘domesticated’28 and made haute couture in the process of transcribing speech pitch, lilt and rhythm into musical notation. Early modern composers have re-presented market cries as aristocratic musical ensembles which call upon viols and voices. In Gibbons’s song, for example, the cries of broom partially overlap with and are wedged between cries of a tinker and cries of a mat seller; and in Dering’s, the cries of broom overlap with ‘hot pippin pies’. Such arrangements would require some degree of practice (not unlike rehearsals before a performance) in order that the vocal and instrumental lines may come together to form undulatory sonic pictures sans background commotion of the trading activities in the streets, as designed in the respective music scores, even though the original materials are impromptu cries.29 If we consider street cries as impromptu fragments of tradesmen’s calls (even though, on stage, they are still essentially scripted and rehearsed), vendor songs are performative songs of sales, which are likely to require more vocal charisma from the singer-actor. In addition, while street cries overlap and intertwine with each other, vendor songs are sung, individual sales speeches which are more centre-staged. Dramatically, an onstage audience is implied (or expected) when one sings a full vendor song, and theatrically, the musical presence of such a performer is foregrounded. When a character sings a vendor song, it is no longer simply about what that character is selling or the pecuniary worth of the product being sold, rather, the song also draws one’s attention to the bizarrely lyrical value and characteristic of the item, as well as the musical being of the seller. Autolycus attracts a crowd, whereas Architophel is surrounded by passers-by who also talk about the wares set out by the ‘noble Braggard’ (H1v). Just as poor Conscience begins to worry that there are no customers, Usury comes forward, having noticed someone ‘that cries bromes’ (D4v). Through singing an elaborate vendor song: refrain – verse – verse – refrain, Conscience manages to get people to come to her and look at her plain, simple brooms.

One other aim of this paper is to explore possible musical setting for Conscience’s vendor song, the musicality of which may shed light on stage performance of this song of advertisement. ‘New broomes, green broomes’ contains originally impromptu street cries. We can deduce a musical design for Conscience’s song based on the melodic shapes found in contemporary compositions,30 which apparently share certain features as I shall lay out. These musical portrayals capture contemporary street cries in the manner that adheres to the observation that ‘the same short melody may have been sung by traders of the same goods’ because ‘in a busy and noisy street or market, the sound of a familiar cry drew customers, by ear, to the kind of trader they needed’.31 Features shared among ‘acoustic profiles’ of various types of cries include, first, long note (usually relatively high-pitched) for the name of a monosyllabic item:32

Cries related to monosyllabic items.
Fig. 4 Cries related to monosyllabic items.

Fig. 4 Cries related to monosyllabic items.33

Second, when an adjective precedes the name of an item, that adjective, more often than not, occupies a longer note and a higher pitch than the item does; and when the adjective is repeated, there is a noticeable ascension in the pitch:

Cries with pitch ascension.
Fig. 5 Cries with pitch ascension.

Fig. 5 Cries with pitch ascension.

Third, the word ‘buy’ in quasi-rhetorical cries falls on a strong beat of the phrase, whereas if the word appears in cries of invitational imperatives, it tends to form part of an upbeat:

Cries with upbeat.
Fig. 6 Cries with upbeat.

Fig. 6 Cries with upbeat.

One further common feature is that ‘Have ye any’ is frequently presented as four evenly-spaced quick notes:

Cries with evenly-spaced quick notes.
Fig. 7 Cries with evenly-spaced quick notes.

Fig. 7 Cries with evenly-spaced quick notes.

The elements described can feed into constructing a speculative, yet viable, musical setting for Conscience’s song, considering that her song is thus structured:

Parts a and d can take after the relatively constant sound and rhythmic patterns of historical street cries, which, as established, are largely informative and nominally melodious. Here is a possible sound image of the two parts of refrain. It does not indicate any specific pitch or intervals between notes, rather, it mainly shows speech-like rhythm and relative constancy, ascent or descent of notes as are compliant with early modern compositions of street cries:

Fig. 8 Refrains.

Fig. 8 Refrains.

The two verses, on the other hand, may invite any form of melodic shape. The arrangement of metres and lines therein, to my pleasant surprise, fits perfectly into the section ‘Broom, broom, broom; … An old pair of boots, maids, or a old pair of shoon, or an old pair of buskins for all my green broom’ in Weelkes’s quodlibet, which is the only early modern composition thus far identified containing an extended section on the single item of ‘broom’. This example here sets the two verses of Conscience’s vendor song to Weelkes’s music:34

Setting for verses in Conscience's vendor song.
Fig. 9 Setting for verses in Conscience's vendor song.

Fig. 9 Setting for verses in Conscience's vendor song.

The proposed setting (of both refrain and verses) attempts to re-create Conscience’s song by incorporating features detected in contemporary musical representations of market calls. Although I have not located evidence which would suggest a direct connection between Weelkes’s tune and first performances of The Three Ladies of London – Weelkes would have been about seven when the play was first performed, and perhaps with further investigation one may be able to surmise that the broom tune in Weelkes’s medley might have been modelled upon Wilson’s text – the above contextual examination of tonal and rhythmic features of street cries provides us with enough grounds to consider this tune suitable for a period production of the play. The renditions of Weelkes’s composition in two recordings, one by Deller Consort and one by crd,35 may serve as a point of reference for such a production. Both recordings feature a solo female voice, and both singers present the music with artistic consideration of voice placement, zones of resonance, and tone colour. The performer playing the character of Conscience may, of course, deliver the broom-selling song in any form of musical language as appropriate, from ad lib to scripted; Luciano Berio’s ‘Cries of London’ (1974-6) and Bob Chilcott’s ‘Songs and Cries of London’ (2001), for instance, contain sound images considerably different from that perceived in Weelkes’s. Whatever aesthetic effect and nuance its setting may produce, Conscience’s song is a spotlit moment of musical vending.


[1] Harry Margary in association with Guildhall Library, Facsimile of Cries of London (London, 1978; first published ca1754).

[2] Samuel Pepys, ‘Samuel Pepys’ Cries of London’, Spitalfields Life, http://spitalfieldslife.com/2013/02/21/samuel-pepys-cries-of-london/ (Accessed 18 November 2014).

[3] Samuel Pepys, ‘More of Samuel Pepys’ Cries of London’, Ibid, http://spitalfieldslife.com/2013/03/25/more-of-samuel-pepys-cries-of-london/ (Accessed 18 November 2014).

[4] Robert Wilson, A right excellent and famous comoedy called the three ladies of London (London, 1584). Dates of first performances of plays are given in parentheses after the first references.

[5] Before this solo song, Conscience shares a conversational song with Fraud, Dissimulation, Usery, Symony, and Simplicity, a band who ‘sing in fellowship together like brother and brother’. In this song Conscience has the upper hand and dismisses the band: ‘get you walking’ (A4r-v).

[6] Maria Rika Maniates and Richard Freedman, ‘Street Cries’, Oxford Music Online. http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/26931 (Accessed 19 November 2014).

[7] This stage direction reminds me of a Chinese verb 叫賣, pronounced as giu3 maai6 in Cantonese. This verb, specifically used in the context of street hawking, combines the meanings of ‘crying/calling’ (叫) and ‘selling’ (賣), which corresponds to a now obsolete meaning of ‘to utter’: ‘to put (goods, wares, etc.) forth or upon the market; to issue, offer, or expose for sale or barter; to dispose of by way of trade; to vend, sell’ (‘utter, v.1’ OED Online). Eric Wilson has also made an observation of this archaic meaning of ‘utter’ in ‘Plagues, Fairs, and Street Cries: Sounding out Society and Space in Early Modern London’, Modern Language Studies 25.3 (Summer 1995), 7.

[8] George Chapman, The gentleman usher (London, 1606).

[9] William Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale, ed. Ernest Schanzer (London, 1996).

[10] Gervase Markham and William Sampson, The true tragedy of Herod and Antipater with the death of faire Marriam (London, 1622).

[11] Neil Rhodes, ‘Orality, Print and Popular Culture: Thomas Nashe and Marshall Mcluhan’, Matthew Dimmock and Andrew Hadfield (eds), Literature and Popular Culture in Early Modern England (Surrey, 2009), 34.

[12] Carol Clark, ‘“The Onely Languag’d-Men of all the World”: Rabelais and the Art of the Mountebank’, Modern Language Review 74.3 (1979), 541.

[13] Katrine K. Wong, Music and Gender in English Renaissance Drama (New York, 2012), 51.

[14] I have adapted the standard classification of discourse functions of English sentences (declarative, interrogative, imperative, exclamative) into identifying the modes of cries in the current discussion (some of which are sentences, some not). There are, of course, cries which are composed of multiple modes, such as ‘I’m come this afternoon to play you a merry Tune. I’ll make you as merry as I can. Pray give something to the Poor Man’ (the 3 of spades) and ‘I Nothing say but Here attend. Apply to Me your feet I’ll mend. Corns to Cut’ (the 6 of spades).

[15] The most musical city comedy in the Renaissance canon, Francis Beaumont’s The Knight of the Burning Pestle (ca 1607), curiously, contains not a single market cry or song.

[16] Ben Jonson, Bartholomew Fair, Gordon Campbell (ed.), The Alchemist and Other Plays, (Oxford, New York, 1998), 327-433.

[17] John Fletcher, Beggars’ Bush, Fredson Bowers (ed.) The Dramatic Works in the Beaumont and Fletcher Canon, 9 vols (1976), 3.225-362.

[18] Thomas Dekker, The Shoemaker’s Holiday, Fredson Bowers (ed.) and Cyrus Hoy (introductions, notes, and commentaries), The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker, 4 vols (2009), 1.7-104.

[19] Thomas Dekker, The Honest Whore, Part I, Ibid, 2.1-131.

[20] Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton, The Roaring Girl, Ibid, 3.1-116.

[21] Thomas Dekker, Match Me in London, Ibid, 3.253-363.

[22] Thomas Middleton, Any Thing for a Quiet Life (London, 1662).

[23] George Whetsone, The right excellent and famous historye, of Promos and Cassandra devided into two commicall discourses (London, 1578).

[24] Thomas Dekker and John Webster, Westward Hoe, Bowers and Hoy, Dekker, 2.311-403.

[25] Jo Cooke, Greenes Tu quoque, or, The cittie gallant (London, 1614).

[26] Appended at the end of the play, starting with the 1609 quarto, as one of the additional songs ‘which were added by the stranger that lately acted Valerius his part’. See Wong, 93-4.

[27] Bruce R. Smith, The Acoustic World of Early Modern England: Attending to the O-Factor (Chicago, 1999), 65.

[28] Ibid, 64-70.

[29] See a historical documentation of music makers practising songs of street cries in Christopher Marsh, Music and Society in Early Modern England (Cambridge, 2010), 215.

[30] I draw upon melodic images in the music score of Orlando Gibbons’s ‘The Cries of London’ http://javanese.imslp.info/files/imglnks/usimg/3/36/IMSLP122074-WIMA.5097-cries_of_london.pdf (Accessed 19 November 2014) and recordings of Thomas Weelkes’s ‘The Cries of London’ and Richard Dering’s ‘The City Cries’. The musical examples quoted from Weelkes’s and Dering’s compositions included in this paper are my own transcriptions based on the recordings of the Deller Consort (Track 13 in ‘Alfred Deller: The Complete Vanguard Recordings Volume 1 “Folk Songs and Ballads”’ [Musical Concepts Group, 2008]) and of crd (Track 8 in ‘New Fashions: Cries and Ballads of London’ [crd, 1992]) because at the time of writing, I am still in the process of acquiring the printed scores of these two works.

[31] Roger Clegg and Lucie Skeaping, Singing Simpkin and Other Bawdy Jigs: Musical Comedy on the Shakespearean Stage (Exeter, 2014), 278-9.

[32] For the sake of clarity, and for the reason already stated that early modern street cries were familiar sounds to customers’ ears and were correspondingly represented in contemporary musical compositions, musical fragments of street cries are quoted from Gibbons’s composition, unless otherwise specified.

[33] The last example in this figure is from Dering’s ‘The City Cries’.

[34] The only minute adjustment lies in the value of the first three notes in bars 3 and 7, which read in Weelkes’s original tune as:

[35] See note 29.