The exact origins of some rhymes are hard to trace. However, researchers come up with so many possibilities that the theories are more interesting than the rhyme. Hark, Hark! The Dogs Do Bark is one such nursery rhyme.
Though it was first recorded in the late 18th century, it is said to belong between the 11th and early 18th centuries. Despite being a short rhyme with just four lines, it seems to have a prominent historical significance.
Are you curious to know what the rhyme symbolizes? Do you know that some writers came up with parodied versions too? Continue reading to find out!
Hark, hark, the dogs do bark,
The beggars are coming to town
Some in rags, and some in jags,
And some in velvet gowns.
Save the printable PDF with lyrics of Hark, Hark! The Dogs Do Bark. Click here.
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Check out the animated video here:
Here’s another video with little kids role-playing the rhyme:
Origins and History
Hark, Hark! The Dogs Do Bark appears to have been first published in Tommy Thumb's Song Book in 1788. It was also a part of the first edition of Gammer Gurton's Garland in 1794. More versions with slight grammatical changes were published over the centuries.
Albert Jack, an English writer and historian, has shared two theories about the origins. His first theory is that the rhyme refers to the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s. The dissolution led to many monks becoming homeless with no place to stay or no means of income. The monks roamed through the streets asking for help.
His second theory is that the rhyme belongs to the Glorious Revolution in 1688 when William of Orange (William III), a Dutch King, took the throne in England. Albert Jack said that the word beggars might have been wordplay to symbolize Beghard. People have extended this theory and say that the word ‘beggars’ refers to the Dutch, and the one in velvet gown is the William of Orange.
Another theory is that the rhyme comes from the Tudor period (1485 and 1603), the same time the Dissolution of the Monasteries occurred. However, there is no concrete evidence of the rhyme originating from either period. That’s because the word ‘jags’ may or may not belong to the Tudor period. Historian Reginald James White says it does, and Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew uses the word to describe a dressing style.
Many journalists, commentators, etc., use the first line of the rhyme to imply different political scenarios. There was a political cartoon in 1888 in the US. Theodore W. Noyes hinted at the Sultan of Sulu's retinue through the rhyme.
Lewis Black recorded a version for Victor Talking Machine Company in the 1920s. Derek McCulloch (Uncle Mac) recorded it in a Nursery Rhymes collection.