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Mother Goose is a well-known character in the literature of fairy tales and nursery rhymes which are often published as Mother Goose Rhymes as if Mother Goose herself was the author or collector. As a character, she is prominent in several stories and "nursery rhymes" . A Christmas pantomime called "Mother Goose" is often performed in the United Kingdommarker. 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, but is sometimes depicted as a goose.

Who was Mother Goose?

Mother Goose is the name given to an archetypical country woman, who is supposedly the originator of the Mother Goose stories and rhymes. Yet no specific writer has ever been identified with such a name, of which the first known 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 Mere Oye (" a Mother Goose story") shows that the term was already familiar.
In spite of repeated facts, there are doubtful reports, familiar to tourists to Boston, Massachusettsmarker 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 Groundmarker 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, 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 published a compilation of English rhymes, Mother Goose's Melody, or, Sonnets for the Cradle (London, undated, c.1765), which switched the focus from fairy tales to nursery rhymes, and in English this was the prime connotation for Mother Goose until recently.

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

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.

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.

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"

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.

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 Lanemarker, 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— a pantomime tradition that survives today— she also raises a ghost in a macabre churchyard scene.

Other examples

  • 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 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.

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

See also


  1. Margaret Lima Norgaard, "Mother Goose", Encyclopedia Americana 1987; see, for instance, Peter and Iona Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (1951) 1989.
  2. English readers were familiar with Mother Hubbard, already a stock figure when Edmund Spenser published his satire "Mother Hubbard's tale", 1590; with "Mother Bunch" and her superstitious advice on getting a husband or a wife and was credited with the fairy stories of Mme D'Aulnoy when the first appeared in English. 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 and the Tudor period prophetess "Mother Shipton".
  3. 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).
  4. "Mother Goose; Longevity of the Boston Myth— The Facts of History in this Matter, The New York Times, 4 February 1899 ( on-line text).
  5. Listed as "Elizabeth" but the grave marker is distinctly inscribed "Mary Goose"
  6. Eleanor Early's material was drawn from The New York Times "Mother Goose", 20 October 1886 ( on-line): compare gravestone date.
  7. Wilson, Susan. Literary Trail of Greater Boston. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000: 23. ISBN 0-618-05013-2
  8. Reader's Digest April 1939:28.
  9. A.H. Bullen's 1904 facsimile of Newbery's 1791 edition of Mother Goose's Melody( on-line)
  10. Charles Francis Potter, "Mother Goose", Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legends II ( 1950) p 751f.
  12. Iona and Peter Opie, eds. The Oxford Nirsery Thume Book (Oxford) 1976:88, 90.
  13. Tsurumi 1990:28-35.
  14. Tsurumi (1990:30) notes that Simmon's "Mother Goose" was memorialised at the time in a popular engraving.

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