The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

XVI. London and the Development of Popular Literature

§ 30. Pimlyco

The sentiments and ideas of former ages now began to reappear in connection with localities in and around London. Brainford, Hogsden (Hoxton), Southwarke, Eyebright and Queen-hive frequently figure in catch-pennies. One publicist, under the name of “Kinde-Kit of Kingstone,” borrowed tales from such sources as the Decameron and the Romance of the Seven Sages, and put them in the mouths of seven fishwives who take boat for the western suburbs after a good day’s business in London. Each prose story is introduced by a verse description of the narrator, after the manner of Skelton, and is followed by the outspoken comments of the listeners. Another story book, composed in the same style and manner, represents a journey from Billingsgate to Gravesend. But the most remarkable pamphlet of this class is Pimlyco or, Runne Red Cap (1609). The poet describes himself lying in the grass amid the delights of spring, and watching lovers sport together, while, in the background, the towers and steeples of London

  • Lifted their proud heads above the skies,
  • gleaming like gold in the morning sunlight. By chance, he finds Skelton’s Tunnyng of Elynour Rummyng; and, while reading the satire, looks up and beholds a motley crowd of men and women surging towards Hogsden to consume its ale. The contagious enthusiasm carries him along, and, with Skelton’s poem in his hand, “with those mad times to weigh our times,” he first breaks out into a burlesque eulogy on Pimlyco ale, and then wittily describes the insane rush for the pleasures of the resort. Payment for alehouse fare was vulgarly known as “shot”; so he represents the place as a fort which an impetuous army is attacking with this artillery. In the ranks are all types of society who scramble for tankards, calling “Fill, Fill, Fill.” Poets seek inspiration; ballad singers exercise their “villanous yelping throats.” Lawyers, usurers, courtiers, soldiers, “lads and greasie lownes,” women of every age and figure, jostle one another in their eagerness to squander money on tippling. Such a production is far more than a topical effusion. Pimlyco is a satirical rhapsody on the age’s animal spirits and headlong folly, a burlesque review in which the genius and method of Cocke Lorell’s bote are adapted to the interests of Jacobean London.