Thursday, November 5, 2015

Guy Fawkes Day - "Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November"

Guy Fawkes Day, which is also known as Bonfire Night in Great Britain, falls on this day, November 5th, every year. It is in honor of Guy Fawkes, the man behind the 1605 "Gunpower Plot" to blow up Parliament (particularly the House of Lords), which was ultimately unsuccessful. Fawkes intended to kill every member of Parliament, as well as King James I.

To honor the memory of King James surviving this assassination attempt, he tradition of lighting a bonfire was established.

The meaning, however, has come to change. This is largely due to the comic book turned into popular movie, known as V for Vendetta. There, a highly educated and morally principled hero wearing a mask of Fawkes fights both crime, as well as a dictatorial government, borrowing heavily on a very different interpretation of the Gunpowder Plot.

This has come to represent the fight against tyrannical government all across the globe these days. With a generally increased awareness of nightmarish Orwellian totalitarianism in the style of his famous novel, 1984, people now view increased government surveillance and evidence of massive government corruption tantamount to a system that is entirely rigged against the people that the government is supposed to serve, the figure of Guy Fawkes, particularly as represented by the image of the mask of Fawkes worn by the hero in V for Vendetta, has come to represent more than just a rejection of any trust of faith in government, but an outright antagonistic resistance to it. It has come to be one of the main focal points of the modern underground political counterculture, and has been used generally to represent anonymous, and perhaps on some level, unanimous popular opposition to the increased surveillance and intrusion into our personal lives, even if the original meaning and celebration meant something entirely different.

Now, it seems to represent in the popular imagination resistance to government and sympathy towards Fawkes and others who have attempted resistance to government, rather than celebrating the survival of the king from an assassination attempt.

Remember the Fifth of November, indeed!

The Fifth of November   

Remember, remember!      
The fifth of November,      
The Gunpowder treason and plot;      
I know of no reason      
Why the Gunpowder treason      
Should ever be forgot!      
Guy Fawkes and his companions      
Did the scheme contrive,      
To blow the King and Parliament      
All up alive.      
Threescore barrels, laid below,      
To prove old England's overthrow.      
But, by God's providence, him they catch,      
With a dark lantern, lighting a match!      
A stick and a stake      
For King James's sake!      
If you won't give me one,      
I'll take two,      
The better for me,     
 And the worse for you.      
A rope, a rope, to hang the Pope,      
A penn'orth of cheese to choke him,      
A pint of beer to wash it down,      
And a jolly good fire to burn him.      
Holloa, boys! holloa, boys! make the bells ring!      
Holloa, boys! holloa boys! God save the King!      
Hip, hip, hooor-r-r-ray!

The page where I got this particular version of the poem from (see link below) went on to explain some particulars, which were quite detailed, and which, again, seemed fitting to share here:

Perhaps most widely known in America from its use in the movie V for Vendetta, versions of the above poem have been wide spread in England for centuries. They celebrate the foiling of (Catholic) Guy Fawkes's attempt to blow up (Protestant controlled) England's House of Parliament on November 5th, 1605. Known variously as Guy Fawkes Day, Gunpowder Treason Day, and Fireworks Night, the November 5th celebrations in some time periods included the burning of the Pope or Guy Fawkes in effigy. 

This traditional verse exists in a large number of variations and the above version has been constructed to give a flavor for the major themes that appear in them. Several of the books referenced below cite even earlier sources.  

Lines 1-6 are as in Moore and Lloyd (1990; pg. 14). They differ from Chambers (1888; pg. 550) only in the third line ("There is..." instead of "I know of..."). "I know..." but not "I know of..." occurs in Thiselton-Dyer (1876; pg. 413, Northamptonshire).  

Lines 7-14 follow the order of the dialect version in Northall (1892, pg. 248, Lowsley). The wording used is from Thistleton-Dyer (1876, pg 413, Northamptonshire) for lines 7-10 and 13-14, and J.C.R (1857) for lines 11-12.  

Lines 15-20 are taken from Thiselton-Dyer (1876; pg. 414, Oxfordshire). They differ from Chambers (1888; pg 550) only in line 16 ("Victoria" instead of "King James").  

Lines 21-24 are taken from McDowall (1908) except that "roast" in line 24 has been replaced with the "burn" found in Hems (1908) and Thistelton-Dyer (1876, pg. 414, Oxfordshire). Hems differs in line 22 ("A pound..." instead of "A penn'orth"). Thiselton-Dyer differs in line 21 with "A penn'orth of bread to feed the Pope" instead of the hanging, and in line 24 with "...a good old faggot..." instead of "... a jolly good fire..."  

Lines 25-27 are taken from Thiselton-Dyer (1876, pg. 413, Northamptonshire), except that "Hollo" in lines 25 and 26 has been replaced by the "Holloa" in McDowall (1908), the last line of "Hurrah" has been replaced by what is found in J.C.R. (1857), and "king" has been capitalized. J.C.R. uses "Holla" instead of "Holloa" and has "make your voice ring" in the line 25 instead of the bells. McDowall has "Queen" instead of "King" in its version of line 26.  

While not all eight cited versions contain all five groupings of lines, the "verses" present in each of the eight appear relative to each other in the order used above.  

References:  Chambers, Robert. The Book of Days. London: W. & R. Chambers, 1888. 

Hems, Harry. The fifth of November: Guy Fawkes Celebrations. Notes and Queries, 1908; s10-X, 496-497. 

J.C.R. The fifth of November. Notes and Queries, 1857; s2-IV, 450-451. 

McDowall, S.S. The fifth of November: Guy Fawkes Celebrations. Notes and Queries, 1908; s10-X, 496. 

Moore, Alan & Lloyd, David. V for Vendetta. New York: DC Comics, Inc., 1990. 

Northall, G.F. English Folk-Rhymes. London: Kegan, Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co. Ltd., 1892. (As reissued by Detroit: Singing Tree Press, 1968). 

Thiselton-Dyer, Rev. T.F. British Popular Customs, Present and Past. London: George Bell and Sons, York Street, Covent Garden, 1876. (As reissued by Detroit: Singing Tree Press, 1968.) 

This page can be cited as: 

Habing, B. (2006, November 3). The Fifth of November - English Folk Verse. Retrieved from

REMEMBER, REMEMBER THE 5TH OF NOVEMBER!  November 1st 2015 Scyllar Admin:

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