The Sprats, a real fairy tale couple we can aspire to on Valentine’s Day

 

JackSpratt Valentine

Love is in the air, but in fairy tales, there are not frequently couples we can aspire to.

When you think about fairy tales and romance, you might first think of innumerable princess stories. However, in them, you will find dark themes hiding beneath the surface. Many of these stories were cleaned up by Disney in order to make them more palatable to a 20th century audience, but these original stories are riddled with jealousy, attempted murder, poisoning, and abusive families. Perhaps the most blatant example of “what not to do” in a relationship is the tale of the imprisoned  and abused wife of Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater!

In these romance stories, physical beauty is revered, while those possessing inner strength are often locked away and forgotten to toil on backbreaking chores. If one theme holds constant, it is that in the end, only the most beautiful, and pure princesses find mates.

Spratt

Thinking about this, I found myself searching for a realistic couple I could respect in the fairy tale world. I wanted a pair that exhibited unconditional love for one another, and whose traits make them complete partners by virtue of their opposite strengths. I came to the unexpected realization that maybe this ideal couple is not the most obvious husband and wife. They weren’t beautiful, or wealthy. They weren’t refined. In fact, in all of my travels, I’ve only encountered one (somewhat terrifying) interpretation of them at the Magic Forest.  (Though while researching this post, I did locate a second example at Rock City’s Fairyland Caverns in Chatanooga-Which is going on the list of future visits!)

I digress, the couple in question is Jack Sprat and his wife, Joan. For you scholars, there are additional lyrics to the rhyme, (though most of us only know the first stanza pictured above). I’ve included the song in its entirety at the end of this post. There are several interpretations of this tale, with some believing it is a reference to King Charles I and Henrietta Maria. Others believe it is actually referencing Richard I.

Ignoring British history, let’s read this purely as a children’s rhyme. We get to know Jack and Joan only through one short verse, but it is clear that they work in tandem to accomplish their goals (as most successful marriages do!)  Jack and Joan make due with what they have, always ensuring that the other is cared for.  Throughout the rhyme they both have enough to eat and consistently demonstrate their love one another (just as they are).

In a comedic, but romantic gesture, after they are married, Joan is too fat for the carriage, so without judgement or hesitation, Jack wheels her home in a wheelbarrow. The plump wife, and skinny husband seem perfectly paired. When trouble befalls Joan upon falling out of the wheelbarrow, Jack is first concerned for her safety. Once settled into their roles, Joan brews beer and cooks dinner; while time and time again we see Jack portrayed as a doting husband who makes sure Joan’s clothes are mended, and her belly is full. We see him hunt ducks and buy her anything she needs. Despite the mundane life they seem to lead, we even see two embark on international travel together, while their little cat has adventures of his own.

You’ll find no beautiful princesses here, and no dashing princes. Just two simple people sharing a life together, and there’ something quite admirable about that.

For the full picture of the Jack and Joan Sprat’s life, I encourage you to read their entire story in these lesser known verses below. The thing I love about this is that even though we see both of them fail and make foolish mistakes, their love for one another stays constant. Despite the odds, the love and respect for one another never falters.

THE LIFE OF JACK SPRAT, HIS WIFE, AND HIS CAT.

This one ear’d Cat,
Belongs to Jack Sprat.

Jack Sprat could eat no fat
His wife could eat no lean,
And so between them both,
They lick’d the platter clean ;

Jack eat all the lean,
Joan eat all the fat,
The bone they pick’d it clean,
Then gave it to the cat

When Jack Sprat was young,
He dressed very smart,
He courted Joan Cole,
And he gained her heart ;

In his fine leather doublet,
And old greasy hat,
O what a smart fellow-
Was little Jack Sprat.

Joan Cole had a hole.
In her petticoat,
Jack Sprat, to get a patch
Gave her a groat ;
The groat bought a patch,
Which stopp’d Joan’s hole,

I thank you, Jack Sprat,
Says little Joan Cole.

Jack Sprat was the bridegroom,
Joan Cole was the bride,
Jack said, from the church
His Joan home should ride ;
But no coach could take her,
The lane was so narrow,
Said Jack, then I’ll take her
Home in a wheel-barrow.

Jack Sprat was wheeling
His wife by a ditch,
The barrow turn’d over,
And in she did pitch ;
Says Jack, she’ll be drown’d,
But Joan did reply,
I don’t think 1 shall,
For the ditch is quite dry.

Jack brought home his Joan,
And she sat on a chair,
When in came his cat,
That had got but one ear,
Says Joan, I’m come home puss,
Pray how do you do,
The cat wagg’d her tail,
And said nothing but mew.

Jack Sprat took his gun,
And went to the brook,
He shot at the drake,
But he kill’d a duck,
He brought it to Joan,
Who a fire did make,
To roast the fat duck,
While Jack went for the drake.

The drake was a swimming,
With his curley tail,
Jack Sprat came to shoot him,
But happen’d to fail ;
He let off his gun,
But missing his mark

The drake flew away,
Crying, quack, quack quack.

Jack Sprat, to live pretty,
Now bought him a pig,
It was not very little,
It was not very big,
It was not very lean,
It was not very fat,
It will serve for a grunter,
For little Jack Sprat.

Then Joan went to market,
To buy her some fowls,
She bought a jackdaw
And a couple of owls;
The owls they were white,
The jackdaw was black,
They’ll make a rare breed,
Says little Joan Sprat.

Jack Sprat bought a cow,
His Joan for to please,
For Joan she could make
Both butter and cheese,
Or pancakes, or puddings,
Without any fat,
A notable housewife
Was little Joan Sprat.

Joan Sprat went to brewing
A barrel of ale,
She put in some hops
That it might not turn stale
But as for the malt,
She forgot to put that,
This is sober liquor,
Says little Jack Sprat,

Jack Sprat went to market,
And bought him a mare,
She was lame of three legs,
And as blind as a bat,
Her ribs they were bare,
For the mare had no fat,
She looks like a racer,
Says little Jack Sprat.

Jack and Joan went abroad,
Puss took care of the house,
She caught a large rat
And a very small mouse,
She caught a small mouse
And a very large rat,
You are an excellent hunter,
Says little Jack Sprat.

Now I have told you the story
Of little Jack Sprat,
Of little Joan Cole,
And the one ear’d cat.
Now Jack has got rich.
And has plenty of pelf,
If you’d know any more,
You may tell it yourself.

Here’s to all the really real couples out there that are taking care of each other and making sure their loved ones stay fed and happy!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

 

Advertisements