About this Recording
NA218012 - Collection: Classic Comic Verse

Classic Comic Verse

Classic Comic Verse


The comic encompasses a wide range. Comedy, by its nature, is largely subjective and its parameters always on the change. Taken in its dramatic sense, it came to denote the opposite of tragedy: where the tragic ends in disaster the comic ends happily. Of course, this is highly simplistic and the comic has come to include a far greater degree of nuance than this.


It is this full palette, which is reflected in this collection. Thus, I have included verse, which covers the most serious of subjects, including human and animal. However, the treatment of these subjects is in so light-hearted a manner so as to bring them into the realm of the comic.


Not surprisingly, perhaps, many of the selections cover relationships — either those concerning love or, more poignantly and often more painfully, marriage. Most, though not all of these are written from a male perspective, but may be said to be as relevant today as when they were first penned. In fact, it is a sign of the richness of verse written in another time that it not only provides a valuable insight into contemporary mores, but also often has something very pertinent to say for all time.


Several of the poems tell a story — often, a rather tall story. And it is

in this that their comedy lays. Thackeray’s The Lamentable Ballad of the Foundling of Shoreditch is one such yarn, told in Welleresque Cockney. In Hiawatha’s Photographing, Carroll not only paints an unforgettable portrait of a family photograph, but also has a little (or not so little) joke at Longfellow’s expense — all in trochaic dimeter.


Another aspect to underpin several of the poems included here is the apparent unsuitability of the subject for poetic treatment. Fish, cats, dogs, rain and a salad are but a few such unpoetic topics, which are written about with great wit. Of course, the primary joke is their apparent unsuitability as the subject of a poem: the joke is often taken ad extremum, as in Cowper’s lines on a halibut.

Some verse, which appears light-hearted, has an altogether more serious purpose. Byron’s satirical King George III Enters Heaven is probably the best example here, although Rochester provides an altogether more concise appraisal of Charles II.


And then there is nonsense verse, the most noted exponents of which were Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll. Their poems included here will be well-known to most, but of no less value or enjoyment for all that. The miracle of classic comic verse is that it continues to entertain no matter how often it is heard or read.


Notes by Anthony Anderson



About the Readers


JOHN MOFFATT’s distinguished theater career encompasses two hundred roles across the UK, forty-two major London productions and two Broadway appearances.  He played Malvolio in Twelfth Night at the Open Air Theatre, Regents Park, appeared in Ingmar Bergman’s production of Hedda Gabler and in Married Love directed by Joan Plowright. Film credits include Prick Up Your Ears, and he has been seen on UK television in productions as varied as Love in a Cold Climate and Maigret.


DAVID TIMSON has performed in modern and classic

plays across Great Britain and abroad, including Wild Honey for Alan Ayckbourn, Hamlet, The Man of Mode, and The Seagull. He has made over 1000 broadcasts for the BBC and World Service ranging from the classics to the Woman’s Hour serial. He has been seen on television in Nelson’s Column, Swallows and Amazons, The Bill, and Eastenders, and in the film The Russia House. Timson is also the author of Naxos AudioBooks’ The History of Theatre.


ROGER MAY has done over 80 radio plays and spent a year with the BBC Radio Drama Company in 1995-6, following that with a season at the Royal Shakespeare Company. On television he has appeared in, among others, Mosley, Peak Practice and Hornblower and, on film, The Scarlet Tunic and An Ideal Husband.


CATHY SARA has worked for the New Shakespeare Company in The Taming of the Shrew and Romeo and Juliet, as well as the Stephen Joseph Theatre, West Yorkshire Playhouse and King Lear at the Hackney Empire.  Her television appearances include Kavanagh QC, Beck, The Detectives and Heartbeat, and she has worked extensively for the BBC Radio Repertory.

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