Gotham, the Wise Men of

Gotham, the Wise Men of
   Many English villages were mocked for alleged stupidity, but only Gotham, seven miles from Nottingham, was famous well beyond its neighbourhood. There is a brief allusion to 'the foles of Gotam' in a 15th-century play, and a whole cycle of jokes about them was printed in a mid-16th-century *chapbook, Merrie Tales of the Mad Men of Gotham, versions of which continued to appear up to the early 19th century.
   The jokes about Gothamites are drawn from the common international stock of tales about *fools. They tried to fence the *cuckoo in, so that summer would never end; when an eel got into their fishpond, they tried to kill it by drowning it; one of them burnt his house down to get rid of a wasp's nest in the thatch; another, riding home with a sack of meal, slung it across his own shoulders to spare the horse, but did not dismount; after twelve went fishing, one of the group counted to check nobody was missing, but since he forgot to count himself he made it eleven, so they were sure someone must have drowned. However, some tellers claim all this foolishness was deliberately put on, to stop King John from setting up a hunting lodge in the village - if so, the men of Gotham were wise after all!
   ■ Clouston, 1888; Alfred Stapleton, All About the Merry Tales of Gotham (1900). Selected texts Jacobs, 1898/1968: 27982; Briggs, 1970-1: A. ii. 349-61.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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