rough music


rough music
   Under a variety of local names and differing methods, rough music was the main customary way in which members of a community expressed displeasure at transgressions of societal norms, usually, but not exclusively, concerned with sexual and marital matters such as wife- or husband-beating, adultery, co-habitation, and so on. The term 'rough music' and other local names such as 'ran-tanning', reflect the almost universal element of noise - participants would bang on old kettles, saucepans, or shovels, blow on whistles, cow-horns, wave rattles, shout and bawl - anything to make a loud and discordant noise. Other names, such as '*Riding the Stang' and 'Skimmington Riding' encapsulate the other regular feature - the parading of *effigies of the guilty parties, or sometimes neighbours impersonating them. The effigies would be mounted on a pole, a cart, or a donkey - often with the man placed backwards facing the tail. After processing the neighbourhood, these effigies would usually be burnt in front of the victims' house.
   Examples are recorded regularly from the 16th century onwards, including Henry Machyn's Diary (22 Feb. 1562/3), Stow (1598/1994: 200), Samuel Pepys, Diary (10 June 1667), the engraving by William Hogarth entitled Hudi-bras Encounters the Skimmington (1726), and a well-known literary example is in Thomas *Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge (1884), chapters 36, 39. The proceedings were 'regulated' by locally understood rules and expectations. In earlier examples, it seems to be accepted that the next-door neighbour of the offending party should take the place of the effigy, and the occasion would provide the opportunity for much ribald humour. As with all such vigilante behaviour, these proceedings could be seen as great fun or highly frightening mob behaviour, depending on whether you were on the performing side or receiving end. It is clear that the authorities, such as the local police, whilst not condoning such behaviour, would often make sure to be 'out of the way' while it was going on and nobody would be willing to testify even if charges were brought. The victims would usually move away, or at least keep a low profile and appear to mend their ways, but in extreme cases the stress or shame could lead to suicide. Rough music is clearly related to continental customs, of which the French Charivari is probably the best known.
   ■ E. P. Thompson, Customs in Common (1991), 467-538.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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