Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A-Begging We Shall Go: the accusation of faking disability for the sake of ill-gotten "benefits"

A-BEGGING WE SHALL GO, or "A Jovial Beggar" (from a seventeenth century broadside; attributed to Richard Brome, for use as a chorus in his play The Jovial Crew

[1] There was a jovial Beggar, he had a wooden Leg;
Lame from his Cradle, and forcéd for to Beg.

[CHORUS] And a Begging we will go, we'll go, we'll go,
And a Begging we will go.

[2] A Bag for my Oat-meal, another for my Salt,
A little pair of Crutches to see how I can halt.
And a Begging, &c.

[3] A Bag for my Bread, another for my Cheese,
A little Dog to follow me to gather what I leese. [or "leefe"?]
And a Begging, &c.

[4] A Bag for my Wheat, another for my Rye,
A little Bottle by my side to drink when I'm adry.
And a Begging, &c.

[5] To Pimlico we'll go, where merry we shall be,
With ev'ry Man a Can in's Hand, and a Wench upon his Knee.
And a Begging, &c.

[6] And when that we are disposéd, we tumble on the Grass,
With long patch'd Coats for to hide a pretty Lass.
And a Begging, &c.

[7] Seven Years I servéd my old Master Wild;
Seven Years I beggéd, whilst I was but a Child.
And a Begging, &c.

[8] I had the pretty knack for to wheedle and to cry;
By young and by old, much pitied e'er was I.
And a Begging, &c.

[9] Fatherless and Motherless still was my Complaint,
And none that ever saw me, but took me for a Saint.
And a Begging, &c.

[10] I begg'd for my Master, and got him store of Pelf;
But Jove now be praiséd, I now beg for my self.
And a Begging, &c
[11] Within a hollow Tree I live, and pay no Rent;
Providence provides for me, and I am well content.
And a Begging, &c.

[12] Of all Occupations a Beggar lives the best; For when he is a weary he'll lie him down and rest.
And a Begging, &c.

[13] I fear no Plots against me, but live in open Cell; Why who wou'd be a King, when a Beggar lives so well?
And a Begging, &c.

(notes: Leefe, in verse three, means "like," or "desire;" Pelf, in verse ten, means "money" or "ill-gotten gains.")

I have seen this song cited, by some, as evidence that, back in "ye olden days," people would fake the need for prosthetic legs, because having one made begging more profitable. But while it may be possible for an actor on the stage to make it appear as if one or more legs is missing (by binding a leg bent back at the knee, and hiding it in a pant leg), such an illusion is sustained, in large part, by the fact that the actor has a great deal of control over how the audience sees him, and by the fact the audience, for the sake of enjoying the performance, is willing to suspend its disbelief. There is no such leeway given to disabled people in real life. In fact, we live, as a whole, under extra suspicion, in case we are using our disability to "take advantage of the system." As if living in a hollow tree, or sheltering under a bridge, really were preferable to living in a palace.

An able-bodied person may hear, in this song, a sense of smugness and gloating. As someone who lives with disability, I hear the voice of sarcasm and "laughing so I do not cry."