Hey diddle, diddle,
The Cat and the Fiddle
The Cow jumped over the moon,
The little Dog laughed to see such fun
And the Dish ran with the Spoon.
Nursery rhyme #2 in our series happens to also be dated, chronologically, right after Mary, Mary quite contrary. Again, here too there are many theories as to the origin, and the fact that these rhymes have been transmitted mostly orally throughout history doesn’t help matters.
Hey Diddle, Diddle was originally published in 1765, as High Diddle, Diddle and reflects the popular use of nonsense phrases in songs and rhymes. Shakespeare himself used the word diddle in his writing.
The cat is believed to represent Queen Elizabeth I who was nicknamed ‘The Cat’ because of the way she played or fiddled with her cabinet members, much like a cat will play with mice.
The cow and moon seems to point to other members of the Court, involved in intrigue that was a huge part of life in the Elizabethan era. There was very strict protocol regarding the behavior of members of court towards each other and towards the Queen and it is not surprising that nicknames would have been given to the various players.
The little dog was reportedly, Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester. Some believe Elizabeth loved Robert while others feel that they were simply very close friends. It is said that Elizabeth once referred to him as her ‘lap dog.’
Elizabeth’s serving lady represents the dish and the spoon was the designation of the royal taster. These two servants fell in love and secretly eloped and ran away from the court. When they were captured, Elizabeth had them thrown into the Tower of London.
As all the pieces fall in place, the interpretation makes sense. Still the image of the cat playing the fiddle and the cow jumping over the moon are so familiar and dear to generations of children that I think I will stick with them for now.