Handful of Pleasant Delights

A Handefull of Pleasant Delites, Containing sundrie new Sonets and delectable histories, in diuers kindes of Meeter. Newly deusied to the newest tunes that are now in vse, to be sung: euerie Sonet orderly pointed to his proper Tune. With new additions of certain Songs, to verie late deuised Notes, not commonly knowen, nor vsed heretofore, By Clement Robinson and diuers others. At London. Printed by Richard Ihones: dwelling at the signe of the Rose and Crowne, neare Holburne Bridge, 1584


A Handful of Pleasant Delights (1584) is a collection of thirty-two ballads, ‘all of which’, according to Rollins, had ‘been printed on broadsides’ (Rollins, viii), although none of these earlier broadside ballads have survived. The ballads included in the collection were very popular; some are alluded to or sung in plays of the period, such as Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night and Eastward Ho (1605), co-written by Marston, Chapman and Jonson. The volume was designed primarily for performance rather than reading. Most ballads identify the tune to which they are to be sung, and those which do not were probably intended, like ‘I smile to see how you devise’, to be sung to ‘anie pleasant tune’ (Ward, 152). All the ballads address the theme of love, apart from the popular ‘A Sorrowful Sonnet made by Master George Mannington’, supposedly composed while Mannington awaited execution for cutting off a horse’s head. The absence of moralising or religious verse from the collections is unusual for this period and contrasts with the intermixing of amorous, religious, and moral lyrics in other contemporary popular miscellanies, such as Tottel’s Miscellany or Paradise of Dainty Devices.

Ballads were not confined to the realms of cheap print, and a number of those included in A Handful were copied into manuscript miscellanies compiled in the 1560s and 1570s. Maynard points out that the ‘taste’ for such ‘garlands’ or ‘handfuls’ of ballads ‘derived from courtly fashion of singing to the lute, rather than deriving from popular tradition’, and it was the practice of ‘setting and singing of courtly lyrics such as Wyatt’s and Surrey’s [that] led to the more popular vogue’ (Maynard, 14). Hence, the ballad ‘A proper Sonet, of an vnkinde Damsell, to to her faithful Louer’ in A Handful imitates ‘The louer describes his restless state’ in Tottel’s Miscellany. Such ‘popular’ miscellanies brought together elite and lower class audiences; as Pomeroy says, the ‘popularity’ of this type of collection ‘was too fluid to allow any rigid division into courtly and vulgar’ (Pomeroy, 10).

The evidence suggests that there were at least two earlier editions of A Handful, one printed during or shortly after 1566 and the other printed prior to 1576, possibly in 1575. There is also evidence for five later editions, printed in or shortly after 1601, 1620, 1626, 1634, and 1655 (Rollins, x-xv; Ward, 151-52). Such a large number of editions gives an indication of the collection’s popularity that extended well into the seventeenth century. Virtually nothing is known about the ballad-writer Clement Robinson, whose name appears on the title-page; there is some suggestion he may have been a scrivener, or scribe (ODNB). Richard Jones, who was responsible for printing the volume, worked as a printer and bookseller between 1564 and 1611, and is generally associated with the printing and publishing of ballads and poetical miscellanies, including A Gorgeous Gallery of Gallant Inventions and Paradise of Dainty Devices, also included in this edition (Melnikoff (2001), 156; (Melnikoff (2005), 184).

A Handful of Pleasant Delights survives in a unique copy (missing sig. Bvj) in the British Library which is the basis for this critical edition.

Further Reading

Gavin Alexander, ‘Robinson, Clement (fl. 1566)’,Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/23834]

Robert J. Fehrenbach, ‘Isabella Whitney (fl. 1565-75) and the Popular Miscellanies of Richard Jones’, Cahiers Elisabethains: Late Medieval and Renaissance Studies 19 (1981), 85-87

Kirk Melnikoff, ‘Richard Jones (fl. 1564-1613): Elizabethan Printer, Bookseller and Publisher’, Analytical & Enumerative Bibliography 12 (2001), 153-84

Kirk Melnikoff, ‘Jones’s Pen and Marlowe’s Socks: Richard Jones, Print Culture, and the Beginnings of English Dramatic Literature’, Studies in Philology, 102 (2005), 184-209

Hyder E. Rollins ed., A Handful of Pleasant Delights (1584) by Clement Robinson and Divers Others (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1924)

John Ward, ‘Music for A Handefull of pleasant delites’, Journal of the American Musicological Society 10.3 (1957), 151-8