Folk Play Distribution Map: Beelzebub, the jolly old man

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Folk Play Distribution Map: Beelzebub, the jolly old man
Versions of this map: Interactive Google Map Static Google Map Outline Map
Key Earliest Example of Variant Approx.Date
black Ham not I a hansam good loocking ould man? 1785-1789
lime And I think myself a jolly old man 1803-1818
red Don't you think I'm a jolly young man? 1812-1832
blue Don't you think he's a funny old man? 1854
  1. Known composite scripts prepared by known authors have been omitted.
  2. Chapbooks, broadsides, and other commercial texts have been omitted.


This map is an improved version of one that appeared in my PhD thesis (Millington, 2002, p.270, Map 14), and in my paper on textual analysis (Millington, 2003, p.104, Map 6). It has also been used as a case study for the Folk Play Scripts Explorer (Millington, 2009).

This line is usually spoken by Beelzebub, and has two main variations - one where he asks the audience what they think of him, and another where he states his opinion of himself. The difference is perhaps subtle, but the discrete nature of their distributions shows that it is significant. The question appears to be the older of the two versions. The approximate nature of the dates in the database means they have to be given a degree of latitude, and the dates alone are probably not enough to support this assertion. However, the question form is more widely distributed and this is usually a sign of greater age. In my original textual analyses, the distribution of this version was used to illustrate the connections between Plough Plays and the the Northern English group of texts, as well as tenuous links with the Cotswold group of plays.

As shown in the maps, there are three sub-variants of the question version of the line, varying on the adjectives used. "Handsome" alludes the character's visual appearance, and there are a few other positive qualities - "clever" and "good" for instance - that have not been shown on the map. By contrast the more common "jolly" and "funny" relate to the character's demeanour. It is difficult decide which type came first, the qualities or the demeanour. On the other hand, the significantly later date and limited distribution of the "funny" variant indicates that this evolved from the "jolly" variant.

The metamorphosis of the question into a statement appears to have taken place in Ireland. The statement appears in the oldest known Irish text, which happens to be a chapbook. This text was later brought to England, where it was republished in Manchester (Cass et al, 2003) as The Peace Egg Book. The statement version of the line we are discussing was then transferred into a different chapbook, known under a number of titles of which The Peace Egg is the most common. This is the likely route of this line into the oral tradition of northern England.

Peter Millington


Eddie Cass, Michael J.Preston & Paul Smith (2003) The Peace Egg Book: An Anglo-Irish Chapbook Connection Discovered
Folklore, 2003, Vol.114, No.1, pp.29-52

Peter Millington (1999-2018) Folk Play Research: Texts and Contexts
Internet URL:, 1999-2018, accessed 24th Jan.2021
Retitled in 2018 - formerly 'Historical Database of Folk Play Scripts'.

Peter Millington (2002) The Origins and Development of English Folk Plays
PhD Thesis, University of Sheffield, May 2002     [Full Text PDF - 2.7MB]

Peter Millington (2004-2021) Folk Play Scripts Explorer
Internet URL:, 2004-2021, accessed 24th Jan.2021

Peter Millington (2009) "Don't you think I'm a jolly old man?": A Folk Play Scripts Explorer Case Study
Sites of Performance: Mapping/Theatre/History, 2-4 April 2009, University of Nottingham
[Poster PDF - 989kB, Presentation PDF - 874kB]

This map was generated from the Folk Play Scripts Explorer.
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© 2002, Peter Millington. (Webmaster: Last updated: 24-Jan-2021