Main melody for "Little Bo-Peep"
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As with most products of oral tradition, there are many variations to the rhyme. The most common modern version is:
Common variations on second line include "And can't tell where to find them." The fourth line is frequently given as "Bringing their tails behind them", or sometimes "Dragging their tails behind them". This alternative version is useful in the extended version, usually of four further stanzas. The melody commonly associated with the rhyme was first recorded in 1870 by the composer and nursery rhyme collector James William Elliott in his National Nursery Rhymes and Nursery Songs.
The following additional verses are often added to the rhyme:
The earliest record of this rhyme is in a manuscript of around 1805, which contains only the first verse. There are references to a children's game called "bo-peep", from the 16th century, including one in Shakespeare's King Lear (Act I Scene iv), for which "bo-peep" is thought to refer to the children's game of peek-a-boo, but no evidence that the rhyme existed earlier than the 18th century. The additional verses are first recorded in the earliest printed version in a version of Gammer Gurton's Garland or The Nursery Parnassus in 1810.
The phrase "to play bo peep" was in use from the 14th century to refer to the punishment of being stood in a pillory. For example, in 1364, an ale-wife, Alice Causton, was convicted of giving short measure, for which crime she had to "play bo pepe thorowe a pillery". Andrew Boorde uses the same phrase in 1542, "And evyll bakers, the which doth nat make good breade of whete, but wyl myngle other corne with whete, or do nat order and seson hit, gyving good wegght, I would they myghte play bo pepe throwe a pyllery". Nevertheless, connections with sheep are early; a fifteenth-century ballad includes the lines: "Halfe England ys nowght now but shepe // In every corner they play boe-pepe".
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