5. An Ape, a Lion, a Fox and an Ass - Henry Purcell
A relatively tame offering from Mr Purcell. In this 2-verse catch, Purcell compares the different stages of the lives of people to the behaviour of certain animals. No one gets out of this one lightly. It does highlight just how much shorter life expectancy was back then (as well as, rather unsettlingly, the difference in age of consent).
While a relatively clean song, it’s also clear that Purcell realised how gratifying it was to sing the word "ass" (sounding much like a similar word which is spelled differently in the UK).
The text is, however, by an anonymous author.
This number wouldn’t have been wholly out of place in one of his operas. One can perhaps imagine the sailors from Dido and Aeneas singing it, but it would definitely have suited the music written to accompany the 17th century masque version of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, known as The Fairy Queen.
"An ape, a lion, a fox and an ass, Do shew forth man's life as it were in a glass: For apish we are till twenty and one, And after that, lions till forty be gone; Then witty (wily in some editions) as foxes till threescore and ten, but after that asses, and so no more men.
A dove, a sparrow, a parrot, a crow, As plainly sets forth how you women may know: Harmless they are, till thirteen be gone, then wanton as sparrows till forty draw on; Then prating as parrots till threescore be o'er, Then birds of ill omen, and women no more."