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Humpty Dumpty: what do YOU think it means?

Everybody knows the “Humpty Dumpty” nursery rhyme, and some people will tell you that they know its origin, but are they right?

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;All the king’s horses and all the king’s menCouldn’t put Humpty together again.

Most people, on hearing this nursery rhyme, immediately think of Humpty Dumpty as being an egg that fell and broke and was therefore unable to be repaired. This image is largely due to the work of John Tenniel in illustrating Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass”, in which he pictured Humpty Dumpty as an egg, as indeed the text implies.

<a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Humpty_Dumpty_Tenniel-When_I_use_a_word.png" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Source</a>

 

One theory is that the original Humpty Dumpty was not an egg, or even a person, but a large cannon that was used during the siege of Colchester in 1648, during the English Civil War. The royalists were besieged by the parliamentarians, commanded by Thomas Fairfax, and were able to keep them at bay largely due to expert use of the cannon by a gunner named “One-Eyed Thompson”, who defended the town in this way for about ten weeks.

Humpty Dumpty, it is said, was positioned on top of the tower of St Mary’s Church, which was hard by the town walls. When the tower was eventually hit by enough cannonballs from the besiegers, the cannon fell over the wall into a boggy area from where it was found to be too heavy to raise.

However, many objections have been raised to this explanation of Humpty Dumpty, and it is not now generally accepted. Other originals have been proposed, including King Richard III with his hunched back (according to Shakespeare), but there is no reason to accept these explanations either.

It looks as though one has to take this nursery rhyme more or less at face value, namely as a riddle for children to guess at what Humpty Dumpty could be – and an egg would be an excellent answer! It might also be a “cautionary verse” – a warning to children not to sit on high walls for fear of the consequences should they fall off.

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What do you think?

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20 Comments

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    • That is certainly true of many such rhymes. It may well be that the same applies to Humpty Dumpty, but the point being made was somewhat obscure and – over the years – has become detached from the tale and forgotten about. We have to remember that nearly all writing is done first and foremost for the people who will read it first, and if the context is lost then so is the true meaning.

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  1. interesting. i think there is more to it, which has to do with dark symbolism. alice in wonderland and wizard of oz are filled with dark symbolism. most of these nursery rhymes are made light and comical, filled with color and character, to lighten dark matters for kids, or even to hide the true means of situations.

  2. Very interesting story. In those days our nursery rhymes were put in a way to avoid execution by the ruling monarch.
    i.e. “The cat and the fiddle..etc..refered to Elizabeth the first who never married and never allowed her servants to marry either. “and the dish ran away with the spoon..”

  3. During some election or another I made a “Trumpty Dumpty” meme with a quote from H. L. Mencken. I used an egg, with a bird nest for hair, and a public domain face ghosted over the egg.
    A non sequitur, I guess but an indication that I’ve accepted the egg theory. Cheers!

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