Pedigree: This tale dates back to at least the 15th century, and was recorded in the Porkington MS from Wales (?). There were sixteenth century printings by Wynken de Worde (no date in Furnivall’s book, although the Hathi Trust copy is dated circa 1512), by John Wally (c.1557-8), John Alde (c. 1568-9), and Edward Allde (1585, after the Kenilworth visit where Captain Cox performed).
Synopsis: A young man named Jack is deeply un-loved by his stepmother (shocking, I know), who feeds him bad food and not much of it. While Jack is tending the family’s cattle, a hungry old man begs Jack for some food, which Jack shares, with the warning that it’s not much / good. In gratitude, the old man grants Jack three wishes: When he asks for a bow and arrow (to hunt birds), the man gives him a bow and arrow that cannot fail to find its mark. When Jack asks for a pipe to play, the man bestows a magical pipe which compels all hearers to dance. Jack only makes his third wish at the old man’s insistence, and wishes that when his stepmother scowls at him, she should “a rap let go”, which means exactly what you think it does. Mayhem ensues when Jack goes home and displeases his stepmother (by continuing to exist, perhaps?). She is so shamed by the “side effects” of her scowling that she goes to a Friar who is her especial friend, begging him to take vengeance on Jack. He vows to beat Jack the next day, and more mayhem ensues when he tries.
Availability: There is a facsimile of Wynken de Worde’s (circa 1512) printing available for viewing, but not for download, available via the Hathi Trust:
An online copy of Hazlitt’s 19th century transcription (if the print in the facsimile is hard to decipher) in “Remains of Early Popular Poetry of England” is here:
There is also an online copy of J.O. Halliwell’s “Early English Miscellanies”, which contains a transcription from the Porkington MS, here: