Tam Lin Balladry

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Source: New Plays from Old Tales: Arranged for Boys and Girls by Harriet Sabra Wright. The Macmillan Company January 1, 1921


  • The steed that my true-love rides on
    Is lighter than the wind;
    With silver he is shod before,
    With burning gold behind.
  • • •••••
  • Janet has kilted her green kirtle
    A little above her knee,
    And she has snooded her yellow hair
    A little above her bree,
    And she's away to Carterhaugh
    As fast as she can hie."

This dramatization of an old ballad is a suggestion for Halloween. Touches of late autumn color and signs of the harvest season, with nuts, apples, cabbages and pumpkins will give it atmosphere. Appropriate music and dancing add charm and eeriness as the Queen of Elfland and her knights pass Miles Cross at midnight.


  • Old Nurse
  • Janet
  • Queen of Elfland
  • Elfin Knights
  • Tamlane
  • Elves
  • Spirits
  • Will-o'-Wisp


  • Scene I. Interior of Nurse's cottage.
  • Scene II. The Plain of Carterhaugh.
  • Scene III. Interior of Nurse's cottage.


The interior of the Nurse's cottage should have brown hangings for the background. Little furniture is needed — a rough bench, table and hearth with apples, nuts, cabbages and pumpkins about.

For the second scene have a well or spring at the left, near front of stage. Miles Cross is at the back in center of stage. If an old well is represented, use a packing box covered with cloth to look like stones. Have ropes and a bucket hanging from arch overhead. A spring may be indicated instead of a well. Then cover small boxes with cloth to look like stones and arrange them around a spring of water. Roses and vines may be made with paper.

Miles Cross is an old stone cross and can be made of Compo board.


The Old Nurse wears a plain dark, peasant dress. She has a shrewd, kindly face. Her hair is white, covered with a hood or with cloth wound about her head and shoulders.

Janet's dress is a long loose robe. She has a snood or lace cap and a green mantle.

Tamlane: wears tights, a short tunic and high, soft shoes with the tops turned back. He has a small cap with feather. As he comes in with Elfin Knights he is covered with a white sheet.

Will-o'-Wisp has grey-green draperies of soft, filmy material like cheesecloth. An electric flashlight should be fastened to the front of the costume.

The Elfin Knights wear black, brown and milk-white sheets covering their heads and bodies. The dancing spooks wear green, brown, black and red draperies.

Little Elves in dyed union suits and stocking caps accompany the Elf-Queen.

Queen of Elfland: is dressed in fairy costume of diaphanous material with gauzy wings, crown and scepter.


[Interior of Nurse's cottage. Janet and her Old Nurse sit together.]

Janet: [Paring an apple.] This mellow pippin round and round I'll pare to see if it will tell my true-love's name. [She flings the unbroken paring overhead. It falls into a T on the floor. Janet and Nurse look eagerly at it.] T! A good T! That is for Tamlane. He was my true-love but he will never come again, I fear.

Nurse: Don't say so, my own lassie. Who knows but he may come back again. How many years ago did he ride away to the hunt ing?

Janet: Seven long years ago he gave me this ring when we plighted our troth and then one day he rode off on his horse to Carterhaugh to hawk and to hunt as he liked to do. But he never came back from his hunting.

Nurse: A bonny knight he was — fair haired and strong ! But bad luck was with him when he went over the plain of Carterhaugh where fairies and spirits have stolen many mortals and carried them off to fairyland. Now mark my words, Janet, I believe the Elf-Queen has him in her power. A stately knight he would be to hold in her company. I know he rides with her now, Janet.

Janet: How can you know that?

Nurse: Oh, I know what I know and I can see more than other folks see, for I was born on Halloween. They that are born on Halloween have second sight and strange power. If Tamlane is still your true-love, I can tell you how to free him from Elfland if you are brave and strong enough, lassie.

Janet: Oh, tell me then, if aught that I can do will bring him back to the world.

Nurse: When the fairies are full of power, mortals can do naught against them, but sometimes they lose their power and then if we are wise we can overcome them. This night is Halloween when Spirits and fairies are abroad. Out on the plain of Carterhaugh the Elfin Court is gathering. Tamlane will be among them. He longs to return to his mortal form and on this hallowed night when the fairies' power is weakest you can go out to Carterhaugh and win him from the Elf-Queen. But woe to you if you are not taught beforehand what you must do.

Janet: Carterhaugh is my own land. My daddie gave it to me. I'll ask no leave of mortal nor of fairy and no one shall forbid me to do as I will on Carterhaugh. If Tamlane is there I will go seek for him this night. [She starts.]

Nurse: Stay, Janet. There are many strange knights in the Elfin company, who steal tribute from maidens who go by Carterhaugh. So snood your lovely hair, lassie, lest they seize it for its gold. Put your green mantle over your kirtle and give the ring to Tamlane only, if you would come safely back from Carterhaugh this night,

[Nurse fastens Janet's hair under a snood and places the green mantle over her shoulders.] Now make haste to the spring that is near to Miles Cross. Make your way softly amongst the briers and thorns and pull a rose or mayhap two roses from a bush there. If Tamlane is still your true-love, he will speak to you.

Janet: Then I will gladly go and win him if I may. [She goes out.]



[The Plain of Carterhaugh. Moonlight. An old well or spring at left of stage. Miles Cross in center at back of stage. Janet comes to a rose bush at the spring. She pulls one rose, then another. Tamlane's voice speaks to her from out the well. The voice has a strange, unearthly sound.]

Tamlane: Lady, why do you come to Carterhaugh and why do you pull the rose?

Janet: Carterhaugh is my own land. I ask no leave of any to do as I will. Tell me your true name, if you want aught of me.

Tamlane: It is I — Tamlane — who speaks to you, Janet. You wear my ring on your finger. Throw the ring to me in the well if you are still my true-love.

Janet: Tell me first if ever you were christened in holy chapel — Tamlane?

Tamlane: That was I, Lady Janet. My father was Randolph, Earl of Murray. I am as high born as you. These many years I have been held captive by the Queen of Elfland . This night is the only time in all the year when I come to the well and wait for you to release me from her spell. Give me the ring as a token, Janet, if you will set me free.

Janet: Here is the ring. [She throws it into the well] How can I set you free, Tamlane?

Tamlane: This night is Halloween. Between the hours of twelve and one the Queen and all the fairies of the Elfin Court ride over the plain. Be at Miles Cross on the stroke of twelve and watch for me among the knights with the Queen of Elfland .

Janet: But how shall I know you among so many unearthly knights, the like of which I've never seen?

Tamlane: The first company that comes will be black. Let them go by. The second will be brown. Let them pass also and say nothing to them. But the third will be milk-white and I shall ride in that company. My right hand will be gloved but my left bare save for the ring upon it. As I pass, seize me quickly and pull me down to the ground.

Janet: And what shall I do next, Tamlane?

Tamlane: When they find that you have taken me, they will use all their magic to get me away from you, but hold me fast. They will change me into many shapes in your arms, first into a snake, then into a bear, next into red hot iron and burning coal but at last into my true shape. Then throw your green mantle over me and I'll rise and go away with you. If you fear not to win me through it all, make haste to Miles Cross, for it is now the mirk and midnight hour when the fairy folk ride forth.

Janet: As I am your true-love and you are mine, I'll not fail you at Miles Cross, Tamlane. [She goes and stands at Miles Cross.]

[A bell strikes twelve times for midnight. Between the strokes there is first the sound of an owl hooting, then other weird noises and strange fairy music' played on pipes, as the Elfin Court begins to pass by. There may be a sound of horses' hoofs and of bridles clanking off stage. The Elfin company must be uncanny in appearance. Will- o'-Wisp flits before them. Take plenty of time for these apparitions and improve opportunities for dancing. First there are spooks in black, then brown and finally the milk- white, with the Queen of Elfland and Tamlane, whose ungloved hand with the ring upon it is in evidence.]

[As the milk-white knights pass, Janet runs forward, seizes Tamlane and pulls him to the ground. At once there is an outcry from the other knights.]

Elfin Knights: He's taken! Tamlane's taken from amongst us all!

Queen of Elfland: Use all the magic of Elfland upon them ! Turn him into an adder!

[Enter spooks dressed in green who dance about in a sort of serpent dance threatening Janet and hissing.]

Turn him into a bear! [Brown spooks dance heavily in bear fashion about them.]

Try fire and red hot coals upon them! [Creatures in red and black now dance about them. Janet holds Tamlane fast and throws her green mantle over him. The Elfin magic fails. Tamlane in his true shape rises and goes off stage at right with Janet.]

Queen of Elfland: [From out a bush of broom, wailing and shrieking.] She's taken away Tamlane, the bonniest, bonniest knight of all my company! Oh, Tamlane! Tamlane! Had I but known what I see now, I would have taken out your two grey eyes and put in two eyes of wood. And I would have paid the Fiend his tribute seven times over to keep you, Tamlane! Tamlane!



[Interior of Nurse's Cottage.]

[Janet and Tamlane have just entered.]

Nurse: The Saints be praised that no harm came to my lassie this gloomy night! [She takes Janet's hair down from under the snood and strokes it lovingly.] 'Twas an eerie way she went to seek you, Tamlane, but I knew you'd be waiting by the well on Halloween for Janet to take you away from the fairies. How did they steal you and hold you in Fairyland these seven years?

Tamlane: Bad luck was with me that cold, windy day when I rode home from the hunting. I fell from my horse on Carterhaugh plain and deep sleep came upon me. The Queen of Elves caught me then and carried me off to yonder green hill to serve her for seven years.

Janet: Is Fairyland pleasant to dwell in, Tamlane?

Tamlane: In Fairyland there is no pain nor sickness. The air is warm and pleasant and full of strange, sweet music. The fairies can not bear solemn sounds but love merry, tinkling tunes. Mortals would dwell happily there but for fear of the Fiend. Once in seven years the Elf-Queen must pay her tribute to the Fiend in Hell. He takes away the bonniest of her knights and this year I feared 'twould be myself.

Janet: The Elf-Queen is very fair. Were you happy with her, Tamlane?

Tamlane: When she sits at home in her green hill combing her golden hair with a silver comb she is very fair, but I wanted you, Janet,and every year at Halloween I've waited at the well with long ing for you.

Nurse: My lassie is the fairest flower of all the maids in her father's hall. She's bonnier than the Elf-Queen herself. I was born on Halloween and have seen the fairies and know their tricks. Tamlane had to serve the Elf-Queen seven years before her power could be broken, and 'twas I told my lassie how to win her true-love. Now he is free forever from the fairies and when he is blessed in Holy Chapel again, Tamlane shall be a stately groom for my Lady Janet.


The phrase in Tam Lin of Tam Lin being "at the well" was meant, in my understanding, to signify enchantment, as the wells were liminal places where magic occurred. It does not actually indicate that he is in the well or present at the time ("But away was he himself").

Added to site October 2014