NOTE: TAM LIN is suitable for ages 10 and up. The language is fairly tame (a few "hells" and "bastards") and the references to adult situations will go over the heads of most pre-teens. The show contains nothing that couldn't also be seen on prime-time network television.

More about Tam Lin

The Source: the ballad of Tam Lin
Influences: Shakespeare and Monty Python
A TAM LIN Glossary

The Source: the ballad of Tam Lin

The play Tam Lin is based on an old Scottish folk ballad, also called Tam Lin. Scholars believe that the ballad of Tam Lin dates back at least to the 1500s. Since the ballad is part of an oral, rather than a written tradition, there are many different versions of the song - 19th century British folklorist Francis James Child found at least eleven. An excellent scholarly resource for all things Tam Lin (the ballad) see Tam Lin Balladry: A website of folklore and discovery.

The ballad’s verses tell the tale of Janet, a girl who rescues a boy, which makes this story stand out from the boy-rescues-girl scenario of most fairy tales. Not only that, Janet becomes pregnant before she is married and yet remains the heroine of the story. To understand how strikingly modern this tale’s attitude was for the time, compare Shakespeare’s heroines, who uniformly refuse extra-marital sex. Next to Rosalind, Juliet or Beatrice, Janet is a veritable Maiden Gone Wild.

There are many unsolved mysteries in the Tam Lin ballad: Does the Queen of the Faeries really plan to sacrifice Tam Lin? Why does she allow Tam Lin to threaten the virginity of young ladies traveling through the Forest of Cartherhaugh? And why does Janet go to the Forest of Carterhaugh in the first place, in spite of all the warnings about the fearsome Tam Lin? In the play Tam Lin, author N.G. McClernan answers these questions and adds new elements to round out the narrative: a clan war; Elven knights; and Janet’s lady-in-waiting Margaret, who woos Janet’s rejected fiancé in her own creative way.

To understand the simplicity of the ballad's plot, read Child Ballad version 39A of Tam Lin:

O I forbid you, maidens a',
That wear gowd on your hair,
To come or gae by Carterhaugh,
For young Tam Lin is there.
There's nane that gaes by Carterhaugh
But they leave him a wad,
Either their rings, or green mantles,
Or else their maidenhead.
Janet has kilted her green kirtle
A little aboon her knee,
And she has broded her yellow hair
A little aboon her bree,
And she's awa to Carterhaugh
As fast as she can hie.
When she came to Carterhaugh
Tam Lin was at the well,
And there she fand his steed standing,
But away was himsel.
She had na pu'd a double rose,
A rose but only twa,
Till upon then started young Tam Lin,
Says, Lady, thou's pu nae mae.
Why pu's thou the rose, Janet,
And why breaks thou the wand?
Or why comes thou to Carterhaugh
Withoutten my command?
"Carterhaugh, it is my own,
My daddy gave it me,
I'll come and gang by Carterhaugh,
And ask nae leave at thee."
Janet has kilted her green kirtle
A little aboon her knee,
And she has broded her yellow hair
A little aboon her bree,
And she is to her father's ha,
As fast as she can hie.
Four and twenty ladies fair
Were playing at the ba,
And out then came the fair Janet,
The flower among them a'.
Four and twenty ladies fair
Were playing at the chess,
And out then came the fair Janet,
As green as onie glass.
Out then spake an auld grey knight,
Lay oer the castle wa,
And says, Alas, fair Janet, for thee,
But we'll be blamed a'.
"Haud your tongue, ye auld fac'd knight,
Some ill death may ye die!
Father my bairn on whom I will,
I'll father none on thee."
Out then spak her father dear,
And he spak meek and mild,
"And ever alas, sweet Janet," he says,
"I think thou gaest wi child."
"If that I gae wi child, father,
Mysel maun bear the blame,
There's neer a laird about your ha,
Shall get the bairn's name.
"If my love were an earthly knight,
As he's an elfin grey,
I wad na gie my ain true-love
For nae lord that ye hae.
"The steed that my true love rides on
Is lighter than the wind,
Wi siller he is shod before,
Wi burning gowd behind."
Janet has kilted her green kirtle
A little aboon her knee,
And she has broded her yellow hair
A little aboon her bree,
And she's awa to Carterhaugh
As fast as she can hie.
When she came to Carterhaugh,
Tam Lin was at the well,
And there she fand his steed standing,
But away was himsel.
She had na pu'd a double rose,
A rose but only twa,
Till up then started young Tam Lin,
Says, Lady, thou pu's nae mae.
"Why pu's thou the rose, Janet,
Amang the groves sae green,
And a' to kill the bonny babe
That we gat us between?"
"O tell me, tell me, Tam Lin," she says,
"For's sake that died on tree,
If eer ye was in holy chapel,
Or christendom did see?"
"Roxbrugh he was my grandfather,
Took me with him to bide
And ance it fell upon a day
That wae did me betide.
"And ance it fell upon a day
A cauld day and a snell,
When we were frae the hunting come,
That frae my horse I fell,
The Queen o' Fairies she caught me,
In yon green hill do dwell.
"And pleasant is the fairy land,
But, an eerie tale to tell,
Ay at the end of seven years,
We pay a tiend to hell,
I am sae fair and fu o flesh,
I'm feard it be mysel.
"But the night is Halloween, lady,
The morn is Hallowday,
Then win me, win me, an ye will,
For weel I wat ye may.
"Just at the mirk and midnight hour
The fairy folk will ride,
And they that wad their true-love win,
At Miles Cross they maun bide."
"But how shall I thee ken, Tam Lin,
Or how my true-love know,
Amang sa mony unco knights,
The like I never saw?"
"O first let pass the black, lady,
And syne let pass the brown,
But quickly run to the milk-white steed,
Pu ye his rider down.
"For I'll ride on the milk-white steed,
And ay nearest the town,
Because I was an earthly knight
They gie me that renown.
"My right hand will be gloved, lady,
My left hand will be bare,
Cockt up shall my bonnet be,
And kaimed down shall my hair,
And thae's the takens I gie thee, Nae doubt I will be there.
"They'll turn me in your arms, lady,
Into an esk and adder,
But hold me fast, and fear me not,
I am your bairn's father.
"They'll turn me to a bear sae grim,
And then a lion bold,
But hold me fast, and fear me not,
And ye shall love your child.
"Again they'll turn me in your arms
To a red het gand of airn,
But hold me fast, and fear me not,
I'll do you nae harm.
"And last they'll turn me in your arms
Into the burning gleed,
Then throw me into well water,
O throw me in with speed.
"And then I'll be your ain true-love,
I'll turn a naked knight,
Then cover me wi your green mantle,
And hide me out o sight."
Gloomy, gloomy was the night,
And eerie was the way,
As fair Jenny in her green mantle
To Miles Cross she did gae.
At the mirk and midnight hour
She heard the bridles sing,
She was as glad at that
As any earthly thing.
First she let the black pass by,
And syne she let the brown,
But quickly she ran to the milk-white steed,
And pu'd the rider down.
Sae weel she minded what he did say,
And young Tam Lin did win,
Syne covered him wi her green mantle,
As blythe's a bird in spring
Out then spak the Queen o Fairies,
Out of a bush o broom,
"Them that has gotten young Tam Lin
Has gotten a stately-groom."
Out then spak the Queen o Fairies,
And an angry woman was she,
"Shame betide her ill-far'd face,
And an ill death may she die,
For she's taen awa the bonniest knight In a' my companie.
"But had I kend, Tam Lin," said she,
"What now this night I see,
I wad hae taen out thy twa grey een,
And put in twa een o tree."

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Influences: Shakespeare and Monty Python

A critic has noted similarities between this play and the history plays of Shakespeare, but Tam Lin is actually an homage to Shakespeare’s comedies: it recalls The Taming of the Shrew when Lord Aberdeen attempts to starve Janet into submission; the faerie and human worlds clash in both Tam Lin and A Midsummer Night's Dream; and of course there’s the bed-trick, a theatrical device that was extremely popular with Elizabethan audiences and appears in All’s Well That Ends Well. But in Shakespeare’s play the bed-trick is used to consummate a lawful marriage which is not quite how it is used in Tam Lin.

Tam Lin includes characters speaking in rhyme, as Shakespeare's work did, especially the earlier plays. But this play observers a convention that Shakespeare's never did: in Tam Lin only the faerie folk speak in rhyme, and they always rhyme. Tam Lin speaks in rhyme too, when he's under the Faerie Queen's spell - when Janet's touch brings him out of the spell he stops rhyming. The faerie rhyme scheme is called ballad meter, defined as alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter, with an xbyb rhyme scheme. Ballad meter reflects the rhyme scheme of the Tam Lin ballad itself.

The play is also clearly influenced by Monty Python, as the silly disputes over haggis, Scottish pride and the pronounciation of the word "trebuchet' demonstrate.

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A TAM LIN Glossary

Although TAM LIN is written mainly in plain, modern English, some of the words mentioned may be unfamiliar to audiences:


An herb, member of the carrot family, it grows wild in northern European countries. Traditionally angelica was believed to be a protection against witchcraft, evil spirits and spells.

Autumn Equinox

The autumnal equinox falls about September 23. It marks the first day of autumn, and is called "Mabon" by modern pagans.


Another name for Scotland. Caledonia is the Latin rendering of the Celtic word "Celyddon" which means "a dweller in woods and forests." The word Celt is itself a contraction of the same word and means the same thing. The influence of Celtic culture is felt throughout northern Europe, but especially in Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Cornwall in England and Brittany in France.


A traditional Scottish dish that consists of the heart, liver, and lungs of a sheep or a calf minced with suet, onions, oatmeal, and seasonings boiled in the stomach of the animal.Considered disgusting by virtually all non-Scots. Robert Burns, Scotland's national poet, wrote an Address to a Haggis, and a haggis is traditionally served as part of a Burns supper celebrated annually on January 25.


Halloween was a serious and important time in Celtic cultures. It was when the veil between the earthly world and the world of the spirits was thin enough for divine beings, the spirits of the dead, and mortals to cross over to the other side.


An old Scottish word that means "to make visible."

Loch Ness Monster

The Loch Ness Monster is an alleged plesiosaur-like creature living in Loch Ness, a long, deep lake near Inverness, Scotland. The legend of the monster dates back hundreds of years.


A trebuchet (pronounced treb-you-SHETTTT) was a large medieval catapult used to hurl rocks and other heavy items at castles to knock holes in the walls. Used by the French to hurl cows and other objects at King Arthur and his knights in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail. You can learn more about trebuchets here.

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