Published in 1938, Come Sleep is one of the best-loved of all Glanville-Hicks’s songs. The poem, which she thought was by John Fletcher (seen here in a portrait by an unknown artist), was published in the Oxford Book of English Verse in 1919 and has been set by others, including Rebecca Clarke, as simply “Sleep”. It derives from the play The Woman Hater, now attributed to both John Fletcher and Francis Beaumont, published in 1607. Possibly its origins were unknown to Glanville-Hicks, who was simply attracted to a song about delight, pleasing dreams and abiding joys. But as a hymn to women’s wiles and as an example of a women using music to woo a man impervious to her charms, it seems fitting that it was published in the year Glanville-Hicks married Stanley Bate.
It is the story of the Duke of Milan, in love with the fifteen-year-old Oriana. Oriana is determined to reach the court and in a storm seeks shelter in the house of the general Gondarino. Knowing of Gondarino’s hatred of women Oriana decides to “torment him to madness”. “The more he hates,” she decides, “the more I’ll seem to love”. In Act III she calls on Venus to inspire her “with all the several subtle temptations, that thou hast already given, or hast in store hereafter to bestow upon our sex: grant that I may apply that Physick that is apt to work upon him; whether he will soonest be mov’d with wantonness, singing, dancing; or being passionate, … and when I have him, I will sacrifice him up to thee”. In their dialogue she assures him, “You’re yet too harsh, too dissonant; There’s no true music in your words, my lord.” In response he describes her as “a precious piece of fly damnation” with a “smiling, witching, cozening, tempting, damning face”. He consents to her singing a song in the hope that she will leave him alone. Afterwards he describes the song as a “wassail”, “I had as lief hear a cat cry, when her tail is cut off, as hear these lamentations, these lowly love-lays, these bewailments: You think you have caught me lady; you think I melt now, like a dish of May-butter, and run all into brine and passion?” When the Duke arrives Gondarino describes Oriana as a whore, “an arrant whore” and sends her to a brothel. But when the Duke resolves to test her virtue she passes the test and he marries her.