Purcell’s setting of the poem first appeared in print in the second book of The Theatre of Music (1685). The poet directs a diatribe at a rival who is rich and of high social rank. Our lover tells his enemy that his money and possessions give him far more power and influence – and in this case, sexual attraction – than his powers of rhetoric deserve. As the music moves from the opening semi-recitative into arioso, the poet tells the rich man that the next time he sees the lady who is attracting both their attentions, he will tell her ‘How worthless thou art of her bed’; the rival’s only answer to the poet’s superior intellect will be to offer jewels and a huge ‘Jointure’ (money that is settled on the wife in a marriage agreement; this would give the wife greater independence in what is effectively the opposite of a dowry). As he hurls insults at the rival and his ‘friends that dote and domineer’, the poet admits that matters of love are in the hands of the gods. In the final, lyrical triple-time arioso our lover makes it quite clear that his love for the lady would be the same whether she were a beggar or an empress. The tail does contain a sting, for the poet admits that, if the lady were as true to him as he to her (and he knows from her two-timing that she clearly isn’t), the rival would stand no chance.
from notes by Robert King © 2003