Mother Goose is a well-known figure in the literature of fairy tales and nursery rhymes. Mother Goose is best known in the United States, in the United Kingdom and other English speaking nations. She is often prominent in Mother Goose stories, also more commonly known as "nursery rhymes" . Most people in the UK now only know Mother Goose as a title for a Christmas pantomime; besides the pantomime called "Mother Goose", the rhymes have formed the basis for many classic British pantomimes.
In spite of repeated facts, there are doubtful reports, familiar to tourists to Boston, Massachusetts that the original Mother Goose was a Bostonian wife of an Isaac Goose, either named Elizabeth Foster Goose (1665-1758) or Mary Goose (d. 1690, age 42) who is interred at the Granary Burying Ground on Tremont Street. According to Eleanor Early, a Boston travel and history writer of the 1930s and '40s, the original Mother Goose was a real person who lived in Boston in the 1660s. She was reportedly the second wife of Isaac Goose (alternatively named Vergoose or Vertigoose), who brought to the marriage six children of her own to add to Isaac's ten. After Isaac died, Elizabeth went to live with her eldest daughter, who had married Thomas Fleet, a publisher who lived on Pudding Lane (now Devonshire Street). According to Early, "Mother Goose" used to sing songs and ditties to her grandchildren all day, and other children swarmed to hear them. Finally, her son-in-law gathered her jingles together and printed them.
In The Real Personages of Mother Goose (1930), Katherine Elwes Thomas submits that the image and name "Mother Goose", or "Mère l'Oye", may be based upon ancient legends of the wife of King Robert II of France, Berthe la fileuse ("Bertha the Spinner") or Berthe pied d'oie ("Goose-Foot Bertha" ), called in the Midi the reine Pedauque who, according to Thomas, is often referred in French legends as spinning incredible tales that enraptured children. The authority on the Mother Goose tradition, Iona Opie, does not give any credence to either the Elwes Thomas or the Boston suppositions.
The initiator of the literary fairy tale genre, Charles Perrault, published in 1695 under the name of his son a collection of fairy tales Histoires ou contes du temps passés, avec des moralités, which grew better known under its subtitle, "Contes de ma mère l'Oye" or "Tales of my Mother Goose". Perrault's publication marks the first authenticated starting-point for Mother Goose stories.
In 1729 there appeared an English translation of Perrault's collection, Robert Samber's Histories or Tales of Past Times, Told by Mother Goose, which introduced "Sleeping Beauty", "Little Red Riding-hood", "Puss in Boots", "Cinderella" and other Perrault tales to English-speaking audiences. These were fairy tales. John Newbery published a compilation of English rhymes, Mother Goose's Melody, or, Sonnets for the Cradle (London, undated, c.1765), which switched the focus from fairy tales to nursery rhymes, and in English this was the prime connotation for Mother Goose until recently.
The first public appearance of the Mother Goose stories in the New World was in Worcester, Massachusetts, where printer Isaiah Thomas reprinted Samber's volume under the same title, in 1786.
The transition from a shadowy generic figure to one with such concrete actions was effected at a pantomime Harlequin and Mother Goose: or, The Golden Egg in 1806-07, Ryoji Tsurumi has shown; The pantomime was first performed at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, 29 December, and many times repeated in the new year. Harlequin and Mother Goose: or, The Golden Egg, starring the famous clown Joseph Grimaldi, was written by Thomas Dibdin, who invented the actions suitable for a Mother Goose brought to the stage, and recreated her as a witch-figure, Tsurumi notes: in the first scene the stage directions show her raising a storm and, for the very first time, flying a gander. The magical Mother Goose transformed the old miser into Pantaloon of the commedia dell'arte and the British pantomime tradition, and the young lovers Colin and Colinette, into Columbine and "Clown". Played en travesti by Samuel Simmons— a pantomime tradition that survives today— she also raises a ghost in a macabre churchyard scene,
Regionally flavored Mother Geese.