Tom O'Bedlam

Tom O'Bedlam

“For to see mad Tom O’Bedlam 10,000 miles I traveled.”

“Tom o’ Bedlam” is the name of an anonymous poem in the “mad song” genre, written in the voice of a homeless “Bedlamite.” The poem was probably composed at the beginning of the 17th century; in How to Read and Why, Harold Bloom calls it “the greatest anonymous lyric in the [English] language.”

The term “Tom o’ Bedlam” was used in Early Modern Britain and later to describe beggars and vagrants who had or feigned mental illness (see also Abraham-men). They claimed, or were assumed, to have been former inmates at the Bethlem Royal Hospital (Bedlam). It was commonly thought that inmates were released with authority to make their way by begging, though this is probably untrue. If it happened at all the numbers were certainly small, though there were probably large numbers of mentally ill travellers who turned to begging, but had never been near Bedlam. It was adopted as a technique of begging, or a character. For example, Edgar in King Lear disguises himself as mad “Tom o’ Bedlam”. Wikipedia


  • Adapted from the poem Tom O’Bedlam
  • Written by Unknown
  • Performed by Jane Aker
  • Recorded by Warren Smith
  • This work is published under a CC-BY 4.0 license. You are free to share this recording. Credit should be attributed to
  • Presented in association with: The Public Domain Foundry with special thanks to our volunteers.
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About Warren Smith
Warren enjoys, reading, writing, recording audio, working with public domain resources, and generally having a good day.