Little John A Begging


8 No other ballad shows the outlaws directly begging for money; in the Gest Robin orders his men off to seek money by robbery, but it seems unlikely that they would demean themselves by begging. The improbability of this opening is dictated by the later action in which John the false beggar exposes even falser beggars, but this forced quality is not found in the earlier ballads, which open with dramatic but inherently credible sequences.

11 The wording here closely resembles that of Robin Hood Rescues Three Young Men, 89-92; this is not so clearly the case in the version in the Percy Folio and some cross-influence in the London broadside industry appears to have occurred.

23 There are three beggars in the Percy version, not four; later in this ballad when Little John deals with them separately, only three are identified, see lines 50-53.

31 Little John pretends to hear bells ringing when, as becomes clear (and as he presumably has guessed), it is the coins he hears jingling in the coat pockets and bags.

38 In addition to London, the beggars mention two towns at opposite ends of England (Berwick in the north and Dover in the south) and Coventry in the midlands.

41 The "beggars" call John a crooked carril, or churl, because he is stooping in disguise; like them he is pretending to be physically disabled.

48 nere. The version in the 1663 garland has "never" in this line, which is perhaps metrically better, but this does not seem good enough reason to emend.

53 Wood's text reads "them," as if John makes all three beggars run, but the sense is sharper if "him," the reading of the 1663 and 1670 garlands and that of Child, is accepted, as then John makes each of the beggars breach his previous pretence.

59 At a time when, it has been estimated, a craftsman earned three pounds a year, these are unimaginably large sums of money, perhaps equivalent to the astronomical "street value" quoted today for drugs impounded by police.

64 John's humorous oath, repeated by Robin at line 84, swears never to drink water until all the money is expended.

76 John's success at the "beggers trade" is reminiscent of Robin's as a potter or a butcher, and even John's as the sheriff's yeoman in the Gest. The outlaws expose the corrupt or improper nature of a trade and also make huge profits.

80 Both the 1663 and 1670 garlands read "Three hundred and three" but this must be an error as John collects two sums adding up to six hundred and three.