Robyn and Gandelyn: Introduction

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Robyn and Gandelyn: Introduction

This poem is preserved only in the Sloane MS 2593, a neatly written repository of lyrics and carols, thought by Gray to be "probably a song book, although there is no music" (1984, p. 12), and dated around 1450. However, it does not automatically challenge Robin Hood and the Monk for the status of the earliest extant Robin Hood text. There must be serious doubt to what extent, as Child says, "the Robin in this ballad is Robin Hood" (III, 12), and he prints it among the parallel outlaw tales, between Johnie Cock and Adam Bell. Ritson did not print it with the Robin Hood poems but in Ancient Songs (1790) under the title Robyn Lyth (see note to line 1). Dobson and Taylor remark that "by no stretch of the imagination can the 'Robin' of this lyric be properly identified with the Robin Hood of the other ballads" (1976, p. 256).

Yet whereas Johnie Cock and Adam Bell provide analogues to the major outlaw myth, this poem has clear continuities with some features of the Robin Hood saga. This is not so much a matter of the title -- Robin is a common enough name for a young man, whether a lover or a trickster, and the "Robin and Marion" French song cycle and the Robin Goodfellow tradition present figures who are clearly not the same as Robin Hood. But two other names in this poem connect with the tradition of the English outlaw.

Gandelyn is often assumed to be linked with Gamelyn. Skeat in his edition of that poem states the name "is a mere corruption of Gamelyn" (1884, p. ix). He is speaking of the poem which is itself a distant analogue of the Robin Hood tradition, but in a later ballad, Robin Hood and Will Scarlet, a character with a name close to Gamelyn, Will Gamwell, joins Robin's band, and a number of the nineteenth-century expansions of the myth (notably Pierce Egan's novel of 1840) develop this aspect of the story. It may well be, of course, that making Will Gamwell Robin Hood's gentry cousin is only a way of rationalizing the existence of the early poem telling the outlaw-linked adventure of the knightly Gamelyn, but the early existence of Robyn and Gandelyn suggests that there had been at least some connection between the two names well before the narrative exploitation of their similarity in the later ballad.

The other name that seems to point towards Robin Hood is that of Wrennock. It has been suggested that when John Major and other sixteenth-century writers recast the outlaw tradition as that of a distressed nobleman in the period of bad King John, they had in mind the model of Fouke le Fitz Waryn. One of Fouke's worst enemies was a Welshman called Morris of Powys whose son went by the name of Wrennoc: the similarities have been outlined in some detail by Prideaux (1886).

There are many resonances throughout the Robin Hood tradition of the events in this poem: two outlaws are in the woods looking for game; they are attacked and Robin is bested; the other outlaw avenges him with courage and skill. That is not in the ballads a fatal encounter for Robin and rarely for his enemies, but Robin Hood and the Monk, one of the versions of The Death of Robin Hood, and, to some extent, Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne have resemblances with this kind of fatal duel, while the "Robin Hood meets with his match" ballads euphemize this forest encounter, as in another way does the exchange of blows that in the Gest and The King's Disguise and Friendship with Robin Hood has become reduced to pluck buffet, where the blow is a result of winning at archery, and so is a distant version of the fatal duel seen here.

In form the poem is closer to a narrative lyric than an extended ballad, as is suggested by its presence in a lyrical anthology. This formal character is constructed not so much by the existence of a refrain (not an uncommon feature in the Robin Hood ballads) but by the brevity of the poem, the simplicity of its diction, as well as by the suggestive, incomplete nature of the action which is a good deal more gnomic than even the more "expressionist" ballads, like Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne.

The manuscript has no division into stanzas, but Child's lay-out seems convincing; it includes no less than three six-line stanzas, verified by the rhyme pattern, and the rhymes, as is usual in lyrics, are almost all good ("ale/knawe" in the last stanza seems the only half-rhyme) and consistently on an abcb pattern (lines 45 and 47 are repetition, not an additional a rhyme). The diction, again as usual in the lyric, avoids redundancy and cliché, though there is a good deal of measured and rhetorical repetition as in lines 9 and 13, 27-28, 25 and 31, 39 and 41, 46 and 50, 48 and 52, 63-66, and 68-71.

Gray calls this poem "mysterious and eerie" (1984, p. 12), and there are other lyrics of that primarily suggestive kind, such as the Corpus Christi Carol and, with some verbal resonance, Adam lay yboundyn. In a similar context, Rosalind Field has suggested to the editor that the "unblemished" deer (line 17) may be supernatural, and killing them may be taboo, as with the kine of Helios in The Odyssey. Nevertheless, mystery is not the poem's only direction: the emergent themes of honest outlaws under threat, of unflinching loyalty, and of both plenitude and threat in the forest all look towards the concerns of the Robin Hood myth rather than to any other medieval corpus of material.

Go To Robyn and Gandelyn
Selected Bibliography Texts

Sloane Manuscript 2593 (in British Library).

Child, F. J., ed. Popular English and Scottish Ballads. 5 vols. 1882-98. Rpt. New York: Dover, 1965. Vol. III, no. 115.

Dobson, R. J., and J. Taylor., eds. Rymes of Robin Hood. London: Heinemann, 1976. Pp. 255-57.

Gutch, J. M., ed. A Lytelle Gest of Robin Hood with other Auncient and Modern Ballads and Songs Relating to the Celebrated Yeoman. 2 vols. London: Longman, 1847. Vol. II, 35-39.

Ritson, Joseph, ed. Ancient Songs from the Time of King Henry the Third to the Revolution. London: J. Johnson, 1790. Pp. 48-51. [Ritson titles the poem "Robin Lyth" and includes it as the first in class II, songs "Comprehending the Reigns of Henry IV, Henry V, and Henry VI."]

Commentary and Criticism

Child, F. J., pp. 12-13.

Dobson, R. J., and J. Taylor, pp. 255-56.

Egan, Piers, the Younger. Robin Hood and Little John, or The Merry Men of Sherwood Forest. London: Forster and Hextall, 1840.

Gray, Douglas. "The Robin Hood Poems." Poetica 18 (1984), 1-39.

Prideaux, W. F. "Who Was Robin Hood?" Notes and Queries, 7th Series, II (1886), 421-24.

Skeat, W. W., ed. The Tale of Gamelyn. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1884.