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The Jolly Pinder of Wakefield: Introduction

This ballad, like Robin Hood and the Curtal Friar, appears in Percy's folio manuscript and also in a number of seventeenth-century ballad and garland collections. It is, like other texts, damaged in the Percy MS: in this case too much is missing for that to be the basis of the text, but the Percy version provides some valuable corrections and extensions to the earliest complete broadside version. There are two versions in the Forresters manuscript, one an independent version of the garland text (A), the other a larger text apparently related to the prose history of George a Greene (B). Forresters' A is close to the Wood version, Child's favored text, but as it seems edited or erroneous, though with some good readings, it is referred to in the notes and occasionally used for emendation.

The story of Robin Hood's encounter with the doughty pinder of Wakefield had clearly existed for at least a century when Percy's manuscript was compiled: a ballad with this title was recorded in the Stationers' Register in 1557-59, is quoted in Anthony Munday's play, and was used in the Sloane Life of Robin Hood which appears to have been compiled in the late sixteenth century. Child suggests the ballad is mentioned in several Shakespeare plays, but he is only referring to the linking of the names "Robin and Scarlet and John": this does occur in a number of other ballads (albeit later recorded and somewhat literary ones, Robin Hood's Delight and Robin Hood and the Prince of Aragon), and in any case this evidence is not needed to prove the widespread nature of the Wakefield saga. A prose life of George a Greene, the Pinder's name, existed from the early seventeenth century (by 1632) and, most striking of all, there was a five-act play of the same title, almost certainly by Robert Greene, written by 1594.

The pinder of Wakefield, like the friar of Fountains Abbey, and even like Gamelyn or Gamwell, was one of the local heroes who were drawn into the Robin Hood myth, whose aficionados no doubt enjoyed hearing of his achievements against the great man, and so the range of the tales how Robin met his match was expanded. In some sense the ballad has the simple structure of the "equal fight" ballads where Robin, or more usually Robin, John, and Will (sometimes Much as well or instead) have a good demanding fight with some opponents, and end either by calling a truce or by engaging the antagonist to join the outlaw band.

Stressing the fight as it does, The Jolly Pinder of Wakefield clearly belongs to that genre; yet it has resonances of a richer vein. The pinder is inherently a town official, controlling any stray animals and, as here, protecting the local crops from damage. Robin's conflict with the pinder and winning him over to the outlaws' side is not unlike his encounters with the sheriff and other urban forces. It is interesting to note that the play, George a Greene, incorporates Robin as a hero junior to the pinder, associating the outlaw to some extent with political rebellion and George with total loyalty to the crown (Knight, 1994, pp. 120-21).

These nuances are somewhat hidden in this "thoroughly lyrical" ballad (Child, III, 129) with its use of repeated lines and a number of imprecise rhymes and variation between a four- and six-line stanza. But popular as the ballad was, it does not delineate a central part of the myth so much as illustrate one of the difficult encounters between the hero and other cultural and social forces.

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