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Robin Hood and Little John


1 scot free: without paying his "scot" or shot, his bill


3 Little John: the earliest references feature the two outlaws and do not clearly privilege Robin. Scottish play-games link the two on nearly equal terms, sometimes as equivalent to the Abbot and Prior of Bonacord. There is some connection between Little John and the Derbyshire Peak district (tradition places his huge grave at Hathersage), and there are two Little John (not Robin Hood) sites in Leicestershire in the Charnwood area, not far from Derbyshire. The surname Naylor, sometimes attached to him, derives from a confusion after a Colonel Naylor, in 1715, owned "Little John's bow" and wrote his name on it (Walker, 1952, p. 131). As a figure, Little John can be interpreted as the helpful giant of folklore, and it can be argued that as Robin is gentrified, John is steadily downgraded into the equivalent of a non-commissioned officer (Knight, 1994, pp. 83-84).

12 jest. Here would at first appear to mean "adventure" as in the title of the Gest, but the reference to a smile in the next line appears to redefine it as "humorous story."

25 The sudden meeting with the stranger is a normal part of a "Robin Hood meets his match" ballad.

50 Although the r and t are very similar, the Onley text clearly reads tough, Child's reading. Later texts read "rough."

54 Later texts read "the stranger reply'd" instead of to thy humor I yield.

64 Later texts read "both," like Onley's; Child reads each, perhaps for number agreement -- each goes.

65 Onley's text reads they'd, which is metrically superior to Child's they had.

73 Onley's all on a fire is metrically superior to Child's version, which omits the article a.

86 Then, then, to seems acceptable: Child edits to Then unto.

108 thee: later texts have Robin using the polite plural you to John in this line.

114 William Stutely is a name that appears occasionally in the tradition; one seven-teenth-century ballad describes the outlaw's rescue of him from the sheriff (Child, no. 141). Whether this is another form of Will Scathelock or Scarlet is not clear: in Munday there are two characters bearing those names, but not Stutely. Such name similarities and confusions are common in Arthurian romance as well.

125 Where Child ends the line with a full stop, the text has a comma and runs on into the next stanza -- perhaps a sign of its somewhat bookish character; line 129 has a colon and is much the same in effect, but there also Child has a full stop against the syntax.

143 Though Child prints the word as greenwood, the sources have green wood, which is not quite the same. The concept of a single entity called greenwood is really a nineteenth-century concept influenced by Keats and Peacock (see Knight, 1996, ch. 5).

146 Later texts emend the meter by providing 'squires; no doubt this was the pronunciation expected in Onley.

153 The mention of caves is a rare moment of realism: most ballads locate the outlaws simply in "the green wood," as if the weather was never hostile.

































When Robin Hood was about twenty years old,
With a hey down, down, and a down
He happen'd to meet Little John,
A jolly brisk blade, right fit for the trade,
For he was a lusty young man.

Though he was call'd Little, his limbs they were large,
And his stature was seven foot high;
Whereever he came, they quak'd at his name,
For soon he wou'd make them to flie.

How they came acquainted, I'll tell you in brief,
If you will but listen a while;
For this very jest, amongst all the rest,
I think it may cause you to smile.

Bold Robin Hood said to his jolly bowmen,
"Pray tarry you here in this grove;
And see that you all observe well my call,
While thorough the forest I rove.

"We have had no sport for these fourteen long days,
Therefore now abroad will I go;
Now should I be beat, and cannot retreat,
My horn I will presently blow."

Then did he shake hands with his merry men all,
And bid them at present good by;
Then, as near a brook his journey he took,
A stranger he chanc'd to espy.

They happen'd to meet on a long narrow bridge,
And neither of them wou'd give way;
Quoth bold Robin Hood, and sturdily stood,
"I'll show you right Nottingham play."

With that from his quiver an arrow he drew,
A broad arrow with a goose-wing:
The stranger replyd, "I'll licker thy hide,
If thou offer to touch the string."

Quoth bold Robin Hood, "Thou dost prate like an ass,
For were I to bend but my bow,
I could send a dart quite through thy proud heart,
Before thou couldst strike me one blow."

"You talk like a coward," the stranger reply'd;
"Well arm'd with a long bow you stand,
To shoot at my breast, while I, I protest,
Have naught but a staff in my hand."

"The name of a coward," quoth Robin, "I scorn,
Wherefore my long bow I'll lay by;
And now, for thy sake, a staff will I take,
The truth of thy manhood to try."

Then Robin Hood stept to a thicket of trees,
And chose him a staff of ground oak;
Now this being done, away he did run
To the stranger and merrily spoke:

"Lo! see my staff; it is lusty and tough,
Now here on the bridge we will play;
Whoever falls in, the other shall win
The battle, and so we'll away."

"With all my whole heart to thy humor I yield,
I scorn in the least to give out."
This said, they fell to't without more dispute,
And their staffs they did flourish about.

And first Robin he gave the stranger a bang,
So hard that it made his bones ring:
The stranger he said, "This must be repaid;
I'll give you as good as you bring.

"So long as I am able to handle my staff,
To die in your debt, friend, I scorn."
Then to it both goes, and follow'd their blows,
As if they'd been thrashing of corn.

The stranger gave Robin a crack on the crown,
Which caused the blood to appear;
Then Robin, enrag'd, more fiercely engag'd,
And follow'd his blows more severe.

So thick and so fast did he lay it on him,
With a passionate fury and eyre,
At every stroke he made him to smoke,
As if he had been all on a fire.

O then into a fury the stranger he grew
And gave him a damnable look,
And with it a blow that laid him full low
And tumbl'd him into the brook.

"I prithee, good fellow, O where art thou now?"
The stranger in laughter he cry'd;
Quoth bold Robin Hood, "Good faith, in the flood,
And floting along with the tide.

"I needs must acknowledge thou art a brave soul;
With thee I'll no longer contend;
For needs must I say, thou hast got the day,
Our battle shall be at an end."

Then, then, to the bank he did presently wade,
And pull'd himself out by a thorn;
Which done, at the last, he blow'd a loud blast
Straitways on his fine bugle-horn.

The eccho of which through the vallies did flie,
At which his stout bowmen appear'd,
All cloathed in green, most gay, to be seen;
So up to their master they steer'd.

"O what's the matter?" quoth William Stutely,
"Good master, you are wet to the skin."
"No matter," quoth he, "the lad which you see,
In fighting he tumbl'd me in."

"He shall not go scot free," the others reply'd;1
So straight they were seising him there,
To duck him likewise, but Robin Hood cries,
"He is a stout fellow, forbear.

"There's no one shall wrong thee, friend, be not afraid;
These bowmen upon me do wait;
There's threescore and nine; if thou wilt be mine,
Thou shalt have my livery strait.

"And other accoutrements fit for my train,
Speak up, jolly blade, ne'r fear;
I'll teach thee also the use of the bow,
To shoot at the fat fallow-deer."

"O here is my hand," the stranger reply'd,
"I'll serve you with all my whole heart;
My name is John Little, a man of good mettle;
Ne'r doubt me, for I'll play my part."

"His name shall be alter'd," quoth William Stutely,
"And I will his godfather be;
Prepare then a feast, and none of the least,
For we will be merry," quoth he.

They presently fetch'd in a brace of fat does,
With humming strong liquor likewise;
They lov'd what was good, so in the greenwood,
This pritty sweet babe they baptize.

He was, I must tell you, but seven foot high,
And may be an ell in the waste;
A pritty sweet lad, much feasting they had;
Bold Robin the christ'ning grac'd,

With all his bowmen, which stood in a ring,
And were of the Nottingham breed;
Brave Stutely comes then, with seven yeomen,
And did in this manner proceed:

"This infant was called John Little," quoth he,
"Which name shall be changed anon;
The words we'll transpose, so where-ever he goes,
His name shall be call'd Little John."

They all with a shout made the elements ring,
So soon as the office was o're;
To feasting they went, with true merriment,
And tipl'd strong liquor gallore.

Then Robin he took the pritty sweet babe,
And cloath'd him from top to the toe
In garments of green, most gay to be seen,
And gave him a curious long bow.

"Thou shalt be an archer as well as the best,
And range in the green wood with us;
Where we'll not want gold nor silver, behold,
While bishops have ought in their purse.

"We live here like esquires, or lords of renown,
Without e're a foot of free land;
We feast on good cheer, with wine, ale and beer,
And ev'ry thing at our command."

Then musick and dancing did finish the day
At length when the sun waxed low,
Then all the whole train the grove did refrain,
And unto their caves they did go.

And so ever after, as long as he liv'd,
Although he was proper and tall,
Yet nevertheless, the truth to express,
Still Little John they did him call.

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young man

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at once

God be with you (goodbye)

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tan (beat)


oak sapling

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forty-five inches

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galore (in plenty)

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Go to Robin Hood and Allin a Dale: Introduction