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Robin Hood and the Pedlars: Introduction

According to Child the manuscript in which Robin Hood and the Pedlars occurs contains "a variety of matters, and, as the best authority [E. Maunde Thompson, Keeper of Manuscripts in the British Museum] has declared, may in part have been written as early as 1650, but all the ballads are in a nineteenth-century hand, and some of them are maintained to be forgeries" (III, 170). Robin Hood and the Pedlars is surely one of the "forgeries," a work composed most likely in the early nineteenth century by an antiquarian enthusiast who has read plenty of Robin Hood ballads and who has a good quotient of off-color wit. The verse is in rollicking ballad stanzas that mingle conventional devices (interrogatory opening with promises of smiles to come, stock phrases and situations, syntactic inversions, repetitions, action through dialogue, and archaisms) with bits and pieces of old plot. But there are surprises along the way, especially toward the end where the wounded Robin takes a "balsame" which, according to the decorous Child "operates unpleasantly" (III, 171) and which Gutch before him had labelled a"nasty incident" (II, 355). But what seemed obscene to nineteenth-century editors, namely, the once gentrified hero not only beheld vomiting, but vomiting in the faces of his buddies, is likely to seem crudely amusing to the more vulgar inclination of a late twentieth-century audience. Part of the amusement lies in the poet's blending of euphemism with specifics -- no puking or even vomiting for the nineteenth-century writer but, rather "he gan to spewe, and up he threwe" (line 110); this he combined with a cute moral that warns against challenging people stronger than oneself (lines 117-20). Such ploys are sufficiently risqué and upright to reveal the anonymous author's playful delight in honoring his heroes by besmirching them. As in many a tale of Robin, the hero wins, then, over-confident in his rough and tumble way, loses only to win over his opponent through his fall, albeit here disgustingly.

Robin Hood and the Pedlars is part of popular representation of a carefree "former age" that early nineteenth-century England thrived upon under the penumbra of Scott's Ivanhoe. The matter is light, the imitations clever, and the effect primitively vulgar, a primitivism that enables a prim audience to titillate itself in a socially acceptable way, despite the unpleasantry and nastiness of what the "old ballad" said.

I have used Child's transcription as my base text, with some alterations in capitalization (Ff>F) and punctuation. I have not seen the nineteenth-century manuscript.

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Selected Bibliography

Robin Hood and the Peddlers. In A Lytell Geste of Robin Hode with Other Ancient and Modern Ballads and Songs Relating to this Celebrated Yeoman, to which is prefixed his history and character, grounded upon other documents than those made use of by his former biographer, "Mister Ritson." Ed. by John Mathew Gutch. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1847. II, 351-55.

Robin Hood and the Pedlars. In English and Scottish Popular Ballads. Ed. F. J. Child. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1888. III, 170-72.