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Robin Hood's Golden Prize: Introduction

This is a mid-seventeenth-century ballad found in broadsides and garlands, and recorded in the Stationers' Register in 1656. The story, Child notes (III, 208), is one found in folklore, the essence being that the outlaw plays a trick on someone - usually a priest - by pretending that a miracle has occurred and money has emerged in return for prayer, when he knew quite well the money was there all the time. This robbery by cunning fits well with the trickster element of Robin Hood and also supports anti-clerical feeling, so strong a strain in the tradition in this period.

The ballad has a commercial ring in its opening, with elaborate language (accoutered in his array, line 12; Come riding gallantly, line 18). The first stanzas also advertize the Robin Hood connection and the special quality of this tale (line 8). But for the most part this is a fast-moving tale of Robin Hood's justified robbery, without the ferocity of the early ballads; as the verse introduction states, this is a "jest" of Robin Hood in both its senses, adventure and trick.

The image of a friar, fully realized in Catholic form (lines 11-13), does seem an odd choice in the protestant seventeenth century for Robin's disguise in which to humiliate the equally Catholic monks. This suggests either a remarkably tolerant audience or that the early idea that friars are more acceptable to the outlaw spirit than other regular clergy has somehow survived the reformation, and indeed lasted to the present. However, the somewhat pompous tone of the commercial ballad asserts itself finally as Robin returns to the green wood: With great joy, mirth, and pride (line 98).

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