“The Gest of Robin Hood” is an epic poem showing us how Robin Hood himself, is an outlaw and yeoman of Barnsdale. The title “The Gest of Robin Hood” comes from the Latin term, res gestae, meaning things done. Considering we no longer use this type of language a direct translation would be, “A Deed of Robin Hood,” (Thorndycroft). This poem can be better classified as a ballad, which is a popular narrative song or story passed down orally (Rafiq). “The Gest of Robin Hood” uses the qualities of a ballad such as: unexpected openings, audience, simple language, ballad stanzas, dialogue, and repetition to further analyze the poem.
To begin with, one quality of a ballad found in this text would be its unexpected and abrupt opening. Before the first page is over, Robin Hood already sends Little John to look for a guest. Robin Hood says, “It is far gone in the day/ God send us a guest/ So that we can have our dinner” (Lines 68-70). He cannot eat until they have a guest at the table. Little John returns with a Knight, they come to find out that he owes 400 pounds, because his son killed a man in a jousting tournament. The Knight has his land taken and needs the money to pay it back. Robin Hood decides to lend the Knight the money, because the Knight agrees to pay it back in full. Throwing us into the middle of the poem brings up the idea of the audience and how might feel about not getting much background information. The audience for most ballads can be unclear, since, it is a story that has been passed down. One thing that the audience does see, is Robin Hood as a hero. He might be stealing from the poor throughout the ballad, but it is almost as if he feels bad about what he is doing and that is why he gives to the poor. It might not always seem like it, but his lending of money shows the audience that he is good.
The next quality of a ballad is simple language which is composed for the audience using language that everyone can understand. Many poems can be hard to understand needing multiple reads and help to interpret what is happening. This ballad, however, uses simple language to avoid this. The reader sees this even from the opening lines, which tell us to simply, “Pay attention and listen, gentlemen” (Line 1). The dialogue incorporates multiple characters into each fytte without stating who is speaking. Since, this is a ballad the changes of voice were communicated orally when the story was passed on. However, in the ballad there is little or no sign that the speaker has changed.
This leads me to the perspective that the poem was written in. The poem uses a third person objective narration. They do not speak in a first person, and they do not comment on their reaction or any emotional content of the ballad (Connections). It is believed that this was used to help the audience see only what the characters were doing. We have to use our thought process to try to decide why the characters make the choices they do and what they are trying to achieve throughout the ballad.
Furthermore, ballads also incorporate ballad stanzas. These stanzas are four lines rhymed, “abcb,” and sometimes, “abab” (Connections). The only rhymes found in this poem use, “abab,” form, as seen here, “Where we shall take/ where we shall leave/ Where we shall wait behind/ Where we shall rob/ where we shall reve/ Where we shall beat and bind” (Lines 45-48). Here leave rhyming with reve and behind rhyming with bind. One more example of this would be in, “Who is your master?’ said the knight./ John said, ‘Robin Hood.’/ ‘He is a good yeoman,’ said the knight,/ ‘Of him I have heard much good” (Lines 101-104). In this example knight rhymes with knight and Hood rhymes with good. All throughout the poem there is also rhyming between lines a and c or b and d. An example of this would be, “Till I have some bold baron,/ That may pay for the best;/ Or some knight or some squire,/ That dwells here in the West” (Lines 25-28). This is a key principal, because ballads are known to have rhymes all throughout them. It is interesting that they commonly have the scheme of, “abcb” however that is not found in this poem. This also helps to make the ballad more like a song.
One last quality of ballads used in this poem would be the repetition. Repetition is a repeated section that divides sections of the story. The story has a repetition of Robin Hood stealing and giving money to the poor. Repetition of the word proud is also apparent. The sheriff is described as proud in almost every encounter he is found in the poem, “Still stood the proud sheriff” (Line 781). It was also used to describe Robin Hood, “Robin was the proud outlaw” (Line 5). There is more repetition with the words gentle and good. The Knight is described as gentle many times in the poem. One example of this is, “Welcome be ye, gentle knight” (Line 99). Robin Hood and his men are described as good, “If I come again, good Robin” (Line 46). These repeated words are being used in a way that makes it seem if it is a joke, because is Robin Hood actually good when he is stealing? (A Gest of Robyn Hode: Introduction).
“The Gest of Robin Hood” is an epic ballad. Throughout the whole poem there are many examples of Robin Hood being a yeomen and a hero to others, but we also come across him being an outlaw. This is why using the qualities of a ballad help the reader to analyze Robin Hood. Looking at the genre helps the reader develop new ideas and outlooks they would not think of otherwise.