Robin Hood

Week 9: Medieval Heroes - Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images

Sir Guy Meets Robin Hood: A Modern Retelling

Reading time:(6 minutes)

The ballad of Sir Guy of Gisborne and Robin Hood is my favorite Robin Hood ballad, but it can be somewhat difficult to understand, both because of the archaic language but also because of the intricate way in which it weaves the two threads of the plot. In this modern version of the story you can see the two threads of the plot very distinctly: Robin and John go out together, but they separate - Robin meets up with Guy of Gisborne, but John falls into the clutches of the Sheriff of Nottingham. After reading this modernized version of the story, you will then read the old ballad form.

Robin Hood had a bad dream: 'Two strong yeomen beat and bound me and took my bow, and as sure as I abide in this land I'll have my revenge on those two,' he told Little John.

'Master,' said Little John. 'Dreams are passing things. As the wind blows o'er the hill, they can be very loud in the night but on the morrow may be quite still.'

Robin insisted: 'Get yourself ready, Little John, we're going to search the greenwood for these two yeoman.'

Through the forest they went, shooting their bows along the way till they chanced upon a powerfully built yeoman, leaning against a tree. Dressed head to foot in horse-hide, he carried by his side a sword and dagger, both looking as if they had been the bane of many a man.

When Little John offered to go and see what the fellow wanted, Robin sharply admonished him: 'Now that's a marvellous thing when you set no store by me. How often do I send my men before and I follow behind? Only a knave gives himself away when he speaks. If I wasn't wary of breaking my bow, John, I'd crack your head with it.'

Words often breed mischief and the two friends angrily parted - Little John back to Barnsdale and Robin toward the yeoman.

* * *

'Good morrow, good fellow!' the yeoman greeted Robin.

'Good morrow, good fellow!' returned Robin. 'Methinks from the bow that you carry that you are a fine archer.'

'That may be but I have missed my way in these woods and lost track of the time.'

'I'll lead you through the woods, good fellow,' offered Robin.

'I seek an outlaw - men call him Robin Hood. I would rather meet him this day than have 20 pound in gold.'

'If you two met I'm sure you would soon discover who is the better. But I pray you, good fellow, let's amuse ourselves with a game. Let's have a test of skill as we walk through the woods. Perhaps we'll chance upon Robin Hood when we least expect it.'

To make targets they cut long, thin branches from the summer shrubs growing under the briars, added garlands of twigs and planted them 100 yards away.

'You first, good fellow,' begged the yeoman.

'No, in faith,' insisted Robin. 'You must be the leader.' To save further argument Robin led and his first shot missed the target by less than an inch. The yeoman, good though he was, came nowhere near it and though his second shot fell inside the garland, Robin shot better and split the wand in two.

'God bless your heart,' praised the yeoman, 'your shooting is good. If your heart was as good as your hands, you would be better than Robin Hood. Tell me your name, good fellow.'

'No, in faith, not till you have told me yours.'

'I dwell by dale and down and have done many a deadly turn. Call me by my right name and you call me Guy of Gisborne.'

'My dwelling is in the wood and I set nothing by you. My name is Robin Hood of Barnsdale - the fellow you have long sought.'

A fine sight it must have been to see these yeomen going at it with gleaming bright blades - as long as neither one of them was your kith or kin. For two hours on that summer day they fought, neither giving way till Robin stumbled on a root and Guy, nimbly moving in, struck Robin on his left side.

'Oh dear Lady, mother and maid; it was never my destiny to die before my day,' Robin shouted and leapt to his feet. Knocking his opponent's sword out of his hand, Robin killed Sir Guy with a swift upward stroke.

'You have been a traitor all your life and now it must end,' Robin said. 'Lie there, good Sir Guy and spare me your curses. If you have had the worst strokes of my hand then you shall have the better cloth.'

Robin took off his cloth of green, threw it over Guy's body and dressed himself in Guy's own horsehide - top to toe: 'I'll also take your bow and arrows, and your little horn. Now back to Barnsdale to see how my men are faring.'

* * *

When Robin returned to Barnsdale, he found he had to rescue Little John from the Sheriff. Having left Robin in a huff, Little John returned to Barnsdale, to find his companions in a desperate plight. Two of them lay dead in the forest glade and Will Scarlet's feet were flying over the ground with the Sheriff and seven score of his men in hot pursuit.

'I'll get off one shot at least,' cried Little John. 'I'll bring gladness and joy to that last fellow who flies not quite so fast.'

Pulling his bow of yew back all ready to shoot, he cursed when it broke in two and fell at his feet: 'Wicked wood! What worth are you? You are my sorrow when you should be my help this day.'

Weak as the shot was, it struck William a Trent, one of the Sheriff's men, killing him. Better justice would have been served if William a Trent had hanged on the gallows rather than lie in the greenwood slain by an arrow.

With his bow now useless and since six men are stronger than three, Little John was seized by the Sheriff's men who bound him tightly to a tree. 'We'll drag you over dale and down and hang you high on a hill,' the Sheriff promised him.

'Sheriff, you may fail yet,' answered Little John, 'if it is God's will.'

At that moment Robin Hood returned to Barnsdale and setting Guy's horn to his lips, blew a loud blast. The sound carried to the Sheriff of Nottingham waiting at the bottom of the hill. 'Listen!' said the Sheriff. 'I hear good tidings. That is Sir Guy's horn which means that he has killed Robin Hood . . . and lo! here comes the mighty yeoman himself clad in his horse-hide. Come hither good Sir Guy, ask of me anything you wish!'

'You can keep your gold,' answered Robin. 'Now that I have slain the master, all that I ask is to strike the knave. No other reward do I ask.'

The Sheriff looked surprised: 'You must be mad for a knight's reward was yours for the asking . . . but since your request is so foolish I will certainly grant it.'

Robin went toward Little John with his sword upraised. 'Confess your sins, for you are about to die!' Little John recognised his master's voice but the Sheriff and his men crowded round.

'Stand back! Stand back!' ordered Robin. 'Why are you all so close? Where I come from, we don't listen to other men's confessions.'

Quickly cutting Little John's hands and feet free with his Irish knife, Robin put Guy's bow into his hands, saying: 'Here is your salvation!'

Little John took the bow and arrows stained in blood. As soon as the Sheriff saw him draw back the bow with an arrow aimed right at him, he fled fast away towards his home in Nottingham. He could not run fast enough for fear of an arrow cleaving his heart in two. Nor could the rest of his men, not one able to face the deadly arrows from Little John.

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • what was Guy doing in the woods when he happened to run into Robin?
  • what clothing does Robin wear so that he will be recognized as Guy? how does Little John know it is Robin?
  • what does Robin (disguised as Guy) pretend to be doing when he releases Little John from his bonds?

Source: Author unknown. The Sherwood Times. Weblink.

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM