Episode 25: Robin Goodfellow: His Mad Pranks and Merry Jests

25: Robin Goodfellow: His Mad Pranks and Merry Jests
byTales of Britain and Ireland.

Do you like prank(e)s? Do you like jests? Do you like them mad and merry? Do you like characters who are cruel, capricious and also have super powers? Well if so, we’ve got just the tale for you! Musical credits, sources and more at: https://talesofbritainandireland.com/episode-25-robin-goodfellow-his-mad-pranks-and-merry-jests/ #myth #mythology #folklore #legends

Ho Ho Ho!

Do you like prank(e)s? Do you like jests? Do you like them mad and merry? Do you like characters who are cruel, capricious and also have super powers? Do you like a big mish mash of fairy lore all smushed together into one character like a big bulging brick filled sack?

Well if so, we’ve got just the tale for you!

This is also about the time the episodes start to get quite a bit longer. So get prepped for that!

“In the signs that bewilder the middle class, the aristocracy and the poor prophets of regression, we do recognize our brave friend Robin Goodfellow, the old mole that can work in the earth so fast, that worthy pioneer – the Revolution.

Karl Marx
Story in summary (Warning – contains spoilers!)

The story in brief, without the detail or discussion – not a transcript.

If you’ve already listened and just want a refresh, only want the bare bones of the story, or really don’t care about spoilers then please do click below to read on….

Robin Goodfellow

A posset you ask?

I know this’ll be the first thing on most people’s mind after listening to the episode. Unless it is that I am but an ignoramus and everyone knows about possets but was just not telling me.

On the left below is Wikipedia’s picture of a modern posset, and it describes a Posset as “a cream, sugar and citrus-based confection”. This does not seem Bear-transformation worthy.

The right displays a Posset pot, and though no posset can be seen I believe that if you were imagine it filled with creamy sugary goodness it is just about possible to begin to understand Robin’s motivation.

Robin’s incongruous sabbath

If you google Robin Goodellow you’ll notice that the standard picture of Robin (to the right) shows him to appear very similar to the devil, what with the cloven hooves, the broomstick and all the sabbathy goings on, none of which feature in the story.

Woodcut images were often re-used when they were easily to hand, a process not too dissimilar to myself using images I can get for free to put on this website actually.

This one made its way on to the front of the most famous and reprinted pamphlet about Robin. Though it had nothing really to do with him its general vibe and aesthetic caught the imagination of many throughout the ages and in the absence of a better go to image this became the standard.

So while it doesn’t look like him it’s largely what we’ve got.

Other Robin depictions: Puck all!

Just as the image above doesn’t represent Robin Goodfellow in his own story the Robin of that story is, as a whole, eclipsed by the figure of Puck from Shakespeare’s Midsummer night’s dream, who is also very occasionally referred to as Robin Goofdellow.

So lots of the other artistic, and indeed literary depictions of Robin are based on Puck. Which is fair at least in that Puck as a character does appear slightly earlier than the Robin Goodfellow of this story.

Where Robin does appear separately from Puck he is often semi-conflated with the much famous Robin Hood. Taken together these two factors mean that the Robin of the story in this episode is not much represented, for good or for ill, even though the name Robin Goodfellow is fairly common.

A lot of the later artworks, particularly Victorian rare based off of Puck and many show him as very young, which given the content of the Robin Goodfellow story would be inappropriate.

And even really for Puck in Midsummer night’s dream to be frank, but this is in keeping with the transformation in perceptions of English fairies into diminutive and/or infantile beings who very much do not not get up to the raucous x-rated shenanigans Robin does.

Anyway, here’s a miscellaneous selection of public domain images thrown together from the internet with one (count it!) actually featuring the scene at the end of the story where the denizens of fairy land find Robin sleeping. I’ve filtered out all the most egregiously Midsummer Night’s Dream ones, especially anything featuring donkey’s heads!

“Give me your hands, if we be friends, And Robin shall restore amends”

– Puck, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare

St. Austin and the Longtails

Did a little bit more digging into this whole “Kentish longtails” business, and it seems that not only Kenitsh folk but all Englishmen (and perhaps women and others) were once said to have tails. You can read many more handily compiled instances here: Works of John Skelton – Notes to verses against Dundas – but the St. Austin legend is below.

Early Christian saints were some seriously brutal BAMFs.

“After this Saint Austin entered in to Dorsetshire, and came in to a town where as were wicked people & refused his doctrine and preaching utterly & drove him out of the town casting on him the tails of thornback or like fishes, wherefore he besought almighty god to show his judgement on them, and god sent to them a shameful token, for the children that were born after in that place had tails as it is said, till they had repented them. It is said commonly that this fell at Stroud in Kent, but blessed be God at this day is no such deformity.”

This is very much not the Kentish Longtails. It’s a totally different kind of long-tail.But it’s kind of cool

Fairy lore

So obviously this episode is tied up very closely indeed with fairy lore – the character of Robin really being a kind of uncomfortable fit of lots of different kinds of fairy lore in one figure with all that didn’t fit put into the fairies he meets at the end.

On the subject of fairies There are literally hundreds of books on this topic I could point you to, and I’m not going to start trying to cover the whole topic here. But if you are interested further I would strongly recommend the website British Fairies as a huge incredibly detailed resource on the topic.

Selected Sources

While I did a fair bit of research into fairy lore for this one it was kind of all over the place, and the main source for the story really is simply the reprint of the original text:
The Mad Pranks and Merry jests of Robin Goodfellow

Musical credits for Episode 25: Robin Goodfellow: His Mad Pranks and Merry Jests

Intro and outro theme from the incredibly talented Alice Nicholls Music

Other music, used under various Creative Commons licenses (click to expand)

Kevin Macleod

Sneaky Adventure
Scheming Weasel
Holiday Weasel
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

Other Sources
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