British Library website satisfaction survey
Take part in our web survey!
Why not take a few moments to tell us what you think of our website?
Your views could help shape our site for the future.
Yes please No thanks
This item is a two page broadside ballad called ‘The Mad Merry Pranks of Robin Goodfellow’, printed around 1670 (based on the active dates of the printer and seller).‘The Mad Merry Pranks’ has the lyrics for a song in the voice of Robin Goodfellow. It opens: ‘From Obrion (sic) in Fairy Land, / the King of Ghosts and Shaddows there, / Mad Robin, I at his Command, / am sent to view the Night-sports here’. The lyrics seem to have been influenced by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with some echoes of the conversation between Robin and the Fairy in Act 2, Scene 1, and Robin’s speech while chasing the mechanicals in Act 3, Scene 1 just before he transforms Bottom. The ballad describes misleading wanderers, ‘Through Woods, through Lakes, / Through Bogs, through Brakes / O’re Bush and Bryer’, and shapeshifting: ‘Sometimes I meet them like Man, / sometimes an Ox, sometimes a Hound’. The same text is found in other broadsides (printed by other printers and with different woodcuts) from throughout the 17th century. These can be found on the University of California’s English Broadside Ballad Archive.
The ballad is set to the tune of ‘Dulcina’, which was a popular tune of the day. The broadside has three woodcuts depicting Robin Goodfellow: the first shows him as a Green Man or man of the woods, hairy and covered with leaves; the second shows him in a faun-like guise in a woodcut recycled from an earlier jestbook on Robin Goodfellow; the third woodcut shows him in a mystical costume decorated with stars and moons (or perhaps even naked and covered with star and moon tattoos).
This item is from the Bagford Ballads collection. John Bagford (1651–1716) was a shoemaker turned book-collector who was commissioned to collect ballads by Robert Harley, first Earl of Oxford. Robert Harley was a great collector and patron of the arts and his collection is one of the foundation collections of the British Library.
Farah Karim-Cooper shows how Shakespeare combined classical and courtly traditions with medieval folk lore to create the benevolent fairies and changeling child of A Midsummer Night's Dream.
The countryside in Shakespeare's plays is sometimes a peaceful haven from a corrupt court or city, but at other times it's mysterious, magical, inhospitable or even dangerous. Eric Rasmussen and Ian DeJong explore Shakespeare's outdoor spaces, from the enchanted forest in A Midsummer Night's Dream to King Lear's blasted heath.
Both A Midsummer Night's Dream and Twelfth Night take their names from seasonal celebrations. Francois Laroque considers the cultural and theatrical context for Shakespeare's festive comedies, and their exploration of merrymaking, disguise and the natural world.