Robin Goodfellow, His Mad Pranks and Merry Jests, 1639


This delightful little jestbook depicts the doings of a hobgoblin character from English folklore, Robin Goodfellow – a character Shakespeare borrowed and adapted from the folklore tradition in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Jestbooks were made up of folk content and collected together jokes or humorous anecdotes. The title page declares that this book is ‘Full of honest Mirth, and is a fit Medicine for Melancholy’. Robin Good-Fellow, his mad prankes and merry jests was first published in 1628, and is shown here in its second edition of 1639 (both editions are now very rare).

The title page has a woodcut illustration of Robin Goodfellow, depicted with horns and a phallus and the shaggy legs and cloven hooves of a faun. He is also carrying a broom and in the background are dancers in a ring and a piper. The (mutilated and repaired) frontispiece depicts a lute player (possibly the narrator) standing on a wheel, and three men being set upon by supernatural creatures with wings.

The book, in two parts, collects a series of ‘Kentish Long Tales’, presented as stories heard by the narrator when he stopped at an inn on his travels. The tales of the first part include the birth of Robin Goodfellow, an account of him in his youth and tales of his interactions with various people, including how he helped a pair of lovers deceive an old man. The second part contains more anecdotes, this time with songs and poems, including how he helped a maid to work and how he led a group astray on a heath. This part also includes tales on his interactions with other fairies, including King Oberon, and accounts of the tricks of a few other fairies, including Pinch and Pach.

Robin Goodfellow is presented as a mischievous rural and domestic spirit but with a reforming function, e.g. in the tale of how he ‘turned a miserable Usurer [money-lender] into a good house-keeper.’ Domestic spirits of the period are often portrayed as serving this function, keeping the servants in line by helping and rewarding the clean and hard-working but punishing the lazy and slovenly.

Full title:
Robin Good-Fellow, his mad prankes and merry jests
1639, London
Book / Quarto
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

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