Medieval Ballads There are many medieval ballads that contain male-female relationships. However, the ballads “Edward”, “Bonny Barbara Allen”, and “Mattie Groves” stand out because they all contain atypical male-female relationships. The similarities the three ballads share in their male-female relationships are: 1) there is always a conflict between the male and the female and 2) none of these relationships are representative of the ideal male-female relationship or marriage. Although the male-female relationship in the ballad “Edward” revolves around a mother and a son, their relationship is just as convoluted as the ones found in the other ballads. Edward and his mother have a tense and stormy relationship, which is highlighted through their conversations and interactions with each other. Edwards tenseness towards his mother is shown through his replies to his mothers question “why dois your brand sae drap wi bluid?” Instead of telling her the truth, Edward is at first hesitant and lies to his mother by saying the blood on his sword is from hawk, and then says it is actually from his horse.
Eventually Edward cracks due to his feelings of guilt and admits to his mother that he actually killed his father (line 21). Expecting to find at least some sympathy and advice from his mother, since it was the mother who gave Edward the idea of killing his father, Edward, instead, is bombarded by a series of questions from his mother. These questions make Edward angry, especially since one of them is how is Edward going to show penance for his actions (line 25)? Even though it is Edwards mother who gives Edward the idea of murdering his father, by interrogating Edward after the murder, it is shown that she is clearly the person in charge of their relationship since she knows how to manipulate Edward. The relationship between Edward and his mother is not an example of an ideal male-female relationship, or a mother-son relationship, since both parties do not show respect towards the other. This is especially highlighted when Edwards mother asks Edward what he will leave for her since he has to flee his homeland in order to save himself.
To this question Edward replies “The curse of hell frae me shall ye beir, sic counseils ye gave to me O.” Additionally, because of the troubled relationship Edward has with his mother, Edward appears to treat other females, such as his wife, with the same lack of respect he shows toward his mother. When Edwards mother asks him what he will leave behind for his children and wife, Edward replies nothing since the world is large enough for them to beg through life (line 46). The ballad “Bonny Barbara Allan” presents a male-female relationship that does not work primarily because of the stubbornness and demands of the parties involved. The relationship between Sir John Graeme and Barbara Allan can be characterized as stubborn since both of them are headstrong, although Sir Graeme a little less so since he is dying. Barbara Allan is portrayed as being more headstrong because she refuses to acknowledge the fact that Sir Graeme is dying for her love.
This is because Barbara Allan is still mad at Sir Graeme for a past incident, where Sir Graeme slighted her at a tavern (lines 13-16 and lines 18-20). Although Sir Graeme and Barbara Allan do not see eye to eye, their relationship is the closest among those of the three ballads to be representative of at least a “normal” male-female relationship, even if not of an ideal one. Although Barbara Allan does not proclaim her love for Sir Graeme as Sir Graeme did for her, Sir Graeme still tells his friends to “be kind to Barbara Allan” (line 24). Even though Sir Graeme slighted Barbara Allan in the past, Barbara Allan tells her mother to fix her coffin since “my love died for me to-day, Ill die for him to-morrow” (lines 35-36). These actions show that both of them did respect, and probably love each other, even if both of them, especially Barbara Allan, were reluctant in showing each other how they felt about one another.
Among the three relationships, the relationship between Lord Arlen and his wife, from the ballad “Mattie Groves”, is the one least like an ideal male-female relationship because of the high level of deception and patriarchy their relationship involves. The relationship between Lord Arlen and his wife contains deception since Lord Arlens wife is sleeping with Mattie Groves, despite the fact she is married. Furthermore, Lord Arlens wife promises Mattie Groves that Lord Arlen will not learn about him since she promises to keep him “out of sight” (line 22). The relationship between Lord Arlen and his wife can be characterized as patriarchal through Lord Arlens actions and words. Lord Arlen treats his wife as his property and not as a person. Thus, he tries to make decisions for her all the time, which is not always appreciated by his wife (lines 70-75).
Although none of the aforementioned ballads contain relationships that are representative of an ideal male-female relationship, each of these ballads are effective in portraying the arguments of both parties involved. By doing so, it becomes easier for the reader to distinguish between the rights and wrongs of a relationship and to identify what type of values the people of that time period held or should have held.