ryson (ca. 1470) Together with much of Robert Henryson's work, "Robene and Makyne" is preserved in the Bannatyne manuscript now in the National Library of Scotland. No source is known for this poem, though it contains allusions to French and Scottish ballads. It is a clear parody of courtly romance and also, perhaps, of other modes of poetry, such as the elegy and the carpe diem genre. The names of the two title characters are typical of literary shepherds and country girls, though in the latter case a bawdy overtone may be intended.
Robene, a young shepherd, sits on a hill tending his flock; Makyne comes to him confessing her love in passionate tones, but she is rudely rejected, as the shepherd knows nothing of love. Makyne tries to teach him, offering him both her heart and her maidenhood, but to no avail; Robene is only concerned with the well-being of his flock and even suggests that Makyne might come back on the next day, as now his sheep seem disposed to wander. The spirited dialogue between the two occupies more than half the poem, evoking and parodying images familiar to courtly love literature and contrasting Makyne's high-flown aspirations with Robene's earthly concerns. The latter concludes this first part of the poem by going abruptly away and leaving Makyne to her lament, but as he gathers his sheep, he feels Makyne's malady assailing him; this time it is his turn to go to the girl and plead. But the man who does not want when he may, shall have nothing when he wants: This is Makyne's bitter retort, and the moral meaning of the poem, as this second, symmetrical debate of love concludes with a grieving shepherd sighing with his flock under the hillside.
The poem belongs to the late medieval genre of the pastourelle—that is, a pastoral lyric that here takes the form of a lovers' debate. Unlike the French instances of the genre, its characters are all lowly born (there is no knight or clerk pleading with a shepherdess for love) and the setting unequivocally realistic. Part of the comedy resides in the reversal of roles, but we should also underline the contrast between the homely characters and their everyday occupation as well as the courtly tone Makyne would like to establish. This effect is obtained through very simple means: Robene contrasts Makyne's pleading with a very healthy concern for the well-being of his flock and never forgets his duty, whether he is tempted by Makyne's offers or consumed by love himself.
It is difficult to find a place for this poem within the Henryson canon, as its light, comic tone and sheer readability contrast with the serious, occasionally moralistic tone employed by him elsewhere. But typical of Henryson is the creative transformation of an established tradition and the insight he gives us into human nature as he turns his characters from simple rustic children to knowledgeable adults, thanks to no external influence but simply to the power of love. Such a transformation is highlighted by the language used by the two characters in their debates; in particular, Makyne surprises the reader for the psychological subtlety of her portrait, while her speech, didactic and impassionate, prevents her falling into the stereotype of the mannered shepherdess and makes her plastic and vibrant—one of the memorable female characters created by this unexpectedly modern poet.
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