Medieval Ballad vs. Modern Interpretation in Get Up and Bar the Door

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Medieval Ballad vs. Modern Interpretation in Get Up and Bar the Door

An often used literary form in Medieval English literature was the folk ballad, an example of which is "Get Up and Bar the Door." A typical ballad is humorous, its author is unknown, and it focuses on one subject. This subject and the events of the story are conveyed both by the words written and those implied. The implied thoughts are conveyed and emphasized using a variety of literary techniques such as symbolism, repetition, and rhyme. The anonymous author of "Get Up and Bar the Door" tells his story make use of these and other literary techniques.

The basic conflict in this ballad is one if not widely used, easily recognized: man vs. woman, or more
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Having reached a stalemate, they come to an agreement: "That the first word whaeer should speak,/ Should rise and bar the door" (BD, LN 15-16).

Here the plot thickens. With the door left open and thus the safety of the house compromised, two strangers stroll into the house. The strangers are of course demons, for what other visitors might arrive in the dark of the midnight hour? These demons proceed to eat all of the pudding the wife has made, and though she wishes to complain in anger, she says nothing. Then the demons turn mean. Seeking to frighten and harm the man and wife, one demon tells the other to shave the man's beard (or more to the point, to slice his throat). He, then, will kiss the wife, adding insult to injury. The demons also decide to scald the man with pudding broth. This is sufficient to provoke an angry response from the man. Upon hearing him speak, the wife gets up and takes "three skips on the floor," seemingly oblivious to the demons now threatening her husband's life and her dignity. Her attitude is apparent in her words as well: "Goodman, you've spoken the foremost word,/ Get up and bar the door" (BD, LN 42-44).

Several literary techniques help to heighten the drama in this ballad. "Get Up and Bar the Door" follows the traditional four-line stanza and ABCB rhyme scheme found in ballads. It also makes use of repetition of variations of the phrase "Get Up and Bar the Door." This seems to suggest the urgency of shutting the door,

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