What is the conflict of this ballad, if you analyse it as a work of fiction/short story? It seems like the conflict is the nobles having to go out to sea (knowing that it would mean that they...

What is the conflict of this ballad, if you analyse it as a work of fiction/short story?

It seems like the conflict is the nobles having to go out to sea (knowing that it would mean that they will die) because they have a duty to their king.  It's hard to tell, because I'm not sure if it is Sir Spence stating "Mak hast, mak haste, my mirry men all, Our guide schip sails the morne,"  or if it's the king saying to both Sir Spens and the men, and if it's the men stating "O say na sae, my master deir, For I feir a deadlie storme" to Sir Spence or the king.

Asked on by finch

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Doug Stuva | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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In "Sir Patrick Spens," Spens does say the words you attribute to him, not the king.  He exhorts his men to set sail.  The men also make the reply that you cite.  They realize the danger of being on the sea in this season.

The element of Spens and his crew having to fulfill their king's wishes is present.  They know they are doomed but they must answer the call of royalty.  This puts them into a no-win situation.  Situational irony is present, with Spens and his crew trapped in a situation that is beyond their control.

Implied, however, is the stronger conflict between the elderly adviser to the king and Spens.  The adviser presumably also knows the danger, and recommends Spens as a way of getting rid of him.  He executes, in a sense, a legal murder.  Though the reader gets no information on what the conflict is between the adviser and Spens, it is the igniting conflict of the narrative.  It all comes back to the use of power.  The king has the power, and the adviser has the king's ear.  And Spens can do nothing but play the role of pawn. 

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