Event Title

Robin Hood: from ‘History’ to Folklore and Back Again

Location

Panel 17: Kearney 317

Start Date

27-10-2012 10:15 AM

End Date

27-10-2012 11:45 AM

Description

The most common representation of Robin Hood is the popular culture portrayal of a noble outlaw who robs from the rich to give to the poor; this is largely a nineteenth century cliché. While this study does examine Robin Hood’s evolution as both a popular and historical figure from the fourteenth through twenty-first centuries, it more importantly uses Robin Hood as a focal point to illustrate the development of history as an academic profession by recognizing history’s reliance on popular culture and discovering the monumental break that occurred between the two disciplines in the nineteenth century.

In popular culture--literature, art, film and television--Robin Hood as a mythic character evolved in a way that was predictable given societal norms, changing with each generation to fit a cultural need. Much like that of the “historical King Arthur,” the existence of Robin Hood as a “historical figure” was accepted on the cultural faith in the folkloric tradition until the nineteenth century. In 1852, historian Joseph Hunter (in his “The Ballad Hero, Robin Hood”), although still largely influenced by the legends, approached the study of Robin Hood on a more academic level, offering future historians the opportunity to apply scientific methods of research, first to investigate the possibility that Robin Hood might have been flesh and blood, and second to the analysis of Robin Hood as a cultural icon.

Consequently, historians must partially rely on Robin Hood’s existence in popular culture; his popularity enabled the outlaw to thrive for over seven centuries. In the twenty-first century, the “popular” Robin continues to follow the pattern of changing with the times, while historians continue to use Robin Hood’s evolving myth as a lens through which to analyze those times. Popular culture, with regard to the Robin Hood legend, has then remained constant in its genre, though diverse in its created outcome, as Robin has taken on many forms with each subsequent generation. History, on the other hand, has evolved twofold. As a historical figure Robin has evolved in much the same way as his popular counterpart; as a genre, however, history has changed its course, first feeding off of popular culture and then striking out on its own in the nineteenth century, producing a very different type of Robin Hood, with very different outcomes.

Examining Robin Hood in four unique examples: The Littel Geste of Robyn Hode (fourteenth century), A True Tale of Robin Hood (1632, by Martin Parker), “Robin Hood, to a Friend” (1818, by John Keats), and “The Ballad Hero, Robin Hood” (1852, by Joseph Hunter), the initial close link between the two genres is evident, but by the nineteenth century, the slow separation of Robin Hood into two distinct categories became clear.

The Geste and A True Tale are technically two separate genres; the Geste is a collection of ballads, one of the best and earliest examples of Robin Hood’s status as a popular culture legend. Martin Parker’s “historical” piece, however, is more aptly described as popular culture because it borrows heavily from the myths, and fails to display the scientific method of history that one comes to expect from historians. For instance, the frontispiece to Parker’s book features a Robin Hood illustration in which the hero is dressed in contemporary seventeenth century clothing, rather than medieval attire. Both works are very much products of their time, highly influenced by their own cultural phenomena; in modern times, one expects this of popular culture media but not of historical texts. With the poetry of Keats, popular culture representations of Robin continued to evolve with the social dynamic of their day. Keats’ lyric lines display the nostalgia so typical of the medieval cultural revival of the nineteenth century. The Robin Hood myth persists in this pattern of generational evolution to the present; new American film renditions of the myth feature stereotypically “modern” ideals; this characteristic of the legend is entirely in keeping with the past seven hundred years of Robin Hood media.

After the work of Joseph Hunter, the historical study of Robin Hood became more professionalized and objective (though not entirely devoid of cultural influences, either) distinguishing itself from the Robin Hood works of popular culture. A turning point in this evolving trajectory, Hunter bridged the two genres but began the separation process that would result in the character of Robin Hood being presented in two unique and distinct ways.

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Oct 27th, 10:15 AM Oct 27th, 11:45 AM

Robin Hood: from ‘History’ to Folklore and Back Again

Panel 17: Kearney 317

The most common representation of Robin Hood is the popular culture portrayal of a noble outlaw who robs from the rich to give to the poor; this is largely a nineteenth century cliché. While this study does examine Robin Hood’s evolution as both a popular and historical figure from the fourteenth through twenty-first centuries, it more importantly uses Robin Hood as a focal point to illustrate the development of history as an academic profession by recognizing history’s reliance on popular culture and discovering the monumental break that occurred between the two disciplines in the nineteenth century.

In popular culture--literature, art, film and television--Robin Hood as a mythic character evolved in a way that was predictable given societal norms, changing with each generation to fit a cultural need. Much like that of the “historical King Arthur,” the existence of Robin Hood as a “historical figure” was accepted on the cultural faith in the folkloric tradition until the nineteenth century. In 1852, historian Joseph Hunter (in his “The Ballad Hero, Robin Hood”), although still largely influenced by the legends, approached the study of Robin Hood on a more academic level, offering future historians the opportunity to apply scientific methods of research, first to investigate the possibility that Robin Hood might have been flesh and blood, and second to the analysis of Robin Hood as a cultural icon.

Consequently, historians must partially rely on Robin Hood’s existence in popular culture; his popularity enabled the outlaw to thrive for over seven centuries. In the twenty-first century, the “popular” Robin continues to follow the pattern of changing with the times, while historians continue to use Robin Hood’s evolving myth as a lens through which to analyze those times. Popular culture, with regard to the Robin Hood legend, has then remained constant in its genre, though diverse in its created outcome, as Robin has taken on many forms with each subsequent generation. History, on the other hand, has evolved twofold. As a historical figure Robin has evolved in much the same way as his popular counterpart; as a genre, however, history has changed its course, first feeding off of popular culture and then striking out on its own in the nineteenth century, producing a very different type of Robin Hood, with very different outcomes.

Examining Robin Hood in four unique examples: The Littel Geste of Robyn Hode (fourteenth century), A True Tale of Robin Hood (1632, by Martin Parker), “Robin Hood, to a Friend” (1818, by John Keats), and “The Ballad Hero, Robin Hood” (1852, by Joseph Hunter), the initial close link between the two genres is evident, but by the nineteenth century, the slow separation of Robin Hood into two distinct categories became clear.

The Geste and A True Tale are technically two separate genres; the Geste is a collection of ballads, one of the best and earliest examples of Robin Hood’s status as a popular culture legend. Martin Parker’s “historical” piece, however, is more aptly described as popular culture because it borrows heavily from the myths, and fails to display the scientific method of history that one comes to expect from historians. For instance, the frontispiece to Parker’s book features a Robin Hood illustration in which the hero is dressed in contemporary seventeenth century clothing, rather than medieval attire. Both works are very much products of their time, highly influenced by their own cultural phenomena; in modern times, one expects this of popular culture media but not of historical texts. With the poetry of Keats, popular culture representations of Robin continued to evolve with the social dynamic of their day. Keats’ lyric lines display the nostalgia so typical of the medieval cultural revival of the nineteenth century. The Robin Hood myth persists in this pattern of generational evolution to the present; new American film renditions of the myth feature stereotypically “modern” ideals; this characteristic of the legend is entirely in keeping with the past seven hundred years of Robin Hood media.

After the work of Joseph Hunter, the historical study of Robin Hood became more professionalized and objective (though not entirely devoid of cultural influences, either) distinguishing itself from the Robin Hood works of popular culture. A turning point in this evolving trajectory, Hunter bridged the two genres but began the separation process that would result in the character of Robin Hood being presented in two unique and distinct ways.