James Morey

title.none: Knight and Ohlgren, eds., Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales (Morey)

identifier.other: baj9928.9805.001 98.05.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: James Morey, Emory University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1998

identifier.citation: Knight, Stephen and Thomas Ohlgren, eds. Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales. TEAMS Middle English Texts Series. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1997. Pp. xv, 723. $35.00. ISBN: ISBN 1-879-28892-3.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 98.05.01

Knight, Stephen and Thomas Ohlgren, eds. Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales. TEAMS Middle English Texts Series. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1997. Pp. xv, 723. $35.00. ISBN: ISBN 1-879-28892-3.

Reviewed by:

James Morey
Emory University

This handsome and well-produced volume is the twenty-first in the series of Middle English Texts published by the Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages. As many readers of TMR know, this series publishes student editions of Middle English texts which are not readily available elsewhere.

In the spirit of an eighteenth-century garland, but with more thorough and scholarly ambitions, the book provides a collection of Robin Hood material: fifteenth- and sixteenth-century prose chronicles, early and late ballads, plays, and related outlaw tales. Texts are organized chronologically within genres. At over 700 pages, it is hard to imagine that a more comprehensive collection will ever be published. I suspect that even those who think they know the legend will learn a lot by reading the selections, and undergraduates -- the intended audience --will certainly be well served by the introductions, the glosses, and the notes. The apparatus provided by Knight & Ohlgren provides a very good sense of the scholarly traditions through which the texts have passed, and of how the texts are literary and historical artifacts. Biblical and religious references are remarkably rare, apart from invocations of Mary and various Saints. Parallels with Arthur, the extent of Robin's piety, the roles played by elusive but very important women, and the original color of the merry men's livery (scarlet, not green [p.154]) were revelations to me. Like Arthur, Robin Hood often plays second fiddle to the real protagonist, such as Little John or Will Scarlet, he refuses to dine until some marvel has occurred, and he sometimes meets his match. I was also surprised to learn that Friar Tuck is not in the ballad tradition, only in the plays (p. 271), that Maid Marian plays a part in only one ballad (p. 493, in which she fights Robin to a draw), and that she first appears by that name in a play (p. 309). Other gender issues emerge when both Robin Hood and Eustache the Monk cross dress in order to avoid capture -- Robin as a witch (p. 551) and Eustache as a prostitute (p. 684) -- and when Robin consorts with a variety of Queens and bawds. Robin dies (in 1198, according to the balladeer Martin Parker) by being bled to death, and in some versions an anonymous Prioress is responsible.

To my mind, the most interesting selections are the ballads, both early and late. "A Gest of Robin Hood," "Robin Hood's Birth, Breeding, Valor, and Marriage," "The Death of Robin Hood," and Parker's recapitulative "ballad epic" (p. 603) "A True Tale of Robin Hood," are major highlights of the 25 ballads printed. The narrative quality of these works, with their bold stratagems and touches of the marvelous, make them fun to read and teach. I know of no other undergraduate textbook which has so many ballads, albeit on a single subject, with substantive notes. The prose chronicles (by Andrew of Wyntoun, Walter Bower, John Major, and Richard Grafton) provide valuable historical context, and the "Other Outlaw Tales" of the title (Hereward the Wake, Eustache the Monk, and Fouke le Fitz Waryn) give excellent perspective on the stockpile of romance conventions which characterize such legends. The fair-minded hero who rights wrongs while living in a very male-oriented forest idyll, with unlimited food, drink, and funds, still has a strong hold on the popular imagination, and the editors make apposite comments throughout on novelistic (Sir Walter Scott, Thomas Love Peacock) and film adaptations (Errol Flynn [1938], Patrick Bergin [1991], Mel Brooks [1993]). Robin can be self-serving, ruthless and violent, however, as for example when he kills five robbers, to the delight of his wife Clorinda (p. 534) or when he castrates monks and friars (p. 607). The wrongs are almost always perpetrated by an evil steward of the King, such as the Sheriff of Nottingham, but also, in keeping with a strong anti-clerical strain, monks and bishops. Fishermen, Potters, and various other tradesmen also come in for parody and criticism. Loyalty to the King, especially if that King is Richard Lionheart, is never in question, unless that King happens to be William I (opposed by Hereward) or John (opposed by Fouke Fitz Waryn). The depiction of religious and political figures varies in interesting and not always predictable ways from the early to the later texts due to Reformation and Restoration influences, as for example in Robin's post-Reformation and almost pro-Catholic impersonation of a friar in "Robin Hood's Golden Prize." Knight & Ohlgren state the purpose of these and other transformations very well: "the polymorphic capacity of the hero is an instrument of his power of social evaluation: like Hamlet he pretends only to expose pretense" (521).

The collection is less good, I am afraid, with the five plays, but through no fault of the editors. The longer plays -- and the Anthony Munday plays are very long -- are hard to follow and all the plays suffer from sometimes severe textual lacunae. Munday's The Downfall of Robert, Earle of Huntington (Robin's gentrified, sixteenth-century title) is a turbid play with brief translucent moments, though the presence of the poet John Skelton in a chorus role, the elaborate Skeltonic verses, and the recitation of the six "Articles" of the Outlaws (pp. 341-342) are of some literary/historical interest. Either the Robin Hood legend does not lend itself to the stage, or it never found its Shakespeare. I find it hard to imagine that the plays will find much room in an undergraduate syllabus unless one has the luxury of devoting a whole course to Robin Hood. Knight & Ohlgren argue, however, for the importance of the dramatic tradition in shaping the later ballads (pp. 7 and 299).

Each work has a short introduction (all of high quality, though some tend to over-interpret, such as the one for The Tale of Gamelyn), a select bibliography, the glossed text, and notes. The select bibliographies should have been combined into one master bibliography, since there is undue repetition of full citations (Francis Child, of course, is cited repeatedly, as are other major scholars such as Joseph Ritson, Maurice Keen, and Knight himself). A master bibliography would also be helpful simply to find material; for example, the reference to "Gutch" on page 631 is obscure unless one can recall, or go find, an earlier citation in one of the select bibliographies. This repetition and the unnecessary double-spacing of the bibliographies (and the notes) contribute to the length -- and heft -- of the book. The format is uniform with other volumes in the series, but the series editors should consider some modifications for works of this size. I would not, however, advise any economy in the printing of the selections, which have the wide margins conducive to easy reading and writing, or in the supply of illustrations, which lighten many pages. Oddly enough, in the section on "Later Ballads," the editors dispense with the select bibliography altogether except for the very last ballad in the section, "Robin Hood and the Pedlars" which, again oddly, is alone in having no notes. Throughout, the glosses are on target and helpful, as are the notes, though there is sometimes overmuch attention to printing variants. I'm not sure that any purpose is served in an edition of this type to learn that the Bodleian copy of A True Tale of Robin Hood reads loved in line 24 and the British Library copy reads lov'd (p. 621). Knight & Ohlgren, however, pay due attention to editorial reconstructions where the texts are fragmentary or cryptic.

Until reading Hereward the Wake, this Anglo-Saxon resistor of the Normans was little more than a name to me, perhaps because the (Latin) text survives in only one thirteenth-century manuscript from Peterborough Abbey, and is printed only in a Rolls Series volume dating from 1888-1889. Charles Kingsley published a novel under the same title in 1865. The origin of the text is obscure, but the editors' introduction sometimes deepens the obscurity. The multiple references to various Gestawhich are different (?) texts confused me, and will doubtless bewilder undergraduates. The introduction and bibliography do not make it clear who pseudo-Ingulf is, or where one could find the pages cited from Gesta III Rerum Anglicarum Scriptorum Veterum (p. 634). The tale qualifies for inclusion because, like Robin, Hereward is a master of disguise, and the leader of a loyal band resisting royal oppression. Noteworthy motifs include how, in the "English manner," knights are created by monks (pp. 643-644) and how Hereward spares an enemy who begs for mercy with his head "through" a latrine seat, though this object is translated by the euphemistic and imprecise "lavatory seat" (662). The Latin phrase "in foramine sellae super latrinam caput imposuit, miseri sibi exorans" allows the possibility that his head is on, not through, the seat, as if on a chopping block. [1] Readers are left to guess whether his body is in or above the cloaca. I assume that the editors translated the Latin selections, and this quibble should not be construed as a general criticism of their fine job.

Thomas E. Kelly made equally fine translations from Old French for the last two tales in the volume: Eustache the Monk and Fouke le Fitz Waryn. I question, however, why the summaries of the episodes of Eustacheare necessary, especially when the summary paragraph is almost as long as the episode itself (p.685). The editors have taken great care throughout the volume, but this kind of excess preempts the reading and interpretation that undergraduates should do themselves. It also increases the length of the book.

There are remarkably few production errors. The most confusing is the superfluous speech tag "Eltham" on page 304, line 6, of The Downfall of Robert, Earle of Huntington, when Skelton should continue speaking. Later in the play, at line 1556, a speech tag is missing. Other errors are very minor. For the record: a missing period on page 313, line 358; an incomplete stage direction on page 332; "prophesies" where "prophecies" is meant (p. 687); and a dangling participle at the beginning of the first full paragraph on page 688.

Knight & Ohlgren are to be congratulated for giving intellectual depth to a subject known, for the most part, only superficially, and they should look forward to their book filling a gap in the materials necessary to teach the full range of Middle English literature to undergraduates.


[1] Gesta Herewardi, ed. T. D. Hardy & C. T. Martin, in their edition of Geoffrey Gaimar's L'Estoire des Engles, Rolls Series 91, London (1888-1889), I:397.