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Analysis Of The Robin Hood Legend

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Published: Fri, 28 Apr 2017

The works of two historians will be explored in this piece of work, and their individual thoughts and analysis of the Robin Hood legend. The first is the work by Holt in his book Robin Hood followed by Hilton’s article The Origins of Robin Hood. The purpose and argument of each piece of work will be examined and the methodology. theoretical approach of each author will also be analysed by examining the two works closely. The two pieces will be compared and analysed to see what information both historians shared and where they differ.

In his book Robin Hood Holt is looking at the legend his purpose is to unravel the many twists the legend has endured over the centuries to try and establish the origin of the legend and dismiss many of the myths attached to the legend. Holts argument is simple too many historians have taken the legend of Robin Hood and twisted it or simply not examined the evidence to fit in with these arguments or theoretical approaches. Holt is looking at the evidence available and also looking at the main arguments historians make to see if there is any evidence to support their many claims.

Holt begins his book by outlining what he intends o show and prove in the book and really starts by looking at the legend and examining the five surviving tales of Robin Hood and dates the work at 1450 and also looks for references to Robin Hood. Holt is looking at what many people believe about Robin Hood the myths attached that many people take for granted for example Maid Marian. Holt is simply dissembling the original tales the Gest looking for evidence to date the tales or how much the tales have changed. Holt argues that there is no evidence of Robin Hood being a social rebel or giving to the poor Holt comes to the conclusion that the evidence is very difficult to come to any clear conclusion [1] . Holt then moves onto the question who was Robin Hood his methods are simple he looks at other historians attempts to identify Robin Hood and then dismisses them as their simply isn’t enough evidence. Holt then progresses to surnames and once more concludes their simply isn’t enough information to make a logical assumption and that the only real dating evidence is the mention of Edwards northern progress. Holt once more concludes that there isn’t enough evidence available [2] . Holt then attempts to identify the original Robin Hood and looks at how the tales have been blended with a mix of fictional and real tales of outlaws Holt is looking at the themes and the way the stories are written to try and place the tales and concludes that the tales of Robin belong to the early 15th century [3] . Holt then moves to the psychical setting looking at the areas Robin Hoods tales are set and after looking at the tales once more and argues that many place names have no real historical value and was more likely and marketing strategy by later generations to boost local interest rather than places that can be traced to the Gest. Holt also argues that place names would have changed with the performer or author to make the tales more appealing [4] . Holt then tries to find the audience that the tales were intended and seeks for analysis the work yeoman and follows’ a logical approach exploring the use and history of the word and also looks at the way tales were transmitted orally and then looking at the way in which Robin Hood associates himself with other characters and for example his use of a sword a weapon peasants didn’t use and of his friendship with nights in this way he dismisses some historians claims that Robin was a social bandit fighting against the landlords of the day. Holt is simply trying to establish Robin Hood’s social status and with this the audience is initially aimed at but essentially Holt argues that Robin Hood became all things to all men [5] . Holt finally looks at the later tradition of the tales and looks at how Robin Hood has changed throughout history and has followed social change. Holt looks at the evolution of the tales how things were added or blended the robbing the rich to give to the poor or the myth that Robin Hood was a fallen noble man and the links to Richard the Lion heart and Holt simply states that Robin Hood evolved with the audience the world Robin Hood was born into created a brutal violent man and now he is the quintessential gentleman [6] . Holt then concludes his book and argues that much more work could be carried out on the Gest to determine more accurately when it was written and how the tale of Robin Hood continues to morph and evolve and adapt to meet new social changes [7] .

Holts methodologies is very logical in its approach he simply looks at the evidence in its purest form and extrapolates the relevant information and then looks

At what historians have written r argued and simply cross references the information he had provided against what other historians argue and in this way leaves the reader with an overwhelming sense of the inaccuracy of many historians work and failings in their own research methods and this traditional approach by Holt also shows the lengths that some historians go to twist primary resources to fit their own hypotheses. Holt method of looking at the primary source is very tedious to the reader but does lead to a clear understanding of the period in which the tales originated and Holt doesn’t shirk any of the difficult points but simply presses on where other historians when looking at this topic have a tendency to ignore areas that conflicts with their main argument Holt is simply laying all the facts out and lets the reader come to his own conclusion this book has been invaluable in this module in understanding the Robin Hoods legend and opened many other ways of interpreting primary material especially analysing the use of words or etymology.

The other piece of work being looked at is Hiltons the Origins of Robin Hood published in Past and Present. Hilton’s purpose of the piece is to look at the facts to see if Robin Hood was a real person or a myth. Hilton’s argument is linked to the legend of Robin Hood and whether Robin Hood was in fancy an early socialist leader intent on creating a utopian society where all are equal and fighting the dreaded landholders. Hilton is looking at the legend to see what evidence there is off this social warfare between the classes, Hilton’s article made some very interesting arguments concerning the 14th Century Hiltons argument is simply that the legend and stories of Robin Hood were simply an extension of the peasant population and there desire to be free from the tyranny of the feudal order and oppressive landlords.

Hilton starts the article by looking at the question was Robin Hood a real person or simply fiction Hilton argues that Robin Hood was probably not a real person and Hilton then looks at the value a social historian can bring to the legend and eventually reaches the conclusion that Robin Hood was a literary creation as there is simply not enough evidence to support that he was a real figure. Hilton then tries to find the earliest mention of Robin Hood and mentions William Langland and his work as the first mention of Robin Hood. Hilton then points the origin of the tales to the north of Scotland and argues about the ballads coming from Scotland. Hilton then looked at links to the May games. Hilton then looks at the main arguments of ideas of historians from 16th century to more modern historians Hilton looks at each idea and concludes that there isn’t sufficient evidence to look Hilton is attempting to trace the origins of Robin Hood and is essentially examining earlier historians works and although many of the attempts are interesting there is not enough information to support many of the arguments especially of Robin Hood being a real person engaged in real combat during the 13th century such as a member of Thomas earl of Lancaster’s army. Hilton also looked at the name Hood and concludes that it was a very common name and so evidence can be found to link any real hood to the stories directly. Hilton also makes many social connections during the early part of the article showing Hiltons beliefs and ideology and trying to reinforce the idea of a social outlaw. Hilton also looks for the geographical locale and concludes that Yorkshire is the main area [8] . Hilton then looks at the social background the audience of the stories in doing this trying to identify who listened to the original stories and who they were aimed at. Hilton writes about class division within society the struggle between the peasantry and the nobles. Hilton also looks at the ballad people and looks at how the stories showed the people and their relationships. Hilton argues that the earlier ballads show a very violent Robin Hood and his band and that is evidence of social conflict with society and that time [9] . Hilton then attempts to Robin Hood and his men into the social hierarchy using the ballads and looks at the word yeoman and argues that a yeoman was a wealthy peasant and not a member of the middle class. Hilton argues that Robin being a free peasant but still a peasant but of appealed to the peasant class and also to the free peasants and this was the audience intended for the ballads. Hilton then looks at the social relationships to understand the attitudes and looks and analyses the ballads and explores the law and the use of outlaw in detail to give more credence to his argument of a social outlaw created by the society in which Robin lived an oppressed society and the earlier tales are indicative of social struggle [10] . Hilton tries to give a date to the tales and points to the 14th century and the great upheaval that occurred leading up to the peasants revolt and the struggle of the peasantry to move from indentured service to paid service. Hilton argues that the social unrest during this period is more likely to have caused the tales than the civil or political unrest at the time [11] . Hilton then tries to reinterpret the tales as his argument of social unrest against the land lords is a major part of his argument and argues that although landlords or their agents are not mentioned Hilton points to the clergy at fulfilling that role. Hilton also looks at the role the King played and the people still held him in high regard and he is their champion Hilton argues that this love of the King is explained as a disregard for local authority the clergy and sheriff being two and that the people had social aspirations and not political in essence they want more rights but had no political ambitions to overthrow the king. Hilton finally argues that the ballads and tales are simply an extension of the peasant’s social aspirations and the enemies of this social aspiration are thwarted by Robin Hood and his merry men in the ballads and this reflects the feelings and views of the peasant class during the period of the 14th century [12] .

Hilton’s article is a very interesting piece of work and well researched and shows the logical way that the Robin Hood legend can be analysed. Hilton says that there is a lack of evidence surrounding the Robin Hood myth and that there isn’t enough information to formulate for certain many points but that the tales themselves show the social struggle and environment of the 14th century. Hilton social beliefs do show through in the article and almost seem to be thrust upon the reader and he doesn’t seem to follow many avenues which move too far from his own ideology this however could be simply of the word limit of said article. Hilton work has been an interesting insight into the mind of social historians and how many different arguments that comes from the same material and indeed how much information in regard to social interactions can be learned from the Robin Hood tales.

When looking at the two pieces of work both are compelling in proving their individual arguments and their approaches to the material available Hilton and Holt both try to establish the origin of the legends and come to the same conclusion that the ballads or tales are infused with a mix of fiction and the stories of real outlaws all blended to create the Robin Hood theme. Hilton and Holt also both argue that the legend is the most important aspects and tracing the real Robin Hood if there is indeed such a person isn’t that important as it is the myth the legend of Robin Hood that important to historians and that is almost impossible to identify a real person who did indeed form the basis of the o original tales and there is simply not enough information available to do anything nut make an educated guess. Both historians also come to same conclusion as to the geographical location the Yorkshire Barns dale area in which the tales are based. The main difference between the two historian is the social group in which robin Hood belongs holt maintains that Robin was from a middle class a freeman who held power whereas Hilton argues that robin was a peasant a free peasant but still a peasant this difference is argued by both with diligence and a strong argument using various sources to back their individual claims. This social question is probably the main area in which the tales can be in interpreted differently as both historians acknowledge the difficulties in proving their arguments. Hilton and Holt both place the origin of the stories in the same century but for different reasons. Both historians follow a logical approach and come to many of the same conclusions in reference to the Robin Hood legend and both Holt’s book and Hilton’s article are interesting and well researched.

In conclusion both historians make a very valid argument about the legend of Robin Hood. Holt’s approach seems to be a more traditional approach looking at the evidence and facts and trying to give the reader all the information to make his own judgment but Holt himself doesn’t seem to like the activities of social historians and the way they make the sources fit their particular views this itself could mean that Holt simply ignores many claims and fails to explore to explore them to the same length he explored other areas. Holt’s book is very informative however and is difficult to put down and does show the way tales are morphed, fictional tales and real people stories are blended to create what most people believe is a fact. Holt’s ability to show how the tales have changed also shows how easy it is for medieval tales to be misinterpreted and misunderstood but he does show how stories are reused by each generation to encompass their own beliefs and reinvent Robin Hood over the centuries. Hilton is a social historian and was a member of the communist party and these beliefs show however he makes a good argument and indeed the 14th century as indeed a time of change but his argument that the Robin Hood tales were a sign of social unrest although compelling does have holes in it. The change from indentured service for peasants to wage services seems to happened after the agrarian crisis or the famine of the early 14th century, and that social migration to find better paid work and social change was starting to occur earlier than Hilton suggests this could be however put down to new evidence which wasn’t available to Hilton when he wrote his work. The 14th century was a period of great change the famine, black death and wars in Europe all played a part in social change but Hiltons argument that the Tales of Robin Hood were simply a extension of social unrest leaves some questions if the tales of Robin Hood were written for this purpose why didn’t the tales mention landlords or the plight of the peasants there doesn’t seem to be enough information from the tales to support this claim. Hilton and Holt show that primary sources can be looked at in entirely different ways and as a student it’s important to look at the material first hand and not simply believe was it written by esteemed historians. Holt’s book has been replaced by a second edition which deals with the shortcomings of the original book and explores other areas. Hilton’s article could be looked upon as a sign of the times Hilton was writing in where Marxist views were everywhere and the need to explain the social struggle with society meant looking for examples throughout history. A simple fact also explains the difficulties in comparing two different works from different historians everyone had their own opinion and biases need to be taken into consideration and new information is found that changes how we perceive history.


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