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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume II. The End of the Middle Ages.

XVIII. Political and Religious Verse to the Close of the Fifteenth Century—Final Words

§ 9. Robin Hood

To the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries belongs the figure of Robin Hood the outlaw, who was known to the writers of Piers Plowman in the middle of the fourteenth century and stories of whose deeds were first printed by Wynkyn de Worde at the close of the fifteenth century, in the Lytell Geste; and with a reference to him this brief summary of “rank and file” literature must close. He is the typical hero of English medieval popular romance, “open-handed, brave, merciful, given to archery and venery, good-humoured, jocular, loyal, woman-protecting, priestcraft-hating, Mary-loving, God-fearing, some-what rough withal, caring little for the refinements of life, and fond of a fight above all things.” In this combination of qualities we may fitly see that blending of Norman and Englishman which helped to make the England of the ages of faith a “merrie England.” Akin in many ways to Hereward the Englishman and Fulk Fitz-Warin the Norman, he represents, in the ballads that grew up around his name, the spirit of revolt against lordly tyranny, and he stands for the free open life of the greenwood and the oppressed folk. The ruling classes had their Arthur and his knights, their “romances of prys,” the placid dream-world in which moved the abstractions of Stephen Hawes and the bloodless creatures of the“courty poetry.” The people had their songs by the wayside, their ballads born of communal dance and their more or less pagan festivals, at which sons of the soil, madiens and apprentices who had been bidden to

  • Suffer maister and maistresse paciently
  • And doo their biddyng obediently
  • Serve atte the tabille manerly
  • could, for a while, escape from these duties and enter into a life of their own.