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Was Robin Hood Good, and Does It Matter?

March 16, 2009 02:30 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
New evidence critical of Robin Hood adds to the mountain of speculation surrounding him, but does it suggest something about this moment in history?

Was Hood a Crook?

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Academic Julian Luxford says he's uncovered proof that Robin Hood, "Britain's legendary outlaw," was perhaps not as liked as folklore indicates. Luxford, a lecturer of art history at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, found a 23-word passage scrawled in the margin of a history book written in Latin around 1460. The inscription said Robin Hood and his crew  "infested Sherwood and other law-abiding areas of England with continuous robberies," according to the Associated Press.

Though the thoroughly negative assessment may surprise fans of Robin Hood, to Robin Hood scholars and historians, Luxford's finding could be just another indication that legends and myths are dependent upon societal impulses. In a time of Wall Street swindlers, could we be ready now, more than ever, to question the true intentions of Robin Hood?
Steven Knight, the author of "Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography," told Salon.com that from the beginning, the purported hero has manifested as "what the teller and the audiences needed him to be at the time of the telling."

Similarly, writes Knight in Times Higher Education, the question of whether Robin Hood was even a real person is "undiscoverable and unimportant. Genuinely worth analysis are the many forms this uniquely popular and long-lasting myth has taken through time." Robin Hood's character has been through a great deal of tumult since the early 16th Century when Scottish historian John Major described him as a rebellious and "displaced gentlemen," fueling admiration for "resistance" to accepted law. The fact that "intervening authors have added other features" is "probably the main reason the myth has survived," writes Knight.

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Background: Dispute over Robin Hood's homeland; the importance of legend

In 2004, controversy arose in England over Robin Hood's true home. Although he has been tied to Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire for hundreds of years, Robin Hood might have originated in Yorkshire, officials there claimed.

What experts can agree on, according to The New York Times, is that the 800-year-old figure "was probably an amalgam of several men who lived during different periods." John Heeley, a tourism official in Nottingham, told The Times, "There is nothing defining as to who he was, where he was and when he was ... He probably did exist. But nobody knows. It isn't really the most important thing, though. He's most importantly a legend.''

Related Topic: Tourism in Nottingham and Sherwood Forest

The Nottingham tourism Web site lists Robin Hood as one of its "Famous people," but admits that "Finding a direct answer to the question: 'Who was he?' is difficult." The Nottingham area has many cultural and historical attractions, including castles, cathedrals and museums.

The Nottinghamshire County Council has information on visiting the Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve, including the history of the forest and the Robin Hood Festival held there. 

Reference: Robin Hood lore

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