Week 9: Legendary Medieval Heroes

Please choose carefully! If you can't decide for yourself, let the Fates decide... Then, when you have made your choice, you can start the Week's Assignments.

You are probably familiar with the legend of Robin Hood - and you probably think that he is a loyal follower of King Richard, a nobleman in disguise, fighting for justice under the cruel rule of King John, robbing from the rich only in order to give to the poor, and snuggling up with Maid Marian out in Sherwood Forest. Well, these are all later additions to the Robin Hood story - in this unit, you will get to know the old Robin Hood of the medieval tradition, a trickster, an outlawed criminal, dangerous and daring. He does what he does for his own pleasure - far more of a rebel and a hoodlum than a genteel nobleman. After reading a 1950's comic book based on the modern romantic notions of Robin, you will read the old English ballads that take you way back towards the very beginnings of the Robin Hood legend. Here are some quotes:

'You said I was no archer,' said Robin Hood,
'But say so now again;'
With that he sent another arrow
That split his head in twain.
'You have found mee an archer,' saith Robin Hood,
'Which will make your wives to wring,
And wish that you had never spoke the word,
That I could not draw one string.'

Robin Hood he took then the old Bishop's hand,
Derry, derry, down!
And led him to gay Barnsdale,
And made him sup at his board that night,
Where they drank wine, beer, and ale.
Derry down! Hey! Derry, derry, down!

'Lay me a green sod under my head,
And another at my feet;
And lay my bent bow by my side,
Which was my music sweet.
And make my grave of gravel and green,
Which is most right and meet.
'Let me have length and breadth enough,
Down a down a down a down
With a green sod under my head;
That they may say, when I am dead
Here lies bold Robin Hood.'
Hey down a derry derry down.


King Arthur is one of the best-known figures of European legend, and you probably know at least some King Arthur stories already - even if it's just Monty Python and the Holy Grail (yes, one of the greatest movies of all time). The King Arthur legend dates back to at least around the year 600 AD, and the selections this week are taken from the famus Le Morte d'Arthur, written by Sir Thomas Malory in the 15th century. The version here has modernized English spelling, but it is still some very old-fashioned English - over a hundred years before Shakespeare...! You will be reading Book 4, which contains the story of Morgan Le Fay's plot against Arthur and the story of Pelleas, Gawaine and Lady Ettard, along with other adventures. Here are some quotes:

And anon they fell asleep, and slept marvellously sore all the night. And on the morrow King Uriens was in Camelot abed in his wife's arms, Morgan le Fay. And when he awoke he had great marvel, how he came there, for on the even afore he was two days' journey from Camelot. And when King Arthur awoke he found himself in a dark prison, hearing about him many complaints of woful knights.

Anon the damosel brought Morgan the sword with quaking hands, and she lightly took the sword, and pulled it out, and went boldly unto the bed's side, and awaited how and where she might slay him best. And as she lifted up the sword to smite, Sir Uwaine leapt unto his mother, and caught her by the hand, and said, Ah, fiend, what wilt thou do? An thou wert not my mother, with this sword I should smite off thy head.

And there he was in great peril, for the giant was a wily fighter, but at last Sir Marhaus smote off his right arm above the elbow. Then the giant fled and the knight after him, and so he drove him into a water, but the giant was so high that he might not wade after him. And then Sir Marhaus made the Earl Fergus' man to fetch him stones, and with those stones the knight gave the giant many sore knocks, till at the last he made him fall down into the water, and so was he there dead.

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM