Article Title

The Robin Hood Folk Plays of South-Central England


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

The British folk plays have been given considerable attention since their "discovery" in the late eighteenth century.1 Comment on the plays has concentrated heavily upon their origins; according to the current theory, the plays are

vestiges of an archetypal "life-cycle play."2 Because of this emphasis on origins, as well as the co-ordinate assumption that the texts are either hopelessly corrupt or purely a matter of latter-day accretion, there has been a tendency to avoid detailed study of the many texts which have been recorded;3 it is the action of the play which is considered important.4 Accordingly, the Revesby Sword Play,5 or some other atypical text,6 has been examined in great detail because it manifests some trait which supports the current assumption made about the origins of the tradition. Although Roger Abrahams has argued that "the interdependence of life and death was [not] the dominant theme" of seasonal festivities and that there does not seem to be any evidence for the existence of any 'original folk drama' involving this total life-cycle perspective,"7 the theory is still maintained by a significant group of British and Irish folklorists8 and should not too readily be discounted. In all probability the British folk play tradition is a set of traditions which differ among themselves, not merely because of oral change, but because in different areas there have been different influences, and to sort out which influence influenced the original origin produces arguments of more heat than light. Besides, although one may be interested in the origins of a tradition, it must be remembered that even certain knowledge of an origin might shed very little light on the tradition as it exists centuries or millennia later. The British folk plays, as performed today, are certainly far removed from any ritual origin they might have.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.