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Deception and Impersonation in the Robin Hood Tradition: A Comparison of Medieval and Nineteenth-century Approaches
By Lucas Mikael Darche Aykroyd
MA Thesis, University of Victoria, 1997
Abstract: Deception and impersonation are constant themes in the Robin Hood tradition. However, medieval and nineteenth-century approaches to these themes are different. In medieval English ballads, trickery by the outlaw hero and his supporters embodies a subversive attitude toward hierarchical authority, depicted as corrupt and unjust to gratify a plebeian yeoman audience. Acts of deception furnish anti-authoritarian commentary on political, economic, and religious issues. But from 1500 to 1800, a change occurs. Deception and impersonation in ballads and plays become conventional attributes of the outlaw persona. Marketed to a broader audience, Robin’s character is increasingly submissive to hierarchical authority, and his deceptions are not relevant to contemporary social concerns. In the nineteenth century, Robin is a fun-loving gentleman in fancy dress. Novels and plays portray him as a romantic, conservative, patriotic hero who plays tricks for entertainment. This transformation of Robin Hood is among the most remarkable threads in his legend.