Myth and National Identity in Nineteenth-Century Britain: The Legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood

Myth and National Identity in Nineteenth-Century Britain: The Legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood

Myth and National Identity in Nineteenth-Century Britain: The Legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood

Myth and National Identity in Nineteenth-Century Britain: The Legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood

Synopsis

'Barczewski is most successful in historical contextualization, and in linking the legends with the broader issues of race, identity, and nationalism... strong treatment of the history of ideas... wide-ranging survey of national identity in nineteenth-century thought.' -Carolyne Larrington, TLSThis study examines the complex nature of nineteenth-century British national identity through the legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood, two very different national heroes. It examines a variety of issues, including the rise of Englishness over the course of the nineteenth century, race, gender and imperialism.

Excerpt

For centuries, the legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood have enjoyed a uniquely symbiotic relationship in British culture. They have provided the nation with two of its most important and most popular myths, myths which have been told and retold in a variety of contexts and genres. To this day, there are few stories which are better known to British schoolchildren, and it would be difficult to find someone in the English-speaking world who could not identify the most significant characters and most famous episodes of the two legends. They continue to appear in literature for both children and adults, on television, and in films, and now in the computer age the Internet abounds with websites dedicated to them.

It is this popularity which first attracted me to a scholarly study of King Arthur and Robin Hood. I became interested in the Arthurian legend as a first-year graduate student at Yale University, as I sought a way to combine the literary expertise gained from four years as an undergraduate English major with my newfound love of British history. There had been general surveys of the historical evolution of the legend over the centuries, but no scholarship had focused specifically on the period between the French Revolution and the death of Queen Victoria, which was my chronological area of interest, as well as a time in which Arthur was enjoying a tremendous surge in popularity. As I began looking at nineteenth-century interpretations of King Arthur, however, I noticed that he was being shadowed by an unlikely doppelganger. Scholars had previously noted the increased interest which the Victorians had displayed in the Arthurian legend, but they had failed to observe a simultaneous fascination with Robin Hood, the medieval outlaw who seemed to represent everything that Arthur opposed. The Arthurian legend is the story of a king, a man at the pinnacle of the political and social hierarchy. The tales of Robin Hood, on the other hand, feature as their protagonist a hero outside of and in many ways subversive to conventional structures of authority.

As I continued to peruse nineteenth-century versions of the two legends, I was struck by the frequency with which King Arthur and . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.