Though not the first mention of the outlaw Robin Hood in literature, the two ballads I selected from the several dozen collected by Francis James Child for his nineteenth century anthology The English and Scottish Popular Ballads are some of the earliest, and while they include Little John and Will Scarlet, we have yet to meet Maid Marian or Friar Tuck. Indeed, clergymen are prime targets for abduction and robbery by yeoman Robin and his merry men.
Robin Hood and the Monk dates from around 1450, and has a surly Robin refusing to acknowledge the loss of a wager with Little John, leading to that worthy leaving Robin, who continues on to Nottingham on his own to hear Mass. He is recognized by a monk who had been robbed by Robin in the past, and is arrested by the Sheriff. Little John waylays and kills the monk, taking his place in delivering messages to the King, and returning with royal instructions to send the prisoner to court. Little John fools the Sheriff, rescues Robin and they flee to the forest to live happily ever after.
The Gest of Robyn Hode is a longer adventure from the early sixteenth century. An impoverished knight is befriended and lent money by Robin to redeem his lands, leading to more hi-jinks with tricking and killing the Sheriff and befriending the King (actually King Edward, not Richard, as become entrenched in modern versions). This includes a version of the famous archery contest which both unmasks and confirms Robin as the finest archer in England.
Both ballads are written in Middle English, like the Mystery plays I have been reading, but as my source is an online text (https://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/eng/child/index.htm) there is no handy glossary or footnotes to remind me of the meanings of the unfamiliar looking words. I managed by reading the ballads aloud under my breath, and listening to the sounds rather than paying much attention to the spellyngs and hence got the gist of the stories, if not the delicacy of every meaning.
Personal rating: 5/10
Other reading: Despite my intentions, I did not read The Castle of Perseverance, a morality play where the Flesh, the World, the Devil and the Seven Deadly Vices besiege Man and the Virtues inside a fortress. I intended to; indeed the editor’s introduction about the questions over the staging of the play, with a castle in the centre, a ditch or moat around it, and five scaffolds surrounding the whole, and the antics of the Vices, made it seem a great and imaginative work. But I only had one more Middle English work left in me this week, and it had to be Robin.