The Legend of Robin Hood

R.2.64 recto

Manuscript R.2.64 is a single folio but an extremely significant text for understanding the history of medieval dramatic performance. It is a series of twenty-one couplets based on the legend of Robin Hood. The outlaw was well-known in ballads and prose texts from the fourteenth century: for example, the reference to the rhymes of Robin Hood in Piers Plowman (B.15.17, f.30r).

B.15.17, f.30r

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, however, the tales were especially popular as drama in the form of pageants, ceremonial games or dances. The first reference to a dramatic performance of Robin Hood is from Exeter in 1426-7, but Trinity Manuscript R.2.64 is the earliest extant text.

There are no stage directions or scenes so it is believed that this text formed the basis for an improvised performance containing a lot of action including an archery match, stone throwing, tossing the pole (“caber” in Scotland), wrestling and sword fighting. Follow this link for a transcript and further discussion.

There is no obvious relationship between the two sides of the manuscript. The verso contains a series of six receipts dated around 1475 as well as an image of a green dragon, a crude sketch of a woman’s head and what may be outstretched fingers.

The manuscript has been linked to the Paston Family of East Anglia and a number of intriguing avenues are followed by John Marshall in his 1998 essay ‘”Goon in-to Bernysdale”: the trail of the Paston Robin Hood play’.

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