Tuesday, September 09, 2014

On the role of the Doctor in the Hood Mythos

        Thus endys the talkyng of the Docteur
        And Robyn Hode i-wysse doth stande;
        God, that is euer a crowned kyng,
        Bryng vs blisse ywthin hs promisse lande
        Old Ballard circa 1300.

Like the Monk, the Doctor is a problematic figure in the Robin Hood myth:  as the monk represents the spiritual hierarchy (the second estate) as opposed to secular figures of the Shire-Reeve, and the Prince (forming a triumvirate with the Abbot and the Abbess), the former wheeled on later when a Monk has become via repetition less impressive, and the latter forming Robin's eventual nemesis, so the Doctor represents the third estate, and more precisely the immergent middle class between the downtrodden, and the downtreading.

By virtue of secular knowledge a Doctor (not yet a doctor of medicine) but literate - perhaps a scribe or an ammenuensis, was a peripetetic or transgressive figure, moving between court and country, town and forest, he was rich enough to provoke robbery, yet poor enough to be able to supplicate Robin's restraint.  He could both be an ally, yet also pose a critique of the role of outlaw - for the Doctor was the counterpart of Robin within the law (of which indeed he might well be a doctor).

In the ballard called "Robin and the Doctor's travail" (circa 1411) the latter is described thus:

        In langshanks sore, y-clept what nae man saith,
        Swift he to cleave to good, frae de'il scape.

The language is slightly more modern, but the Northern intonation of nae and frae, perhaps suggests an origin in the Barnsdale rather than the Nottingham corpus.

Leigh Hunt in his modernisation has it (italics mine):

Lord! that in this life's dream
Men should abandon one true thing,
That would abide with them.
We cannot bid our strength remain,
But like the Doctor we should stand,
Long legged, and nameless, but unbowed,
We cannot say to an aged back,
Stoop not towards the ground:
But though now dim, his once bright eyes
See still the good, discern the ill,
Things as bright as ever,
Still are found,
Our childhood's friends are with us still.
False world, be false for thee;
And, oh Sound Truth and Old Regard
Nothing shall part us three.

The point being made is that legendry 'old regard' is one of the two legs, the other being historical 'sound truth' and that where the world disagrees, so much the worst for the world.

Tennyson before setting down to the main work of the Idylls of the King produced a small number of poems with a Hood theme, including:  If Robin Hood Must Die later reworked as All Things Must Die.

Clearly the blue groans in its going(1)
Under my eye;
Warmly and broadly the south winds are blowing
Over the sky.
One after another the white clouds are fleeting;
Every heart this May morning in joyance is beating
Full merrily;
Yet if Robin Hood must die.(2)
The stream will cease to flow;
The wind will cease to blow;
The clouds will cease to fleet;
The heart will cease to beat;
For all things must die.
All things must die.
Spring will come never more.
O, vanity!
Death waits at the door.
See! our friends are all forsaking
The wine and the merrymaking.
We are call’d–we must go.
For the promise tells us so(3)
Though we go not hand in hand,
Alone to the Promised Land,
We must go, lame or spry,
If good Robin Hood must die!

(1) This line is unclear in manuscript, in the revised poem 'the blue' is a river,
(2) In the revised poem, no longer about Robin, this line is recast as 'All Must Die'
(3) Lines onward do not appear in the published poem.

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