6 Minute English
Episode 151203 / 03 Dec 2015
In the early stories of Robin Hood there is no Maid Marian, no Friar Tuck, Robin doesn't live in the time of bad Prince John, or the crusades, doesn't lead a large and merry gang, and never robs the rich to give to the poor. Neil and Alice discuss the long-lasting appeal of this man with a bow and how he has changed over the centuries.
This week's question
When do we find the first reference to Robin Hood in English literature? Was it in the…
a) 5th century?
b) 10th century?
c) 14th century?
You can hear the right answer at the end of the programme.
medieval period or Middle Ages
the period in Europe from the 5th to the 15th century
a song or poem that tells a story
making you feel upset or shocked
the murder of important people, often for political reasons
bodies that have been cut or torn into pieces
someone who deceives or cheats people
operate on your own terms
do what you want according to your own rules
the qualities typical of a man
Note: This is not a word-for-word transcript
Hello and welcome to 6 Minute English. I'm Alice…
… and I'm Neil. Hello.
Hello, Neil. Now what do you know about Robin Hood?
OK. Well, he wore green tights…
Yes, he did.
He was good at archery… he had a girlfriend called Maid Marion. He was English – although he sometimes he has an American accent in Hollywood films.
There was a great Disney cartoon series using animal characters. Robin and Maid Marion were foxes.
Anything else? What about being an outlaw or criminal? Heroically fighting against injustice and corruption?
Oh yeah, there's all that stuff as well – robbing the rich and giving to the poor. Yes, yeah… he lived in Sherwood Forest with a band of merry men.
Yes, he did. OK, it sounds like you've watched a lot of TV and film versions but haven't read the literature.
Oh, come on, Alice! Have you read the literature?
Yes I have. I studied English at university and one of my specialist subjects was medieval literature. The Middle Ages or medieval period lasted in Europe from the 5th to the 15th century.
I see. And I'm guessing that Robin Hood is the subject of today's show?
Absolutely. You're right! So here's a question for you, Neil: When do we find the first reference to Robin Hood in English literature? Was it in the…
a) 5th century?
b) 10th century?
Or c) 14th century?
Well, I'm going to go for the middle one – and that's b) 10th century.
OK. Well, we'll find out if you're right or wrong later on. Now, why do you think the stories of Robin Hood have lasted from the Middle Ages through to the modern day?
Well, I suppose it's got appeal on lots of levels – action, adventure – there's some comedy stuff there with the merry men. And of course, romance, like I said before.
Yes, indeed. Actually the early versions of Robin Hood were very violent. Let's listen to Professor Thomas Hahn talk about one of the ballads called The Monk.
Thomas Hahn, Professor of English Literature at the University of Rochester, New York
The Monk is, I think for most modern audiences who've either seen movies or read children's stories or whatever, quite disturbing in terms of its levels of violence. In terms of trying to make some comparisons with popular culture it seems to me that it's really at the level of Sopranos in terms of things like dismembered bodies and actual violence and assassinations.
What's a ballad, Alice?
Well, It's a song or poem that tells a story. People were telling the stories of Robin Hood for a long time before they were written down – and performing them too.
Really? And how about the comparison between the Robin Hood ballads and the Sopranos? Now The Sopranos is a popular US TV series about gangsters. Maybe I should get The Monk on audiobook. What do you think?
Yes, I don’t think you'd find it disturbing – disturbing means making you feel upset or shocked. Assassinations are the murder of important people, often for political reasons. And dismembered bodies are bodies that have been cut or torn into pieces.
Right. It sounds like medieval entertainment for guys. You know, like martial arts movies these days.
Well, yes, you may be right. Now do you remember you mentioned Maid Marion at the start of the show?
Well, actually, in the early ballads there is no Maid Marian. She appears in later versions along with other characters we know well today. But Robin is always a trickster, and a man with a bow in a wood.
A trickster is someone who deceives or cheats people. That's impressive, Alice. You certainly know your medieval ballads.
Yes, I do. So what's so appealing about this man with a bow? Let's listen to Professor Hahn again.
Thomas Hahn, Professor of English Literature at the University of Rochester, New York
What he represents I think is a kind of strong and forceful masculinity that operates on its own terms and for its own interests and that's I think what we admire in these stories.
What does it mean to operate on your own terms, Alice?
Well, Neil, it means to do what you want according to your own rules. And masculinity means the qualities typical of a man. Now, remember my question from earlier? I asked: When do we find the first reference to Robin Hood in English literature? Was it in the…
a) 5th century?
b) 10th century?
Or c) 14th century?
And I said b) 10th century.
Yes, well… I'm afraid you are wrong, Neil. The first reference occurs in the English poet William Langland's book Piers Plowman written between 1370 and 1390. Sloth, the lazy priest, says: "I kan not parfitly my Paternoster as the preest it singeth,/ But I kan rymes of Robyn Hood and Randolf Erl of Chestre."
Well, Alice, can you translate that into modern English, please? Maybe that's for another show.
Maybe another show…
Can we just have today's words again, please?
We certainly can. And we can have those in modern English. OK. Here they are:
medieval period or Middle Ages
operate on your own terms
Well, that brings us to the end of today's 6 Minute English. We hope you enjoyed today's walk in the woods. Please do join us again soon.
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Will thinking computers be the end of humans? Listen to Rob and Neil’s chat and learn some related vocabulary.
Episode 150212 / 12 Feb 2015
About 37,000 tourists are expected to visit Antarctica this season. But should they be going to a region with such a sensitive environment? Listen to Rob and Neil’s conversation and learn some new vocabulary.
Episode 150205 / 05 Feb 2015
At a time when more people compete for fewer jobs, are you sure you present your skills and abilities well to a potential employer? Listen to Rob and Neil's conversation and learn some related vocabulary.
Episode 150129 / 29 Jan 2015
Going to a party where you don't know anyone? Listen to Rob and Neil's advice and learn some related vocabulary
Episode 150122 / 22 Jan 2015
We use computers for everything nowadays. Are we forgetting our own abilities - and losing our talent? Listen to Rob and Neil's discussion, and learn some related vocabulary
Episode 150115 / 15 Jan 2015
Smoking in cars with children might be banned in England. Listen to Neil and Rob's chat and learn some related vocabulary
Episode 150108 / 08 Jan 2015
Is bullying just an attempt to give a bad name to what is part of human nature? Listen to Rob and Neil’s chat and learn some related vocabulary.
Episode 150101 / 01 Jan 2015
What would you put in your time capsule? Listen to Rob and Neil’s chat and learn new vocabulary
Episode 141225 / 25 Dec 2014
When enemy soldiers sang together in WW1. Listen to Rob and Finn’s chat and learn some related vocabulary.
Episode 141218 / 18 Dec 2014
The London school where students speak 42 different languages
Episode 141211 / 11 Dec 2014
Laughter isn't always the best medicine, says research
Episode 141204 / 04 Dec 2014
Are your pictures, documents and videos safe online? Listen to Rob and Finn's chat and learn new vocabulary
Episode 141127 / 27 Nov 2014
Nowhere to park? How the sharing economy is changing the way we use our space
Episode 141120 / 20 Nov 2014
How can science fiction help the world? Rob and Finn discuss a project which aims to inspire through stories of a bright future
Episode 141113 / 13 Nov 2014
Why is eating meat bad news?
Episode 141106 / 06 Nov 2014
Do real-life superheroes exist or are they just cartoon characters?
Episode 141030 / 30 Oct 2014
Rob and Finn discuss the World Health Organisation's recommendations on e-cigarettes
Episode 141023 / 23 Oct 2014
Should we eat less sugar? Listen to Rob and Neil and learn new vocabulary
Episode 141016 / 16 Oct 2014
Is learning English getting easier? Find out what's new
Episode 141009 / 09 Oct 2014
Why do we buy so much food and not eat it all? Learn more about food waste
Episode 141002 / 02 Oct 2014
Is it right to sleep at work? Rob and Finn discuss the benefits of sleeping on the job.
Episode 140929 / 29 Sep 2014
Is the way we see famous people a new thing? Learn about the first 'modern celebrity'.
Episode 140821 / 21 Aug 2014
Bored? You're not alone. Rob and Finn discuss how to deal with boredom and teach some related vocabulary. We promise you won't be bored!