Tuesday, August 7, 2018

IARHS at Kalamazoo 2019 (9-12 May 2019)

The International Association for Robin Hood Studies is sponsoring three sessions at the 2019 International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo (ICMS 2019), 9-12 May 2019. The session themes are: "Rhetoric of Resistance," "Social Bandits," and "Animal Crime." See below for details about each session.

CFP: ICMS 2019 "Rhetoric of Resistance"
Though banished from society for real or alleged crimes, the deeds of outlaws are celebrated in popular narratives and ballads. Marginalized figures, they exist on the fringes of civilization in an adversarial relationship with the representatives of the law. In this session, we will address the political status of the Green Wood as a rhetorical concept of "safe harbor," a refuge for the displaced, the ostracized, and the dispossessed. We welcome papers on medieval narratives and ballads of such celebrated outlaws as Robin Hood, Hereward, Eustace the Monk, and Fouke Fitz Waryn, among others, and aim to address the ethical, political, and ecological issues raised by the rhetoric of this body of medieval literature. Collectively, the session and its participants will consider how outlaw rhetoric comments upon the justice system and its representatives, thereby formulating a medieval rhetoric of resistance.

This is a paper session (15-20 minute papers) for the 2019 International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo. Please send abstracts (150-250 words) and a completed PIF form (see links below) to Lydia Kertz at lydia[dot]kertz@gmail.com with a subject line "Rhetoric of Resistance" by September 15th, 2018.

CFP: ICMS 2019 “Social Bandits”
The idea of the social bandit, aka the good thief or the noble robber, reaches back millennia and is found around the globe.  The social bandit, whether an individual or a group, historical or fictional, is seen by a segment of a society as protecting and assisting them.  Even an historical social bandit may develop into myth or legend, and the legend lives and changes long after the originator is dead.  The legend of a fictional social bandit likewise shifts over time; as Brian Alderson states that while many years ago he wrote that “’Every generation gets the Robin Hood that it deserves,’” he now believes that, “Every generation surely creates for itself the Robin Hood that it needs” (Forward to Kevin Carpenter’s 1995 Robin Hood: The Many Faces of that Celebrated English Outlaw, p. 9).  This could be said not only of Robin Hood but of all fictional and even historical social bandits who are perceived as robbing the rich to help the poor in some way or other. 

This session seeks 15- to 20-minute papers on any aspect of the social bandit, with special consideration given to papers focusing on the medieval and early modern periods.  It is also worth remembering that one person’s social bandit is another’s common criminal; consider the viewpoint of the Sheriff of Nottingham, for example, or other antagonists, as well as that of people kindly disposed towards the outlaw.  

Please send a short proposal and completed PIF form (see links below) to Sherron Lux at sherron_lux@yahoo.com BY noon (Central Time) on Wednesday 12 September 2018.

CFP: ICMS 2019 “Animal Crime”
Outlaws and outlawry are commonly associated with the human; yet, throughout the medieval period, animals were both the subject of crime, as when they were stolen, maimed, or killed, and its perpetrator; for example, the sow and piglets put on trial for murder for killing a 5-year old boy in Savigny, France in 1457. Documented legal trials from a variety of cultures featuring pigs, goats, horses, dogs and cows suggest that medieval understandings of the moral agency, ethics, and politics of outlaws and outlawry was decidedly not simply a human affair, but extended to our animal counterparts. Papers might consider the historically-documented or literary or textual (re)imagining of a trial or set of trials featuring an animal or animals; how animals interact with outlaw humans; the moral agency of animals on trial; the ethics of putting animals on trial; the ethics of outlawing animals; how animals can be constructed as outlaws philosophically, legally, or by other means, how and where animals appear in laws, the treatment of animal outlaws, animal exiles, and similar.

Send abstracts and a completed PIF form (see links below) to Dr. Melissa Ridley Elmes at MElmes@lindenwood.edu by 15 September, 2018.

2019 Medieval Congress Participant Information Form (PIF):
or see https://www.wmich.edu/medievalcongress/submissions for a form in Microsoft Word


Thursday, July 26, 2018

CFP: Outlaw Bodies, 12th Biennial Conference

The International Association for Robin Hood Studies (IARHS) invites abstract submissions for its Twelfth Biennial Conference, to be held at the University of Montevallo (Montevallo, AL) from 14-17 May 2019. The theme of the conference is “Outlaw Bodies.”

The term “outlaw” is applied to a broad range of entities, in ever expanding contexts. Functionally, an outlaw has become anything that is outside a norm, whether real, perceived, or desired – but the designation of outlaw can have lasting and tangible consequences. The Outlaw Bodies conference, on behalf of the IARHS, invites papers, panel proposals, round table topics, and seminars that discuss those consequences. The IARHS also welcomes and invites papers treating topics and presenting research on outlawry, the Robin Hood tradition, and social banditry. 

The conference seeks to center a discussion of the Robin Hood tradition and outlawry through a focus on bodies and tangibility: human, ecological, legal, and social. Human bodies can be branded, marked, and punished for outlawry. Ecological bodies such as swamps, forests, and wastelands are often figured as outlaws and have traditionally been seen as both sheltering and generating outlaws. Legal bodies, whether codes of law or institutions of law, generate punitive force against outlaw bodies. Social bodies defined, celebrated, or suppressed by social constructs including gender and sexuality. Robin Hood Studies and medievalism have begun to move toward the center of academic conventions, giving up their outlaw status. The November 2018 release of Robin Hood (dir. Otto Bathurst), with an additional half dozen treatments of the tradition apparently in development, demonstrates the truism that Robin Hood is an outsider hero, a figure of apparent rebellion and counter culture that is a reliable blockbuster film subject, as well as offering consumers a rich collection of television, novels, poetry, political iconography, and other ephemera. The new film’s outlaw bodies (whether human, ecological, legal, or social) offer new opportunities to explore the consequences of embodiment within the movie and for the Robin Hood tradition more broadly. We therefore explicitly invite papers that explore issues of race, gender, sexuality, power structures, and ableism.

Please send proposals of no more than 300 words to Dr. Valerie Johnson (vjohnso6@montevallo.edu) by 2 November 2018.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Reviews from the Greenwood: Clare A. Simmons on Stephen Basdeo's The Life and Legend of a Rebel Leader: Wat Tyler (2018)

Stephen Basdeo, The Life and Legend of a Rebel Leader: Wat Tyler. Barnsley: Pen and Sword History, 2018. ISBN: 978-1526709790. Hardcover £19.99; $34.95. 261 pp.

Reviewed by Clare A. Simmons
The Ohio State University

To this day, descriptions of the coat of arms of the City of London insist that the red sword or dagger in the first quarter of the cross of St. George is not the weapon that the Mayor of London William Walworth used to kill Wat Tyler at Smithfield. Although little historically is known of this key figure in the Great Revolt of 1381, Wat Tyler retains some presence in English collective memory. In The Life and Legend of a Rebel Leader: Wat Tyler Stephen Basdeo traces the afterlife of Wat Tyler as a symbol of popular resistance from the early modern era to the present. As the Preface states, this is not a work of medieval history, attempting to recover the “authentic” Wat Tyler, but a study of how the legend of Wat Tyler has been reworked and reused over the centuries in popular culture, visual art, literature, and polemical writing. As such it provides a useful case study demonstrating how a small supply of historical data can create a powerful cultural icon adaptable to different social and political contexts.

The first chapter covers the Great Revolt, which, as Basdeo notes, was not simply a matter of discontented “peasants” but a far more complex social movement; and what is known of Wat Tyler’s leadership of it. Basdeo does well in disambiguating Wat from other figures in the movement, including the shadowy Jack Straw, but his central interest is in the emergence of Wat Tyler as a folk hero. A story recurring frequently in later reimaginings depicts Wat as killing a tax-collector who attempted a sexual assault on his under-age daughter. As Basdeo remarks, this story is not found in the earliest accounts of the revolt, the first written version being found in the late Elizabethan chronicles of John Stow, where the name of the girl’s father is given as John Tiler or Tylar. It may be over-bold to declare this Stow’s “invention” (28), however, since by this time the revolt and Wat Tyler apparently had legendary status, Stow himself taking pains to refute the story about the arms of the City of London. Basdeo also passes over a detail recorded by some of the earliest chronicles that may have contributed to Wat’s status as a popular hero, namely, that after Walworth and his retainers had mortally wounded Wat, his companions took him to a nearby refuge; Walworth had him dragged out and beheaded without trial at Smithfield. Subsequent chapters move chronologically through representations of Wat Tyler. Chapter Two points out that the generally sympathetic depiction of the rebel leader (here named Jack Straw) and the teachings of John Ball in the 1593 play The Life and Death of Iacke Straw, A Notable Leader in England is “quite daring” at a time of heavy censorship (41). The few other depictions in the Early Modern period, though, tend to portray Wat and his fellow rebels as violating natural hierarchy and hence receiving their “Just Reward” (the title of one of the Civil War era retellings). Eighteenth-century versions generally took a similar approach; although perhaps some readers or audience members may have taken pleasure in seeing the status quo challenged, ultimately the fates of Wat Tyler and John Ball serve as a moral lesson to all tempted to join the “Mob” and disrupt the social order. Basdeo pinpoints the Romantic period as the time when Wat Tyler became an icon of rebellion against political oppression. Paintings by James Northcote and Jean Francis Rigaud, popularized through engravings reproduced in this volume, show a muscular, heroic Wat defending his rights and dying a martyr for the people. Wat Tyler became a locus for contrasting historical interpretation between Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke. Refreshingly, Robert Southey’s 1794 play, often mentioned as the embarrassing proof of Southey’s abandonment of the radical cause but seldom read in detail, is here analyzed for its content. Even though Southey found himself in an awkward position when radicals published his Wat Tyler in 1817, Basdeo with some justification sees Southey’s and Paine’s characterization of him as the turning point when Wat Tyler becomes “the symbol of a man who stood up to tyranny and fought for political rights” (101). 

The following chapter, on “Radicalism and Chartism,” provides significant examples of occasions when Wat Tyler’s name was invoked, either positively or negatively, as the British people campaigned for the right to vote. At a time of new interest in the medieval period, Wat Tyler becomes both in ballads and polemical writing a martyred hero, the Chartists representing William Walworth not as the man who saved London from brutish rebels, but “the man who murdered Wat Tyler” (118). The chapter ends with an analysis of Pierce Egan the Younger’s Wat Tyler; or, The Rebellion of 1381: in this novel the conception of history is indebted to Sir Walter Scott, yet “Anglo-Saxons” provide a means of a sympathetic representation of Chartist concerns. Egan’s novels were published at a penny an episode, as were most of the other Chartist-era novels discussed in Chapter Six; hardly surprisingly, authors of works featuring Robin Hood were also inclined to find another popular hero in Wat Tyler. Although the “Wat Tyler” novels will be unfamiliar to many readers, this chapter contains perhaps a little too much plot summary. All the same, it makes the valid point that in the later Victorian period, the historical novel became increasingly a moral teaching tool for young people, and the radical tinge to the depiction of the events of 1381 began to fade. Still, as recently as the 1980s, when the Thatcher government  replaced local property taxes with a “Community Tax” based on numbers, the public dubbed it a poll tax, protesters even adopting the slogan “AVENGE WAT TYLER” (169). The 1980s “poll tax” protests, like the Chartist movement of a century and a half earlier, demonstrate that the medieval past may be invoked not simply to maintain the status quo but also to claim civil rights.

This book should appeal to scholars of medievalism, to those interested in English folk-traditions, and to the general reader: the writing, although not always elegant, is free from jargon and historical contexts are explained simply but relevantly. For a modestly-priced volume, it contains an impressive number of well-analyzed illustrations and includes an appendix of ballads and other verse about Wat Tyler, bringing to life (or at least to the imagination) a man both historical and legendary.

Reviews from the Greenwood: Michael R. Evans on Rebecca A. Umland's Outlaw Heroes as Liminal Figures of Film and Television (2016)

Rebecca A. Umland, Outlaw Heroes as Liminal Figures of Film and Television. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2016. ISBN 978-0-7864-7988-7. Pbk, $35. 296 pp.

Review by Michael R. Evans
Delta College

Curiously, Rebecca Umland’s Outlaw Heroes has very little to say about perhaps the most famous outlaw hero in Anglophone culture, but will still be of interest to Robin Hood scholars. Umland, a professor of English at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, traces what she terms “liminal outlaw” figures through U.S. film and television, rooting these outlaws in Western European medieval archetypes. She argues that the liminal “outlaw hero”―standing on the edges of society, on the boundary between the law and lawlessness, between the civilized and the untamed―represents an alternative to the “official hero” figure. The “official hero” represents the law or expected codes of civilized behavior (and is often a lawman himself) but is unwilling or unable to enforce justice, whereas the outlaw hero pursues justice even if it means breaking the letter of the law. 

Umland roots the distinction between the “official” and “outlaw” hero in Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, where the official hero is Arthur, but the outlaw hero is Lancelot, who places his love for Guinevere ahead of his loyalty to his king and the conventions of the court, but still maintains the ideals of chivalry. Drawing on the terminology proposed by Beverly Kennedy, Umland argues that Arthur and the more obedient Round Table knights represent the figure of the “worshipful knight,” whereas Lancelot represents the “true knight”―the knight errant―the type for Umland’s liminal outlaw hero. She argues that Lancelot is a better medieval archetype of the “outlaw hero” than Robin Hood in that the former―like the heroes of American film and TV―is a loner, whose actions set him apart from the court, and who ultimately has to part from Guinevere, whereas Robin is at the center of a stable group of loyal fellow outlaws making him part of a community even if he is separated from society by his outlaw status.

Umland traces the evolution of the “Outlaw Hero” from classic Hollywood (Rick in Casablanca; Shane) via the heyday of film and TV westerns (the Lone Ranger, Paladin in Have Gun-Will Travel) to the loner vigilantes of the 1970s and ’80s (Dirty Harry, and Paul Kersey of the Death Wish franchise) to late-twentieth and early twenty-first century action films (the Rambo series and the Christopher Nolan-helmed Batman trilogy). Many of these TV shows and films make direct reference to medieval knighthood, such Paladin’s moniker and use of a chess knight motif on his holster, and Batman’s designation as a “Dark Knight.” Umland also shows how the Western helped form the figure of the outlaw hero in American culture, and how even after that genre’s decline many thrillers or action films were “urban westerns” that followed the genre’s conventions. While the outlaw hero evolved alongside changes in U.S. politics and society (from the clean-cut Lone Ranger to troubled, violent vigilantes), Umland identifies some common features that define the figure: he (all the figures under discussion are male) is set apart from the rest of society; he is often a wanderer; he has no long-term female love interest (for example, Rick Blaine famously does the right thing and helps Ilsa escape with the “official hero,” the freedom-fighter Victor Laszlo); he places justice above the letter of the law, defying the appointed legal authorities who are too corrupt or powerless to bring about justice, and often has an ambiguous relationship with the “official heroes” of law enforcement; and he has special weapons (like Arthur’s Excalibur) that signal his “election” as a hero (the Lone Ranger’s silver bullets, Harry Callahan’s Magnum .44, Batman’s gadgets, etc.).

Umland’s thesis is a useful one for analyzing outlaw figures, but I would dispute the extent to which Lancelot, rather than Robin Hood, is the medieval archetype for the outlaw hero. The trajectory of Lancelot’s story, and that of the fall of Camelot, is defined by his adulterous love for Guinevere, making it hard to see him as the model for the brooding, unattached male heroes of late-twentieth century action films (in Death Wish women are merely a plot device to be cruelly murdered or raped in order to motivate Kersey’s vigilante actions). Conversely, while Robin may be at the center of a homosocial network of loyal outlaw companions, he is very much a liminal figure; he is literally an outlaw, but was formerly a member of the establishment (at least in most Hollywood versions of the legend), and he frequently crosses the margins between the forest and settled society, as when he enters Nottingham to take part in the sheriff’s archery competition. Like Umland’s “outlaw hero,” he fights for justice even if it means breaking the law and defying the corrupt representatives of that law. Hollywood Robin Hood has his Maid Marian, but the Robin of the early ballads comes closer to the “outlaw hero” in lacking a female companion, and is even betrayed and killed by a woman. He has an ambivalent relationship with the “official hero,” the king whose deer he hunts, and dislikes court life to the extent of returning to the greenwood.  

While it would clearly be impossible for Umland to cover every TV series or film with an “outlaw hero” protagonist, it would have been interesting (given her focus on recent Batman movies) to see more treatment of adaptations of comic book superhero stories; is Superman a “liminal outlaw,” for example? And what about adaptations of comic books that question or subvert the “outlaw hero” figure, such as V for Vendetta, Watchmen, Deadpool, or the Robin-Hood-like Green Arrow? Likewise, the question of whether the “outlaw hero” is peculiar to Anglo-American culture, or whether it is a universal motif, could be explored with reference to non-western TV and film cultures. Umland points out how Death Wish 4’s plot, where Kersey sets two gangs against one another in order to destroy them both, is based on that of A Fistful of Dollars, but makes no mention of the latter film’s debt to Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo. Some of the detailed plot summaries in the book slow the argument, as do some unnecessary details, such as Michael Winner’s exact date of birth, or the distance between Bangkok and Peshawar. There are also errors which may not detract from Umland’s arguments, but are disconcerting for the reader nonetheless (Korea and Afghanistan are not in South East Asia, and there is no such language as “Moroccan”).

Umland’s work may not be at the top of a Robin Hood scholar’s reading list, given her focus on Lancelot rather than Robin as the archetypal “outlaw hero.” It is, nonetheless, a useful addition to the scholarly literature on the outlaw figure in western popular culture.