The Tudor period was one defined by great divides and dichotomies between the Protestant nobility and the Catholic supporting lower classes. Out of this arose a need and the means to effectively communicate ideas from the upper class and the lower class. The Church, the economic and social center of life, turned to the use of iconography as propaganda to promote their agenda. The most prominent version of this was the use of Robin Hood by both the Catholic and Protestant churches through festivals to control, pacify, and persuade the lower class despite the inherent contradictions between the Robin Hood mythos and the churches themselves. This same mechanism shows itself throughout both the Tudor Period and through history into today.
1: Based on what you've read, what contextual information must your group necessarily communicate to the class in order to help us better understand the theatrical material you plan to communicate?
The main socio-historical context that is most important to understand the topic of Tudor Drama is the religious strife between the Catholic Church and the new protestant Church of England. Amongst this grand, theological conflict, existed a newly divided class structure: to the north were the poor, lower class farmers and peasants that maintain support of Catholicism, while the south held the majority of cities, nobles, and protestants of the upper classes. In order to control the northerners and win their support for the protestant clergy, the churches would host the festivals at which Robin Hood plays were most popular. However these festivals differ from our contemporary understanding of festivals through our W.I.E.R.D. lens and existed more or less only as methods of propaganda.
It is also important to note the literary context of these plays. The Robin Hood mythos began evolving around the 12th century through ballads and poems. It wasn't until the 15th century (just before the Tudor Era) that Robin Hood plays began to become prevalent (while there were some before this time, there are no existing texts from those plays. The 15th century marks when they began to be written down). Also at this time, the Robin Hood mythos began to become much more defined. Robin Hood became associated with Richard the Lionheart and the Third Crusade, while The Maid Marian and Friar Tuck were both found for the first time in this era: all distinctly Catholic elements in an otherwise protestant imagining of the hero.
2: How does your topic express the philosophies, ideologies, political circumstances, and/or social movements occurring in the specific time and place you are investigating?
As alluded to in the first question, Robin Hood plays focus on the religious atmosphere of 15th & 16th century England. Also, the religious considerations of the time played into a social divide. These two issues are where our groups focus lies in investigation. Because the two issues are linked, we have in effect only two groups to examine: The protestant upper class, and the catholic lower class. In order to discover the relationship between these two groups and Robin Hood, we begin by investigating the ways in which Robin Hood is presented to theatre. What we discovered was that the Robin Hood plays were mainly seen at the Hocktide festivals popular throughout England. It turned out that these festivals were sponsored and hosted by protestant parishes friendly to Henry VIII. The question quickly arose, why were the protestants so prolifically using such an apparently Catholic symbol? They were obviously aware of the implications of such a figure as Henry himself had been personally warned against Robin Hood portrayals and advised to forcefully shut them down. Our theory is that the churches use a symbol that the lower classes will automatically identify with to imply that Robin Hood would support the protestants against their Catholic "oppressors." On top of this, the festivals provided a church controlled source of catharsis for the grievances against the nobility.
3: Given that you only have 20 minutes to present, what big ideas/contextual elements will you have to leave out?
Robin Hood, as stated above, has existed in literature since the 12th century and as such, there is a great body of work on him. Even the limited amount of dramatic texts still amounts to hundreds of pages spanning approximately 150 years. As such, in twenty minutes, we will be lucky to completely cover one or two of these texts. We also hope to relate the use of Robin Hood during the Tudor period to contemporary iconography, however this will need be condensed. Of course, on top of the exclusions within this limited topic, we will be excluding all the rest of the drama from the Tudor period. The Tudor dynasty lasted from 1485 until 1550, and we are only covering a portion of only one of its four monarchs. As far as theatre goes for that period, we won't even be touching the emergence of comedy nor the public theatre; and the mystery and morality plays of the late medieval and early Tudor period will only be mentioned in passing as we set up the development of the heroic plays (the category in which Robin Hood exists). As Tucker Brooke states, "All that is most characteristic in the development of the English theatre falls easily within the one hundred and eighteen years of [the Tudor's] dominion" and we are only carving out a thin sliver to look at.
In our exploration of Robin Hood as a folk hero, we will present our argument as a combination of lecture/powerpoint, and video and/or live performance. There is a lot of contextual information, as well as our argument, that will best be served by the lecture/powerpoint. However, because Robin Hood plays existed largely in festivals, we want to include some aspect of this which will be done through performance or video. However, our presentation of the festival may have the same propaganda effects, such as the ones we are examining, on the class and those ethical implications must be kept in mind.
Our plan to analyze this topic and form our argument for the class is:
1) Set up historical context of the Tudor Period
2) Detail the evolution/origins of the Robin Hood character/literature/plays/etc.
3) Explain how Protestant Churches used Robin Hood in festivals to gain support of the lower classes (Festivals)
4) Expose and analyze the cracks in these festivals and explain what is going on underneath the surface (i.e. connections to Catholicism, Robin Hood's role as anti-establishment)
We chose this form to both give us the ability to present as much information as necessary in a clear manner that leaves room for discussion if necessary (much like this class' lecture), but we also wanted to include a more entertaining element to engage with the idea of festival.
The Tudor Period (1485-1558), encompassing the reigns of Henry VII through Mary I and ending as Elizabeth ascended, was a wide ranging era in both the realms of politics and theatre. As a result "All that is most characteristic in the development of the English theatre falls easily within the one hundred and eighteen years [including the reign of Elizabeth 1558-1603] of [the Tudor's] dominion" writes Tucker Brooke in his book Tudor Drama: A History of English National Drama to the Retirement of Shakespeare.
From here we begin by reducing our focus to what seems to be classically treated as the most defining aspect of this 73 year Tudor era (excluding Elizabeth): the split between England and the Holy Roman Empire under the monarchy of Henry VIII. The divide between the new Church of England, Lutheranism, and Catholicism rocked the European world whose impacts carried its way directly into the realm of the theatre.
Likewise against the Church arose a new form of play outside the classically defined dichotomy of Comedy and Tragedy: The Heroic Play. These plays found roots in the ballads and folk tales of commoners. Contrasting the aristocratic Morality plays and the bourgeois Mystery plays of the "civic middle class" (Brooke 71), heroic plays spoke for the plights of the lower classes. In turn, they also turned their heroes into anti-establishment, and especially anti-catholic figures (Kermode, Scott-Warren, Van Elk).
It is this latter category of Tudor Drama that we have turned our attention to. Because the plays are rooted in folk heroes, well known stories had been treated by a variety of playwrights throughout the Tudor Period, including the tales of Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham.
By examining the evolution of Robin Hood in theatre through the Tudor Period, we seek to encompass and analyze this tumultuous time and how the political and religious events of England permeated through and became represented in theatre.