THIS IS my first academic conference and I’ve really enjoyed it – although it’s surprising how exhausting it is just to sit and listen to ten short talks in one day! Unfortunately I miss the opening session – which included a talk by Professor Helen Phillips on Guy of Gisborne – otherwise I would have heard a dozen.
One of the delegates tells me that I’ve chosen a good conference for my first; the Beverley Arms hotel, a former coach house dating back to 1794, is a friendlier setting than a big university would be. As it’s on a smaller scale, you get to know everyone who’s here, and, as there aren’t multiple talks going on at once, you don’t have to make difficult choices about which papers you’d like to hear.
Dr Lesley Coote of Hull University, who is organising and chairing the conference, tells me that she has experience in the theatre, working both on stage and behind the scenes as stage manager; ideal qualifications for a running a successful conference, which is a performance in itself.
People must think that I’m taking a lot of notes, but it’s an ideal opportunity for me to draw figures, something I’ve felt an urge to do recently, while catching up on the latest Robin Hood studies.
The first speaker (right) has been investigating interactivity in storytelling. He suggests that when the original Robin Hood ballads were told, in taverns or around camp fires, there was a degree of audience participation. Once a story is set down in writing there’s less opportunity for the audience to influence its progress.
There’s a parallel with the story structure of computer games; there’s a strong narrative framework but how the player gets from one set piece to the next involves a number of choices, drawing them into the story and making them feel that it’s their own.
John Marshall of Bristol University has made some new discoveries about Robin Hood pageants and how the tradition spread to London. It’s known that in 1516 Henry VIII attended a Robin Hood pageant at Shooters Hill. By checking out the date in the royal accounts Marshall has been able to supply some fascinating details about who supplied the costumes, the names of some of the performers and he’s thrown some light on the introduction of Friar Tuck as a member of Robin’s outlaw band.
I didn’t expect to hear a talk on pirates today but the next speaker charts the career of privateer turned Barbary coast corsair John Ward (c 1553-1622) who captained a ship called The Little John.
A French post-graduate student talks on how the medieval concept of chivalry was reinvented by Louis XIV and others.
In the afternoon we have talks on the inscriptions on Saxon swords and on how Disney has influenced the way we think of the middle ages; they’ve become a kind of historical playground, sufficiently removed from the present day.
The final talk is the story behind Richard Lester’s 1976 film Robin & Marian starring Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn.
If pressed, I think I’d have to say that Sean Connery was my favourite Robin Hood.