Mudcat Café message #823078 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #48317   Message #823078
Posted By: GUEST,Hester NicEilidh
10-Nov-02 - 11:52 PM
Thread Name: Lyr Req: Sheath and Knife
Subject: Sheath and Knife, Robin Hood and Percival's Sister
The imagery of a shooting an arrow to choose a gravesite also occurs in Child 120B, Robin Hood's Death, which also begins with a reference to the plant "broom". The Sheath & Knife ballad (Child #16) appears to be earlier, and the 120A version does not involve the motif of a gravesite chosen by arrow flight. Thus, 120B was probably influenced by #16. However, the question remains, why would an incest ballad, even one with reference to a deer park, yew-bow and arrows be associated with the death of Robin Hood?

Well, 120B also involves close kin (Robin and the prioress are said to be cousins, but called siblings in a 19th century version), sexual impropriety (the prioress is said to murder Robin to keep her affair with a knight named Roger from being revealed), and blood-letting that results in death (the prioress opens Robin's veins to 'heal' him, but betrays him by taking too much blood).

Picking up on the brother/sister blood-letting motif, I am reminded of the Arthurian story of Percival's sister (Malory, Book 17, chapter XI), who was bled to death during the search for the Holy Grail. She also decreed that her gravesite be chosen in a random manner, with her body put aboard a drifting ship and its landing place to be her burial site. (Notice the apparently irrelevant reference to ships in 16A and 16F.) As well, Percival's sister foretells that "ye shall find me under a tower arrived".

These two ballads and the Arthurian romance thus seem to all tap into a deep mythic structure involving sibling incest, bloodletting, and the ritual/random choice of gravesite.

Perhaps the disputed "tower" line in the Ewan MacColl version of "Sheath and Knife" is an echo from the story of Percival's sister.

Cheers, Hester