Stephen Thomas Knight

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Stephen Thomas Knight MA (Oxon.) PhD (Sydney). F.A.H.A., F.E.A. (born 21 September 1940) was until September 2011 Distinguished Research Professor at Cardiff University in the School of English, Communications and Philosophy. He is now, in retirement, Honorary Research Professor of English Literature at the University of Melbourne in the School of Culture and Communication. His areas of expertise include English literature, Medieval literature, Cultural studies, Crime fiction, Robin Hood and Australian matters.[1] He has published a large number of books that have addressed these issues, and is best known in the public sphere for his contributions to modern-day debate on the legend of Robin Hood, King Arthur, and on medieval cultural studies.

In his most recent work, Mysteries of the Cities,[2] Knight describes and analyses the massive criminal narratives that from the 1840s onwards captured the complexities and anxieties of the new mercantile metropolis, from Paris and London through to Philadelphia, New York and Melbourne.


Knight was educated at Bournemouth Grammar School and at Jesus College, Oxford. He graduated from the University of Oxford in 1962, having specialised in Medieval English Literature. He was appointed Teaching Fellow at the University of Sydney in 1963 and lecturer in English in 1964. In 1968-69 he was lecturer in English at the Australian National University. He returned to the University of Sydney in 1970 where he was successively Senior Lecturer and Associate Professor. In 1986 he was appointed Robert Wallace Professor of English at the University of Melbourne. In 1992 Knight returned to England to take up the first chair in English at the new De Montfort University at Leicester.[3] In 1994, he took up a position at Cardiff University as Professor and Head of English; he was also Head of the School of English, Philosophy and Communication, and from 2006 was appointed as Distinguished Research Professor.[4]

Many of Knight's scholarly writings have been in the area of medieval English literature, and he has written extensively on Robin Hood, Merlin and the Arthurian legend in particular. Knight's long-standing interest in crime fiction generated the ground-breaking study Form and Ideology in Crime Fiction (1980), several other books and essay-collections, including Continent of Mystery: A Thematic History of Australian Crime Fiction (1997) for which he was awarded the Ned Kelly Lifetime Achievement Award.[5] Knight has produced many reviews for newspapers, magazines and radio, including for ten years from the mid-1970s a monthly column in the Sydney Morning Herald on crime fiction; he has also written sociocultural commentaries, notably the much-discussed The Selling of the Australian Mind.’


Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography[edit]

In this mythic biography, which won the 2005 International Mythopoeic Association Prize for Non-Fiction,[6] Stephen Knight traces the origins of the legend, providing invaluable insights into why Robin Hood is still such an essential and evolving legend in our culture and literature. Here, Knight presents many of the truths and fallacies of Robin Hood, as he explores our conceptions and representations of the legend.

We may never know for sure whether or not Robin Hood was a real historical figure. Knight draws from Wyntoun, Bower[disambiguation needed] and other medieval writers to suggest the view that Robin Hood existed in the same way as King Arthur, Herne the Hunter, the devil, the saints, etc. These figures are enduring forces in our culture, and thus can be said to exist. But other scholars want a more definitive answer.

The question of Robin Hood's existence may never have an emirical, and reductive, answer. The Robin Hood legend has now taken on a life of its own, influenced by other outlaws like William Wallace. In fact, "The resemblance between Robin Hood and William Wallace is striking: both are provoked to outlawry by legal violence, both go disguised as a potter, and both command substantial numbers of well-disciplined men."

"To study Robin Hood," as Knight explains, "is to study over five hundred years of the development of modern concepts of heroism, art, politics, and the self. It is an exciting and enthralling domain of study, that can in itself become a guide to the changing patterns and dynamics of society and culture over an enormous period."

Robin Hood is a constant presence in our history and literature, even as we change his name and appearance. Archetypal in form, he can represent Nature, a Folk-Hero, and a Trickster (although these elements of his character often intertwine and coalesce into what could be named the Robin Hood archetypal figure). He's been portrayed as an elf-figure, but he emerged with many more faces and character types, with a multiplicity of forms.[7]

Merlin: Knowledge and Power through the Ages[edit]

Stephen Knight traces the myth of Merlin back to its earliest roots in the early Welsh figure of Myrddin. He then follows Merlin as he is imagined and reimagined through centuries of literature and art, beginning with Geoffrey of Monmouth, whose immensely popular History of the Kings of Britain (1138) transmitted the story of Merlin to Europe at large. He covers French and German as well as Anglophone elements of the myth and brings the story up to the present with discussions of a globalized Merlin who finds his way into popular literature, film, television, and New Age philosophy.

Knight argues that Merlin in all his guises represents a conflict basic to Western societies-the clash between knowledge and power. While the Merlin story varies over time, the underlying structural tension remains the same whether it takes the form of bard versus lord, magician versus monarch, scientist versus capitalist, or academic versus politician. As Knight sees it, Merlin embodies the contentious duality inherent to organized societies. In tracing the applied meanings of knowledge in a range of social contexts, Knight reveals the four main stages of the Merlin myth: Wisdom (early Celtic British), Advice (medieval European), Cleverness (early modern English), and Education (worldwide since the nineteenth century).[8]

The Mysteries of the Cities: Urban Crime Fiction in the Nineteenth Century[edit]

This innovative study describes the lengthy and serialised popular fictions that realised the new, exciting and alarming experience of city life in the mid nineteenth century. Starting with Eugène Sue’s Les Mystères de Paris (1842-3) it shows how remarkably young authors, working for newspapers and street level publishers, did not use the intellectual disciplinary control of detectives or the old patterns of aristocratic and moralising controls, and simply realised the multiple, overlapping, chaotic and often violent stories of modern urban crime. This was picked up by George W. M, Reynolds in his massive The Mysteries of London (1844-6), but the French author was also directly responsible for multiple American versions, of which George Lippard’s The Quaker City (1844), about Philadelphia, and The Mysteries of New York (1848) by E. C. Z. Judson (better known as `Ned Buntline’) are the most impressive.

The Mysteries genre spread around the world – including Berlin, St Petersburg,. Milan, and many American urban centres: the last true realisation was in gold-rich Melbourne in 1873, when Donald Cameron produced The Mysteries of Melbourne Life.

Knight shows how this rich material expresses and examines the drama of new megalopolitan life, how it influenced authors who sometimes claimed not to admire it such as Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens and Émile Zola, and how this genre is a massively overlooked storehouse of story, melodrama and above all urban emotional history. [9]


Knight has appeared in the media numerous times, including on the BBC Radio 4 programme In Our Time, discussing Robin Hood,[10] Merlin,[11] and the legend of the Fisher King,[12] as well as on the 2006 BBC television production World of Robin Hood, with Jonathan Ross.[13]

He received considerable attention across the world in 1999 for research of his relating to gender roles in the Robin Hood legend, which the media took to be evidence that Robin Hood was gay.[14]


Select Bibliography[edit]

  • Knight, Stephen (1972) Rymyng Craftily: Meaning in Chaucer’s Poetry. Sydney : Angus and Robertson.
  • Knight, Stephen (1973) The Poetry of the Canterbury Tales. Sydney : Angus and Robertson.
  • Knight, Stephen (1980) Form and Ideology in Crime Fiction. London : Macmillan.
  • Knight, Stephen (1983) Arthurian Literature and Society. London : Macmillan.
  • Knight, Stephen (1986) Geoffrey Chaucer. Oxford : Blackwell.
  • Knight, Stephen (1990) The Selling of the Australian Mind: From First Fleet to Third Mercedes. Melbourne : William Heinemann Australia.
  • Knight, Stephen (1994) Robin Hood: A Complete Study of the English Outlaw. Oxford : Blackwell.
  • Knight, Stephen (1994) Freedom Was Compulsory. Melbourne : Minerva.
  • Knight, Stephen (1997) Continent of Mystery: A Thematic History of Australian Crime Fiction. Melbourne : Melbourne University Press.
  • Knight, Stephen & Gustav Klaus (Eds) (1998) The Art of Murder. Stauffenburg Verlag.
  • Knight, Stephen (Ed) (1998) Robin Hood: The Forresters Manuscript. Cambridge : D.S. Brewer.
  • Knight, Stephen & Gustav Klaus (Eds) (2000) British Industrial Fictions. Cardiff : University of Wales Press.
  • Knight, Stephen (2003) Robin Hood: a Mythic Biography. Ithaca and London : Cornell University Press.
  • Knight, Stephen (2004) A Hundred Years of Fiction: Writing Wales in English. Ithaca and Cardiff : University of Wales Press.
  • Knight, Stephen (2004) Crime Fiction, 1800-2000: Detection, Death, Diversity. London : Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Knight, Stephen (2009) Merlin: Knowledge and Power through the Ages. Ithaca : Cornell University Press.
  • Knight, Stephen (2012) The Mysteries of the Cities: Urban Crime Fiction in the Nineteenth Century. Jefferson N.C. : McFarland.

Related works[edit]

  • Evans, Fulton & Matthews (Eds.) (2006) Medieval Cultural Studies: Essays in Honour of Stephen Knight. Cardiff : University of Wales Press.

Notes and references[edit]