The Lost Prince

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Monday, 28 February 2011

Robin Hood in Film

The legend of Robin Hood has developed for centuries. When we think of Robin Hood we normally think of this:
  • He carries a bow and arrow and is good at shooting
  • He shuns authority, and has an emnity with the Sheriff of Nottingham (and sometimes King John as well)
  • He has a love affair with Maid Marian who is a nobleman's daughter
  • He hangs out with his band of 'Merry Men' in Sherwood Forest and the area around Nottingham
  • He is alive at the very end of the twelfth century, during the Crusades.
  • He is friends with Little John and Friar Tuck
  • He steals from the rich to give to the poor
  • He is an outlaw, who might have once been a nobleman
This is our modern understanding of the Robin Hood myth. I will start by looking at the representation of him in 2 of the Robin Hood films (there are so many that it would take too long if I did all of them).

Disney's Robin Hood (1973)

This features humanoid animals, with some recognisable characters,. Robin Hood (obviously), who is a swashbuckling schmoosing fox (to represent his characteristic cunning) and Little John (who ironically is a very big bear), Maid Marian (a beautiful vixen), and Friar Tuck. A cockerall appears as a minstrel character, who occasionally jumps in to help Robin. The main enemy seems to be King John, who plays a lion, who is represented as a stupid, immature, mother-cuddling jealous and greedy king. He has a side kick snake, Sir Hiss, who he refuses to listen to, even though the snake is always right. The Sheriff of Nottingham is another enemy, who is also shown to be greedy, taking money from wherever in order to give to Prince John, or as little John "affectionately" calls him, PJ. The entire film is set in Nottingham mostly, though it does occasionally go into Sherwood Forest, and most of the money is taken through trickery, with quite a lot of help from Little John.

His relationship with Maid Marian is quite a big part of the story, (it is Disney!), Robin defeats the sheriff at an archery contest, where he attends in disguise, and wins Marian's hand. She is not just a noble woman, but seems to be a princess, the neice of Prince John and the daughter of King Richard the Lionheart, who is off fighting in the Crusades. She is charitable, and has had a previous fling with Robin Hood, causing him to be very much in love with her. There is no suggestion, that Robin Hood is just some kind of cover name, the assumption is that Robin Hood is actually his name. They get married, in a very romantic scene.

Robin Hood (2009)

Starring Russell Crowe, I had high expectations, from any film with this terrific actor. But I was slightly disappointed with the usual Hollywood tripe, hashing up our history. I think it is worth a viewing, and features plenty of action which might interest many people, but if you want a film that actually makes sense I would not recommend this to you. You would be sourly disappointed to find a film, promoting Robin Hood as an outlaw hero to the extent that they actually suggest he came up with the ideas for the Magna Carter - just a tad implausible. Efforts to show how he became a hero, made it possible to develop their own story of who Robin Hood was before he became Robin Hood.

The thing is though, that we know so little about Robin Hood that they can get away with it. They are just adding to the myth of Robin Hood which has been added and built upon by many generations, trying to recreate the story of a beloved hero who represented and embodied opposition to the authority of an unjust society.

From the earliest written source of the Geste of Robin Hood, which is dated around 1450, though probably was around orally for about 200 years before this, is the earliest proof of this myth's existence. There are some striking difference in this, from the Robin Hood we recognise.

  1. He is from Doncaster, and visits many places across Yorkshire, including York. There are no associations with Nottingham or the sheriff of Nottingham  It could be that this was added later, by people from the Midlands or the South, to move it away from the Northern locality, and make him more of a national hero by bringing him closer to the centre of the country.
  2. He is vicious and sometimes cruel, there is not so much a focus on him 'taking from the rich to give to the poor', more just 'taking from the rich'
  3. There is focus on social injustice - Placing him in the context of the Peasant's Rebellion, not the time of Richard the Lionheart and Prince John. There is mention of King Edward, but a lot of historians think this was just a cover for Richard II, Of course, it is also possible it was Edward III, who resembles the King Edward, and fits the time period, or Edward IV who may have been on the throne around the time it was written. But both of these, seem less likely.
  4. There is no Maid Marian. She is a nineteenth century addition to the myth, as a result of romanticism.
  5. There is no Friar Tuck - This a Tudor addition to the myth. The original story has a lot of anticlericalism, and this might have been an opposition to this, to suggest they were not all bad.
  6. He is very religious
  7. He relies on tricking people and functions within the social conventions of the time.
So, as time went on, the myth would develop, and the myth has continued to develop as we find new ways to reinvent Robin Hood.

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