This redistributionist form of philosophy-in-action anticipates the work of writers such as Proudhon and Karl Marx by many hundreds of years. Although most noted for his material egalitarianism, in the stories he also pursues other types of equality and justice. However, as mentioned below, Robin Hood was not originally so generous.
Career of the Robin Hood legend
The stories relating to Robin Hood are apocryphal, verging on the mythological. His first appearance in a manuscript is in William Langland's Piers Plowman (1377) in which Sloth, the lazy priest boasts "I ken (i.e. 'know') 'rimes of Robin Hood." Three years later the Scottish chronicler John Fordun writes that, in ballads, "Robin Hood delights above all others".
Printed versions of Robin Hood ballads appear in the early 16th century -- shortly after the advent of printing in England. In these ballads, Robin Hood is a yeoman which, by that time, meant an independent tradesman or farmer. It is only in the late 16th century that he becomes a nobleman, the Earl of Huntington, Robert of Locksley, or later still, Robert Fitz Ooth.
His romantic attachment to Maid Marian (or "Marion") (originally known as Mathilda) is also a product of this later period and probably has something to do with the French pastoral play of about 1280, the Jeu de Robin et Marion. Aside from the names there is no recognizable Robin Hood connection to the play.
The late 16th century is also the period when the Robin Hood story is moved back in time to the 1190s, when King Richard is away at the crusades. One of the original Robin Hood ballads refers to King Edward (Edward I, II, and III ruled England from 1272 to 1377). The idea of Robin Hood as a high-minded Saxon fighting Norman Lords originates in the 19th century, most notably in the part Robin Hood plays in Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe (1819), chapters 40 - 41, where the familiar modern Robin Hood—"King of Outlaws and prince of good fellows!" Richard the Lionheart calls him—makes his debut.
The folkloric Robin Hood was deprived of his lands by the villainous Sheriff of Nottingham and became an outlaw. The Sheriff does indeed appear in the early ballads (Robin kills and beheads him), but there is nothing as specific as this allegation. Robin's other enemies include the rich abbots of the Catholic Church and a bounty hunter named Guy of Gisbourne. Robin kills and beheads him as well. The early ballads contain nothing about giving to the poor although Robin does make a large loan to an unfortunate knight.
In the ballads, the original "Merry Men" (though not called that) included: Friar Tuck , Will Scarlet (or Scathlock) , Much the Miller's Son , and Little John -- who was called "little" because he wasn't. Alan-a-Dale is a later invention in Robin Hood plays.
In modern versions of the legend, Robin Hood is said to have taken up residence in the verdant Sherwood Forest in the county of Nottinghamshire. This is a matter of some considerable contention. The original ballads speak of his being in Barnsdale (the area between Pontefract and Doncaster), some fifty miles north of Sherwood in the county of Yorkshire, and this is reinforced for some by the similarity of Locksley to the area of Loxley in Sheffield.
In fact, there is a something of a modern movement amongst Yorkshire residents to try to reappropriate the legend of Robin Hood, to the extent that South Yorkshire's new airport, on the site of the redeveloped RAF Finningley airbase near Doncaster, will be given the name Robin Hood Airport Doncaster Sheffield .
This debate is hardly surprising, given the considerable value that the Robin Hood legend has to local tourist industries. Indeed, one of Nottinghamshire's biggest tourist attractions is the Major Oak, a tree that according to local folklore was the home of the legendary outlaw. It is also argued that had Robin been based in Yorkshire, he would have had nothing to do with the Sheriff of Nottingham who operated two days ride to the south.
Songs, plays, games, and, later, novels, musicals, films, and tv series have developed Robin Hood and company according to the needs of their times, and the mythos has been subject to extensive ideological manipulation. Maid Marian, for instance, something of a warrior maiden in early Victorian novels was reduced in demeanour to passivity during the period of the women's suffrage movement. As the media power of the modern feminist movement gathered momentum, Marian reacquired an altogether more active role. Robin Hood himself has been transformed from a bandit with an occasional element of generosity in the original tales, to the contemporary reading, where he is depicted more as a medieval Che Guevara leading a small rebel force fighting a guerrilla war against Prince John and the Sheriff on behalf of the oppressed and King Richard I.
Movies and TV series
- 1922: Directed by Allan Dwan and starring Douglas Fairbanks in this first version, Robin Hood is the athletic, scared-of-women 1920s all-American boy. Sam De Grasse played the villain King John.
- 1938: The Adventures of Robin Hood, Errol Flynn is a smarter, more articulate Robin Hood -- very aware of the proto-fascist regime he is fighting and the hard times of people around him in this darker story. Maid Marian accuses Robin: "You speak treason!" "Fluently," he replies.
- 1946: Bandit of Sherwood Forest
- 1948: The Prince of Thieves
- 1951: Tales of Robin Hood
- 1952: Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men, The Miss Robin Hood
1955-1960: The British Adventures of Robin Hood TV series (consisting of weekly half-hour episodes, also shown in the U.S.) starring Richard Greene -- episodes of which were written by black-listed Hollywood writers -- also has a high degree of social consciousness. Some of those episodes were combined into feature-length colorized films:
- Robin Hood's Greatest Adventures (1956) (also starring Donald Pleasence)
- Robin Hood, the Movie (1958)
- Robin Hood: The Quest for the Crown (1958)
- 1958: Robin Hood Daffy, a Chuck Jones animated cartoon, where Daffy Duck takes on the traditions of Errol Flynn, and a Friar Tuckish Porky Pig won't take him seriously.
- 1967: Rocket Robin Hood, a space-age version of the Robin Hood legend, where he and his band of Merry Spacemen live in the year 3000 on Sherwood Asteroid and fight the evil Sheriff who rules the space territory of N.O.T.T. (Trillium / Steve Krantz Production)
- 1973: The Walt Disney Company produced the most famous animated version of the legend in 1973, which had the various characters depicted as furry animal characters such as Robin Hood and Maid Marian as foxes. See: Robin Hood (1973 movie).
- 1976: Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn played the couple at the end of their lives in the 1976 Robin and Marian.
- 1981: Time Bandits, starring John Cleese, Sean Connery, Shelley Duvall; written and directed by Terry Gilliam
- 1984: The made-for-tv spoof The Zany Adventures of Robin Hood in 1984 starred George Segal (Robin), Morgan Fairchild (Marian), Roddy McDowall (Prince John), and Janet Suzman (Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine), and Robert Hardy turned up at the end as King Richard.
- 1984 - 1986: The 1980s British series Robin of Sherwood aka Robin Hood, was a New Age fantasy starring Michael Praed as Robin, later replaced by Jason Connery (son of Sean Connery) as Robert, called Robin. In this version the two Robins actually get to wear hoods occasionally.
- 1989 - 1994: The British children's TV show Maid Marian and her Merry Men rewrote the legend somewhat.
- 1991: In the 1991 Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves Kevin Costner (Sean Connery performed the customary cameo appearance of King Richard in the finale).
- 1991: John Irwin 's 1991 Robin Hood, starring Patrick Bergin and Uma Thurman), is a very inventive use of some of the best of the Robin Hood heritage.
- 1993: Another comedy version of the legend was Mel Brooks's spoof Robin Hood: Men in Tights that recycled bits from his short-lived late-1975 Robin Hood tv sitcom When Things Were Rotten. Cary Elwes played Robin in the movie, and Patrick Stewart appeared in the ending, spoofing Sean Connery's take on King Richard the Lionheart.
- 2001: Robin Hood and the Merry Men make a memorable cameo appearance as unwelcome rescuers in the movie version of William Steig's Shrek. Here, they speak with French accents and are defeated by a girl.
The character of Robin from the Batman series of comics is reported to have taken both his name and the style of his original costume from Robin Hood.
- Allen Wright's extensive site: Robin Hood, Bold Outlaw of Barnsdale and Sherwood
- Also extensive, The Robin Hood Project at the University of Rochester
- Some historical corrective to loose mythmaking about Robin Hood, from The Textbook Letter Sept-Oct 1998.
- Robin Hood at the Big Cartoon DataBase
- Rocket Robin Hood fan-page
- Robin Hood by J C Holt ISBN 0-500-25081-2