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Robin Hood

Robin Hood. Along with King Arthur, Robin Hood is one of the most enduring of legendary heroes. In part this is because the details are so vague that the stories can be added to and adapted to the interests of different generations. The early versions emphasized Robin's skill with a bow, the later ones that he robbed the rich to help the poor. Maid Marian, who provides the love interest, was a 16th-cent. addition to the story. The earliest reference is in Langland's Piers Plowman (c.1377), in which one character remarks that he knows the rhymes of Robin Hood. The earliest detailed written source has been dated to about 1400 and a Scottish source was in existence by 1420. The stories are set in the 1190s, with King Richard away on crusade and his shifty brother John misgoverning the country. Though many genuine references to persons with the correct or similar name have been found, some even outlaws, it is most unlikely that the stories were based on one person. The area of the greenwood is usually taken as Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire, or Barnsdale near Wentbridge in Yorkshire, but Barnsdale in Rutland is also a possibility. The many Robin Hood wells and caves are subsequent namings: Robin Hood's Bay, south of Whitby, is first mentioned in 1544. Though authority in the shape of the sheriff is mocked, the satire has been steadily sanitized. In the original versions Robin, though an outlaw, was loyal to Richard and ultimately pardoned. The 16th and 17th cents. promoted him to be the rightful earl of Huntingdon, and the egregious Stukeley in the 18th cent. produced a pedigree, giving him royal blood and tracing his ancestry back to Waltheof, earl of Northumberland in the 11th cent. The original poems were intended for minstrel performance but plays, novels, films, and cartoons eventually followed.

J. A. Cannon

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Robin Hood

Robin Hood

Robin Hood was the legendary bandit of England who stole from the rich to help the poor. The stories about Robin appealed to common folk because he stood up againstand frequently outwittedpeople in power. Furthermore, his life in the foresthunting and feasting with his fellow outlaws, coming to the assistance of those in needseemed like a great and noble adventure.


Early Sources. The earliest known mention of Robin Hood is in William Langland's 1377 work called Piers Plowman, in which a character mentions that he knows "rimes of Robin Hood." This and other references from the late 1300s suggest that Robin Hood was well established as a popular legend by that time.

One source of that legend may lie in the old French custom of celebrating May Day. A character called Robin des Bois, or Robin of the Woods, was associated with this spring festival and may have been transplanted to Englandwith a slight name change. May Day celebrations in England in the 1400s featured a festival "king" called Robin Hood.

ballad popular song, often telling a story

medieval relating to the Middle Ages in Europe, a period from about a.d. 500 to 1500

A collection of ballads about the outlaw Robin Hood, A Lytell Geste of Robin Hode, was published in England around 1489. From it and other medieval sources, scholars know that Robin was originally associated with several locations in England. One was Barnsdale, in the northern district called Yorkshire. The other was Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire, where his principal opponent was the vicious and oppressive Sheriff of Nottingham. Robin's companions included Little John, Alan-a-Dale, Much, and Will Scarlett.

The Robin Hood ballads reflect the discontent of ordinary people with political conditions in medieval England. They were especially upset about new laws that kept them from hunting freely in forests that were now claimed as the property of kings and nobles. Social unrest and rebellion swirled through England at the time the Robin Hood ballads first became popular. This unrest erupted in an event called the Peasants' Revolt of 1381.


Later Versions. By the 1500s, more elaborate versions of the legend had begun to appear. Some of these suggested that Robin was a nobleman who had fallen into disgrace and had taken to the woods to live with other outlaws. Robin also acquired a girlfriend named Maid Marian and a new companion, a monk called Friar Tuck. His adventures were then definitely linked to Sherwood Forest.

Beginning in the 1700s, various scholars attempted to link Robin Hood with a real-life figureeither a nobleman or an outlaw. But none of their theories have stood up to close examination. Robin was most likely an imaginary creation, although some of the tales may have been associated with a real outlaw.

Also at about this time, Robin began to be linked with the reigns of King Richard I, "The Lionhearted," who died in 1189, and of King John, who died in 1216. The original medieval ballads, however, contain no references to these kings or to a particular time in which Robin was supposed to have lived.

Later versions of the Robin Hood legend placed more emphasis on Robin's nobility and on his romance with Marian than on the cruelty and social tension that appear in the early ballads. In addition to inspiring many books and poems over the centuries, Robin Hood became the subject of several operas and, in modern times, numerous movies.


Tales of Robin Hood. One of the medieval ballads about Robin Hood involved Sir Guy of Gisborne. Robin and his comrade Little John had an argument and parted. While Little John was on his own, the Sheriff of Nottingham captured him and tied him to a tree. Robin ran into Sir Guy, who had sworn to slay the outlaw leader. When they each discovered the other's identity, they drew their swords and fought. Robin killed Sir Guy and put on his clothes.

Disguised as Sir Guy, Robin persuaded the sheriff to let him kill Little John, who was still tied to the tree. However, instead of slaying Little John, Robin freed him, and the two outlaws drove off the sheriff's men.

Another old story, known as Robin Hood and the Monk, also began with a quarrel between Robin and John. Robin went into Nottingham to attend church, but a monk recognized him and raised the alarm. Robin killed 12 people before he was captured.

When word of his capture reached Robin's comrades in the forest, they planned a rescue. As the monk passed by on his way to tell the king of Robin's capture, Little John and Much seized and beheaded him. John and Much, in disguise, visited the king in London and then returned to Nottingham bearing documents sealed with the royal seal. The sheriff, not recognizing them, welcomed the two men and treated them to a feast. That night Little John and Much killed Robin's jailer and set Robin free. By the time the sheriff realized what had happened, the three outlaws were safe in Sherwood Forest.

Robin Hood's role as the enemy of the people who held power and the protector of the poor was clearly illustrated in lines from A Lytell Geste of Robin Hode. Robin instructed his followers to do no harm to farmers or countrymen, but to "beat and bind" the bishops and archbishops and never to forget the chief villain, the high sheriff of Nottingham. Some ballads ended with the sheriff's death; in others, the outlaws merely embarrassed the sheriff and stole his riches. In one ballad, the sheriff was robbed and then forced to dress in outlaw green and dine with Robin and his comrades in the forest.

The Death of Robin Hood

Legend says that Robin Hood was wounded in a fight and fled to a convent. The head of the nuns there was his cousin, and he begged her for help. She made a cut so that blood could flow from his vein, a common medical practice of the time. Unknown to Robin, however, she was his enemy. She left him without tying up the vein, and he lay bleeding in a locked room. Severely weakened, he sounded three faint blasts on his horn. His friends in the forest heard his cry for help and came to the convent, but they were too late to save Robin. He shot one last arrow, and they buried him where it landed.

Over time, the image of Robin as a clever, lighthearted prankster gained strength. The tales in which he appeared as a highway robber and murderer were forgotten or rewritten.

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Robin Hood

Robin Hood, legendary hero of 12th-century England who robbed the rich to help the poor. Chivalrous, manly, fair, and always ready for a joke, Robin Hood reflected many of the ideals of the English yeoman. He lived in Sherwood Forest with Little John (his chief archer), Friar Tuck, Maid Marion (his beloved), and his band. Robin Hood was the hero of at least 30 Middle English ballads and of many later stories and plays. He is mentioned in such diverse works as Piers Plowman,Ivanhoe (1820) by Sir Walter Scott, and The Once and Future King (1958) by T. H. White.

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Robin Hood

Rob·in Hood / ˈräbən ˌhoŏd/ a semilegendary English medieval outlaw, reputed to have robbed the rich and helped the poor. Although he is generally associated with Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire, it seems likely that the real Robin Hood operated in Yorkshire in the early 13th century. ∎  [as n.] (a Robin Hood) a person considered to be taking from the wealthy and giving to the poor.

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Robin Hood

Robin Hood Legendary English outlaw. Medieval tradition describes him as a displaced noble living with his outlaw band in Sherwood Forest, near Nottingham. He supposedly robbed the rich and gave to the poor, fighting a running battle with the Sheriff of Nottingham and the corrupt King John. His ‘merry band’ included Maid Marian, Little John, and Friar Tuck.

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Robin Hood

Robin Hood

Nationality/Culture

British

Pronunciation

ROB-in hood

Alternate Names

None

Appears In

British folk ballads, ALytell Geste of Robin Hode

Lineage

Unknown

Character Overview

Robin Hood was the legendary bandit of England who stole from the rich to help the poor. The stories about Robin Hood appealed to common folk because he stood up against—and frequently outwitted— people in power. Furthermore, his life in the forest—hunting and feasting with his fellow outlaws, coming to the assistance of those in need—seemed like a great and noble adventure.

The earliest known mention of Robin Hood is in William Langland's 1377 work called Piers Plowman, in which a character mentions that he knows “rimes of Robin Hood.” This and other references from the late 1300s suggest that Robin Hood was well established as a popular legend by that time. One source of the legend may lie in the old French custom of celebrating May Day. A character called Robin des Bois, or Robin of the Woods, was associated with this spring festival and may have been transplanted to England—with a slight name change. May Day celebrations in England in the 1400s featured a festival “king” called Robin Hood.

A Lytell Geste of Robin Hode, a collection of ballads, or songs, about the oudaw Robin Hood, was published in England around 1489. From it and other medieval sources, scholars know that Robin Hood was originally associated with several locations in England. One was Barnsdale, in the northern district called Yorkshire. The other was Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire, where his principal opponent was the vicious and oppressive Sheriff of Nottingham. Robin's companions included Little John, Alan-a-Dale, Much, and Will Scarlett.

By the 1500s, more elaborate versions of the legend had begun to appear. Some of these suggested that Robin was a nobleman who had fallen into disgrace and had taken to the woods to live with other oudaws. Robin also acquired a girlfriend named Maid Marian and a new companion, a monk called Friar Tuck. His adventures were then definitely linked to Sherwood Forest.

Beginning in the 1700s, various scholars attempted to link Robin Hood with a real-life figure—either a nobleman or an outlaw—but none of their theories has stood up to close examination. Robin was most likely an imaginary character, although some of the tales may have been associated with a real oudaw. Also at about this time, Robin began to be linked with the reigns of King Richard I, “The Lionhearted,” who died in 1189, and King John, who died in 1216. The original medieval ballads, however, contain no references to these kings, or to a particular time in which Robin was supposed to have lived. Later versions of the Robin Hood legend placed more emphasis on his nobility and his romance with Marian than on the cruelty and social tensions that appear in the early ballads.

One of the medieval ballads about Robin Hood involved Sir Guy of Gisborne. Robin and his friend Little John had an argument and parted. While Little John was on his own, the Sheriff of Nottingham captured him and tied him to a tree. Robin ran into Sir Guy, who had sworn to slay the outlaw leader. When they each discovered the other's identity, they drew their swords and fought. Robin killed Sir Guy and put on his fallen opponent's clothes. Disguised as Sir Guy, Robin persuaded the sheriff to let him kill Little John, who was still tied to the tree. But instead of slaying Little John, Robin freed him, and the two outlaws drove away the sheriffs men.

Another old story, known as “Robin Hood and the Monk,” also began with a quarrel between Robin and John. Robin went into Nottingham to attend church, but a monk recognized him and raised the alarm. Robin killed twelve people before he was captured. When word of his capture reached Robin's comrades in the forest, they planned a rescue. As the monk passed them on his way to tell the king of Robin's capture, Litde John and Much seized and beheaded him. John and Much, in disguise, visited the king in London and then returned to Nottingham bearing documents sealed with the royal seal. The sheriff, not recognizing them, welcomed the two men and treated them to a feast. That night Little John and Much killed Robin's jailer and set Robin free. By the time the sheriff realized what had happened, the three oudaws were safe in Sherwood Forest.

Robin Hood's role as the enemy of powerful people and the protector of the poor was clearly illustrated in lines from A Lytell Geste of Robin Hode. Robin instructed his followers to do no harm to farmers or countrymen, but to “beat and bind” the bishops and archbishops and never to forget the chief villain, the high sheriff of Nottingham. Some ballads ended with the sheriffs death; in others, the outlaws merely embarrassed the sheriff and stole his riches. In one ballad, the sheriff was robbed and then forced to dress in outlaw green and dine with Robin and his comrades in the forest. Over time, the image of Robin as a clever, lighthearted prankster gained strength. The tales in which he appeared as a highway robber and murderer were forgotten or rewritten.

Legend says that Robin Hood was wounded in a fight and fled to a convent. The head of the nuns was his cousin, and he begged her for help. She made a cut so that blood could flow from his vein, a common medical practice of the time. Unknown to Robin, however, she was his enemy. She left him without tying up the vein, and he lay bleeding in a locked room. Severely weakened, he sounded three faint blasts on his horn. His friends in the forest heard his cry for help and came to the convent, but they were too late to save him. He shot one last arrow, and they buried him where it landed.

Robin Hood in Context

The Robin Hood ballads reflect the discontent of ordinary people with political conditions in medieval England. The bulk of the population was made up of peasants, poor people who gave up much of what they earned in taxes to the rulers of the land. At the time these tales became popular, peasants were especially upset about new laws that kept them from hunting freely in forests that were now claimed as the property of kings and nobles. Social unrest and rebellion swirled throughout England, and this is reflected in the anti-noble, anti-law themes found in the Robin Hood tales. This unrest between peasants and nobles erupted in an event called the Peasants' Revolt of 1381.

Key Themes and Symbols

To audiences the original tales and ballads were aimed at, Robin Hood represents economic justice and fairness. While he is depicted as a thief, he is usually shown to be stealing something that was thought to be unfairly taken in the first place, such as tax money. Robin Hood functions much like a trickster in other mythologies: he is a friend to the downtrodden and often antagonizes or fights against those in authority—in this case, sheriffs and the clergy instead of gods. Robin Hood is usually associated with forests and the color green—known as the color of outlaws—and his ever-present bow and arrow.

Robin Hood in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life

In addition to inspiring many books and poems over the centuries, Robin Hood became the subject of several operas, and in modern times, numerous movies. Some notable retellings of the legends of Robin Hood include the 1938 film The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Errol Flynn in the title role; the 1973 animated Disney adaptation Robin Hood; the 1976 film Robin and Marian, starring Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn; and the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, starring Kevin Costner. The character of Robin Hood also made notable appearances in the 1819 Sir Walter Scott novel Ivanhoe, the 1949 Bugs Bunny cartoon Rabbit Hood, and the 1981 Terry Gilliam film Time Bandits.

Read, Write, Think, Discuss

Robin Hood was a thief, yet was considered a hero in the many ballads and stories dedicated to him. In modern books, films, and television shows, criminals—especially thieves—often appear as heroes , or at least as characters with which the audience is meant to sympathize. Examples of stories with criminals as heroes include the films Ocean's Eleven (I960, remade in 2001), Catch Me If You Can (2002), and the Pirates of the Caribbean series. Why do you think criminals are so often portrayed as heroes? What qualities do hero criminals have that real criminals do not? To which social group do hero criminals generally appeal, and why?

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