Robin Hood: A Legend in Text, Film and Popular Consciousness

Robin Hood: A Legend in Text, Film and Popular Consciousness

By Tom Shippey

ScriptOralia, Vol. 84 (1996)

Robin and Marian

Excerpt: For this study I have “viewed” (i.e. watched by video) four major film versions of the legend: the Michael Curtiz production of 1938 starring Errol Flynn, The Adventures of Robin Hood; the film Robin and Marian of 1976, starring Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn; the John Irvin production of 1991, Robin Hood, starring Patrick Bergin; and the Kevin Reynolds film of the same year Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, starring Kevin Costner. I have asked myself whether these creations of “secondary orality” display any recognisable “oral mindset”, or whether conversely they still display dependence on the “analytical and technical and narrative skills” of print, both in reception and in production.

Two immediate and at first sight contradictory conclusions may be stated. All four films entirely reject the setting for the legend given by the early/scholarly tradition. All four are set firmly and unmistakably in or just after the reign of Richard I (1189-99), either during Richard’s absence on Crusade, or (Marian alone) just after his death at Chaluz. The King or Regent of England is invariably Prince John. Of this there is no trace in the early ballads, the only king mentioned in them being “Edward” (probably Edward III, 1330-76). The “Richard” motif seems to have been invented by the sixteenth century Scottish historian John Major (see Dobson and Taylor, p. 5), but to have reached popularity via Scott’s Ivanhoe, which has also provided the un-historical motif, even for the reign of Richard, of Robin as a Saxon partisan against Norman rule (a ‘leitmotiv’ in Adventures and Robin, but present visually in the armour- shield- and helmet-styles of Thieves as well). No notice is taken in any film of the anachronism created e.g. by the appearance (in all four) of “Friar Tuck”, though friars did not enter England at least till twenty years after Richard’s death; once again, Scott may hold ultimate responsibility here.

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