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Legends Summarized: Robin Hood

Legends Summarized: Robin Hood
Capitalism sucks! Don't demonetize me, YouTube. But for real, ever since the invention of money, people with too much would rather sit on a big pile of it than use it to do any good, and people with too little would suffer as a result. And since people have this weird habit of correlating wealth with personal worth, a lot of work goes into assigning moral reasons why some people are poor and some people aren't. Poverty always has to be their fault somehow, and wealth has to be deserved
legends summarized robin hood
by the people who have it. There's no way it could be - oh, I don't know - a highly complex and archaic socio-political system heavily biased against the success of entire demographics while strongly supporting the already wealthy and powerful, producing a vast and powerful system engineered solely for the purposes of making the rich richer and the poor poorer. No, that bazillionaire is totally a bootstrapping icon who definitely earned every penny, and that cancer patient with the
GoFundMe probably just needs to quit being so lazy and pick up a third job. Now most people picking up on my extremely subtle sarcasm recognized that this is actually a pretty s%*# situation, and is, at minimum, staggeringly unfair. Which probably goes a long way towards explaining the extremely long lasting popularity of

Robin

Hood

, an iconic folkloric and pseudo-historical figure who enacts his own brand of vigilante justice by robbing the rich and using those ill-gotten gains to help out the
poor.

Robin

Hood

is the classic chaotic good archetype: a figure devoted to justice and heroism in direct opposition to the laws of the land. And it's really impressive he's managed to stay so popular, when literally every governing body on the planet has a vested interest in stopping people from getting those kinds of ideas. And if you think the U.S. is in some special exempted category, because we're all about that land of the free and country roads take me home, you might want to
know that back in 1953, the Indiana Textbook Commission wanted him banned from schools for promoting communism. Stay humble, America. You got a lot to be embarrassed about.

Robin

Hood

stands in a similar cultural region to King Arthur: both English folkloric figures with large and colorful supporting casts, that have gained incredible recognition worldwide, along with a whole bunch of adaptions of their various stories. But while Arthur generally stands as a paragon king and a symbol of ideal
chivalric heroism,

Robin

Hood

is a little more... controversial. Obviously. He robs people. So today, let's start at the very beginning and see if we can trace how

Robin

Hood

developed as a character and a symbol and maybe figure out why he keeps coming back. So the name

Robin

Hood

or its less popular siblings Rabun

hood

, Robehod, and Robbehod, seem to first start popping up in written records in the late 1200s. But rather than applying to a single figure, it's a general descriptor
applied to various outlaws all across England. Whether it's a literal descriptor of a "robbing

hood

lum" or an actual reference to a character known for similar crimes is a little unclear. In fact, we're gonna find that a lot of this is a little unclear. See, where a major political figure like King Arthur was getting written about in big fancy tomes of kings as early as the 900s, a people's folk hero like

Robin

Hood

doesn't seem likely to have been afforded the same
courtesy. If he pre-existed this era, he was almost certainly never written about. Money can't buy you love, but it can buy you historical documentation. But we do start seeing references to the character of

Robin

Hood

in the mid 1300s. In the poem Piers Plowman, a Middle English poem written by one William Langland,

Robin

Hood

is referenced as a well-known, pre-existing figure with assorted folktales attached, mostly about him being a robber. Now, the text itself doesn't give us much,
but some meta-textual analysis will actually get us a long way. Piers Plowman's original manuscript has been lost, but somewhere between 50 and 60 contemporary copies survived, at a time when literacy was largely reserved for religious texts. So this poem was a big deal, and it makes sense to assume that the stories it casually referenced probably were too. This tells us that not only was

Robin

Hood

a popular figure at the time, he was popular enough that dropping him into the poem as a pop
culture reference wasn't a risky literary move. Everyone would have understood the reference. So by 1370,

Robin

Hood

exists as a character, and most people know who he is and what he's all about. By 1426,

Robin

Hood

took to the stage. Specifically, May Day celebrations - first explicitly referenced in Exeter in 1426, but possibly happening earlier - featured

Robin

Hood

games: plays about

Robin

Hood

and his band of merry men that wouldn't look out of place in your local Renaissance
Faire. Lots of stage fighting, daring heroism, green outfits, all that jazz. The May Day plays are also probably responsible for introducing the characters of Maid Marian and the jolly friar who would later be known as Friar Tuck. The first proper written story about

Robin

Hood

pops up around 1450, and it's a little ballad called "

Robin

Hood

and the Monk" that does a lot to establish some pretty classic

Robin

Hood

canon, as well as some stuff that seems to have fallen by the
wayside over time.

Robin

Hood

has his merry posse, consisting of, at minimum: the yeoman Little John, Will Scarlet, and Much the Miller's Son. In this story,

Robin

Hood

is grumpy because his outlaw status means he can't go to Mass. And since he's a very devout follower of the Virgin Mary, not being able to honor her properly is very uncool. So he decides to sneak into Nottingham to attend a service, which has Much very worried. Against his advice,

Robin

Hood

only brings Little John
legends summarized robin hood
with him instead of a proper crew. On the way,

Robin

and Little John make a bet, but when

Robin

loses he refuses to pay, and Little John gets cranky and leaves. At Mass,

Robin

Hood

is recognized by one of the monks who he'd previously robbed and is thrown in jail, the sheriff sends the monk to go tell the king they've captured

Robin

Hood

, but meanwhile, the Merry Men catch wind of the situation and hatch a plan to rescue him. First, they ambush the monk on the road, kill him, and take
his paperwork. Then Little John goes to the king, tells him the monk died en route, and fills him in on the

Robin

Hood

situation. The king orders him to retrieve

Robin

Hood

and bring him back. So Little John scoots over to the sheriff, tells him the monk's not coming back because he was promoted to abbot, and delivers the paperwork to get

Robin

Hood

out of jail for delivery to the king. Instead of doing that, Little John kills the jailer and rescues

Robin

Hood

, who now feels like a right
heel for stiffing him on their bet. The king is grumpy about being tricked but is impressed by Little John's loyalty, and that's basically the moral of the story. One thing to note about this version is it's not clear who the king is at this point. Later stories usually center the kingship subplot on King Richard I and his brother Prince John, usually painting

Robin

Hood

as loyal to the true king. But that's nowhere to be found in this version. He's a rebel without a cause,
baby! The next written

Robin

Hood

story shows up in the late 1400s - early 1500s, and evidence suggests it's a frankensteining together of several prior known tales, in an attempt to compile a cohesive narrative. It's called "A Gest of Robyn Hode" and it establishes a lot of canon. We already know about the Merry Men thanks to the monk tale, but the Gest further elaborates

Robin

Hood

's personality. For one thing, he has very high standards for who he robs. Instead of being
a generic rob-the-rich thing, he's much more specific about it: no farmers, no yeoman, no knights or squires, and no groups traveling with women. Because as previously established,

Robin

Hood

is a devout worshiper of the Virgin Mary, and she's got him drinking that respect women juice. But

Robin

Hood

doesn't afford the same respect to bishops or archbishops, who he specifically advises his Merry Men to beat up and rob whenever they get the opportunity. Anyway, a lot of classic

Robin

Hood

stuff happens in the Gest. He's got his classic grudge against the Sheriff of Nottingham, he helps out a wandering knight when he learns he's in debt, and he and his crew briefly captured the Sheriff of Nottingham and make him agree to leave him alone, which he doesn't. The sheriff also hosts an archery tournament that

Robin

Hood

wins, which is a very popular

Robin

Hood

trope nowadays. Anyway, unlike the monk tale, this one does feature

Robin

showing loyalty to the king, even
though it's not King Richard yet. In this story, the king decides to get

Robin

Hood

under control and disguises himself as a monk, so

Robin

Hood

will waylay him. When he reveals his true identity,

Robin

Hood

kneels to him and the king actually brings him into his court. But

Robin

Hood

doesn't actually like going legit, So he ends up booking it back into the woods, reforming the Merry Men, and continuing his outlaw ways for another 22 years, until he's killed by a Prioress who bleeds
him to death. Nifty. The next major ballad,

Robin

Hood

and Guy of Gisbourne, doesn't have many new surprises? It introduces a new antagonist, though. In this story Guy of Gisbourne is a bad dude who comes to capture

Robin

Hood

, but they beat him and cut off his head. Meanwhile, the sheriff captures Little John but

Robin

disguises himself as Guy of Gisbourne and breaks him out. The problem is, we only have a few written ballads about

Robin

Hood

from this time. And while we know there was a
larger body of work about him in the common knowledge, all we have to work from is the written stuff, and we have no way of knowing if the ballads are representative of the greater narrative at the time. We do know when

Robin

Hood

's canonical time period got nailed down. In 1521, the Historia Majoris Britanniæ was written by one John Major, who suggested the late 1100s, aka the era of the Third Crusade and the reign of Richard the Lionheart, as a possible setting for

Robin

Hood

's vague
exploits. The idea was very popular and has basically stuck ever since, probably because it gives

Robin

Hood

an evil king to rebel against and a good king to be loyal to. Maybe the presence of likeable wealthy authority figures helped make

Robin

Hood

's character more palatable for the wealthy nobility that were paying for the stories. And speaking of nobility... Right at the end of the 1500s, two plays were written, most likely by an Anthony Munday. The plays were, respectively, The Downfall
and The Death of Robert Earl of Huntington. They were performed by the theater troupe The Admiral's Men, the rival theater group to Shakespeare's The Lord Chamberlain's Men, which is why you've never heard of them. The plays don't seem to have been very good, and dialed back on the cool sword fights and daring action common in the May Day festivities, to instead focus on courtly politics and noble scheming. See, *these* plays introduced the idea that

Robin

Hood

was
legends summarized robin hood
originally noble born, specifically, that he was the Earl of Huntington. This was because noble protagonists were more appealing to the Elizabethan audience, a trend you might have noticed in every Shakespeare play ever made. Anyway, in this version,

Robin

Hood

's outlaw status was the result of his exile, brought on by courtly scheming, and it's all very angsty and not a lot really happens.

Robin

Hood

doesn't even do much in the plays, and in the second one he dies at the end of act
1. So overall, not a lot of interesting stuff. But the concept of

Robin

Hood

having originally been a wealthy nobleman himself would have some interesting consequences down the line. Oh and Maid Marian has a sort of important role in the play. Her name is Matilda, she's

Robin

Hood

's wife, and after he dies King John tries to marry her. The 1600s saw one major technological development that would completely change the field of entertainment. Okay, technically the 1400s saw the
development, and it took a couple centuries for it to get big. That invention was the printing press, which made books relatively quick and easy to make, and more broadly, made written copies of short stories much simpler to produce. In the 1600s this took the form of broadside ballads, single sheets of inexpensive paper printed on one side with a short ballad.

Robin

Hood

was a very popular subject of these ballads, and they became one of the primary forms of distribution for his tales.
Thankfully, Munday's interpretation of the character didn't seem to make it to the broadsides, and the

Robin

Hood

portrayed in print was almost Looney Tunesian. Most of the one-shot stories were witty anecdotes in one shots with lots of comic relief and cool fights, rather than daring and complex tales of nobility and heroism and stuff. The broadside ballads introduced a few key concepts, like the character Alan-a-Dale, a wandering minstrel who

Robin

Hood

helps rescue his fiancee from an
unwanted marriage and set them up together. The broadside ballads also include the tale of how

Robin

Hood

and Little John met, where

Robin

Hood

and a giant seven-foot man named John Little meet in the middle of a narrow bridge. Neither of them is willing to move,

Robin

Hood

stabs his bagpipes, and they fight. John actually beats him, and

Robin

Hood

immediately offers him a job. See, millennials? Getting hired is a snap! First, you just engage your boss in single combat. One of the ballads from
this era also fleshes out Maid Marian a little. In this ballad, commonly called Child Ballad 150,

Robin

Hood

was the Earl of Huntington and the beautiful Maid Marian was his girlfriend, but he was forced out and became an outlaw. So Maid Marian dresses up like a dude and sets out into the forest to find him. When she runs into the notorious outlaw

Robin

Hood

, also disguised, they have a brutal sword fight and she wins. But luckily for both of them, she recognizes

Robin

Hood

's voice as he
yields, and the two live happily ever after. Presumably after a couple band-aids are applied. Broadside ballads didn't stay popular forever, But were quickly replaced by Garlands, which were just bundles of broadside ballads sold in bulk. Didn't really change anything, but they helped keep

Robin

Hood

mainstream. A prominent broadside ballad writer named Martin Parker made an effort to codify

Robin

Hood

's entire canonical life into one big ballad, based on all the stuff that came
before it. He called it, "A True Tale of

Robin

Hood

," and it lays out that

Robin

Hood

started off as the Earl of Huntington, made enemies with an abbot and ended up being stuck as an outlaw as a result, spent his outlaw years evading the king's men, robbing the clergy, and helping the poor, but ended up requesting a pardon from the king. Unfortunately before it could be granted,

Robin

got sick, and when he went to get all the sickness bled out of him by a friar, the friar instead
bled him to death. Man,

Robin

Hood

always goes out like a punk in these stories.

Robin

Hood

never really left the public consciousness, but there was a bit of a lull in attention until 1795, when this guy Joseph Ritson codified everything you could possibly find about

Robin

Hood

into the conservatively titled "

Robin

Hood

: A Collection of All the Ancient Poems, Songs, and Ballads, Now Extant, Relative to That Celebrated Outlaw, to Which are Prefixed Historical Anecdotes of His Life"
Which really didn't do anything but give contemporary writers a single source to draw from when they referenced him. Then in 1819, Sir Walter Scott wrote Ivanhoe, a very influential piece of historical fiction that's credited with having rekindled popular interest in the Middle Ages.

Robin

Hood

- or as he's referred to in the text for basically no reason,

Robin

of Locksley - is a major secondary character in the story, most notably winning an archery contest by splitting an arrow
down the middle, as well as helping out King Richard on multiple occasions. This novel pretty much single-handedly solidifies

Robin

Hood

's characterization as a patriotic rebel and a noble trickster firmly on the side of good. Then in 1883, Howard Pyle wrote yet another

Robin

Hood

compilation book, this one specifically aimed at children, called, "The Merry Adventures of

Robin

Hood

." The book covers

Robin

Hood

's first meetings with Little John, Friar Tuck, and Alan-a-Dale, and
gives the whole crew a happy ending when they're pardoned by King Richard, leaving the evil sheriff gnashing his teeth in a suitably villainous fashion. Pyle was also determined to keep things kid-friendly, which meant rewriting a lot of the stories to make

Robin

Hood

less of a jerk. In most of his ballad appearances,

Robin

Hood

was a straight-up bandit. He had a moral code, but he was still mostly just robbing people to rob people. And sometimes he killed people a little. He was a noble
outlaw, but he was an outlaw. Pyle decided it'd be cooler if

Robin

Hood

was an unproblematic fave, So his robberies got dialed back to wealth redistribution to aid the poor, and his murders all turned into self-defense. This heroic

Robin

Hood

jived well with the noble outlaw version from Ivanhoe, and was also just kind of more fun in general. Outlaw with a moral code is okay. But paragon hero who operates outside the law is fun! In fact, it's so fun that this is the version of

Robin

Hood

that made it to the modern day. The silent film era is generally considered to have begun in 1894 but really only got going in the early 1910s. Which makes the fact that the first

Robin

Hood

movie was made in 1908 *very* impressive. They really didn't waste any time. Five movies about

Robin

Hood

came out between 1912 and 1913, and there's been at least one every decade since, usually more. So I think it's time we ask the question: Why is

Robin

Hood

so popular? Every single time
entertainment technology takes a leap forward, one of the first things we adapt is

Robin

Hood

. Stage plays, printed ballads, printed books, silent films, animation... Why is he our go-to? Well broadly, I think it's because of something you might have noticed through this video: We don't actually have a lot to go on with him. People keep writing about him, people keep trying to nail down his life story, and it never sticks.

Robin

Hood

's life is very loosely defined. At some point, for
some reason, he becomes an outlaw. He acquires a band of colorful characters, including the large Little John, the friendly Friar Tuck, the whimsical Alan-a-Dale, and the shockingly self-reliant Maid Marian.

Robin

Hood

and his Merry Men have assorted adventures, butt heads with the evil-but-sort-of-pathetic Sheriff of Nottingham and the smaller scale villainy of Guy of Gisbourne, win brownie points from King Richard while confronting the machinations of Prince John, and then maybe

Robin

dies.
That's not a lot of concrete plot points to work around, but it gives an aspiring writer a full cast to work with. You've got a hero, a handful of villains, a love interest, a colorful supporting crew, even a distant big good guy off at the Crusades to swoop in when the situation gets dire. A bunch of fully developed characters with interesting dynamics and no ironclad plot points to work around? That's a writer's dream! And

Robin

Hood

is a very versatile protagonist. He's a
paragon in his own way with a strict moral code and all that jazz, but he's also roguish and clever with a propensity for tricks and stunts and showing off. He loses a lot and frequently gets helped or saved by his posse, meaning he's not indestructible, but he also gets to pull off some pretty clutch victories, so he's not consistently the butt of the joke. The characters have interesting dynamics already, but a huge chunk of his Merry Men are completely undefined, so you could
basically put whatever characters you want in there. And

Robin

Hood

is a canonical busybody who keeps butting into people's lives and solving their problems when they turn out to be too angsty to rob. If the setting is vaguely medieval and vaguely English he can just show up and help out the good guys. That's what happened in Ivanhoe! I'm pretty sure

Robin

Hood

has stayed so popular because he's this perfect combination of great core characters and almost no plot. The only
consistent plot point is "evil Sheriff" and that just makes easy antagonism. You can literally just make up whatever you want, and people do... a lot... a lot... a loooooooooooot And it seems like this keeps confusing people. Everyone keeps periodically trying to find some way to summarize everything in

Robin

Hood

's life, and it never ends up making sense, because the actual events hardly matter. The characters are why the story has lasted over 700 years. I mean, there's what,
four different books from different eras all claiming to be the definitive story of

Robin

Hood

? When are people gonna stop trying to make one cohesive narrative out of the life and development of this one charact- Oh Oh no ♪

Robin

Hood

and Little John walking through the forest, laughing back and forth at what the other'n has to say ♪ ♪ Reminisce and this and that and having such a good time, oohdelally oohdelally golly what a day ♪ ♪ Oohdelally oodelally golly what a day ♪
Oohdelally- Really? How was *that* what's messing me up?