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Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves


The city, war, & the forest

Kevin Costner presented the world with the harshest Robin Hood civilized men have seen. Its popular success does not account for the manly perspective – his men are not merry, but much manlier. Medieval England is the stage for the unfolding drama of honor: straightforward men want to hold high their heads & act in broad daylight. The powerful, however, are devious, cunning, duplicitous plotters. In a manner reminiscent of Shakespeare’s tragedies, the tyrant depends on a witch for his hopes & fears. Honor opposes him, which transcends religion, nation, & war, as Robin’s friendship with the black Arab Muslim, who is himself a man of honor. Honor puts them together, when they are alone, as it were.

At the end, the rightful king returns in all his majesty. He does not seem to have much power, but that merely enhances his saintly halo: he may not be much of a holy crusader left, but he is certainly holy: his last act is to consecrate a marriage. This relieves Robin of the burden of politics, for which he certainly lacked this halo of legitimacy. The weaknesses in Robin were tolerance among honorable men, which is on the way to gentlemanliness, & falling in love, which is on the way to marriage, both requiring the civil peace. Both cumber the plot: these ancillary problems, satisfying justice in marriage & in the legitimate king’s return, stop what was bound to follow from Robin’s experiment with nature, men, & politics.

Robin Hood transforms men who lived like pigs – but without injustice, given their simple lives – into an armed camp he trains & leads. The injustice of seeing a false king replace a true king, the pain & humiliation of seeing injustice rewarded with the deserts of justice, these things are too much for Robin to bear. War is necessary for the city’s excesses to be purged; & the honor of soldiers will judge who is guilty & who is innocent. – This is all derailed when the armed camp accepts women & the thoughts of pleasure they arouse.

P.S. Michael Curtiz directed Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). In that film, we see the Merry Men being rather merry peasants, lacking in refined habits & political ambition, but loyal to their king, & free men. Richard’s exile also means their derring-do does not even contest legitimacy, though it breaks the law. Making merry meant making fun of the authorities, so it inclined them to law-breaking. These thieves apparently attempted to found justice in nature, deep in Sherwood Forest, while the Norman barons were running rampant oppressing Saxon peasants in city & country.

If you like Costner, see it