Reviews

“A Gest of Robyn Hode” (ca. 1450)

Extent

Read in 2020.

Read chiefly in Robert Landis Frank’s 1974 translation to contemporary English.

Commentary

A ballad. The approximate date of 1450 is James Holt’s estimate. I gather that when the legend of Robin Hood first began to take literary forms, ca. 1370, it was a sort of British Chūshingura, a veiled attack on nobles in general and more sharply on the clergy. In this, the best known song of Hood’s adventures, Hood himself is pointedly not a noble but a yeoman, and he instructs his men:

These bisshoppes and these archebishhoppes,
Ye shall them bete and bynde;

I.e. assault and tie up bishops and archbishops. In the same stanza, Hood also asks his men to hold the sheriff “in mind”, the same sheriff they later murder with impunity. On two occasions, the acid test of a powerful person’s virtue is to ask him how much money he’s carrying and then check his luggage.

It is common to interpret this anti-authoritarianism as a consequence of the Black Death—which the clergy attributed to sin but in which the clergy had above-average mortality rates—or abuse of feudal authority in the Hundred Years’ War etc., but neither plague nor war make any appearances in this ballad. It’s a fairly clean version where three of the eight “fyttes” revolve around a good knight and Hood later makes friends with the king. The knight cries at his plight, whereas the common people never display their sorrows. Hood is also a Christian, particularly a fan of “Our dere lady” Mary, the medieval Christian goddess of innocence. This makes it a fantasy of popular wish fulfilment rather than atheism and rebellion. Though the phrasing seems rather dry on the page, good performers can bring it to life.

References here: Stora döden – Den värsta katastrof som drabbat Europa (2000).

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Adaptation:

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) IMDb

Commentary

The swashbuckling underdog power-fantasy part is also present in the gest, and that is honestly the best part anyway.

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Parody:

Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993) IMDb

Adaptation:

Robin Hood (1973) IMDb

Extent

Review refers to the Swedish dub.

Commentary

Some relatively well-thought-out examples of anthropomorphic animal character design.

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Adaptation:

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) IMDb

Adaptation:

Robin Hood (2010) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2017.

Commentary

There is much to like about it. Cate Blanchett is very good, Max von Sydow does another one of his elderly fount-of-wisdom characters quite well, there are a couple of scenes where Oscar Isaac’s villain is allowed to act intelligently, and at first it looks as if the attempt to acknowledge the nobility of the historical figure might be well done, but it all falls apart to an extent that is both surprising and poisonous. I completely lost interest before the last unfounded plot twists.

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