On January 21st the Public History MA class had a writing history for the Public Workshop where we all submitted a short piece (500 words) and had it critiqued by established author, Professor Jonathan Vance. I have made the suggested changes to my piece, except for making it the right length. While I realize this means that by not adhering to the length guidelines a publication like a newspaper or a magazine would have to discard my article, I decided that too long was okay for my blog. Here is the revised version.
Robin Hood for a New Generation
In 2007 I met the Sherriff of Nottingham. She was friendly, soft-spoken and very well mannered. We were attending a talk being delivered about the historical Robin Hood at the University of Nottingham. Before the talk began she got up to speak herself about how good Robin Hood had been for the city. The Sherriff talked about how each new media incarnation of Robin Hood represented each new generation finding some way to make him their own, and how that was good for tourism. This was the first time I heard about the new movie directed by Ridley Scott, which at that time was called ‘Nottingham.’
It has been almost twenty years since Kevin Costner played the title role in Prince of Thieves, and the Robin Hood of 1991 is no longer appropriate for modern audiences. Each time a new movie is made we expect something new of our Robin Hood. For instance, we did not expect Sean Connery in Robin and Marian (1976) to be the swashbuckling adventurer that Errol Flynn was in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). Instead we wanted a more mature Robin Hood. In 1991 the filmmakers made it clear that the world of Robin Hood extended beyond the forests of England. The addition of Morgan Freeman’s character Azeem, both a Muslim and black, satisfied our expectations that Robin Hood’s goodness included tolerance for other cultures. Some might think it is making Robin Hood more accurate, but really it is making the tale fit our own values.
This is not new to the twentieth century. The process of adapting Robin Hood to fit the needs of a community has gone on since the first Robin Hood tales. In some of the earliest stories Robin is not a dispossessed noble but a yeoman and a forester. Maid Marian was not coupled with Robin Hood until a few centuries later. The tale of Robin Hood changed over the centuries through his inclusion in Mayday games, folk plays, ballads and other ‘media.’ The nineteenth century in particular loved tales of Robin Hood, and it is their overly romanticized version of the character that was passed on to early twentieth-century filmmakers.
The upcoming movie, due to be released to North American audiences May 14th 2010, is bound to be an interesting incarnation of the story of Robin Hood. Originally entitled ‘Nottingham’, the movie was supposed to focus on the Sherriff of Nottingham and his bouts with the outlaw Robin Hood. It is easy to see why the filmmakers’ decided to follow the more traditional route and focus on Robin Hood. There is a problem when an American production uses such a traditional, beloved tale of outlawry to praise authority. That is not the incarnation of Robin Hood that we want to reflect our times. It will be interesting to see how this version of the tale does reflect our expectations. The tagline in the trailer totes “the story behind the legend, the hero behind the outlaw,” implying that what we are looking for in this Robin Hood is realism, or at least Ridley Scott’s version of realism. In any case, it looks to be the most epic Robin Hood ever, but we would expect nothing less from Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe.