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The Enigma of Robin Hood

The life of the worlds most famous outlaw.

In all of history there has been no other folk hero or outlaw, sorry Jesse James, that has captivated readers and audiences alike with tales of his exploits during a period in history where so little was actually written down. Though countless ballads have managed to endure through the ages about how this irresistible rouge captured the hearts and minds of the common man some 800 years ago in merry old England. The bandit of Sherwood Forest who has become known the world over as Robin Hood. 

Over the course of 800 years, the outlaw from Nottinghamshire who robs from the rich to give to the poor has emerged as one of the most enduring folk heroes in popular culture and perhaps one of the most versatile. Beginning in the 14th century and perhaps even earlier, Christian revelers in certain parts of England celebrated May Day with plays and games involving a Robin Hood figure with near-religious significance. In the 19th century, writer-illustrators like Howard Pyle adapted the traditional tales for children, popularizing them in the United States and around the world. More recently, bringing Robin to the silver screen has become a rite of passage for directors ranging from Michael Curtiz and Ridley Scott to Terry Gilliam and Mel Brooks.
Many baby boomers can remember their first recollection of Robin Hood when Errol Flynn came swashbuckling across the movie screen. It was that movie that really cemented the life and legend of this most famous while some might argue infamous outlaw. After that film so many became fascinated with the mystique of Robin Hood.  It took the most recent cinematic achievement that really underscored the actual equivalency of what it really was like during the 12th century. The darkness of the tone of that movie symbolizes how difficult living was in a period in history that was void of any of the modern convinces of today. Sherwood forest was filled with dangers where life was short. A violent and turbulent time was the setting in which Robin Hood lived.  

Today much has evolved and yet much has not. There is a place for a Robin Hood today. This is especially the case when we really think what is happening in America in the 21st century. What many are really rooting for is another Robin Hood to come riding to rescue that damsel in distress, like in those tales of yore. That damsel in distress is our whole economy especially the financial well being of the 99%. The problem was like it was in 1185 where the noble class, like today’s 1%, keep attacking the poor and garnishing more wealth in the form of taxes at the expense of the poor, the hungry, the feeble and the sick, like today’s 99%. When Robin Hood came riding along the hopes of the common man rose where enough support, hence his merry men, took what ever means that were available and necessary to restore charity back to the common folk. His exploits were herald in ballads all through-out the realm. With each subsequent generation many a ballad became more embellished than the other. When so few back in the 12th century could actually write so little of the recorded life of Robin Hood exists today. Like King Arthur the legend has only grown with each passing decade.
Throughout history the image of Robin Hood where writers, performers and filmmakers have probed their imaginations for new incarnations that resonate with their respective audiences. In 14th century England, where agrarian discontent had begun to chip away at the feudal system, he appears as an anti-establishment rebel who murders government agents and wealthy landowners. The violence of the times only highlights the exploits of Robin Hood. Not to say the violence of today’s times though not regarded as savage but nonetheless we do, in the 21st century, live in turbulent violent times.  Later versions of Robin’s adventures occur when times of less social upheaval exist. This is where they showcase Robin as a rouge aristocrat with a heart of gold with a love interest, Maid Marian.

Academics, meanwhile, have combed the historical record for evidence of a real Robin Hood. English legal records suggest that, as early as the late 12th century, “Robehod,” “Rabunhod” and other variations had become common epithets for criminals. But what had inspired these nicknames whether it was the recounting of actual exploits of a rouge outlaw, or a fictional tale, embellished in ballads has only heighted the search for the man known as Robin Hood. The first literary references to Robin Hood appear in a series of 14th and 15th century ballads about a violent yeoman who lived in Sherwood Forest with his men and frequently clashed with the Sheriff of Nottingham.

While most contemporary scholars have failed so far to turn up solid clues, medieval chroniclers indicated that a historical Robin Hood actually lived during the 13th century. The details of their accounts vary widely, however, placing him in conflicting regions and eras. It wasn’t until John Major’s published “History of Greater Britain” in 1521 that depicts him as a follower of King Richard. Which has become one of his defining characteristics in modern times.

We may never know for sure whether Robin Hood ever existed outside the verses of ballads or pages of books. But, to this day people from all over the world flock to England’s Nottinghamshire region for a tour of the places he was thought to have been, especially Sherwood Forest. Robin Hood was one man who has become a legend, a hero and an inspiration for the common man. We really need a Robin Hood today.      

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