Robin Hood's Merry Men
Little John was Robin’s best friend right from the start. He appears in all of the six original tales. John and Robin were both yeomen, so they had lots in common. John is a steadying influence on Robin’s wild character. John has to have a lot of patience as Robin is moody, irritable and argumentative with him. They often fall out. Robin’s temper gets him into all sorts of trouble so John is constantly coming to the rescue. The famous story of their meeting on the bridge, and the idea of Little John’s name being a joke because he is so big, appear by the 18th century.
Will appears in a supporting role in a number of the original tales. Today we associate him with the colour, so he is depicted in film and books as wearing red instead of everyone else’s Lincoln Green. However originally his name appears in different forms, including Scadlock, Scalok, Scarlock, and Scathelok, before settling on Scarlett. You can see his grave in the churchyard at Blidworth.
Much, the miller’s son
The original tales suggest Much was just a boy. However he was as good an outlaw as a full grown man. Much comes into his own in Robin Hood and the Monk when he is called upon by Little John to help rescue Robin.
By Tudor times Robin Hood, as a man in green and a spirit of spring, had entered English May Games - a celebration of fertility - so he needed a girlfriend. It appears that the character of Marian was borrowed from a separate French tradition to fill the role. In France she also had a boyfriend called Robin, and in these stories she played a sweet and innocent shepherdess. But in England, she became a bawdy wench, played by a boy in drag as part of a Morris dance. In a play in 1560 she is even identified as ‘a lady free’ who could be given as prize to Friar Tuck.
Two plays by Anthony Munday in 1597/8 restore her reputation as a virtuous maid of noble birth and it is this tradition with some added feminist strength we have inherited today.
The famous story of Robin meeting the friar and getting a soaking is one of the original tales. It's known as Robin Hood and the Curtal Friar. Around the same time Robin and Marian enter the May Games, along with another character ‘the jolly friar’. This ‘jolly friar’ becomes mixed with the ‘curtal friar’. All he needs is a name.
In 1560 the play ‘Robin Hood and the Friar’ shows that his character has become fixed by adopting the name of ‘Friar Tuck’. This was the alias of Robert Stafford, a chaplain and a leader of a gang of robbers in Sussex in 1417 – yes, a real outlaw!
We think of him today as the minstrel of the band. However he first appears in his own ballad of the 18th century as a forlorn lover, whose sweetheart is betrothed to an old knight against her will. Robin has to act as matchmaker; in fact it is Robin who is disguised as a musician, so that he can get into the church to put a stop to the wedding. He re-unites the lovers and the Merry Men preside over Allan’s wedding.
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From: Thursday, 1st January 2015
To: Sunday, 31st December 2017