Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A New Interpretation of 'Robin Hood'? That's So 14th Century

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A New Interpretation of 'Robin Hood'? That's So 14th Century

Article excerpt

Makers of the new 'Robin Hood' film, which opens today, are touting it as 'authentic.' But no one knows what the real Robin Hood was like - if he existed at all. The result is that he's been reinterpreted countless times through the centuries.

As "Robin Hood" star and director Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott have swashbuckled their way across oceans and continents, crossing swords with Sherwood Forest purists, their most frequent defense of the no-green-tights-here retelling is that it is "authentic" and "historically accurate."

The problem with that answer is that some 900 years on, the true story of Robin Hood - if there even was a real Robin Hood - is virtually impossible to summon with any accuracy.

The utter lack of any meaningful paper trail before, say, the 14th century, has not in any way inhibited legions from asserting the real Robin lived at some time between 1065 to 1300. And the attempt to place Robin on terra firma is contended to this very day. Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire are locked in a battle over airports naming rights, with each claiming to be Robin's birthplace, while at least two new tomes proving his existence are due out this year - one froma London public records office clerk and another from a retired country gent.

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So was the popular outlaw real?

"Absolutely not," says Thomas Hahn, a University of Rochester professor who directs Robin Hood: A Digital Archive, an online clearinghouse for all things merry. "But, on the other hand," he adds, "what does real mean? We're talking about him, centuries of storytellers have talked about him, and he has been reinvented for virtually every time. So, doesn't that make him real?" Of course, he adds, there are many who somehow feel happier knowing that their enjoyment of the familiar saga is based on an actual person.

So just what do we know, sort of?

A 1261 country ledger entry dubs a local man, "Robbenhode," and that epithet - in various versions, from Robert Hod to Robhod - flits through obscure official pages for the next few centuries. Then, the actual Robin Hood narratives, some 45 ballads from the 14th and 15th centuries, regale listeners with the exploits of Robin as he jets from Spain to fight with Prince of Aragon, then as a seafaring bloke, and turns up yet again in the north country of England. …

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