“Rise, until the lambs become the lions…”
– Robin Hood
I mean, who hasn’t grown up on Robin Hood?
Me, I can claim a closer connection. I once acted in a play, The Sheriff’s Kitchen, in my 3rd grade in primary school, as the chief protagonist – the maître chef in the vast kitchen of the Sheriff of Nottingham, a vile man with an aquiline nose and a goatee, who has a mind that charges toward a single track goal – capturing, drawing and quartering Robin Hood, on whose head he has pledged 60 pieces of silver and snatching his broad, the fair maiden, Marian.
Kalyan Dhar Gupta as the Sheriff was a smash hit but he got carried away and twisted Reshmi Bhagat’s wrist in the snatch-grab scene and she began ta cry. Kalyan got his ear twisted by our bosomy Malayalee class teacher, Ms Nair (who I had a huge crush on, solely due to the size of her lungs). I went over and rubbed Reshmi’s wrist and she didn’t seem ta mind and we ended up holding hands a while. Ahem.
My role as the maître chef was pivotal. I was actually an undercover Robin Hood loyalist, who slunk out into the Sherwood Forest late at night after the Sheriff had gone to bed, to join Robin in holding up the carriages of the rich that ventured through Sherwood Forest after dark. In the climactic scene, I killed the Sheriff by lacing his lamb roast with hemlock. But the willy Sheriff made me taste it first. I had ta carve up a piece and gulp it down and that did me in. But I put on a brave face for a while, leading the Sheriff to believe that the food was okay ta eat and the gluttonous Sheriff started chomping and died and so did I. By the time the rehearsals were over I had a stomach ache.
Shoumitra Chatterjee, as Robin and Ashok Seth, as Friar Tuck, were brilliant. Little John was a girl, Mona Gill, only because she was a hefty sardar chic twice our size.
But I digress.
First appearing in a 12th century ballad, Robyn Hod and the Shryff off Notyngham, Robin Hood’s persona had been well crafted all along.
Was stealing money from the rich and donating it to the poor, okay? Judging by Robin’s popularity, it would certainly seem so. Even though he was a brigand and an outlaw who stole, in our eyes he has always been a hero and a quintessential populist – a good man.
‘Thou shalt not steal’ is reported to be one of The Ten Commandments and therefore to all lay folks over the ages, stealing has always meant to be seen as an immoral act. But not when Robin Hood did the stealing. In his case, it was given a spin – that the rich were robbing the poor and fattening their purses.
The spin didn’t end there. The members of the ruling establishment at the time were Normans, from France – foreigners, who had conquered their land and become the overlords, a couple of centuries prior. They were illegal immigrants, who had no right barging in and grabbing power. So the ballads made the Normans the villains and Robin Hood’s thuggery justifiable. He was the heroic vigilante and therefore virtuous.
The Robin Hoods of the world usually fall prey eventually to the temptations of their own invincibility – their God Syndrome. Drunk with populism, they end up seeing anybody who has an opposing ideology as an enemy. Among the Sheriff’s many swordsmen, there must have been at least a few who were righteous, but Robin spared no one. There are some good Republicans in the GOP, aren’t there?
Over the years, we have seen many Robin Hood wannabes…..
Vito Corleone didn’t think twice about threatening to kill the band leader who held Jonny Fontaine’s singing contract, even though it was a perfectly legal one and Johnny was a brattish lout who fully deserved what was coming to him. Donald Trump didn’t see Acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, as a righteous person, he saw her as an enemy. The Republican Party of America has a mantra that believes in ‘trickle-down economics’ but that economics has never ever trickled anything down to the ordinary American people.
However, to the millions of us all over the world who have binged on his ballads, plays and movies over eight centuries, Robin Hood certainly has endured in our dreams and aspirations for a just society. That is because his Luca Brasi was Little John and Little John would never kill a band leader for a washed up singer or fire a Sally Yates for letting poor refugees in. And Robin would certainly trickle down every penny he stole from the rich.
Robin Hood’s skill as an archer and a hand-to-hand combat specialist, his fearless invincibility, his chivalrous respect for women and his standing up for the downtrodden, have instilled in his millions of fans all over the world the ‘Robin Hood Syndrome’ – a complete lack of trust in the rule of law and the establishment. Muslims might call it the ‘Mahdi Syndrome’ since they seem impotent without one appearing every thousand years or so, to ‘deliver’ them. The Christians are still waiting for the Christ’s Second Coming. At the moment, the cries for a Mahdi/Messiah/Second Comer/Robin Hood are at their most strident.
Over time, Robin’s appeal has become universal, not just restricted to the have-nots. He has made us all feel like victims. Whether we live inside a Manhattan penthouse or a tiny cottage in the Monteregie (yours truly), we have all turned into the oppressed. Even Donald Trump, a billionaire living inside a gilded palace, cries shrilly about how the system is rigged against him.
Did Robin Hood do humanity a service after all? Or did he teach us always to sit on our asses and wait for someone else to come and save us?