The earliest known stage adaptation of the Robin Hood story is a play from 1598, written by Anthony Munday. Munday’s play was one of many early modern attempts to adapt the Robin story for the stage. In this blog post, we will explore some of these early modern-stage adaptations of Robin and how they differ from the more familiar versions of the story we know today.
Robin Hood’s early life
Before he was an outlaw, Robin Hood was a young man from a noble family. He grew up in the forest of Nottingham, where he learned to hunt and fight.When his uncle died, Robin became the lord of Locksley Manor. He stole from the rich to give to the poor and fought against injustice wherever he found it. Robin became a symbol of hope for the oppressed people of England.
His first appearance in ballads and plays
In the ballads and plays that feature Robin Hood, he is usually portrayed as a thief who lives in the forest with his band of Merry Men. He is often shown stealing from the rich to give to the poor, and he is known for his skill with a bow and arrow. In some versions of the story, Robin is also an outlaw who has been declared an enemy of the state.
His development in the 16th and 17th centuries
As the English Reformation progressed in the 16th and 17th centuries, so did the development of the Robin character. He became increasingly associated with May Day celebrations, frowned-upon symbols, and activities like gambling and drinking.
In addition to his evolving reputation, the Robin character also began to change in other ways in the early modern period. He became more firmly entrenched in English folklore and literature, appearing in ballads, plays, and even operas. His physical appearance changed, becoming less of a commoner and more of a dashing outlaw. All of these changes helped to solidify Robin place in English culture as one of its most enduring folk heroes.
His decline in popularity in the 18th century
In the 18th century, Robin Hood’s popularity as a stage character began to decline. This was partly due to changes in dramatic tastes and declining interest in the May Games, which were traditionally associated with the character. The last recorded performance of a Robin Hood play was in 1744, and by the end of the century, he had all but disappeared from the stage.
His modern incarnations
He first appears in a play by Anthony Munday titled The two merry gentlemen of Verona (1598). In this play, two English noblemen living in Italy are penniless and decide to become outlaws. They take on the names “Robin Hood” and “Little John” and rob the rich and give to the poor.
This version of the story emphasizes Robin’s chivalrous nature, love for Maid Marian, and fight against injustice. The iconic image of Robin Hood in green tights emerged from this era.
Robin Hood remained popular throughout the early modern period in England and Europe.