SummaryRobin Hood’s story has been often retold, but Dr Mitchell Kalpakgian digs into his original character, and uncovers the ideal of a good and joyous heart.
Throughout Howard Pyle’s The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, Robin encounters many men in his adventures.
Some he invites to join the merry band, and others he does not welcome. The men who join appear to be a motley crew consisting of men from different professions such as a cook, a miller, and a tinker, and of different types such as the playful Little John, the debonair Will Scarlet, and the robust Friar Tuck.
Despite the enormous variety of backgrounds, trades, and temperaments in Robin’s band, they all possess a bond of unity in mind and heart that inspires the true friendship, deep loyalty, and lighthearted conviviality they share as kindred spirits.
All the members of the merry band share in common a good heart that overflows in jests, mirth, sports, feasts, acts of kindness, and courageous deeds.
The Good Hearts of Noble Men
Their jovial hearts ring with the hearty laughter of innocent jokes; their appreciative hearts revel in the simple pleasures of feasting upon capons, pheasants, and fresh fish; their cheerful hearts delight in the sports of archery and hunting; their hospitable hearts welcome guests and feast them with overflowing generosity; and their joyous hearts appreciate the beauty of the created world that moves Robin to say, “Who calls it a vale of tears?”
Their kind hearts perform works of mercy for the suffering, and their pure hearts share their joys, blessings, and fortunes with all they encounter.
The good hearts of the honest, honorable, noble men that form the merry band love all of life and savor its many pleasures with zest.
They share their mirth and joy with many guests and newcomers whom they entertain in Sherwood Forest in the spirit of Merry Old England’s bountiful hospitality, always offering many invitations that welcome visitors, both friends and foes.
Even the avaricious Bishop of Hereford unwittingly finds himself a welcome guest at Robin Hood’s feast in one of the merry band’s jests.
For their royal treatment of their guest who travels with the weight of three bags of gold, Robin charges “the richest bishop in all of England” a small fee that will not despoil him of his wealth. Of the bishop’s 1,500 pounds, “one third of it thou canst well spare to us for thy entertainment . . . ; one third of it thou canst better spare for charity.”
The final third of the bishop’s fortune belongs to him. The jovial hearts of the merry band relish these practical jokes that unburden the wealthy of their ponderous gold and lighten their travels. A good heart does good with a gentle touch of humor and a sense of self-forgetfulness.
The Enjoyment of Life
The happy hearts of honest men appreciate the goodness of life in its many forms, especially the outdoor life and the beauty of the natural surroundings. Always grateful for the riches of simple living, Robin measures wealth by the abiding goodness of the ordinary pleasures that fill his life: “Methinks I would rather roam this forest in the gentle springtime than be king of all merry England.
What palace in the broad world is as fair as this sweet woodland just now, and what king in all the world hath such appetite for plover’s eggs and lampreys as I for venison and sparkling ale?”
A good heart never loses sight of the gifts that bless daily life or bring exquisite joy, especially man’s daily bread—the juicy steaks and roasted venison that amount to a regal banquet, the hams and bacon drying in the shed, and the crabs stored for the winter.
Robin remarks, “Methinks a loaf of white bread, with a piece of snow-white cheese, washed down with a draught of humming ale, were a feast for a king.”
The grateful heart savors the abundant fare of Nature’s cornucopia with a hearty appetite, marvels at the splendor of natural beauty, and tastes the sweetness of the Lord by the good things that nourish the body and soul each day.
Generous hearts not only appreciate the abundance of the earth and the splendor of beauty that glorifies the natural world, but also see the world around them as an inexhaustible source of perpetual delight, a rich kingdom with an endless variety of pleasures.
Whether it is the green meadows and flowers of spring, the golden sunlight and long days of the summer, the russet tones and scenes of the fall harvest with “merry bands of gleaners . . . singing along the roads in the daytime and sleeping beneath the hedgerows and the hack-racks at night,” Robin’s men revel in Mother Nature’s newness, radiance, and fruitfulness in the course of the four seasons.
Gift-giving and Honor
This appreciation of beauty extends to the delights of the country fair in Nottingham as dancers, the music of the harp, and the songs of ballads also touch the heart with the
sweetness of life.
Jovial hearts embrace the sources of pure joy in the robust fun of competition in the popular sports of the day, like quarterstaff, the longbow, and wrestling, which they relish for the sheer joy they offer. These sports and contests offer a lifetime of recreation to keep the heart young.
Always game for a match and the excitement of competition, Robin and his men enter the archery contest at the request of Queen Eleanor who wagers that her three disguised yeomen will outmatch the king’s best archers.
When Will Scarlet misses his target because of nervous tension, Robin corrects his form (“Hold not the string so long!”) and reminds him of the proverb “Overcaution spilleth the milk.”
Without the flaw of “over-heed to what he was about,” Robin with carefree abandon and natural poise thrills the spectators as he hits the target, wins the prize, and proves himself the best marksman of all the accomplished archers in the contest.
Always sportsmanlike and sharing his good fortune, Robin divides the spoils, keeping the silver bugle but giving a prize of gold to the best shooter of the king’s men and offering talents of gold to his own men for their impressive performance.
As the crowd witnesses Robin’s peerless prowess with the bow and marvels at his magnanimous spirit, “many tossed their caps aloft, and swore among themselves that no better fellows ever walked the face of the earth.”
A Salve for the Suffering
The good hearts of Robin’s band perform many works of mercy and kind deeds for the sorrowful and the suffering. When they discover Allan a Dale weeping alone by a fountain, they are moved by his grief and comfort him with an invitation to join their company and partake of their feast. They encourage him to unburden his grief: “Now tell us thy troubles, and speak freely. A flow of words doth ever ease the heart of sorrows.”
Allan is in love with Ellen, but is frustrated by her father who demands that she marry the man of his choice: Sir Stephen, a man Ellen rejects.
Allan and Ellen both lament the loss of their true love. Robin vows that in two days Allan and Ellen will wed, finds a priest to marry them, and delivers Ellen from a marriage she rejects.
Deeply moved with profound gratitude, Allan can never thank Robin enough: “for never have I known such kindness as thou hast shown me this day.”
The merry band performs a similar favor for the afflicted Sir Richard of Lea, who fears the loss of his estate and fortune because of an unjust debt demanded of him.
Sir Richard’s son unintentionally killed a man during an accident at a joust (“My son’s lance ran through the visor of Sir Walter’s helmet”), and Sir Richard must pay an exorbitant fine to compensate for the unfortunate death. Robin promises to rescue Sir Richard from “a money-gorging usurer” and delivers the whole sum of the debt on the due date.
Like Allan a Dale, Sir Richard owes an unrepayable debt to Robin’s men: “Sir Richard o’ the Lea will ever remember your kindness this day.” On the day Sir Richard comes to pay his loan to Robin, Robin protests, “Thou wilt pleasure us if thou wilt keep that money as a gift from us at Sherwood” to which all the band shouts “Ay.”
Good hearts part with money easily, as they find their treasure in the blessings of their lives.
The human heart, created in the image of God, is formed to rejoice in life’s goodness, to share hospitably the gifts it enjoys, to respond gratefully to the multitude of innocent pleasures that lift the spirit, to wonder at the glorious beauty of creation, and to perform works of mercy and acts of kindness for all who grieve and need succor.
Robin Hood does not accomplish his greatest feats with his bow and arrow, but with his manly, magnanimous heart that unceasingly gives without expecting to receive.
Header image Copyright Warner Bros