The New Robin Hood: Libertarian Rebel?





The new Ridley Scott film"Robin Hood", which has opened to mixed reviews on its merits as entertainment, is also drawing some critics' political ire. In New York's leftist weekly, The Village Voice, Karina Longworth laments that"instead of robbing from the rich to give to the poor, this Robin Hood preaches about 'liberty' and the rights of the individual" and battles against"government greed"; the film, she scoffs, is"a rousing love letter to the tea party movement." On a similar note, the New York Times' A.O. Scott mocks"Robin Hood" as"one big medieval tea party":

"You may have heard that Robin Hood stole from the rich and gave to the poor, but that was just liberal media propaganda. This Robin is ... a manly libertarian rebel striking out against high taxes and a big government scheme to trample the ancient liberties of property owners and provincial nobles."

Whatever one may think of Scott's newest incarnation of the Robin Hood legend, it is more than a little troubling to see alleged liberals speak of liberty and individual rights in a tone of sarcastic dismissal. This is especially ironic since the Robin Hood of myth and folklore probably has much more in common with the"libertarian rebel" played by Russell Crowe than with the medieval socialist of"rob from the rich, give to the poor" cliché. At heart, the noble-outlaw legend that has captured the human imagination for centuries is about freedom, not wealth redistribution -- and this is reflected in many previous screen versions of the Robin Hood story.

As scholars have noted, the earliest Robin Hood ballads, which date back to the 13th or 14th century, contain no mention of robbing the rich to give to the poor. The one person Robin assists financially is a knight who is about to lose his lands to the machinations of greedy and unscrupulous monks at an abbey. (Corrupt clerics using the political power of the Church are among Robin Hood's frequent targets in the ballads.) The Sheriff of Nottingham is Robin's chief opponent; at the time, it was the sheriffs' role as tax collectors in particular that made them objects of loathing by peasants and commoners. Robin Hood is also frequently shown helping men who face barbaric punishments for hunting in the royal forests, a pursuit permitted to nobles and strictly forbidden to the lower classes in medieval England; in other words, he is opposing privilege bestowed by political power, not earned wealth....



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