GENDER PORTRAYALS IN THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) is one of the famous adventure films that combine folklore dramas with a romantic hint. There have been numerous versions since its 13th century origins. However, the most popular account narrates the legend of a youthful nobleman whose property and stature are stolen by corrupt Prince John and his colleagues. Assuming the name Robin Hood, he drift into Sherwood Forest and forms a gang of “merry men” who rise up against the dictatorial powers, stealing from the wealthy and donating to the deprived, until the rightful owner of the throne King Richard returns from the Crusades to restore order in the city. The examination will look into manner in which cinematic portrayals of the Robin Hood legend with regard to their portrayals of gender or violence/war and how these portrayals change with the times.
Much of the changes in the film industry were caused by a combination of regulation amendments and a change in social attitudes. One of the major changes occurred in the mid 1930s that introduced strict restrictions on the content of films that were enforced by the Production Code Administration (Knight 2003). Production houses such as Warner Bros. Studios opted to concentrate on renaissance themes that included plenty of swordplay, extensive action, and romantic allure. The ability to adapt to the changing cultural situations is one of the key reasons why the Robin Hood series of films has continued to pique the interest of its viewers. Within the twentieth century alone, several film adaptations such as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves by Kevin Reynolds displayed an improved gender situation. Maid Marian was definitely awarded a more significant role than in earlier films (Gallup 2014). Undoubtedly, Robin Hood is always portrayed as a democratic individual that greatly assisted in the creation of an avenue to increase female dominance in future film variations. Regardless of the fact that he had an impoverished background, Robin made no difference in the way he treated everyone particularly the female characters (Knight 2003). An exception to this flawless character trait is found in the film Robin Hood: Men in Tights where Robin Hood adopted a lewd and disrespectful approach towards women.In this film, the nobleman had a tendency of objectifying the main female character, Marian in a way that could be considered discriminatory.He represents aconstant problemfor the king becausehe not only pilfers the king’s property andhis cronies, butbecause he fails to show any respect or fear when addressing royalty.
Over the progress of different Robin Hood films, there is a notable change in the role assumed by women from 15th to 19th century. Within this period, there was a significant mounting in the liberation of the girl child. Similarly, this time window coincided with the emergence of women empowerment that created a generation of independent and aggressive women (Knight 2003). This social change was equally replicated in the subsequent films such as Maid Marian and her Merry Men, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Robin Hood (1991). For instance, in the film Maid Marian and her Merry Men, Robin Hood had recruited a woman in his band. The consequent films that involved females showed a marked improvement concerning gender parity. For once, Maid Marian emerged as a dominant female protagonist in a sea of English literature. Gradually, the film producers increased the abilities of Marian to include riding horses, shooting and battling alongside the most experienced English warriors.
Across all the ballads, variations and television series involving Robin Hood, nearly all the women play the common role of supporting their male counterparts. Even though significant changes happened across social and economic platforms, producers in charge of the film failed to factor in these changes while scripting Maid Marian’s roles. Other producers such as Mel Brooks worsened the situation by making fun of the women empowerment. She represented one of Robin’s devoted partners and his true love (Gallup 2014).
While applauding the efforts of many film producers involved in Robin Hood films, it must be noted that their contribution was limited and did not have gender interests at heart. Marian was not included in the earlier versions of the legend, while she scarcely appears in several of the ballads. This is very important as it signifies the reluctance to embrace gender parity in conventional English literature (Knight 2003). However, ever since her inclusion, Marion became a very significant element of the legend. In some of the films, she took the role of a Norman noblewoman, the daughter of Fitzwalter. In such characters, she encounters Robin during an ambush on a group of Norman knights. Nevertheless, in other films, she took on the role of a Saxon who was fully aware of Robin’s reputation since their childhood. On few occasions, she is the ward. On most occasions, Maid Marian was merely Robin’s partner.
The effect of modernity and social change was not missed entirely with some of the films having females as direct beneficiaries (Gallup 2014). Marian’s character slowly gained prominence between the 18th and 19th centuries to a level that the character did not need any support or help. Modern variations of Marion in the films Robin Hood: Prince of Sherwood and Beyond Sherwood Forest show her very active in Nottingham, spying for Robin Hood and his team. She was also instrumental in delivering information to the rebels in Sherwood. Marion also exhibits increased independence in making life choices. Up to the 18th century, women lacked the free will to determine their marriage partners (Knight 2003). However, in such an environment, Marian chose to love the leader of the rebels freely. Consequently, she was able to express her opinions without any reservations (Stock and Candace, 2007). Variations of the film allowed her to become a very strong character. Occasionally, she was depicted as an outlaw living with Robin in the forest. In such films, she was an excellent archer and swordsman with skills comparable to the rest of the rebels.
In such stories, the lead female character is normally referred to as simply Marian. The “maid” section of her name was consequently eliminated. The dropping of the “maid” part is symbolic of the abolition of the conventional approach towards addressing gender issues. It was an indication that females were also being considered as equal members of the society rather than being subdued. In fact, she was referred to as Lady Marion instead. At the turn of the 20th century, several scriptwriters and authors contributed towards weakening the Marian character. She gets very little mentions in modern children’s literature. In another book, she is depicted as a faint-hearted woman with little fighting skills (Gallup 2014). Recent writers have restored the reputation of the strong woman to its rightful place. However, in conclusion, it is important to note that Mel Brooks and his team of producers were responsible for discrediting the efforts by other producers in improving gender equality (Moran 2014). Through the film Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Mel Brooks reversed the efforts of several decades in attaining gender balance in the famous Robin Hood series (Knight 2003). The period between 18th and 19th centuries represented the biggest change in social attitudes concerning females in theatrical works.
Gallup. “Timeline of Polling History: Events that Shaped the United States, and the World. 2014. http://www.gallup.com/poll/9967/timeline-polling-history-events-shaped-united-states-world.aspx. (Last accessed on 15 December 2014)
Knight, Stephen. Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003.
Moran, Mickey. 1930s, America – Feminist Void? The Status of the Equal Rights Movement during the Great Depression. http://www.loyno.edu/~history/journal/1988-9/moran.htm. (Last accessed on 15 December 2014)
Robin Hood, Men in Tights. Dir. Mel Brooks. Twentieth-Century Fox, 1993.
Stock, Lorraine, and Candace Gregory-Abbott. “The Other Women of Sherwood, the Construction of Difference and Gender in Cinematic Treatments of the Robin Hood Legend.” In Race, Class, and Gender in ‘Medieval’ Cinema 2007. Eds. Lynn Ramey and Tison Pugh. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007, 199-213
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