The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood: Summary & Setting

Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

This lesson explores the story of Robin Hood as told by Howard Pyle in 'The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood.' We will get to know many of the characters, both good and bad, learn about Nottingham and Sherwood Forest, and discover how Robin Hood got his reputation.

Medieval Times

Robin Hood is a Medieval British hero. He is the stuff of legend. In Medieval Times, life was tough in England. The King and the clergy struggled to maintain order amid famine and mass poverty. Those who had power used it harshly and indiscriminately. Howard Pyle's novelization The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood (1883) tells the life story of the legendary archer who 'steals from the rich and gives to the poor.' Figures like Robin Hood stand for the strength and dignity of the poor to rise above the system of impoverishment. This lesson will look at the summary and setting of this novel.

Sherwood Forest

The tales of Robin Hood take place in and around Sherwood Forest, AKA 'the merry greenwood.' This ancient forest is abutted by Nottingham to the South. While the acreage of Sherwood Forest is greatly decreased since Medieval times, you can still find it on a map, outside Nottingham, now a major city.

Pyle makes the forest feel like an idyllic place when it's just the merry men around. Robin Hood and his entourage are cast as the unofficial protectors of the forest. In these tales, they live in a cave. It never rains or snows. Winters and summers come and go with no mention of horse fly or frostbite.

The forest offers the outlaws a place to hide from the authorities. Robin Hood and his fellow outlaws enjoy dressing up in disguises and hiding in plain sight. In uniform, the merry men wear tunics of Lincoln green wool, which is as good as camouflage in the forest. Lincoln green is a particular shade common to Central England in the Middle Ages. Today, Lincoln is a thriving city in Central England to the Northeast of Nottingham.

Robin Hood's Origin Story

According to Pyle, Robin Hood was born Robert Fitzooth in 1160 in the town of Locksley. He's a yeoman, a Medieval term that means 'citizen.' In feudal Europe, these freeman were the responsible citizens of rural villages who took care of the farming, crafts, and trades. His father, Hugh Fitzooth, was Head Forester, protector of Sherwood Forest. But when his family fell out of the good graces of the local men in power, Robin suddenly becomes an orphan.

One day in the forest, Robin comes face-to-face with the Head Forester, the man who replaced his father. The foresters are a group of law enforcers under the direction of the sheriff of Nottingham. Their duties include patrolling the king's forest and protecting the wildlife from hunters. The Forester challenges Robin to a duel, during which Robin shoots a deer. The Forester accuses Robin of poaching, they shoot arrows at one another, and Robin kills the Forester in self-defense. Having avenged his father, Robin becomes an outlaw and goes into hiding in Sherwood Forest.

Each Chapter an Adventure

Pyle's The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood has an episodic structure. Each section/chapter features a new adventure in which Robin Hood gains a new friend, plays a prank, rights a wrong, or wins a tournament.

The Merry Band

Robin's entourage begins to take shape when he seeks refuge with the widow in Sherwood Forest. The widow's three sons are the first to join Robin's cause. More yeoman join the ranks of Robin's Merry Men in a series of unexpected and farcical encounters. Members initially include Little John, Will Scarlet, Friar Tuck, Allan-a-Dale.

  • When Robin meets John Little on a bridge, neither are willing to allow the other to pass. a duel ensues. Robin bests John in battle upon which he dubs his new friend Little John.
  • Will Gamewell AKA Scarlet is Robin's cousin, an immediate recruit were it not for his fanciful clothing.
  • Friar Tuck and Allan-a-Dale join the ranks of the Merry Men when Robin Hood recruits them both to play a prank on the Bishop of Hereford.

Robin Hood and John Little battle on the bridge
robin and john

Tournaments

Although he is a wanted man, Robin attends the prestigious Nottingham tournament. Wearing a disguise, Robin wins the archery tournament and offers the beautiful young Maid Marian the prize he has won. She gives him the name 'Rob in the Hood.'

Robin Hood and Maid Marian meet in Sherwood Forest
robin and marian

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