The Friar's Sermon
Before His Majesty
King Richard Cour de Lion
at the Sherwood Public Library.
May 7, 2008

King Richard Chatting with Woman and Little Girl.

Junior Court Member getting Crown fixed. Let us begin with a song. I will sing and you can help me. The song is "Robin Hood and the Tanner." It's centuries old and wasn't even written down until the 15th Century. What is a tanner? A tanner runs a tannery. If you lived in Sherwood Oregon USA for ten years or more, you know what a tannery is, oh boy. Very well then, we will begin and I will explain what makes this Robin Hood Ballad so important to us.

Bold tanner went forth
    one summer morning
To view the lovely green wood.
To hunt for the deer
    that roam here and there
And there he espied Robin Hood.
Aye! (This is where you sing.)
And there he espied Robin Hood.

Like so many other poems and songs from the 14th and 15th Century, the story begins with a comment about the weather. It rains a lot in England but it rained a lot more when this song was popular. The tanner is a very ordinary person in a very ordinary setting. All of Robin Hood's opponents are like that. There are no dragons or wizards or weird people like that in these stories-- unless it would be Robin Hood himself. Every once in awhile he reminds me of that legendary European prankster, Hodeken, who lives in the shadows and plays tricks on people. As follows:

Parents Taking Pictures of Marian and Her 'Lammies.' What a fellow art thou?
    quoth bold Robin Hood,
And what is thy business here?
For now, to be brief,
    thou dost look like a thief
And art come for to
    steal the king's deer.
Aye, come for to steal the king's deer.

It seems Robin Hood does not like to be called a thief, and so he accuses the game warden of being one. A real comedian. In these earliest ballads, he also presents himself as a "yeoman." A man who works for a living. In the later ballads he suddenly turns up as a Lord. Of course, in all the ballads, the only way to decide who is who is to get into a fight. In these earlier ballads, where Robin Hood is just an ordinary working man, there are no swords. The quarter staff is the weapon of choice.

Ludwig and Robin Hood. Then at it they went, for bang, for bang,
The space of two hours or more.
Every blow they swung
    makes the grove to ring
And they play their game so sure.
Aye, and they play their game so sure

A good story appeals to all the senses. This ballad fills our ears almost more than it lights up our eyes. Can't you just hear these guys whacking away at each other somewhere deep in the forest? The sound of the battle is interrupted by the sound of Robin Hood's bugle horn. This racket is followed closely by the sound of the Merry Men tromping through the forest duff. (You heard all this commotion the last time you visited the Tualatin River Wildlife Refuge of course, and you would have missed it completely if your toddler had not heard it first.)

Junior Court Member getting Sash straightened. Then bold Robin Hood drew
    forth bugle horn,
And he blew it both loud and shrill,
And direct thereupon
    he espied Little John
Come running a-down the hill.
Aye, come running a-down the hill.

O what is the matter?
    then said Little John
You are not doing well, he said.
O, says bold Robin Hood,
    here's a tanner so good
And I warrant he's tanned my hide.
Aye, and I warrant he's tanned my hide.

Believe it or not, Robin Hood does not always win his battles. Yet even when he loses, he is still remembered as the hero. There is a lesson in there for our athletes today, I should think. In any event, his opponents are all working-class people-- like the people in this room right now-- and he wants you to win.

Junior Court Member posing for the Author.One alarming detail that I must bring up here this evening, is that Maid Marian does not show up in England until the later ballads are composed. That is because Maid Marian is French. That should not be too surprising, since France virtually owned England between the year 1066 and 1400. The oldest hardcopy of a Robin Hood ballad is no older than the 15th Century. Maid Marian (or "Marion") appears in a famous French comedy that was written much earlier, in the late 13th Century. If you took high school French, you know that the author's pseudonym means "Adam of the Market Place." (Adam de la Halle). The play is designed for the market place. When you're doing street theater of this type it's very important to keep the story simple and the actors bold and colorful. And that's what "Robin and Marion" is: It's a very noisy, free wheeling kind of production, designed for an audience that is shouting just as loud as the actors and (worse) doesn't hold still long enough for a scene to be watched all the way through.

Marion is a very sweet shepherd girl in Adam de la Halle's play. She sings sweetly about how much she enjoys her simple, poverty stricken life and her dear sweet Robin, who's forever trying to beg, borrow and steal enough possessions in order to prove himself to be a good catch for her. So far, in the story, he has come up with a loaf of bread and a block of cheese and a cheese knife-- and Marion is overwhelmed with gratitude.

Instead of the Sheriff of Nottingham, we have a Knight as the bad guy in this story. (I always see our Ludwig as the Knight!) The Knight is accompanied by a horse. Now, I must warn you that a horse is required for every play during the Middle Ages. If there's no horse, forget it. The horse was always two guys in a horse costume. They would interrupt every scene with their antics.

Two Marian Court Girls Smiling for Author's Camera.And so picture the scene. The year is 1283. You enter a crowded market place and notice this Knight and his horse gallumping among the crowd. Quite naturally you follow. (But be careful where you step. The guy in the rear of the horse costume keeps tossing things out the trap door-- but you don't want to hear that!) Suddenly the crowd thins a little and there you see lovely Marion standing and singing her song about Robin. Being a shepherd girl, of course, she is surrounded by her flock who shout "bahh!" at everyone who interrupts her song. (I have no problem seeing the Junior Court as her lammies!) A conversation between her and the Knight commences, but her heart is so pure and her mind so filled with charity that he is completely defeated in all his advances. He turns away in despair when she notices the falcon he carries on his arm, and her heart is stricken with love for the falcon. This is where the horse comes in. He is (i.e., they are) not the least bit interested in the Knight's suggestion that he and Marion ride down to the river together to watch the falcon hunt. Marion is just beginning to think well of this proposal when she lets out a shriek instead. "Your horse KICKED me!" she yells, "Your horse does not like me and I do not like you! Go away! Be gone!"

Maid Marian and Her 'Lammies.'The play, to sum up, has all the depth of a Popeye and Olive cartoon and I keep suggesting that we stage it during the Saturday Market which happens next door to this building throughout the summer months. So far no one agrees with me.

The connection between the Robin Hood ballads and the Marion and Robin play is made during the 14th Century, which was a very difficult time. The 14th Century featured a miniature Ice Age, the Black Death, and the defeat of the Serbs at Kosovo (you'll recall the news headlines during the Clinton years). Robin and Marion have survived it all and they're tough as nails. The Marion ("Marian") that shows up in the "Ballad of Robin Hood and Maid Marian," can heft a broad sword as well as anyone on the planet.

And so it seems the young lady we christened as Maid Marian tonight, together with her lammies, have their work cut out for them.


HOME     Copyright 2008 by Clyde List.

Other Sermons by the Friar

2004 "What Religion Does the Friar Belong to?"
2005 "Rob from the Rich. Give to the Poor."
2006 "Welcome to the Robin and Marian Wilderness Refuge!"
2007 "Why is Sherwood so Gung Ho about Robin Hood?"