Robin Hood Plays and Combat Games

Authored by: John Marshall

The Routledge Research Companion to Early Drama and performance

Print publication date:  December  2016
Online publication date:  December  2016

Print ISBN: 9781472421401
eBook ISBN: 9781315612898
Adobe ISBN: 9781317043669


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In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Tom’s very first act is to challenge a well-dressed boy to a fight. Newcomers to St Petersburg, especially ones wearing “new and natty” clothes with shoes on a Friday, need a “licking” (Twain ch. 1). Although the verbal confrontation is a somewhat hesitant exchange involving empty threats and the invocation of big brothers, the combatants eventually fall to a mixture of grappling and punching. Tom gains the advantage and sitting astride the new boy pounds him with his fists until he hollers “nuff!” Some chapters later, Tom engages in a different kind of combat (Twain ch. 8). Rebuffed by Becky Thatcher after revealing that his proposal of engagement to her was not his first declaration of love, he wanders melancholically to the edge of town. Tom ponders the advantages of a temporary death lasting just long enough to make Becky feel aggrieved for her thoughtlessness. More romantic and mysterious disappearances then occur to him. He might become a war-torn and illustrious soldier or an “Indian” of the Great Plains: better still a pirate; “the Black Avenger of the Spanish Main”. Shortly after this mapping of routes to homosocial escapism, the blast of a toy trumpet leads him down the road to perfect freedom. Tom recognises in a flash that Joe Harper’s trumpet call signals transportation to Sherwood Forest and an encounter between him as Robin Hood and Joe playing Guy of Gisborne. This was to be no rough and tumble with an unpredictable outcome, as was the case with the new boy. This, in terms of language and action, was to be done “by the book” and from memory. In other words, Tom and Joe were to follow the story as told and retold from the ballad of Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne. Whether Joe liked it or not his role stipulated that he die from a “back-handed stroke” inflicted by a victorious Robin. Tom invoked the authority of text over Joe’s sense of injustice, in both the casting and ending, but agreed to a reallocation of roles that satisfied his friend’s need to experience mastery. The stratagem worked and the boys united in their belief that “they would rather be outlaws a year in Sherwood Forest than President of the United States for ever”.

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