Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Sherwood Forest

*Sherwood Forest. Large forested park stretching across the center of England that offers plentiful opportunities for social and dramatic conflict. As a land preserve, the forest represents a rich source of resources for medieval peasants, who lived much closer to the land than people do today. Wood for fuel, building, and weapons; plentiful game; and various plants and herbs for healing were free for the taking. Also, for the experienced, the forest provided safe hiding places from enemies. When the Earl of Huntingdon finds himself without land or title, Sherwood Forest becomes a fine choice for his base of operations; other outlaws already live there. The natural features make it a prime locale for the sort of guerrilla campaign in which he enlists outlaws. Within the forest, the bow and arrow and the element of surprise can overcome the sheriff’s superior armaments.

The way in which Robin and his band of Merry Men use the forest, a royal preserve, enrages the sheriff. If every peasant in England felt entitled to kill the preserve’s deer for food, their numbers would surely dwindle. The road cutting through the center of the forest is used by business travelers, government messengers, religious pilgrims, and ordinary people. Sometimes these travelers are robbed by outlaws, who represent a threat to civil order and commerce, much as train robbers did in the Old West. Land rights and issues of social justice emerge in Sherwood Forest in complex form.

Because so many changes have taken place over the centuries, it is hard to tell how much the Sherwood Forest of the ballads and folktales departs from historical reality.


*Nottingham. Midsize market town and seat of local government in northern England, with Nottingham Castle close by. Public proclamations were read in the town square; archery and other contests were held either there or in the castle’s courtyard or tower. Executions and the mustering of men to track down the outlaws also took place at Nottingham. To Robin Hood and his band, the town meant danger and oppression, yet it provided a marvelous public stage for tricking the sheriff. It was their best locale for embarrassing and taunting corrupt officials and building support for their own efforts and for the absent King Richard.