Themes

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 456

Justice Through Transgression

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Perhaps the central theme of the tales of Robin Hood is social and economic justice. Such justice often requires breaking the law, a fact encapsulated by the Merry Men’s proclaimed mission to steal from the rich and give to the poor. Robin Hood and his band would often steal gold from corrupt noblemen or from Prince John’s minions—funds that had been collected as taxes from impoverished people. From there, Robin would redistribute this wealth to  its original owners. Although Robin is branded as an outlaw and constantly pursued by the Sheriff of Nottingham, he is regarded as a hero of the common people. After losing his title and estate, Robin Hood realizes that the best way for him to fight societal, systemic injustices is to work outside of these systems. Thus, he and the Merry Men break the law in order to serve a greater purpose and a higher system of morality. The same could be said about political power. By the end of most of these stories, Robin Hood prevails in his struggle against Prince John by seizing power away from him and helping to restore King Richard, who is popular among the poor and the rightful heir to the throne.

Camaraderie Despite Hardship

From the outset of their adventures, Robin Hood and his Merry Men form lasting bonds through their hardships and adventures together. For example, when Robin Hood first ventures into Sherwood Forest, he encounters the large and imposing Little John, who challenges Robin to a duel with quarterstaves over a narrow bridge crossing a river. Although Little John wins, Robin earns his respect and loyalty. The two of them become lifelong friends—indeed, Little John is even there at Robin’s deathbed. This kind of loyalty illustrates the authenticity of a life unencumbered by excessive greed or wealth. The Merry Men live simply in the forest, donating most of the gold they steal to those who need it most. True to their name, the Merry Men become famous for their merrymaking: they eat, drink, and sing songs, enjoying each other’s company and celebrating their victories over their enemies.

This camaraderie among the Merry Men is portrayed as superior to the avarice and greed of Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham, who hoard wealth in their castles and make the commoners suffer. And when the Sheriff captures one of the Merry Men, Will Stutley, Robin Hood and the rest of his band are all willing to risk their lives to rescue Will from execution. Throughout the Merry Men’s adventures, they grow closer together and show that a good life is worth fighting for when one has the companionship of generous, lively, and loyal friends. 

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