Maid Marian

Miss Julian as Maid Marian

Maid Marian

CharactersBackground Essay Author: Stephen Knight

1. More than Maid
 
Marian, often given the containing sobriquet "Maid," is both an intermittent and elusive figure in the Robin Hood myth. She does not appear in the late medieval yeoman ballads or, with one exception, their seventeenth and eighteenth century broadside ballad descendants. She is an initial presence in sixteenth and seventeenth century gentrification, is less certain of a place on the eighteenth century stage, but becomes from the nineteenth century on a fixture as Robin Hood's partner, often wife, occasionally mother of his child or even children. She plays a usually substantial role in film, and has recently come to the fore in broadly feminist reworkings of the myth. Even when she is recurrently present, substantial variation has occurred in her activities and meaning, and it may be her complexity takes her back before the early outlaw ballads to the medieval French pastourelle tradition.

Although she is essentially Robin's only female partner, she is functionally quite unlike him, as the meaning given, whether social or personal, to her identity and actions does not have his consistent core of meaning. He is always in some way anti-authority; her role and meaning have no such constant vanishing-point. A naïve reaction might be that she changes in response to his positional variety, whether, for example, he represents a noble lord or a Victorian national hero, but that hardly explains how Marian can become for the Romantics an image of ennobling desirability or in a modern feminist context the opposite, a model of competence and even dominance. Marian is, it appears, primarily invoked by the gender-related concerns of the social environment in which she appears: she does not resist authority so much as represent a changing alternative...

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Anonymous
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