The Sheriff

The Sheriff (theme image)

The Sheriff

CharactersBackground Essay Author: Valerie B. Johnson


Sheriff, to Robin Hood: "I'll cut your heart out with a spoon!"
Guy of Gisborne: "Why a spoon, cousin? Why not an axe?"
Sheriff: "Because it's dull, you twit. It'll hurt more."
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

The sheriff of Nottingham's role in the Robin Hood legends is not glamorous – nor is his rivalry with Robin Hood particularly personal. In sum, the sheriff exists because Robin Hood needs the sheriff to exist. Without a foe who embodies local and national governmental corruption, indicating both personal failings and systemic problems,Robin Hood cannot hope to stand as a resistance figure to unjust authority. Consequently, the sheriff of Nottingham is rarely granted so much as a personal name. Certainly in the late medieval / early modern ballad tradition the sheriff serves more as an incompetent stock villain over whom the protagonist – for the early Robin Hood can hardly be called a hero – continually triumphs. The narrative continuity that many modern audiences expect from serial productions on the same topic is not present in the medieval Robin Hood materials; Robin is not the same "person" from story to story. Nor is the sheriff the same "person": the sheriff is killed in The Geste of Robyn Hode and in Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne


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