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Friar Tuck

Friar Tuck

Character Background Essay Author: Valerie B. Johnson

Be holde wele Frere Tuke
Howe he dothe his bowe pluke
Robyn Hod and the Shryff off Notyngham(ll. 31-32)

Friar Tuck has enjoyed a relatively uncomplicated literary existence within the context of the Robin Hood tradition. His personality may alternate between cheerful and solemn, contemplative and self-absorbed, even gluttonous and parsimonious, but he is always a friar, sometimes a priest, and usually the member of Robin Hood's band who consistently stands out for his independence and affiliation with a system of belief that extends beyond the limits of the outlaws' own environs. His association with the traditions of both Robin Hood and May Day celebrations is particularly notable and is well documented beginning in the (post-medieval) Tudor era under the reign of Henry VIII.

The literary image of Friar Tuck as a plump and cheerful mendicant seems to be rooted partially in late Tudor drama, and more strongly in comedic texts and operettas produced in the second half of the nineteenth century. Notably, the introduction of Friar Tuck into the Robin Hood tradition slightly predates, but largely parallels, the inclusion of Maid Marian. What follows is a brief analysis of Friar Tuck's characteristics during three major periods of the tradition's development: the earliest materials available, up to the middle of the seventeenth century, the stepping stone texts of the eighteenth through nineteenth centuries, and the advent of film and novels in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.


Like Robin Hood, Friar Tuck enters the historical record considerably in advance of the first surviving literary appearance of the character. The name Friar Tuck first appears in royal English writs issued in 1417 and 1429. Per J. C. Holt, the


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