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The Sheriff

The Sheriff

Character Background 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 because they are separate stories and are not intended to cohere.

Modernity has not been kind to the sheriff (though his survival rate has generally improved) and he has barely escaped that early anonymity in modern film and literature. Even in modern film productions the character is still often unnamed,


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