Evil in Robin Hood

At the beginning of Robin Hood, Guy’s evil is so pronounced as to be unfathomable. If this one-sided portrayal of Gisborne had persisted, either in the script or the acting, it’s unlikely that the character or the series would have lasted as long as they did, because the sort of stories of redemption being told in “Robin Hood” need believable evil, and successful portrayals of evil need more nuance to be believable than the initial episodes of this series offered viewers. In my opinion this is why Armitage’s Gisborne took over the series and the screen–Keith Allen’s Sheriff of Nottingham elevated evil to camp, making it too shallowly funny to bear the moral weight of a story of redemption, and the temptations of evil placed on Robin Hood as played by Jonas Armstrong were always superficial. Allen made evil look funny, and Hood/Armstrong never had any serious problems choosing good over evil. Making Gisborne the Sheriff’s axe-man loaded all of the real moral difficulties of the show onto Gisborne, and this choice gave both the scriptwriters and Armitage as actor a great deal of interpretive space. Luckily (as we know from interviews) Armitage had decided that Gisborne had a private ethic, and this mood relieves the unremittingly dark portrayal somewhat, although Armitage’s own feelings about that were apparently ambiguous. For instance, he also stated repeatedly that his portrayal of Gisborne was an attempt to make his audience squirm and despise the character–perhaps a prophylactic measure against the probable consequence of typecasting for an actor so intensely adored by so many women. So another indeterminacy to be resolved is not just Armitage vs. Gisborne, but also the triangle between Armitage, Armitage as Gisborne, and Armitage as publicist for the show. And we could add the scriptwriters to these mixes as well–either as independent entities, or as influenced by Armitage, since his own statements and information about him suggest that he tries to interact with/influence them.

~ by Servetus on March 1, 2010.

4 Responses to “Evil in Robin Hood”

  1. […] of what we have seen of Gisborne as a character up to this point is evil. (On evil in RM, take this analysis as […]

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  2. Just found your blog via Mulubinba’s blog. Interesting point! I’m actually not sure I agree that Guy is portrayed as unfathomably evil even at the start. He is, at least, law-abiding — he would not use brute force to keep Robin from taking his estate back (as the Sheriff suggests) because the estate is rightfully his. In Episode 2 he seems somewhat troubled by the Sheriff’s tongue-cuttings (witness the “You don’t have to DO this!” yell at the peasants), and shows some vulnerability when he tells Marian his men used to laugh at him because he had no land to go with his title. It’s interesting that while one early press release describes Guy as “the Sheriff’s sadistic lieutenant”, he never really shows signs of being sadistic. When he takes Robin back to Nottingham tied to the back of a horse, he doesn’t drag him but allows him to walk at what seems to be a normal pace.

    Granted I’m biased since I started watching S1 after I’d already seen S3. However, while I was taken aback by how nasty Guy often was at the start, I definitely sensed “something more” in the character.

    As for RA’s attitude toward Guy, I think the comment about wanting the audience to “squirm” and to “despise” Guy applied mainly to some of his early interactions with Marian. He did say from the start that he was “defensive” of the character and saw some humanity in him.

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  3. LadyKate63, thanks for coming here and commenting! I think it depends somewhat on one’s definition of evil; that is, from my perspective, evil can also be ethical/moral in the sense that it obeys a consistent normative standard–i.e., there can be an absolute rational evil that obeys rules such as laws. In series 1, for example, the law legitimates Guy’s evil, as he points out to Marian when she asks about a trial for Robin–from our outside perspective, or from Robin’s perspective, the law has become evil. Also, I think there are clear signs of sadism in series 1, if we define sadism as deriving pleasure from inflicting pain of others (and the first half of series 2 seems to take pains to underline this even as it humanizes Guy somewhat).

    I will say that I am only halfway through series 2, and that I am watching the episodes in order and avoiding spoilers as far as I can, so right now I am looking at things from the perspective of knowing essentially nothing or very little about series 3. Probably my interpretations will change after I see all the episodes. But it seems that the script works very hard to make Guy look unredeemable in the first half of series 1, so that even his attempts to win Marian end up being seen in terms of what Guy wants to get for himself and not in terms of a genuine relationship. The last half of series 1 does complicate that quite a bit–e.g., as when Guy gives Marian the horse, a present that she actually wants to give, and in his apologies to her in the proposal scene.

    Looking forward to more conversations!

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  4. […] the cultivation–his rather odd inability to be a kind landlord we book into the category of his evil side–but it is the land that would make him able to stand up for the private ethical system that […]

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