Medieval Guy

So, it’s on to a demonstration of my earlier point about status conflict as the major motor of Guy’s anxious behavior, the cause of his repeated humiliations in the early part of series 1 of “Robin Hood,” and the reason he causes so many problems for other characters with more clearly defined statuses. I’m taking RH 1.2, “Sheriff Got Your Tongue?” as the object of study here and demonstration of it. I want to add in the gender component here as well (Guy vs. Marian’s status) because it appears rather strikingly in this episode. Mr. Armitage’s performance gets every possible piece of mileage out of these conflicts.

Robin Hood 2.1: “Sheriff Got Your Tongue?”: Guy begins towing his prisoner Robin back to Nottingham Castle. Source: RichardArmitageOnline

In this section I am concerned mostly with body language, so the Spanish version of RH will be just fine for our purposes. Here’s the beginning (and note the viewer comment that despite not playing the lead, Mr. Armitage has an overwhelming presence [una presencia abrumadora]). Sorry that the aspect ratio is a little off:

As I argued here, we need to consider Guy’s crossed arms as a defensive posture of humiliation rather than as a stance of aggression (or a response to the lack of pockets in his pants). We see this effect beginning at 0:27. The power dynamic in this scene sets Guy up for an indeterminate status, one that he can enforce neither with the Locksley villagers, nor with the Sheriff. If he is lord of Locksley, then he should be able to get his villagers to cooperate because they respect him (as Robin pointed out to him in the previous episode); because he is not able to enforce that status, the intervention of the Sheriff serves as a concrete reminder of his lack of status. His failure here to intervene on the part of the villagers, presumably because of his political need to follow the dictates of the Sheriff, demonstrates his lack of actual status. Thus he must obey the sheriff, as Mr. Armitage himself has noted, rather robotically (here, at 0:14-0:23), but this means that he also loses any chance he may have to behave as the Lord of Locksley beyond miming that role through random screaming at his tenants (as at 0:48 above). He can never really be the responsible lord, because he must fear at all times that his status will be removed by the Sheriff if he behaves that way. By this time, too, he’s seen what Robin’s thrown away in terms of status and is determined to grab it himself.

The Sheriff offers a reward to the villagers for giving up Robin. RH 1.2: “Sheriff Got Your Tongue?” Source: RichardArmitageOnline

Note also the way that Armitage distributes Guy’s body weight here. The Lord of Locksley should be standing up straight with his feet firmly planted on the ground and perhaps with his palm on the handle of his sword. And throughout the scene it is the Sheriff’s men, rather than Gisborne’s, who conduct the punishments. We might call this posture “unhappy adolescent”: yawning for example, at 4:57, or rolling his eyes when the Sheriff pours out the dregs of his wine a little later. An interesting thing about that shot is that we don’t even see Guy’s face for awhile; we only see his extended torso, leaning on the chair, even as his authority leans on that of the Sheriff. The cappers at RichardArmitageNet were trying to capture Armitage’s microexpressions in this scene–see images 2-7 here–and they caught at least five distinct moments (5:13-5:25 above if you want to see them play across Guy’s face). The expressions begin with attention to the Sheriff, move on to objection to his statements and a split-second of outrage, but I think the last two are dejection and sadness. It’s hard to see this from the caps because Armitage’s eyelids are moving, but look at the film. That last gesture with the chin is hard to characterize as well–it’s somewhere between resignation and annoyance.

Comments on the Rosencranz and Guildensternish scene (at 6:19 above) with the soldiers would interest me. I don’t know exactly how to fit it in. We are supposed to be understanding something about Guy via the comments of the men. What? Only that he has no sense of humor, or more?

Next move for Guy is another attempt to reassert his authority, beginning at 1:02 above. (Neat editing between shots here, connecting Little John’s contestation of Robin’s authority with Guy’s problems establishing his own). Microexpressions at caps 9-17 here. Note that despite the single shout, which seems to burst out of him, the persuasive attempt is one based on rational considerations and Armitage’s microexpressions support that stance right up to the end, with a number of slants of the head that work to emphasize his attempt to understand the villagers and his charade of–or attempt to perform convincingly–reasonability. (For some reason I can’t see these either on the Spanish video or on the screencaps, but when I watch this on netflix I see a split second of “nyah nyah boo boo” on Armitage’s face when he finishes his delivery of the phrase, “I’m your master now. For good!” He raises his eyebrows slightly, bares his teeth and you see just a second of a sneer.) This last expression of course undermines all the previous ones, as the camera then moves off his face and leaves us with that impression.

At 1:54 begins the Sheriff’s long address, in which he tries to convince the villagers that Robin’s been turned by the Saracens. Guy does not speak here, but glowers in the background (as he did in the previous episode during the Council of Nobles scene). The speech is one long demonstration of Guy’s lack of authority, first because he is not giving it, and second, because one gets the feeling that he wouldn’t subject the villagers to all this blather; he’d prefer to act rather than speak. That little affected half-sniff at 2:24. Especially interesting after 2:37, when Guy begins to bite his lip, cringe, look away, look down in dejection. Part of the reason this gets so long is not that the Sheriff thinks he is going to have any effect at all on the villagers, but must be because he is performing for Guy’s benefit. Else why would the camera let us see so much of Guy’s reactions? So Guy’s lack of status has outcomes for the sheriff as well.

At 5:00, that truly awful moment when Robin snaps his bowstring in Guy’s face. Leading up to this we see the contrast in Robin’s posture (straight, back on his heals, head up) to Guy’s. The moment is not only humiliating, it is also funny, so the audience participates in the act of humiliating Guy. Microexpressions here are very rich: jeering at cap 21; and this very rich expression that I don’t know exactly how to describe after the string snap. But I’d argue here that Guy is gaining a certain amount of self-control regarding Robin that he didn’t have in the previous episode. He doesn’t retaliate personally but waits for his men to do so with their swords. At 6:17, he can look down on Robin from the height of his horse.

The last two Guy experiences in the episode are also fraught, but they both have gender components. To understand them effectively as status issues we need to make a comparison to a successful status encounter between people of different statuses. Consider Much’s appeal to Marian and her father, beginning at 1:11 below:

The Spanish dubbing enhances the effect of the status consciousness here because of the use of verb forms to indicate it. However, note the body language of all the participants. No twitching, no jerking. Marian and her father maintain their upright posture, Much his deference. Because everyone is playing his or her proper role in this encounter, Much doesn’t cause true status problems for Marian and Sir Edward; indeed, he can get at least a version of what he requests because the status of his interlocutors creates certain types of obligations for them and he can remind them of that, though he has to manipulate them emotionally to do so.

In comparison to this, Guy constantly has to be reminded of how to behave. Backing up slightly in the episode structure, look at what happens when Guy brings Robin into Nottingham Castle, at 6:45 below:

Guy has on his smirk, and it looks for a second like he is going to perpetrate some ignominy on Robin, but then he catches a glance of Marian, and suddenly his behavior is überkorrekt. It’s like his hope of being taken seriously as someone with Marian’s status causes him to behave like someone with a high status and leave the dirty work to his soldiers. It’s his chance to show Marian that he belongs–or at least knows how to. (The question of Guy’s evil or meanness or sadism is also raised by this scene, and we will come back to this soon as it becomes a major theme in the next two episodes. For now I will neglect it but note that I think Guy’s good behavior here is caused more by his concerns about status re: Marian than any inner fairness, for which we have as yet seen little/no evidence.)

The final Guy scene in this episode is a status-conflict minefield, and should be compared directly to Much’s petition to Marian and her father. Again body language is more important than text here. Fantastic performance from Armitage; it’s amazing all of the pregnant glances that he manages to push into this brief encounter. As an actor he must have an acute sense of Guy’s insecurities. It starts at 0:15 below:

So, series of expressions:

-too much concentration on servant pouring his wine. “Is she giving me the correct treatment?” This sort of hyperalertness to a nonthreatening environment is also a typical behavior of abused children, incidentally.

-looks over to Marian uncertainly. Turns head back slightly as if bracing himself. Lowers neck into shirt while lowering gaze as if bracing himself for rejection. Licks lips nervously and closes his eyes just as he begins to say “I,” as if trying to sublimate his own wish. Moves head away from Marian and lowers gaze again as he continues sentence. (Again, he uses the second person formal in peninsular Spanish which enhances the status issue.) Finally attains the courage to look her in the face halfway through the sentence, and only fully recovers his composure as he mentions that Locksley is now his. (Note that I am reading this as status nervousness because we have no evidence as of yet of any feeling from Guy toward Marian.) If you can listen to this scene in English you will also note the subdued tone of voice and rather loose, almost childlike consonants up until he gets to mentioning Locksley.

Marian expresses her lack of interest politely at 0:32 in a way that oozes condescension. Guy misunderstands and, as is typical for him, it is a status misunderstanding; he thinks she is telling him that Locksley does not make him worth a visit, and that he needs to reassure Marian that he has expectations or aspirations beyond Locksley. Note that he doesn’t hold his head up straight anywhere in this entire encounter (Armitage must have gotten a very sore neck and shoulders playing series 1 Guy!) except when he is looking away from her. When he does raise his head, at 0:50, it’s for the wounded half-sniff again in combination with a grimace, as he notes that he knows his men have laughed at him. There’s also a slightly resigned gesture as he says “and there is no Gisborne.” She continues to question him as if she knows she will win the argument and he misses her scorn when she asks “and Locksley is your Gisborne?” and then seems surprised enough when he insists on his point that she turns away from his glance as it becomes more direct. She won’t give him equal status by facing him.

By 1:11, she has to concede the point and is forced to resort to a reference to Robin, an argumentative move that is clearly designed to provoke him and he falls right into the trap. Arguing with a woman! He shouldn’t have to, if his status is as it seems. At 1:42 Sir Edward enters the scene, alerted by their argument, and at 1:44 Guy is forced to turn his eyes in that direction. Edward reestablishes the hierarchy, so that the next step for Guy is that resigned eyelid drop that signals forced submission and the immediate lowering of his head for the remainder of the scene. The reordering of the status chaos is then completed as Marian tells Edward that “Sir Guy was just leaving. ” Armitage has just four beats to signal Guy’s status, and we see them in this order (you may have to slomo your DVD to catch all of this; I can see it by constantly clicking pause on netflix): angry look at Marian accompanied by almost imperceptible movement of face/chin; uncertain glance back at Sir Edward with nervous movement of lips; look back to Marian; slight tensing of jaw as Guy turns his head away, and then walks back across the frame. What’s interesting here is that her gender makes Marian’s status more complicated; Guy thinks that he has a chance to perform his status for her as a means of establishing it, but it is in fact her own enforcement of her status–conscious or unconscious–that motivates his performance in every case.

At this point the episode is 2/3 over, and Guy’s scenes are over as the action turns to the rescue of Robin, the escape from the castle, and the sealing of the different outlaws into one gang. Of the major characters Guy gets the most developed character development out of the various performances–though Armitage gets little help from the script–and once again every single encounter ends up being about the establishment of status. Guy’s lack of standing creates a vicious circle; lack of position generates embarrassment that generates the need to establish status which in turn emphasizes his lack of position. In the flailing that he does around this problem he forces the other characters to perform their problematic statuses as well. Just when he thinks he is proving his status, he is actually responding to status claims by other characters, which are particular potent with regard to gender.


As a side note and foreshadowing: the more I watch series 1 of “Robin Hood,” particular when I compare it to the quality of writing on “Spooks,” the more I see the extent to which Mr. Armitage’s active interventions in the characterization of Guy were essential. If this Guy had been played badly, the role could have been a career killer. But these subtle performances mean that Armitage has taken over the screen by the beginning of series 2. Watching the beginning of series 2, one gets the feeling that writers sat up and took notice and began to make Guy a main character rather than the villain’s sidekick.

~ by Servetus on April 7, 2010.

7 Responses to “Medieval Guy”

  1. I love your indepth explanation of the high status versus low status aspect of Guy, Sheriff, Marian, Robin and the gang. One of the reasons I like RA´s acting.


  2. […] My recent preoccupations with Guy as a disturber of status and cause of social disorder made me connect the teeth to the character via Shakespeare’s appetite as universal wolf, which occurred to me this morning. Here’s the quote in context, a perfect description of Guy as social transgressor: […]


  3. @Violet: welcome, and thanks!


  4. O_o this is officially the most interesting article I have EVER read about Guy!! I mean, this is non verbal communication AMAZING!!! aplauses!!


  5. Hiya. *shy wave* I realise this is rather an old post, but I’ve just discovered it; I’ve been lurking around for a few weeks, having a grand time bouncing from post to post and reading things all out of order. (It’s been quite nice finding a lot of analytical discussion that makes me actually use my brain, although I fear that I might not be keeping up as well as I would wish!)

    Anyway, I wanted to add my ha’penny into the mix regarding the bowstring snap scene. To me, it didn’t read at all as humorous. Humiliating, perhaps, but dangerous, definitely. As an archer, one of the first things I was taught (other than don’t point your arrows at anyone!) was never dry-fire your bow, meaning don’t draw the string back and let go without actually firing an arrow – the limbs are liable to snap, causing damage to, well, most likely yourself when they bounce back on the string.

    (hm. Maybe it would’ve been good for Gisborne’s sense of insecurity had that happened to Robin?)

    Long comment short, as an archer, I was horrified at that shot and wanted to smack whoever came up with that idea. (Granted, mediaeval bows may not be constructed the same way and might not have that tendency, but kids who watch these sorts of shows often want to *try* what they see, and on modern equipment? I shudder to think what might happen.) Of course, I’m horrified by all of the archery shots, but am slogging through for the sake of RA. But then, I suppose most people don’t see those aspects, or can better ignore them.

    And now I shall return to lurker mode; just felt like commenting on something about which I actually know something!


    • yaaurens, thanks for the kind words and welcome. I’m always delighted when the “back issues” of the blog have meaning for someone. Glad you’re enjoying them.

      I value the perspective on archery — something I know basically nothing about. That’s definitely something we need to read into the scene.

      Feel free to delurk at will. I do get all the comments on the “old” posts, so I’ll see what you write.


  6. […] is almost reminded of the way that Marian and Sir Edward reestablish their status over against a Sir Guy who’s trying to press a … — quite medievally, as if Edward and Marian’s superiority represents the natural order […]


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