Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves came out during a very influential time in my life. I was young enough for the neighbors to laugh when I built my first yarn-and-stick bow, yet old enough to get into trouble for threatening to cut their hearts out with spoons.
Less intimidating when it’s a 7-year-old.
So it’s no surprise that, at 7, I was a bit too immature to grasp the deeper story behind a movie like this. As a child I was so wrapped up in the sword fighting, the bow shooting, and the Morgan Freeman-ing, that I missed the important lessons. Lessons like how to choose your allies. Why safety nets for the lower classes are important. And why constructing an Ewok village is never a solution.
No matter how long you stare, tiny dancing bears will never appear.
Re-watch this movie as an adult, however, and another story emerges. The classic “Steal from the rich and give to the poor.” goes out the window. You start to realize that Prince of Thieves is more of a “Run a political battle that legitimizes your nobility by using the suffering poor.” kind of jam.
Don’t believe me? Here are a few reasons why the Sheriff and Robin Hood are both impostors, and they’re both trying to fill a power vacuum by exploiting the peasantry.
The Sheriff Of Nottingham Is An Upstart Peasant, According To Deleted Scenes
King Richard is away on business–business being the polite term for slaughtering foreigners in another crusade. In his absence the scheming Sheriff has begun to usurp his throne, having grown so influential in the lands around Nottinghamshire that he believes himself a candidate to wear the Pointy Gold Hat.
But here’s the thing about the Sheriff; he’s not even nobility. The Sheriff is secretly of common birth, which places him and his descendants squarely outside the line of succession. In a deleted scene it’s revealed that the old witch and royal adviser, Mortianna, is actually the Sheriff’s mother. She switched some noblewoman’s baby with her own, thus placing her peasant son in a position of power.
This may seem like a little twist the writers threw in for fun, but I believe it was intended to serve as a greater contrast between our antagonist Sheriff George, and Robin of Locksley. Because…
Robin Hood Is Also An Upstart Peasant
How dare I accuse Robin of Locksley of being a peasant in noble’s clothing?
Firstly, let’s consider Robin’s weapon of choice; the English Longbow. While the nobility sometimes trained with bows, it was largely left to the middle and lower classes to take up archery and hunting for sport and recreation. This practice gave the king a body of conscripts to call upon in times of war. The poor needed bow skills to keep themselves fed (as seen in the movie) while the middle classes were encouraged to keep the art of archery alive for cultural reasons, which can be seen in a decree by Edward III.
Every noble in this movie, from the elder Lord Locksley, to Marian, to the Sheriff himself, grab for the sword when they’re in danger. Whereas Robin loves him some bow. And only Robin carries the bow (at first). Even when it’s common soldiers on-screen doing the shooting, they wield crossbows. Not longbows. Not even the displaced peasants of Sherwood carry bows. They carry sticks…sticks that don’t even shoot other sticks. That is, until Robin comes along.
Secondly, do we actually encounter anyone who recognizes Robin of Locksley without him declaring his identity first? We have Duncan, an old blind caretaker who’s wandering around the ruins of the dead Lord Locksley’s manor. But I have to ask; could Duncan really recognize the voice of his master’s son, who is now a middle-aged man?
And if Duncan suspects it isn’t really Robin, back from the crusades, why wouldn’t he go along with this impostor’s ruse? I believe Duncan knew it wasn’t Robin, and Duncan also knew he would benefit more by following a good-natured pretender, rather than sticking around waiting for the real (likely dead) Robin to come home.
And then we have Maid Marian, who admits to having no memory of Robin aside from the spoiled child who burned her hair for fun. She doesn’t recognize him. At all. But she is eventually charmed by the pretender. Because that’s what pretenders are good at: charm.
We also hear the Bishop claim “I see the boy I once knew.” But this comes after word has already spread that Robin of Locksley is back in town and raising a fuss.
This is not the happy face of recognition. This is the tell-the-hobo-what-he-wants-to-hear face of terror.
For all Robin’s claims of having fond memories and love for his people, everyone else seems to remember Robin as a bit of a jerk. Robin waves this away by saying that prison changes a man. I would argue instead that serving time in prison with Marian’s brother, Peter, gave peasant-Robin the tools he needed to craft a backstory that elevated him. Robin and Peter would have nothing but time to chat about family while they were chained to a wall together. Hell, for all we know Peter was Robin’s first dupe. Or he was in on the plan.
There’s also the fact that Robin, if he were a real noble, should have petitioned the other royal houses for assistance when he returned to find his manor in shambles and his family dead. But Impostor Robin crafts a weirder, more public plan after initially striking out with Marian. This is because…
Robin Hood And The Sheriff Are Hatching The Exact Same Plan
Once the Sheriff learns of Mortianna’s (his mother’s) baby-swapping, he becomes hell-bent on getting the Maid Marian pregnant with his child. This would at least place his direct descendants into the line of succession, even if his unlikely secret was revealed. You know who else seems pretty keen on this plan? I mean, to the letter? Robin of the Hood.
Let’s break this down step-by-step. Both the Sheriff and Robin plan to…
In movies there’s an old trope. When the plucky hero squares off with the cruel villain, the villain will often use the phrase “We’re not so different, you and I.” Which is a way of saying that if their positions were reversed, the hero would have made all the same choices.
Had the sheriff repeated this trope, it would have been the only accurate usage in the history of cinema.
Time may prove me wrong in my theory. But for now I choose to believe that Robin is an impostor, and both he and the Sheriff are playing the same game of fake-it-til-you-make-it in the absence of the nobles. Because a game of impostor-vs-impostor makes this movie so much more interesting through adult eyes.
Oh, and Azeem’s life debt? That’s not a real thing in Moorish culture. So here’s a bonus fan theory for you: Azeem made it up so Robin would give him an “in” once they reached England. Everyone is an impostor.
Happy watching everyone.