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Robyn Hood: The Law of the Forest

An original story for BYU Ballet

It is a tale of Robyn Hood,
Which I to you will tell,
Which being rightly understood,
I know will please you well.*

England is on the cusp of war. In the village of Nottingham, Robyn Hood says goodbye to her husband, John, as he goes to serve his king in the Crusades. He also leaves Little Jo behind, their baby daughter.

Thirteen years later, the Crusades still rage. A messenger brings news of John’s death and presents his bow to Robyn. Now that Jo is growing into a young woman, Robyn begins to teach her how to shoot with her father’s bow. Robyn is a skilled archer who was raised by her father and taught alongside her brothers. She shares her secret with Jo: If your heart is true, so will be your arrow.

No archer living in her time
With her might well compare;
She practisd all her youthfull prime
That exercise most rare.

As Little Jo and Robyn visit the village, the changes to the once peaceful town are evident. The long-standing war has decimated the town of most of the men. The women keep to themselves and are barely surviving. To make matters worse, the Sheriff of Nottingham rules with a heavy hand. Her guards arrive to collect the taxes she demands. When a villager is thrown down by a henchwoman, Little Jo runs to help but is rebuffed.

Robyn and Jo meet Prioress Tuck from the abbey. There is little the abbey can do to stave off such need, and Tuck has little authority to stand up to the Sheriff’s power. They lament the isolation and desperation of the village.

Scarlett, Robyn’s younger sister, arrives. She is distressed because she cannot afford to pay her taxes. The Sheriff spots Scarlett and a chase ensues. When Scarlett is cornered, Robyn shoots an arrow close to the Sheriff as a warning. The guards are dispatched to catch Robyn, who is banished from Nottingham.

So being outlawed, as 'tis told,
She with a crew went forth
Of lusty cutters, stout and bold,
And robbed in the North.

The family flees to Sherwood Forest. Little Jo wonders if they are safe but is reassured the woods will give them ample cover. Robyn wants to do something to help the women of Nottingham, and Scarlett pledges to help her.

Robyn Hood Family Tree
Photo by Emma Rollins

Robyn, Scarlett, and Jo try to find food and shelter, but Robyn falls and injures her foot. While Scarlett tends to her, Jo disobeys them and heads off by herself in search of help. It doesn’t take long for Jo to become hopelessly lost, and despite her declaration that she was too old to get scared, she feels the forest closing in around her.

Jo is found by Marian, an old woman who lives in the forest. At first Jo is startled and wonders if Marian is the witch from the woods she’s heard about her whole life, but Marian seems kind. Jo tells Marian her mother is injured, and Marian gathers her herbs and offers to help.

A BONNY fine maid of a noble degree,
(With a hey down down a down down)
Maid Marian calld by name,
Did live in the North, of excellent worth,
For she was a gallant dame.

Marian and Jo find their way back to Robyn. Marian asks why they are in the forest and is told about Robyn’s banishment. Marian shares her own story. She was raised by her grandmother who taught her how to use herbs as medicine. She even healed the Sheriff once, but later when she stood up to the Sheriff and her harsh methods, she was banished for being a witch. She’s lived in the forest for many years. Marian teaches the family how to survive through the laws of the forest:

· Balance: Take only what you need, share what you can, return what’s left to the soil.

· Observe: The seasons will tell you when to plant, when to rest, and that life always follows death.

· Protection: Know where your strengths lie. Camouflage and cunning before fighting.

· Symbiosis: Unity brings strength. Work for each other’s welfare.

Over time, the forest becomes familiar. The number of refugees gathering there is growing. They meet Alana and befriend her. Tuck arrives with provisions. She updates Robyn about the situation in town. They share the meager rations with the refugees, but there is not enough.

But Robyn Hood so gentle was,
And bore so brave a minde,
If any in distresse did passe,
To them she was so kinde

Robyn announces her plan to steal some of the tax money the Sheriff has taken. She asks for volunteers, and Scarlett, Alana, and others step forward. Tuck provides the disguises—nun’s habits—and teaches the women how to behave like nuns. It is decided the abbey will provide a town front for the new band of rogues—a place where they can distribute goods to those still living there.

When Robyn’s band arrives in the village, the Sheriff and her guards are extorting money from villagers. Robyn replaces one of the guards and starts handing the money to the “nuns.” All is going according to plan, until Alana accidentally hands a bag of money back to the Sheriff and is caught. The Sheriff tries to tie her up, but Robyn turns the tables on her. With the Sheriff bound, Robyn’s band escapes back to the forest with the money.

Bold Robyn Hood and Little Jo,
With the rest of their traine,
Not dreading law, set them upon,
And did their gold obtaine.

In the forest, the “nuns” reenact their adventures for the gathered refugees. They share the goods with everyone and begin to celebrate. As they continue to learn the laws of the forest, their community grows stronger.

Meanwhile, back in town, the Sheriff is freed and vows revenge on Robyn. As time goes on, Robyn’s merry band continues to outwit the Sheriff. Robyn’s fame and popularity grow—for her talent with the bow and arrow and for the generous help she gives to all.

In retaliation, the Sheriff plans an archery contest to determine the best archer in the land. The winner will receive a bag of gold. The Sheriff knows Robyn will be able to resist neither the competition nor the gold, and when she shows up, they will capture her! The Sheriff announces the tournament on scrolls, one of which is stolen and taken to the community in the forest. Of course, Robyn plans to attend.

The Nottingham Archery Tournament has begun. There is music and dancing. Robyn, Scarlett, and Alana arrive in disguise. The rules are read for the contest, and the archers compete in rounds. By the final round, the contest is between Robyn and one of the guards. The competition is tough, but Robyn wins by splitting her competitor’s arrow down the middle and is handed the bag of gold coins.

The second shot the guard shot,
She hit the center with craft;
But Robyn Hood shot it better than she,
For she clove her arrow shaft.

Meanwhile, during the excitement, Tuck, Scarlett, and Alana have been stealing food. Bumbling Alana gets caught again and reveals their disguise. The Sheriff realizes all the “bearded men” are part of Robyn’s gang. The guards give chase, but the band uses the dancing villagers to get away. The Sheriff and soldiers follow them into the forest.

Robyn’s crew makes it back to the forest, but when they observe the silence of the animals, they know danger is near. They camouflage themselves within the forest, and once the guards come crashing through, the unified refugees pester and confuse them until they are scattered and lost. Robyn’s band makes sure the Sheriff is unprotected and alone. The Sheriff catches sight of Little Jo and grabs her, holding her hostage. Alana sneaks around, puts a bag over her head, and sinches it tight. As Jo escapes, Robyn closes in, as do the trees. The Sheriff grows more disoriented, loses her balance, and plunges off a cliff to her death.

The sheriff, to take her, more and more
Sent guards of mickle might,
But she and her band beate them sore,
And conquered them in fight.

Little Jo tells Tuck of the Sheriff’s death, and Tuck tells the villagers. The forest refugees return to Nottingham and reunite with friends and family. The village begins to celebrate. Tuck offers Robyn the position of Sheriff, which she accepts. The villagers come together as Robyn, Marian, Scarlett, and Alana begin to teach them the laws of the forest. They will help each other survive until the war ends.

So that bold Robyn and her traine
Did live unhurt of them,
Until King Richard came againe
From faire Jerusalem.
I know there's many fained tales
Of Robyn Hood and crew;
But chronicles, which seldome fayles,
Reports this to be true.

* Lyrics from 17th century ballads: “A True Tale of Robin Hood,” “Robin Hood and Curtal Friar,” “Robin Hood and Guy Gisbourne,” and “Robin Hood and Maid Marian” (with minor editing)

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