Extracts from ‘The Foresters’

Alfred Tennyson’s play The Foresters, was first published in 1892, the year of the author’s death. The play has Maid Marian as the daughter of a certain Sir Richard Lea, who owes two thousand marks (which has been used to pay the ransom of his son Walter in the Holy Land) to the Abbot of St Mary’s York. Sir Richard is keen to marry his daughter to a wealthy suitor who can pay off this debt. Marian however, loves Robin Hood, the outlawed Earl of Huntingdon who is penniless, and the Sheriff of Nottingham and Prince John are presented as rivals for the hand of Marian. The play is in four acts, and was first produced in New York on 17 March 1892, a few months before Tennyson’s death.

In the first act the sheriff promises to pay off Sir Richard’s debt if Marian will marry him. After Robin and Marian are forced to part, Robin is banished and agrees to become the leader of a group of King Richard’s partisans in Sherwood forest. The second act has Marian fleeing to the woods, and Robin disguised as an old woman, has an encounter with the sheriff and Prince John. In the third act Marian is proclaimed and ‘crowned’ Queen o’ the Woods, and Robin robs some beggars and friars, who have lied about the amount of money they carry. In the fourth and final act, King Richard resolves the situation after beating Friar Tuck, Much, and Robin, with the quarterstaff, ; all ends happily with the reappearance of Sir Richard’s son.

Tennyson has obviously used the Gest as the basis for his play, but he also introduced new relationships between characters, especially in the case of Sir Richard and Maid Marian. He also emphasized the theme, popular in the nineteenth century, of Robin Hood as a leader of Saxons against Normans, and an agent (like the Locksley of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe) of national unity under Richard I.

Source: Tennyson, Poems and Plays (Oxford Standard Authors Edition, London, 1965), pp. 750-1, 754-5, 755-6.

Extract: Rymes of Robyn Hood, Dobson and Taylor, pp. 243-249.