Robin Hood and Little John

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Historical Records

Book Trade Records

Stationers' Register

Adam Islip./.     Entred for his Copie a booke entituled a pastorall plesant Commedie of
Edward White./.     ROBIN HOOD and LITTLE JOHN &c by aucthorytie from the
    wardens .         .         .         .         .         .         .         .     .         vjd C.

(Stationers' Register, Vol. 2, p. 307)

Theatrical Provenance

Edward White did not name the agent from whom he acquired "Robin Hood and Little John." However, because two of the plays also registered by White on 14 May 1594 were performed by the Queen's men (Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay and King Leir), there has been some interest in considering that company as the source also of "Robin Hood and Little John." Wiggins, Catalogue #870), for example, notes a connection with the Queen's men in the discussion of yet another of White's registrations (David and Bethsaba), and he extends the assignment in the entry for "Robin Hood and Little John" (#868), though "tentatively."
Theater historians do not know whether the Queen's men had a London performance venue in 1594, but provincial records show that they performed at numerous sites around the country (see McMillin and MacLean, Appendix A, p. 184).

Probable Genre(s)

Pastoral Comedy Harbage

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Any variety of stories in the folklore Robin Hood and his fellow outlaw, Little John, could have provided the narrative material for this play. The obvious starting point, however, is the story of their meeting. It is accessible in three ballads with the title, "Robin Hood and Little John; Being an Account of their first Meeting, their fierce Encounter and Conquest. To which is added, Their friendly Agreement, and how he came to be called Little John" (EBBA, #36136); (EBBA, #33991), (EBBA, #31444).
According to the ballads (which are duplicates), Robin Hood grew restless after a couple of weeks messing about in the forest without challenging entertainment, so he set off looking for "sport." He found it at a long narrow bridge where a seven-foot-tall stranger challenges him by refusing to step aside. Robin draws an arrow from his quiver to persuade the man to move. The gigantic man calls Robin a coward for threatening a man with only a staff, but Robin boasts that he'll test the stranger's manhood with the proper weapon. Robin then goes into the nearby forest and acquires a staff of oak, and the men fight. The stranger knocks Robin into the river, at which time Robin's men appear and threaten the stranger for besting Robin, but Robin instead acknowledges the stranger's strength and valor by offering him a place in his crew. The men celebrate, giving him a suit of green and a bow. When the stranger identifies himself as John Little, they rechristen him as Little John.

References to the Play

Information welcome.

Critical Commentary

Fleay, BCED includea ""Robin Hood and Little John" but does not guess at its theatrical provenance (2.310 #223). Harbage lista it among other anonymous plays in 1594 and taga its auspices as "unknown" (p. 56).

Greg, BEPD (θ13) muses that Edward White (senior) might have printed this play in some relationship to an old may-games play, "Robin Hood" (running title: "A mery geste of Robyn Hoode and hys lyfe, wyth a newe playe for to be played in May games very plesaunte and full of pastyme" [I, #32]), which was entered in the Stationers' Register on 30 November 1560 (or 30 October?). Greg describes this item as "two separate pieces," the first of which he titled "Robin Hood and the Friar, and the second as "Robin Hood and the Potter." To #32, Greg adds an entry (undated) with the variant title of "A Merry Iest of Robin Hood, and of his life With a newe play for to be plaided in May-games. Very pleasant and full of pastime." This printing has "woodcuts of two figures, above one of which is printed Litle John."

Wiggins, Catalogue suggests a date of 1590 for the play and a provenance of the Queen's men (#868), based on the fact that it was registered at Stationers' Hall in a bulk entry with plays verifiably properties of the Queen's men c. 1589-90 (Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay, King Leir, and David and Bethsabe). He includes in this entry the registrations in 1624 and 1640, along with the advertisement of 1655.

For What It's Worth

Greg listed the following instances of "Robin Hood and Little John" in later stationers' records:
  • Stationers' Register, 1624 June 29. Transfer by Elizabeth Allde (widow of Edward), deceased, to Edward Aldee.
  • Stationers' Register, 1640 April 22. Transfer by Elizabeth Allde (widow of Edward), deceased, to R. Oulton.
  • Advertisement. 1655. "A Book of Robin Hood, and little John" is advertised among "Books Printed; and ... Sold by Jane Bell, in her editions of Friar Bacon and King Lear.
  • Catalogue. 1656. Rogers & Ley: "Robin hoods Pastoral" Archer: 'Robin Hood P.'

Works Cited

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