Class Conflict in Robin Hood
For my film application of theory I chose to watch the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and apply two different theories. Here I will look at the relationship between Marx’s views on class conflict and the themes of Robin Hood.
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves tells the story of a young mercenary soldier, Robin of Loxley, who escapes imprisonment in the Middle East. Upon returning to his home in England he finds that the corrupt and power-hungry Sheriff of Nottingham has killed his father and has also been unfairly taxing the local peasants. Many of the peasants are disgruntled, but have no way to act against the Sheriff, as they live in fear of his retaliation. Robin Hood vows to oppose the Sheriff of Nottingham, while protecting his best friend’s sister, Lady Marion. The sheriff does not take Robin’s opposition well and places a reward upon him.
In response to the sheriff’s attempts to do away with him, Robin is forced to flea with his lovable sidekicks to the “haunted” Sherwood forest. Here he meets up with a band of peasants who for some reason or another are targets of the Sheriff. Many of them are there because they were unable to pay his burdensome taxes. Robin sees them as potential allies and convinces them that they must fight back against the tyrannical sheriff. Together they form a community of thieves who steal from rich passerby in order to distribute the money to the poor.
Eventually the Sheriff’s men find Robin and conflict between the peasants and the corrupt Sheriff ensues.
The story of Robin is a perfect example of the class conflict that Marx often speaks about in his works. The main conflict of the story centers around the unfair taxation by the upper class led by the Sheriff and the ensuing poverty of the peasant class. The peasant class is forced to finance the Sheriff’s quest for power through burdensome taxes. They feel unable to protest this injustice because they are powerless and fragmented. Then Robin appears, a former member of the upper class, and encourages them to fight back against the ruling class who has taken everything from them. In order to do this they must unite.
This is very similar to Marx’s idea of the development of class consciousness and the ensuing rebellion that he predicted would take place. After the proletariat had been taxed and abused by the upper class, Marx foresaw that they would realize that they must unite to overcome the oppressive bourgeoisie. The ensuing rebellion would unseat the unjust, wealthy leaders and give the proletariat control of their own destinies.
One scene from the film exemplifies this theme in particular. After Robin Hood has angered the Sheriff he retaliates by destroying a peasant village. At first enraged at Robin, he reminds them that it was in fact the Sheriff who had precipitated all of this conflict by first taxing the peasants into poverty and second by destroying their village. By uniting and fighting back they can take the power from the Sheriff and live their lives as they please.
As the film concludes the peasants unite and successfully overtake the Sheriff, restoring the peace and happiness of their lives in Nottingham.
While not a perfect parallel to the proletariat revolution that Marx described, the elements of class conflict and the union of the lower class in order to overcome a repressive upper class resonate with conflict theory, in my opinion. In addition the redistribution of wealth to promote equality among the classes (by stealing from the rich and giving to the poor) echoes Marx’s hopes for the destruction of classes altogether.