The Foresters

Act II

Scene I - The Flight of Marian.

Alfred Tennyson

SCENE I.—A broad forest glade; woodman’s hut at one side with half-door; Foresters are looking to their bows and arrows, or polishing their swords.

FORESTERS sing (as they disperse to their work).

There is no land like England,
    Where’er the light of day be;
There are no hearts like English hearts,
    Such hearts of oak as they be.
There is no land like England,
    Where’er the light of day be;
There are no men like Englishmen,
    So tall and bold as they be.

(Full chorus).
        And these will strike for England,
            And man and maid be free,
        To foil and spoil the tyrant
            Beneath the greenwood tree.

There is no land like England,
    Where’er the light of day be;
There are no wives like English wives,
    So fair and chaste as they be.
There is no land like England,
    Where’er the light of day be;
There are no maids like English maids,
    So beautiful as they be.

(Full chorus)
        And these shall wed with freemen,
            And all their sons be free,
        To sing the songs of England
            Beneath the greenwood tree.

    ROBIN. (alone).
My lonely hour!
The king of day hath stept from off his throne,
Flung by the golden mantle of the cloud,
And sets, a naked fire. The King of England
Perchance this day may sink as gloriously,
Red with his own and enemy’s blood—but no!
We hear he is in prison. It is my birthday.
I have reign’d one year in the wild wood. My mother,
For whose sake, and the blessed Queen of Heaven,
I reverence all women, bade me, dying,
Whene’er this day should come about, to carve
One lone hour from it, so to meditate
Upon my greater nearness to the birthday
Of the after-life, when all the sheeted dead
Are shaken from their stillness in the grave
By the last trumpet.
                                    Am I worse or better?
I am outlaw’d. I am none the worse for that.
I held for Richard, and I hated John.
I am a thief, ay, and a king of thieves.
Ay! but we rob the robber, wrong the wronger,
And what we wring from them we give the poor.
I am none the worse for that, and all the better
For this free forest-life, for while I sat
Among my thralls in my baronial hall
The groining hid the heavens; but since I breathed,
A houseless head beneath the sun and stars,
The soul of the woods hath stricken thro’ my blood,
The love of freedom, the desire of God,
The hope of larger life hereafter, more
Tenfold than under roof.

[Horn blown.
                              True, were I taken
They would prick out my sight. A price is set
On this poor head; but I believe there lives
No man who truly loves and truly rules
His following but can keep his followers true.
I am one with mine. Traitors are rarely bred
Save under traitor kings. Our vice-king John,
True king of vice—true play on words—our John,
By his Norman arrogance and dissoluteness,
Hath made me king of all the discontent
Of England up thro’ all the forest land
North to the Tyne: being outlaw’d in a land
Where law lies dead, we make ourselves the law.
Why break you thus upon my lonely hour?


I found this white doe wandering thro’ the wood,
Not thine, but mine. I have shot her thro’ the heart.

He lies, my lord. I have shot him thro’ the heart.

My God, thou art the very woman who waits
On my dear Marian. Tell me, tell me of her!
Thou comest a very angel out of heaven.
Where is she? and how fares she?

                              O my good lord,
I am but an angel by reflected light.
Your heaven is vacant of your angel. John—
Shame on him!—
Stole on her—she was walking in the garden—
And after some slight speech about the sheriff
He caught her round the waist, whereon she struck him
And fled into the castle. She and Sir Richard
Have past away, I know not where; and I
Was left alone, and knowing as I did
That I had shot him thro’ the heart, I came
To eat him up and make an end of him.

In kisses?

                You, how dare you mention kisses?
But I am weary pacing thro’ the wood.
Show me some cave or cabin where I may rest.

Go with him.    I will talk with thee anon.

[Exeunt Little John and Kate.

She struck him, my brave Marian, struck the prince,
The serpent that had crept into the garden
And coil’d himself about her sacred waist.
I think I should have stricken him to the death.
He never will forgive her.
                                               O, the sheriff
Would pay this cursed mortgage to his brother
If Marian would marry him; and the son
Is most like dead—if so the land may come
To Marian, and they rate the land fivefold
The worth of the mortgage, and who marries her
Marries the land. Most honourable sheriff!
(Passionately) Gone, and it may be gone for evermore!
O, would that I could see her for a moment
Glide like a light across these woodland ways!
Tho’ in one moment she should glance away,
I should be happier for it all the year.
O, would she moved beside me like my shadow!
O, would she stood before me as my queen,
To make this Sherwood Eden o’er again,
And these rough oaks the palms of Paradise!

    Ah! but who be those three yonder with bows?—not of my band—the sheriff, and by heaven, Prince John himself and one of those mercenaries that suck the blood of England! My people are all scattered I know not where. Have they come for me? Here is the witch’s hut. The fool-people call her a witch—a good witch to me! I will shelter here.

[Knocks at the door of the hut.

OLD WOMAN comes out.

    OLD WOMAN (kisses his hand).
Ah, dear Robin! ah, noble captain, friend of the poor!

I am chased by my foes. I have forgotten my horn that calls my men together. Disguise me—thy gown and thy coif.

Come in, come in; I would give my life for thee, for when the sheriff had taken all our goods for the King without paying, our horse and our little cart—

Quick, good mother, quick!

Ay, ay, gown, coif, and petticoat, and the old woman’s blessing with them to the last fringe.

[They go in.


Did we not hear the two would pass this way?
They must have past. Here is a woodman’s hut.

Take heed, take heed! in Nottingham they say
There bides a foul witch somewhere hereabout.

Not in this hut, I take it.

                             Why not here?

I saw a man go in, my lord.

                                          Not two?

No, my lord, one.

Make for the cottage then!

Interior of the hut.

ROBIN disguised as old woman.

    PRINCE JOHN (without).
Knock again! knock again!

    Get thee into the closet there, and make a ghostly wail ever and anon to scare ’em.

I will, I will, good Robin.

[Goes into closet.

    PRINCE JOHN (without).
Open, open, or I will drive the door from the doorpost.

    ROBIN (opens door).
Come in, come in.

Why did ye keep us at the door so long?

    ROBIN (curtseying).
I was afeard it was the ghost, your worship.

Ghost! did one in white pass?

    ROBIN (curtseying).
No, your worship.

Did two knights pass?

    ROBIN (curtseying).
No, your worship.

I fear me we have lost our labour, then.

Except this old hag have been bribed to lie.

We old hags should be bribed to speak truth, for, God help us, we lie by nature.

There was a man just now that enter’d here?

There is but one old woman in the hut.

[OLD WOMAN yells.

I crave your worship’s pardon. There is yet another old woman. She was murdered here a hundred year ago, and whenever a murder is to be done again she yells out i’ this way—so they say, your worship.

Now, if I had n’t a sprig o’ wickentree sewn into my dress, I should run.

Tut! tut! the scream of some wild woodland thing.
How came we to be parted from our men?
We shouted, and they shouted, as I thought,
But shout and echo play’d into each other
So hollowly we knew not which was which.

The wood is full of echoes, owls, elfs, ouphes, oafs, ghosts o’ the mist, wills-o’-the- wisp; only they that be bred in it can find their way a-nights in it.

I am footsore and famish’d therewithal.
Is there aught there?

[Pointing to cupboard.

             Naught for the likes o’ you.

Speak straight out, crookback.

             Sour milk and black bread.

Well, set them forth. I could eat anything.

[He sets out a table with black bread.

This is mere marble. Old hag, how should thy one tooth drill thro’ this?

Nay, by Saint Gemini, I ha’ two; and since the sheriff left me naught but an empty belly, they can meet upon anything thro’ a millstone. You gentles that live upon’ manchet-bread and marchpane, what should you know o’ the food o’ the poor? Look you here, before you can eat it you must hack it with a hatchet, break it all to pieces, as you break the poor, as you would hack at Robin Hood if you could light upon him (hacks it and flings two pieces).There’s for you, and there’s for you—and the old woman’s welcome.

The old wretch is mad, and her bread is beyond me; and the milk—faugh! Hast thou anything to sweeten this?

Here’s a pot o’ wild honey from an old oak, saving your sweet reverences.

Thou hast a cow then, hast thou?

Ay, for when the sheriff took my little horse for the King without paying for it—

How hadst thou then the means to buy a cow?

Eh, I would ha’ given my whole body to the King had he asked for it, like the woman at Acre when the Turk shot her as she was helping to build the mound against the city. I ha’ served the King living, says she, and let me serve him dead, says she; let me go to make the mound: bury me in the mound, says the woman.

Ay, but the cow?

She was given me.

By whom?

By a thief.

Who, woman, who?

    ROBIN (sings).

He was a forester good;
He was the cock o’ the walk;
He was the king o’ the wood.
    Your worship may find another rhyme if you care to drag your brains for such a minnow.

That cow was mine. I have lost a cow from my meadow. Robin Hood was it? I thought as much. He will come to the gibbet at last.

[OLD WOMAN yells.

O sweet sir, talk not of cows. You anger the spirit.

Anger the scritch-owl.

But, my lord, the scritch-owl bodes death, my lord.

I beseech you all to speak lower. Robin may be hard by wi’ three-score of his men. He often looks in here by the moonshine. Beware of Robin.

[OLD WOMAN yells.

Ah, do you hear? There may be murder done.

Have you not finished, my lord?

Thou hast crost him in love, and I have heard him swear he will be even wi’ thee.

[OLD WOMAN yells.

Now is my heart so down in my heels that if I stay I can’t run.

Shall we not go?

And, old hag tho’ I be, I can spell the hand. Give me thine. Ay, ay, the line o’ life is marked enow; but look, there is a cross line o’ sudden death. I pray thee go, go, for tho’ thou wouldst bar me fro’ the milk o’ my cow, I would n’t have thy blood on my hearth.

Why do you listen, man, to the old fool?

I will give thee a silver penny if thou wilt show us the way back to Nottingham.

    ROBIN (with a very low curtsey).
All the sweet Saints bless your worship for your alms to the old woman! but make haste then, and be silent in the wood. Follow me.

[Takes his bow.

(They come out of the hut and close the door carefully.)

Outside hut..

Softly! softly! there may be a thief in every bush.

How should this old lamester guide us? Where is thy goodman?

The Saints were so kind to both on us that he was dead before he was born.

Half-witted and a witch to boot! Mislead us, and I will have thy life! and what doest thou with that, who art more bow-bent than the very bow thou carriest?

I keep it to kill nightingales.


You see, they are so fond o’ their own voices that I cannot sleep o’ nights by cause on ’em.

True soul of the Saxon churl for whom song has no charm.

Then I roast ’em, for I have naught else to live on (whines). O your honour, I pray you too to give me an alms. (To PRINCE JOHN.)

This is no bow to hit nightingales; this is a true woodman’s bow of the best yew-wood to slay the deer. Look, my lord, there goes one in the moonlight. Shoot!

    PRINCE JOHN (shoots).
Missed! There goes another. Shoot, sheriff!

    SHERIFF (shoots).

And here comes another. Why, an old woman can shoot closer than you two.

Shoot then, and if thou miss I will fasten thee to thine own doorpost and make thine old carcase a target for us three.

    ROBIN. (raises himself upright, shoots, and hits.)
Hit! Did I not tell you an old woman could shoot better?

Thou standest straight. Thou speakest manlike. Thou art no old woman—thou art disguised—thou art one of the thieves.

[Makes a clutch at the gown, which comes in pieces and falls, showing Robin in his forester’s dress.

It is the very captain of the thieves!

We have him at last; we have him at advantage. Strike, sheriff! Strike, mercenary!

[They draw swords and attack him; he defends himself with his.


I have lodged my pretty Katekin in her bower.
How now? Clashing of swords—three upon one, and that one our Robin! Rogues, have you no manhood?

[Draws and defends ROBIN.

    Enter SIR RICHARD LEA (draws his sword).

Old as I am, I will not brook to see
Three upon two.

(MAID MARIAN in the armour of a Red-cross Knight follows, half unsheathing her sword and half seen.

Back! back! I charge thee, back! Is this a game for thee to play at? Away!

(She retires to the fringe of the copse.)

[He fights on Robin’s side.    The other three are beaten off and exeunt.


I am too late then with my quarterstaff?

Quick, friar, follow them!
See whether there be more of ’em in the wood.

    On the gallop, on the gallop, Robin, like a deer from a dog, or a colt from a gadfly, or a stump-tailed ox in May-time, or the cow that jumped over the moon.


Nay, nay, but softly, lest they spy thee, friar!

[To Sir Richard Lea who reels.

Take thou mine arm. Who art thou, gallant knight?

Robin, I am Sir Richard of the Lea.
Who be those three that I have fought withal?

Prince John, the sheriff, and a mercenary.

Prince John again! We are flying from this John.
The sheriff—I am grieved it was the sheriff;
For, Robin, he must be my son-in-law.
Thou art an outlaw, and couldst never pay
The mortgage on my land. Thou wilt not see
My Marian more. So—so—I have presumed
Beyond my strength.    Give me a draught of wine.

[MARIAN comes forward.

This is my son but late escaped from prison,
For whom I ran into my debt to the abbot,
Two thousand marks in gold. I have paid him half.
That other thousand—shall I ever pay it?
A draught of wine.

                          Our cellar is hard by.
Take him, good Little John, and give him wine.

[Exit Sir Richard leaning on Little John.
A brave old fellow, but he angers me.
[To MAID MARIAN who is following her father.
Young Walter, nay, I pray thee, stay a moment.

A moment for some matter of no moment!
Well—take and use your moment, while you may.

Thou art her brother, and her voice is thine,
Her face is thine, and if thou be as gentle
Give me some news of my sweet Marian.
Where is she?

       Thy sweet Marian? I believe
She came with me into the forest here.

She follow’d thee into the forest here?

Nay—that, my friend, I am sure I did not say.

Thou blowest hot and cold. Where is she then?

Is she not here with thee?

                     Would God she were!

If not with thee I know not where she is.
She may have lighted on your fairies here,
And now be skipping in their fairy-rings,
And capering hand in hand with Oberon.


Or learning withcraft of your woodland witch,
And how to charm and waste the hearts of men.

That is not brother-like.

    MARIAN (pointing to the sky).
Or there perchance
Up yonder with the man i’ the moon.

                                  No more!

Or haply fallen victim to the wolf.

Tut! be there wolves in Sherwood?

                                  The wolf, John!

Curse him! but thou art mocking me. Thou art
Her brother—I forgive thee.   Come, be thou
My brother too.   She loves me.

                                      Doth she so?

Do you doubt me when I say she loves me, man?

No, but my father will not lose his land;
Rather than that would wed her with the sheriff.

Thou hold’st with him?

                 Yes, in some sort I do.
He is old and almost mad to keep the land.

Thou hold’st with him?

                                 I tell thee, in some sort.

    ROBIN (angrily).
Sort! sort! what sort? what sort of man art thou
For land, not love? Thou wilt inherit the land,
And so wouldst sell thy sister to the sheriff,
O thou unworthy brother of my dear Marian!
And, now I do bethink me, thou wast by
And never drewest sword to help the old man
When he was fighting.

                                   There were three to three.

Thou shouldst have ta’en his place, and fought for him.

He did it so well there was no call for me.

My God!
That such a brother—she marry the sheriff!
Come now, I fain would have a bout with thee.
It is but pastime—nay, I will not harm thee.

Earl, I would fight with any man but thee.

Ay, ay, because I have a name for prowess.

It is not that.

That! I believe thou fell’st into the hands
Of these same Moors thro’ nature’s baseness, criedst
‘I yield’ almost before the thing was ask’d,
And thro’ thy lack of manhood hast betray’d
Thy father to the losing of his land.
Come, boy! ’tis but to see if thou canst fence.


        No, Sir Earl, I will not fight to-day.

To-morrow then?

                              Well, I will fight to-morrow.

Give me thy glove upon it.

    MARIAN (pulls off her glove and gives it to him).

                                                                 O God!
What sparkles in the moonlight on thy hand?

[Takes her hand.

In that great heat to wed her to the sheriff
Thou hast robb’d my girl of her betrothal ring.

No, no!

            What! do I not know mine own ring?

I keep it for her.

                                Nay, she swore it never
Should leave her finger. Give it me, by heaven,
Or I will force it from thee.

                                                      O Robin, Robin!

O my dear Marian,
Is it thou? is it thou? I fall before thee, clasp
Thy knees. I am ashamed. Thou shalt not marry
The sheriff, but abide with me who love thee.

[She moves from him, the moonlight falls upon her.

O, look! before the shadow of these dark oaks
Thou seems’t a saintly splendour out from heaven,
Clothed with the mystic silver of her moon.
Speak but one word, not only of forgiveness,
But to show thou art mortal.

                                   Mortal enough,
If love for thee be mortal. Lovers hold
True love immortal. Robin, tho’ I love thee,
We cannot come together in this world.
Not mortal! after death, if after death——

Life, life! I know not death.  Why do you vex me
With raven-croaks of death and after death?

And I and he are passing overseas:
He has a friend there will advance the moneys;
So now the forest lawns are all as bright
As ways to heaven, I pray thee give us guides
To lead us thro’ the windings of the wood.

Must it be so? If it were so, myself
Would guide you thro’ the forest to the sea.
But go not yet, stay with us, and when thy brother—

Robin, I ever held that saying false
That Love is blind, but thou hast proven it true.
Why—even your woodland squirrel sees the nut
Behind the shell, and thee however mask’d
I should have known. But thou—to dream that he
My brother, my dear Walter—now, perhaps,
Fetter’d and lash’d, a galley-slave, or closed
For ever in a Moorish tower, or wreckt
And dead beneath the midland ocean, he
As gentle as he’s brave—that such as he
Would wrest from me the precious ring I promised
Never to part with—No, not he, nor any!
I would have battled for it to the death.

[In her excitment she draws her sword.

See, thou hast wrong’d my brother and myself.

    ROBIN (kneeling).
See then, I kneel once more to be forgiven.

Enter SCARLET, MUCH, several of the FORESTERS, rushing on.

Look! look! he kneels! he has anger’d the foul witch,
Who melts a waxen image by the fire,
And drains the heart and marrow from a man.

Our Robin beaten, pleading for his life!
Seize on the knight! wrench his sword from him!

[They all rush on MARIAN.

    ROBIN (springing up and waving his hand).
Back all of you! this is Maid Marian
Flying from John—disguised.

                                     Maid Marian? she?

Captain, we saw thee cowering to a knight
And thought thou wert bewitch’d.

                                You dared to dream
That our great earl, the bravest English heart
Since Hereward the Wake, would cower to any
Of mortal build! Weak natures that impute
Themselves to their unlikes, and their own want
Of manhood to their leader! he would break,
Far as he might, the power of John—but you—
What rightful cause could grow to such a heat
As burns a wrong to ashes, if the followers
Of him who heads the movement held him craven?
Robin—I know not, can I trust myself
With your brave band? in some of these may lodge
That baseness which for fear or moneys, might
Betray me to the wild prince.

                                     No, love, no!
Not any of these, I swear!

                                   No, no, we swear.

The Foresters - Contents    |     Act II - Scene II - Another Glade in the Forest

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