The Foresters


Scene I - The Crowning of Marian.

Alfred Tennyson

MARIAN and KATE (in Forester’s green).

What makes you seem so cold to Robin, lady?

What makes thee think I seem so cold to Robin?

You never whisper close as lovers do,
Nor care to leap into each other’s arms.

There is a fence I cannot overleap,
My father’s will.

Then you will wed the sheriff?

When heaven falls, I may light on such a lark!
But who art thou to catechize me—thou
That hast not made it up with Little John?

I wait till Little John makes up to me.

Why, my good Robin fancied me a man,
And drew his sword upon me, and Little John
Fancied he saw thee clasp and kiss a man.

Well, if he fancied that I fancy a man
Other than him, he is not the man for me.

And that would quite unman him, heart and soul,
For both are thine.

(Looking up.)
                                        But listen—overhead—
Fluting, and piping, and luting, ‘Love, love, love’—
Those sweet tree-Cupids half-way up in heaven,
The birds—would I were one of ’em! O good Kate—
If my man-Robin were but a bird-Robin,
How happily would we lilt among the leaves,
‘Love, love, love, love’—what merry madness—listen!
And let them warm thy heart to Little John.
Look where he comes!

                                  I will not meet him yet,
I’ll watch him from behind the trees, but call
Kate when you will, for I am close at hand.

KATE stands aside and enter ROBIN, and after him at a little distance LITTLE JOHN, MUCH the miller’s son, and SCARLET with an oaken chaplet, and other FORESTERS.

My lord—Robin—I crave pardon—you always seem to me my lord—I Little John, he Much the miller’s son, and he Scarlet, honouring all womankind, and more especially my lady Marian, do here, in the name of all our woodmen, present her with this oaken chaplet as queen of the wood, I Little John, he, young Scarlet, and he, old Much, and all the rest of us.

And I, old Much, say as much, for being every inch a man I honour every inch of a woman.

Friend Scarlet, art thou less a man than Much? Why art thou mute? Dost thou not honour woman?

Robin, I do, but I have a bad wife.

Then let her pass as an exception, Scarlet.

So I would, Robin, if any man would accept her.

    MARIAN (puts on the chaplet).
Had I a bulrush now in this right hand
For sceptre, I were like a queen indeed.
Comrades, I thank you for your loyalty,
And take and wear this symbol of your love;
And, were my kindly father sound again,
Could live as happy as the larks in heaven,
And join your feasts and all your forest games
As far as maiden might. Farewell, good fellows!

[Exeunt several foresters, the others withdraw to the back.

Sit here by me, where the most beaten track
Runs thro’ the forest, hundreds of huge oaks,
Gnarl’d—older than the thrones of Europe—look,
What breadth, height, strength—torrents of eddying bark!
Some hollow-hearted from exceeding age—
That never be thy lot or mine!—and some
Pillaring a leaf-sky on their monstrous boles,
Sound at the core as we are. Fifty leagues
Of woodland hear and know my horn, that scares
The baron at the torture of his churls,
The pillage of his vassals.
                                      O maiden-wife,
The oppression of our people moves me so
That, when I think of it hotly, Love himself
Seems but a ghost, but when thou feel’st with me
The ghost returns to Marian, clothes itself
In maiden flesh and blood, and looks at once
Maid Marian, and that maiden freedom which
Would never brook the tyrant. Live thou maiden!
Thou art more my wife so feeling, than if my wife
And siding with these proud priests, and these barons,
Devils, that make this blessed England hell.


Nay, no earl am I. I am English yeoman.

Then I am yeo-woman.  O the clumsy word!

Take thou this light kiss for thy clumsy word.
Kiss me again.

Robin, I will not kiss thee,
For that belongs to marriage; but I hold thee
The husband of my heart, the noblest light
That ever flash’d across my life, and I
Embrace thee with the kisses of the soul.

I thank thee.

                      Scarlet told me—is it true?—
That John last week return’d to Nottingham,
And all the foolish world is pressing thither.

Sit here, my queen, and judge the world with me.
Doubtless, like judges of another bench,
However wise, we must at times have wrought
Some great injustice, yet, far as we knew,
We never robb’d one friend of the true King.
We robb’d the traitors that are leagued with John;
We robb’d the lawyer who went against the law;
We spared the craftsman, chapman, all that live
By their own hands, the labourer, the poor priest;
We spoil’d the prior, friar, abbot, monk,
For playing upside down with Holy Writ.
‘Sell all thou hast and give it to the poor;’
Take all they have and give it to thyself!
Then after we have eased them of their coins
It is our forest custom they should revel
Along with Robin.

                        And if a woman pass——

Dear, in these days of Norman license, when
Our English maidens are their prey, if ever
A Norman damsel fell into our hands,
In this dark wood when all was in our power
We never wrong’d a woman.

                                       Noble Robin.

    LITTLE JOHN (coming forward).
Here come three beggars.

Enter the three BEGGARS.


Eh! we be beggars, we come to ask o’ you. We ha’ nothing.

Rags, nothing but our rags.

I have but one penny in pouch, and so you would make it two I should be grateful.

Beggars, you are sturdy rogues that should be set to work. You are those that tramp the country, filch the linen from the hawthorn, poison the house-dog, and scare lonely maidens at the farmstead. Search them, Little John.

These two have forty gold marks between them, Robin.

Cast them into our treasury, the beggars’ mites. Part shall go to the almshouses at Nottingham, part to the shrine of our Lady. Search this other.

He hath, as he said, but one penny.

Leave it with him and add a gold mark thereto. He hath spoken truth in a world of lies.

I thank you, my lord.

A fine, a fine! he hath called plain Robin a lord. How much for a beggar?

Take his penny and leave him his gold mark.

Sit there, knaves, till the captain call for you.

[They pass behind the trunk of an oak on the right.

Art thou not hard upon them, my good Robin?

They might be harder upon thee, if met in a black lane at midnight: the throat might gape before the tongue could cry who?

Here comes a citizen, and I think his wife.


That business which we have in Nottingham——


O dear wife, we have fallen into the hands
Of Robin Hood.

And Robin Hood hath sworn—
Shame on thee, Little John, thou hast forgotten—
That by the blessed Mother no man, so
His own true wife came with him, should be stay’d
From passing onward. Fare you well, fair lady!

[Bowing to her.

And may your business thrive in Nottingham!

I thank you, noble sir, the very blossom
Of bandits.  Courtesy to him, wife, and thank him.

I thank you, noble sir, and will pray for you
That you may thrive, but in some kindlier trade.

Away, away, wife, wilt thou anger him?

[Exeunt Citizen and his Wife.

Here come three friars.

Marian, thou and thy woman

(looking round),
    Why, where is Kate?

    MARIAN (calling).


Thou and thy woman are a match for three friars. Take thou my bow and arrow, and compel them to pay toll.


Enter three FRIARS.

    FIRST FRIAR (advancing).
Behold a pretty Dian of the wood,
Prettier than that same widow which you wot of.
Ha, brother! Toll, my dear? the toll of love.

    MARIAN (drawing bow).
Back! how much money hast thou in thy purse?

Thou art playing with us. How should poor friars have money?

How much? how much? Speak, or the arrow flies.

How much? well, now I bethink me, I have one mark in gold which a pious son of the Church gave me this morning on my setting forth.

    MARIAN (bending bow at the second).
    And thou?

Well, as he said, one mark in gold.

    MARIAN (bending bow at the third).
And thou?

One mark in gold.

Search them, Kate, and see if they have spoken truth.

They are all marked men. They have all told but a tenth of the truth: they have each ten marks in gold.

Leave them each what they say is theirs, and take the twenty-seven marks to the captain’s treasury. Sit there till you be called for.

We have fallen into the hands of Robin Hood.

[MARIAN and KATE return to Robin.

[The Friars pass behind an oak on the left.

Honour to thee, brave Marian, and thy Kate!
I know them arrant knaves in Nottingham.
One half of this shall go to those they have wrong’d,
One half shall pass into our treasury.
Where lies that cask of wine whereof we plunder’d
The Norman prelate?

    In that oak, where twelve
Can stand upright, nor touch each other.

Roll it in here. These friars, thieves, and liars,
Shall drink the health of our new woodland queen.
And they shall pledge thee, Marian, loud enough
To fright the wild swan passing overhead,
The mouldwarp underfoot.

                          They pledge me, Robin?
The silent blessing of one honest man
Is heard in heaven—the wassail yells of thief
And rogue and liar echo down in hell,
And wake the devil, and I may sicken by ’em.
Well, well, be it so, thou strongest thief of all,
For thou hast stolen my will, and made it thine.


I marvel is it sack or Malvoisie?

Do me the service to tap it, and thou wilt know.

I would tap myself in thy service, Robin.

And thou wouldst run more wine than blood.

And both at thy service, Robin.

I believe thee, thou art a good fellow, though a friar.

[They pour the wine into cups.

Fill to the brim. Our Robin, King o’ the woods,
Wherever the horn sound, and the buck bound,
Robin, the people’s friend, the King o’ the woods!

[They drink.

To the brim and over till the green earth drink
Her health along with us in this rich draught,
And answer it in flowers! The Queen o’ the woods,
Wherever the buck bound, and the horn sound,
Maid Marian, Queen o’ the woods!

[They drink.
Here, you three rogues,
[They come out.
You caught a lonely woodman of our band,
And bruised him almost to the death, and took
His moneys.

Captain, nay, it was n’t me.

You ought to dangle up there among the crows.
Drink to the health of our new Queen o’ the woods,
Or else be bound and beaten.

                                    Sir, sir—well,
We drink the health of thy new Queen o’ the woods.

Louder! louder! Maid Marian, Queen o’ the woods!

    BEGGARS (shouting).
Maid Marian, Queen o’ the woods! Queen o’ the woods!

    FIRST and SECOND BEGGARS (aside).
The black fiend grip her!

[They drink.

    ROBIN (to the FRIARS).
                       And you three holy men,

[They come out.
You worshippers of the Virgin, one of you
Shamed a too trustful widow whom you heard
In her confession; and another—worse!—
An innocent maid. Drink to the Queen o’ the woods,
Or else be bound and beaten.

                        Robin Hood,
These be the lies the people tell of us,
Because we seek to curb their viciousness.
However—to this maid, this Queen o’ the woods!

Louder, louder, ye knaves! Maid Marian!
Queen o’ the woods!

    FRIARS (shouting).
                            Maid Marian, Queen o’ the woods!

    FIRST FRIAR (aside).

    SECOND FRIAR (aside).

    THIRD FRIAR (aside).
                               Hell take her!

[They drink.

Robin, will you not hear one of these beggars’ catches? They can do it. I have heard ’em in the market at Mansfield.

No, my lord, hear ours—Robin—I crave pardon, I always think of you as my lord, but I may still say my lady; and, my lady, Kate and I have fallen out again, and I pray you to come between us again, for, my lady, we have made a song in your honour, so your ladyship care to listen.

Sing, and by Saint Mary these beggars and these friars shall join you. Play the air, Little John.

Air and word, my lady, are maid and man. Join them and they are a true marriage; and so, I pray you, my lady, come between me and my Kate, and make us one again. Scarlet, begin.

[Playing the air on his viol.

By all the deer that spring
Thro’ wood and lawn and ling,
    When all the leaves are green;
By arrow and gray goosewing,
When horn and echo ring,
We care so much for a King;
    We care not much for a Queen—
        For a Queen, for a Queen o’ the woods.

    Do you call that in my honour?

Bitters before dinner, my lady, to give you a relish. The first part—made before you came among us—they put it upon me because I have a bad wife. I love you all the same. Proceed.

[All the rest sing.

By all the leaves of spring,
And all the birds that sing
    When all the leaves are green;
By arrow and by bowstring,
We care so much for a King
    That we would die for a Queen—
        For a Queen, for a Queen o’ the woods.


Black news, black news from Nottingham! I grieve
I am the raven who croaks it. My lord John,
In wrath because you drove him from the forest,
Is coming with a swarm of mercenaries
To break our band and scatter us to the winds.

O Robin, Robin! See that men be set
Along the glades and passes of the wood
To warn us of his coming! then each man
That owns a wife or daughter, let him bury her
Even in the bowels of the earth to scape
The glance of John——

                You hear your Queen, obey!

The Foresters - Contents    |     Act IV - Scene I - The Conclusion.

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