Robin et Marion

The association between Robin Hood and Maid Marian, is believed by most scholars, to have arisen through the many rustic spring and summer festivals. One remarkably early link between these two names is in the French pastourelle play, Le Jeu de Robin et Marion, created at the Court of Naples for Charles of Anjou about 1283 by Adam de la Halle (1235?-1288?) one of the last French trouveres.

The trouveres were troubadours from northern France, between the 11th to the 14th century, whose beautiful poetry and songs celebrating love or ‘fine amour’ were composed in the northern dialects of France. The first trouveres appeared in the court of Marie de Champagne, sister of Richard the Lionheart, in about 1170. Some 2130 poems and songs have survived by these entertainers, including work by King Richard’s faithful legendry trouvere, Blondel de Nesle (c.1155-1202).

De la Halle, Adam of the Market, Adam the Uneven One, or Hunchback of Arras as he was also known, was a trouvere poet and musician from Arras, in the centre of the Artois region of France. He is credited with over sixty musical combinations and is often described as the innovator of the earliest French secular theatre. His combination of music and drama led to the beginning of Opera Comique.

The exact date of his birth is not known but it is considered to have been sometime between 1235-1240. Adam is believed to have been the son of a ‘Master Henry the Uneven One who is employed in Arras’. He studied grammar, theology and music at the Cistercian Abbey of Vaucelles near Cambric and went on to the Notre Dame School in Paris. He later married Marie who is often the subject of many of his chansons.

As a member of the Brotherhood of Jugglers and the Middle Class men of Arras, Adam de la Halle moved in courtly circles, and in 1271 he became one of the train of Robert II Count of Artois (1250-1302). His use of the name Robin, may be a droll reference to his patron.

The date of de la Halle’s death is controversial, but it is generally agreed to have been in Naples, about 1288.

Robin et Marion survives in various manuscript sources and is probably the first play with music, on a secular subject by a single composer. The play, based on a popular widespread refrain, Robins m’aime, Robins m’a: Robins m’a demandee : si m’ara , became popular all over Europe. A performance was recorded in a letter of remission for the first time at Angers in the Loire Valley in 1392:

Jehan le Begue and five or six other students, his companions, went round the town of Angers, masked, to perform a play called ‘Of Robin and Marion’ as in customarily done each year during the Whitsuntide fair by local people, whether students, burghers’ sons or other groups.

It must be stressed that Robin, the country boy- the lover of Marian the shepherdess- is not an outlaw. But this theatrical adaption of the pastourrelle, the story of Marion’s near seduction by a knight had a very large influence on the English May Games. The English poet, John Gower (c.1330– 1408) in his Speculum Mediantis (Mirroir de l’Omme), a work of 30,000 lines written between 1376-78 describes Robin and Marion’s role in the village festivals and goes on to condemn monks that revel and follow the rule of Robin, rather than Saint Augustine.

De la Halle’s play was originally accompanied by lively dancing, singing and folk music, including instruments such as cornets, bagpipes and a drum. His compositions can still be seen today.

Below are translated excerpts from the first scene of his play :

Robin loves me, Robin is mine,
Robin wants me, he shall have me.
Robin has bought for me a fine scarlet dress, a petticoat and belt,
A leur i va !
Robin loves me, Robin is mine,
Robin wants me, he shall have me.

I am returning from tournament
And I find Marion alone
The girl with the gorgeous body.

Oh! Robin, if you love me,
Save me, for love’s sake!

God give you good day,
Shepherdess !

God keep you, sir!
Robin’s not like his sort,
He’s much more merry:
He stirs up our whole town
When he plays his bagpipes.

Now tell me, sweet shepherdess,
Could you love a nobleman ?

Back off, fine sir.
I don't know any nobleman;
Of all the men in the world,
I only love Robin.
It’s his custom to seek me out here
Every day, evening and morning;
To bring me some of his cheese.
(I’ve got some of it left in my bodice
As well as a big hunk of bread)
Which he brought me at dinner time.

Well now, tell me pretty shepherdess,
How would you like to come with me
On this lovely palfrey
And play games
Down by that thicket
In the valley ?

Oh dear! Sir, back off your horse
It nearly kicked me,
Robin’s horse doesn’t lash out
When I walk behind the plough.

Shepherdess, be my love
Please grant my request.

Sir, keep away from me:
It’s not seemly for you to be here.
I was very nearly kicked by your horse
What is your name?


You are wasting your time, Sir
I shall never love anyone except Robin.

© Clement of the Glen 2006-2007

1 comment:

Clement of the Glen said...

Robin et Marion
Adam de la Halle
Robin Hood
Maid Marian