Guy of Gisborne – Myth, Movies, Man
– by Tealady
The brooding character of Guy of Gisborne has stalked Tiger Aspect’s retelling of the Robin Hood legend leaving considerable discussion in his wake. Richard Armitage’s powerful portrayal of the Sheriff’s right hand (hench) man has given us a conflicted and remarkably sympathetic black knight and there has been considerable speculation over where this particular Guy might be headed, even in light of the confronting ending to Season Two. But Gisborne began as a much more one-dimensional character, back in the days when Robin Hood flourished in the ballads of Old England.
There is some evidence to suggest Guy of Gisborne originally had his own independent literary tradition but that has long since been absorbed into the Robin Hood myth. In the Child Ballads, Guy of Gisborne appears in the ballad Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne which may date back to the 1400’s, and he is clad not in black leather but in a horse-hide:
“There were they ware of a wight yemàn,
His body lean’d to a tree.
A sword and a dagger he wore by his side,
Of manye a man the bane;
And he was clad in his capull-hyde
Topp and tayll and mayne.”
In the ballad, Robin and Guy meet in the forest and engage in an archery contest. Guy is seeking Robin to kill the outlaw while Robin has dreamed of Gisborne and knows he is in danger. When true identities are revealed, the men engage in combat and Guy is killed and beheaded. Robin mutilates the face to disguise the corpse’s identity and dons Gisborne’s horse-hide as a disguise.
Since the Robin Hood legend has been popularized in film and television, the character of Guy of Gisborne has become more ambiguous. The storyline of Douglas Fairbanks’ version Robin Hood (1922) already contained the seeds of attraction between Gisborne (Paul Dickey) and Marian, although Gisborne goes on crusade with Robin. The Errol Flynn film The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) features Basil Rathbone’s famous portrayal of Sir Guy who became elevated to the knighthood and took on an aristocratic heritage, eclipsing the Sheriff of Nottingham as the significant enemy.
Rathbone’s Gisborne was highly influential and can be detected in the character of Sir Hiss in the Disney version of the legend Robin Hood (1973), who appears to be modeled on the figure of Guy of Gisborne.
The 60s saw Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964), a humorous musical, with Frank Sinatra as ‘Robbo’ and Peter Falk as Guy Gisborne, a small time racketeer who with his boss the Sheriff take on Big Jim, a rival boss in the neighbourhood.
In the television series Robin of Sherwood (1984-1986), Gisborne is played by Michael Addie, a far more sinister character with “murderous tendencies”. In an unresolved twist, it appears that Gisborne and Robin/Robert of Huntingdon might in fact be half-brothers.
In the Kevin Costner film Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves (1991), Gisborne (Michael Winscott) is cousin to the Sheriff, although blood ties are not enough to save Gisborne, and he is killed by his cousin for incompetence.
Finally we come back to the present Guy of Gisborne, a landless knight who has sold his soul to the Sheriff of Nottingham in return for money, power and ulitmately, security. In his antagonism towards Robin he is walking the well-trodden steps of legend, in his love for Marian he echoes the earliest film tradition, but in his dark magnetism, this Guy is a one of a kind.