There’s no denying that viewers of BBC’s Robin Hood were and remain captivated by the relationship between Guy of Gisborne and Lady Marian. Many disagree about how to characterize the relationship- love triangle, dysfunctional, borderline abusive, unrequited, coerced. Guy has been described as a psychotic stalker whose relationship with Marian is all in his head, and others think Marian begins to develop some real feelings for Guy as the story plays out -though the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
One thing is certain, the Guy/Marian push and pull was no accident. By casting Richard Armitage in the role of Guy, Robin Hood’s creators knew they had an actor with the looks and ability to master the challenge of rising above the stereotypical sadistic henchman role to create some real believable sexual tension and angst between the characters to keep the older audience coming back for more – and he delivered for us. Though, he may have failed for himself, since it was his intent, at least in Season 1, to make us squirm every time he got near Marian with with his leering glances. Even if he had just finished cutting out a villager’s tongue, running through with his sword a dissenter or torturing his loyal friend,for me, those glances were sometimes leering, but more often penetrating, searching, yearning.
As one screenwriter said in an on-line feminist screenwriting magazine that generally panned the show, “they had me at Armitage and for the obvious reasons.” (Follow the links in the article for three more fun takes on Robin Hood, including “The Train Wreck That Was Season 2).
This post and the one that follows, is devoted to my theory of the Marian/Guy relationship, and it’s really, really long, so it will come in parts. I apologize in advance for the lack of links, using stills with dialogue instead of video or animation, and sketchy and inconsistent references to take you to the exact spot in the episode to which I am referring. Those may come later with editing or in an author’s comment. Frankly, if I wait to get all that straight, this will never get published.
I confess initially that much of what I say did not come to me with my first viewing. But the more times I watched, listened and paid close attention (they talk very fast in this show and the Armitage whisper sometimes requires repeated efforts to get what he’s mumbling) the more I began to feel Guy’s pain for his unrequited love of Marian. No matter what else he was or wasn’t, no matter what terrible and unforgiving choices he made, I came to realize that for as long as Guy could keep the hope alive, he desperately wanted mutual, honest love from Marian. He tried to overcome his nature, ambition and his sinister side in order to be deserving of the reward he sought, but he always fell short of the mark.
Ultimately, I concluded that though Guy pursued her relentlessly in Season 1, it was Marian who was the seducer in Season 2. Marian became equally deceitful and manipulative – maybe even more than he, because she traded on Guy’s love for other reasons, while Guy strove for true love. I concede that Marian’s motives were good- to defend King and country, but her reasons are irrelevant for these purposes, except insofar as they contributed to her death.
SEASON ONE – THE COURTSHIP BEGINS – THE FIRST KISS
In the middle of season one at episode 6, Guy starts to woo Marian in earnest, with gifts and attention. He frequently invades her space, leaning over her, touching her, circling her. In a scene I find especially moving, he gives her a brooch. When he offers the gift, she takes it, looks at it, and refuses it, saying that he brings too many gifts. He tells her, ( see text in photo, left )
When Marian again replies that she doesn’t needs gifts, he mumbles, somewhat disdainfully, “you need a husband.” After some more discussion, he starts to walk out, turns around to walk towards her and presses the brooch into her hand. “I will keep giving,” he stubbornly tells her.
She keeps the brooch. His almost boyish memory of the lesson Mother taught – this man who has no one, humanizes him.
On the same day, having been chastised by her father for her Night Watchman activities, as well as suffering Guy’s advances, Marian decides she has to get away, and with few options, she decides to become a novice in the Abbey of the recently arrived “Abbess of Rochford” (who turns out to be an impostor).
Gisborne, angry and surprised, since he just made clear to her his intention to “keep giving,” demands to know why she never mentioned this desire before. “Should I have?” Marian states, and he responds with a sharp, “Yah.” He may be clueless that he had any part in her wish to escape or he may have put two and two together and seen it as the rejection it was. Nevertheless, he opens up to her. He grabs her arm forcefully to prevent her from walking away.”I thought we were friends, he says. I thought in time you would consider …” “What?” she replies sharply. “I thought in time you would consider marriage –” and she cuts him off before he has a chance to say what he means – that maybe she might consider marrying him. “Perhaps I am not the marrying kind.”
Marian knows from the beginning what’s on Guy’s mind. She understood it from earlier in the day. She recognizes that he’s having a difficult time actually telling her what he wants. Even though she doesn’t want him, she makes him say it, or try to say it. Intentionally, she’s causing him squirm, taking advantage of his social awkwardness, his insecurity, his lack of confidence.
At the end of the episode, as soon as Guy learns the Abbess is a fraud and Marian isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, he rushes over to her house (with yet another gift) to tell her about the abbess and apologize for his earlier conduct. The last thing he says to her is, ” there are …people who would like to be kind to you, if you would let them.”
And he continues to try.
Episode 7 is devoted almost entirely to Guy and Marian. Guy gives Marian a necklace that he confiscates from a young bride, the girl’s one valuable heirloom. Marian returns the necklace through Robin at the same time that she disclosed to him Guy’s secret plan, which is the second plot line in the episode. Guy finds the necklace again on the bride, viciously rips it off her neck and gives it away. He is distraught, because he realizes that it was Marian who betrayed him, and not his loyal servant whom he had executed. And, once again she rejected his gift.
Guy is unable to recognize that Marian would not want a gift stolen from someone else, let alone a bride who has next to nothing.
Guy tells the Sheriff that it wasn’t his loyal servant who betrayed Guy – it was Marian, who by the way, allowed the servant to be executed because she didn’t own up to Guy. Vaisey, the misogynist who refers to women as lepers, plays to Guy’s weaknesses, insecurities and ego, and asks him
“Marian? Well well. You’re hurt. How does the old knife feel? Twisting in your back? All the time you thought she was smiling at you she was laughing at you – despising you- humiliating you. What do you want to do to her now? Hmm? GO- and ENJOY IT.
I think Vaisey is suggesting- no taunting – Gisborne to recover his self respect by taking Marian forcefully. He’s giving Guy license to rape her, foreshadowing Guy’s later decision to take Marian by force after they return from the Holy Land. Vaisey, the most perceptive and intelligent character in this series, knows that Gisborne needs to redeem himself in Vaisey’s eyes. The debasement of Marian would just be another twisted, amusing pleasure for the Sheriff, a prelude to her arrest and death. Vaisey is a wordsmith. He fires orders, insults, musings, with the precise aim of a sniper and the rapidity of a machine gun. He says nothing by accident. His choice of words -“what do you want to DO to her now? Go and ENJOY it,” is fraught with meaning.
In a series aimed at teenagers, this is an effective way to spice up the content for the mature audience. And let’s be clear, Richard Armitage is there for the more mature viewers.
Guy understands Vaisey. He runs out and rushes to Marian’s house, without any guards, to arrest her. (Unlike in Season 2 when Guy arrives with guards to torch Marian and Edward’s home and arrest them). While Guy, both fire and ice, sits with Edward to wait for Marian’s return he is nibbling some snack Edward provided. “Can I get you anything else, Edward asks? “Maybe some salt,” Guy mumbles. We know- this is salt for his wounds. Marian arrives and Guy, eyes now on fire, sneer in place, demands to see the necklace, then slaps Edward hard when the father tries to protect Marian – thus letting us know that Edward is incapable of preventing Guy from harming Marian – from doing “what he wants to do to her.” Guy follows Marian to her bed chamber and accuses her of using him to get information for his enemy. He tells her she is already dead. Guy is wrecked. There’s no fire, no anger left in him. He seems spent, though probably not for the reason he might have expected when he set out from the castle.
He sits at the head of Marian’s bed, dejected, quiet, knowing the young woman he loves is on the way to the scaffold. Robin, waiting outside Marian’s window, slips Marian the recovered necklace and, when Guy sees it, he is almost weeping. He’s in disbelief, choking up when he tries to speak. “I was wrong.” He tells Marian that she is still in danger because he already told the Sheriff of her betrayal. Guy convinces Marian that she will die unless she marries him and allows him to protect both her and her father. This time he has no trouble or hesitation getting the words out.
She agrees to marry him when the King returns to England.
It’s arguable whether Guy was truthful when he claimed that the Sheriff would not be convinced of Marian’s loyalty; possibly he was angling to coerce Marian into marriage. I think it’s the former. At first, Richard Armitage uses only his eyes to change his expressions from wonder to relief to realization, only at at the end of the sequence does he lift his head to face Marian. There’s no deception, no sneer, no furrowed brow, no open nostrils.
It’s hard to figure out how Guy can truly believe Marian is innocent. He knows that at one point she gave the necklace to Robin Hood;he saw it for himself on the bride, and he knows that he, himself, gave it away. Either he wants to believe it, and so does, or he no longer cares because Marian is within his grasp. He’s been in denial before, in Episode 5, Turk’s Flu, when he seems to ignore the coincidence of Marian bleeding when he touches her arm at the spot where earlier he’d stabbed the Night Watchman.
In the next episode, when Marian spends a night at the castle, Guy comes to her room and professes his need for her.
Marian, since we came to our understanding, you have been constantly in my thoughts.
Without you, I am not quite …whole. . . . Please don’t send me away. We should be spending time together.
I want to get to know you.
Marian, be with me.”
“I can’t. Not now Guy.”
Obviously, since Robin Hood is once again lurking behind the door listening in (and they call Guy a stalker), now is not a good time for Marian to “Be” with Guy. The phrases “Be with me” and “Know you,” are euphemisms for having sex. Guy approaches her. He takes her hand, she gives it. He lifts her up off the bed she’s sitting on, draws her near to him. He’s murmuring – (This is a portrayal by Richard Armitage that hasn’t been seen before 2006 nor after). Guy embraces her, he leans in, he tries to initiate. It’s teasing, I think, that she says, “not now,” instead of “not yet,” if it’s her virginity she’s protecting. Is Marian beginning to feel some desire for Guy? Would she recognize it? What if Robin were not peeping in? Gisborne’s words must be honest, I think, because this sort of thing doesn’t come easily for him. Before, he’s been awkward and hesitant at really expressing love.
Episode 12, The Return of The King, opens with the Sheriff and Guy. The Sheriff gives Guy one of his caged birds to hold, and makes an analogy to Marian,”speaking of beautiful caged birds,” he asks Guy when he expects to marry. Guy, tenderly and uncomfortably cradling the tiny delicate bird in his powerful, large gloved hands, tells Vaisey they will marry when the King returns. Vaisey discloses that he has some news on that front. Guy is startled, and the bird flies off to freedom, foreshadowing his impending loss of Marian to the forest. Guy then tells Marian that the King is returning.
In Episode 13, the finale, the Sheriff tells Guy that it’s actually an impostor king who is coming. Guy is visibly upset, because his marriage will be based on a lie. He goes to Marian’s house because, as he explains to her father, he, Guy,has something to tell Marian. I believe he sets off to Marian’s to let her know that the King is not coming. Guy wants his marriage to Marian to be based on truth; he want to keep the pledge. If marriage to her is to wash away his sins, as he later explains – it must be holy and clean. He is a hare’s breadth from doing the honorable thing. But when Edward tells him, falsely, that Marian may be ill because she is excited about the wedding- he thinks again, and says nothing. Guy’s true self defeats him. His selfishness, dishonesty, his darkness makes him willing to trick Marian for his own self interest.
Later in the episode, Marian confronts Guy to ask him point blank whether he tried to kill the King in the Holy Land. He’s not on sure footing for a moment, his eyes are blinking, he gives his head half a shake, and he turns his back on her as she makes clear that she could not marry him if the rumors were true. He never answers the question. He circles her, almost menacingly, he closes in. Marian seems to shrink a bit. Ultimately, he professes his love for her again, and she says, “I am not sure.” ” You must be sure, he says.” He leans in to kiss her. She allows it.
And she audibly gags.
Armitage shows us the conflict within Gisborne, just slightly over-played. it’s a slippery slope for Guy, to ensure that Marian is marrying him for decent reasons. He needs her to believe that he is innocent. He needs her to be sure that marrying him right. He says as much and demands that she not leave until she reassures him. He knows though, this is the second lie upon which his marriage will be based. But Marian is in denial as well, as she starts to struggle to find the good in Guy and come to terms with her decision – as we see later.
For Guy, it was a sort of triumph. He got his first kiss. Maybe he didn’t notice her gagging.
To Be Continued – The Wedding, The Seduction, Three More Kissings and a Funeral.