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The Sheriff of Nottingham is the main antagonist in the legend of Robin Hood. He is generally depicted as an unjust tyrant, who mistreats the local people of Nottinghamshire, subjecting them to unaffordable taxes. Robin Hood fights against him, stealing from the rich, and the Sheriff, in order to give to the poor; a characteristic for which Robin Hood is best known.
It is not conclusively known exactly who this character is based on, but it would have been one of (or a composite of multiple of) the people who have occupied the post of the High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and the Royal Forests. If, as in many versions of the Robin Hood legend, the action of the story is placed during the absence of King Richard I of England during the Third Crusade, the character could be identified with the little-known William de Wendenal; however, the Sheriff more usually remains either anonymous or pseudonymous.
The holder of the office of Nottingham's Sheriff, it is his task to capture outlaws such as Robin Hood, either to ensure the safety of trade routes through Sherwood Forest or to keep them from poaching the King's deer. In some stories, the Sheriff of Nottingham is portrayed as having a lecherous desire for Robin Hood's lady Maid Marian. He is widely considered to be the principal villain of the Robin Hood stories, appearing frequently alongside such enemies of Robin Hood as Sir Guy of Gisbourne or Prince John (though rarely both).
The legends are generally set far from Nottingham; this fits the historical position of High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and the Royal Forests (from 1068 until 1568). In the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the Sheriff's influence outside the region of Nottingham has grown so great, he attempts to take control of the throne.
In some versions, the Sheriff is a cowardly schemer while his assistant, Sir Guy of Gisbourne, is a more competent and determined physical threat to Robin. In other versions, the Sheriff answers to Prince John.
- He was portrayed on Broadway in 1891 in The Sheriff of Nottingham by H. C. Barnabee.
In film and television
- In the 1938 film The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Errol Flynn in the title role, the Sheriff is played by Melville Cooper. He is nominally characterised as a coward and a secondary to Sir Guy of Gisbourne but is actually quite intelligent. For instance, he is the one who prudently advises Sir Guy to increase their caravan's security to ward off a possible ambush by Robin Hood, which Sir Guy disregards to his sorrow, and he is the mastermind of the archery tournament trap that successfully captures Robin Hood.
- In the 1950s ITV series The Adventures of Robin Hood, he is played by Alan Wheatley who portrays him as a competent and ruthless enemy who is not quite Robin's equal in combat. Wheatley was replaced late in the series with John Arnatt as the deputy Sheriff, a more treacherous, duplicitous villain who was more on par with Robin's fighting skills.
- In The Goon Show sketch, Ye Bandit of Sherwood Forest first broadcast on 28 December 1954, the Sheriff of Nottingham is played by Peter Sellers as Hercules Grytpype-Thynne. When the script was rewritten as Robin Hood and his Mirry Mon, recorded on 2 December 1956, the part was played by Valentine Dyall.
- In Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, in which he is the main antagonist, he is played by Alan Rickman. His given name is said to be George. As the Prince John character is completely absent from this adaptation, this Sheriff is more ambitious than most depictions. The Sheriff's agenda is apparently to supplant Richard the Lionheart by marrying into royalty, eventually becoming king, or at least ensuring his future descendants would assume the throne.
- He was played by Keith Allen in the BBC series Robin Hood, from 2006. Allen plays the Sheriff, named Vaisey, as a psychopath with a manipulative, sarcastic nature. In the show's third series, Vaisey is deposed by Prince John as a result of his failure to assassinate King Richard, whereupon he fakes his own death. He is temporarily replaced by his seeming killer, Guy of Gisborne, for one episode before Gisborne is outlawed; Gisborne's sister Isabella becomes Sheriff for several episodes before Vaisey returns, planning to regain Nottingham by force, in the series finale.
- In the Disney version of Robin Hood, the Sheriff is a large anthropomorphic gray wolf voiced by Alabama-born comedian Pat Buttram. He serves as Prince John's chief enforcer, collecting unlimited taxes from the people of Nottingham and hunting Robin Hood and Little John. This version is depicted as being far less smart than he realizes, claiming he can see through Robin Hood's disguises when he fails to see through two of them. In addition, he has vulture soldiers named Nutsy and Trigger that work for him. In the film's climax, he briefly battles Robin inside Prince John's burning tower and is left trapped behind some curtains, but the film's final scene makes it clear that he survived. He is last seen breaking rocks down in the Royal Rock Pile, having been sentenced to do so along with Prince John and Sir Hiss by King Richard while being overseen by Nutsy and Trigger. During story development, the animators considered experimenting with a different animal concept for the villain by making him a goat. However, they were over-ruled by the director who wanted to keep to traditional animal stereotypes and ordered the Sheriff be a wolf.
- In the 1975 BBC TV series The Legend of Robin Hood, the Sheriff is played by Paul Darrow. He is portrayed as a ruthless schemer, willing to murder the Archbishop of Grantham in order to guarantee silence. He is close friends with Prince John, usually sharing his plans with him, and is frequently seen playing chess with himself.
- In the anime series Robin Hood no Daibōken, the main antagonist Baron Alwyn (Voiced by Masashi Ebara) is based on the Sheriff of Nottingham in both character design and personality as well as actions. He taxes the people and his workers while keeping them working for him. Near the end of the series, due to Robin's constant thwarting and a near death experience by him, he seemingly starts to make a change for the better until coming across a plot that would allow him to take over the kingdom; thus changing him back to his greedy, inconsiderate self. Once again, however, his plan of action is stopped by Robin and his allies as well as King Richard.
- The Richard Kluger novel The Sheriff of Nottingham gives a positive portrayal of the real-life 13th-century sheriff Philip Mark as a good man doing a thankless task. (The same sheriff appeared as a ruthless despot in an episode of the Robin of Sherwood TV series.)
- In the animated series Young Robin Hood, The Sheriff of Nottingham (Voiced by A.J. Henderson) is a harsh man and good swordsman. He serves as one of the show's main antagonists.
- The Sheriff of Nottingham is spoofed as Mervyn, "The Sheriff of Rottingham" (Roger Rees), in Mel Brooks' 1993 movie Robin Hood: Men in Tights. This depiction of the Sheriff appears to suffer from a form of aphasia, often mixing up his words.
- The Sheriff was parodied in the children's television series Maid Marian and her Merry Men as a foolish schemer, played by Tony Robinson.
- The Sheriff is more sympathetically portrayed by Robert Shaw in the 1976 film Robin and Marian. He is also shown in this film to not only equal Robin physically, but also be superior to him, as he dominates Robin in a one-on-one sword fight towards the end of the movie, almost killing Robin.
- In Robin of Sherwood, the Sheriff is portrayed as a cynical opportunist given to violent outbursts, played by Nickolas Grace. His name, Robert de Rainault, comes from Evelyn Charles Vivian's retelling of the legend. He also bears the dubious honour of being the first sheriff to successfully kill Robin. Grace's portrayal of a moody and obsessive individual, with a sardonic sense of black humour, was a notable influence on future interpretations of the role.
- A cowardly, inept and lecherous Sheriff of Nottingham who desires Cate Blanchett's Lady Marion is played by actor Matthew Macfadyen in the 2010 Ridley Scott film Robin Hood. The original spec script from which the film developed, "Nottingham", the Sheriff, based on Robert of Thornham, is the protagonist in the story, working to solve a string of murders for which an antihero Robin Hood has been falsely accused.
- In the Star Trek The Next Generation episode "Qpid", Q takes on the role of the Sheriff of Nottingham.
- In the 2001 video game Stronghold Crusader, the Sheriff of Nottingham appears in it as an AI character. He is portrayed as a cruel lord who will use every dirty trick in the book to increase his power.
- The Sheriff of Nottingham is the main villain in Beyond Sherwood Forest where he is named Malcolm and portrayed by Julian Sands. In this film as part of his plan to find Robin Hood, Malcolm uses a cursed girl named Alina (portrayed by Katharine Isabelle) who can turn into a dragon-like creature. By the end of the film, Alina's creature form sacrifices her life so that Robin Hood can slay Malcolm.
- In 2013, Wil Traval portrayed the Sheriff and his counterpart Keith in Lacey, an episode of the second season of Once Upon a Time.
- Ben Miller played the Sheriff in "Robot of Sherwood", the third episode of the eighth series of Doctor Who. In this portrayal, he is killed when Robin Hood knocks him into a vat of liquid gold.
- Ben Mendelsohn portrayed the Sheriff in the 2018 film Robin Hood. After Mendelsohn's Sheriff is hanged by Robin during the film's climax, he is succeeded by Will Scarlet, played by Jamie Dornan.
- The Sheriff of Nottingham appears as an antagonist in a series of Young adult fantasy books “Sisters Grimm”, where he is depicted as a law enforcer in Ferryport Landing, still harboring a deep hatred for Robin Hood, his sworn enemy.
In other popular culture
- The Sheriff is portrayed as the main antagonist in the board game Sheriff of Nottingham by Arcane Wonders where players take turns in his role while the other players try to smuggle goods past his notice.
- Pictorial History of the American Theatre:1860-1985 p.40 c.1985(this version updated to 1985) by Daniel Blum;Crown Publishers
- Thomas, Frank, Johnston, Ollie (1986). The illusion of life: Disney animation. Disney Book Group. p. 344.
- "Ethan Reiff -- Interviews in Sherwood". boldoutlaw.com.
- Kroll, Justin (13 December 2016). "'Rogue One's' Ben Mendelsohn to Play Sheriff of Nottingham in 'Robin Hood: Origins' (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved 22 December 2016.