As one of the costliest sound films to be made in full Technicolor glory, Warner Brother’s release of The Adventures of Robin Hood in 1938 has been lauded as one of the best filmic portrayals of the historical heroic outlaw, securing a legacy that continues even today. Besides thrusting industry underdogs Errol Flynn (playing Robin Hood) and Olivia de Hallivand (playing Maid Marian) into national stardom, Robin Hood did much to reassure the strength of the WB-Korngold partnership as much as it reiterated the latter’s dominance in the field of film music. As Benjamin Winters notes, however, this musical venture very nearly did not come to pass. Korngold, himself already working on several projects including a new opera, displayed less faith with the newfangled project, claiming in a letter to Wallin dated February 11, 1938 that:
“Robin Hood is no picture for me. I have no relation to it and therefore, cannot produce any music for it. I am a musician of the heart, of passions and psychology; I am not a musical illustrator for a ninety-percent action picture.”
Swayed by Hitler’s increasing involvement in Viennese politics and a personal visitation by Wallis the next morning, Korngold eventually agreed to the project. To what extent Korngold felt as if his musical creativity was being aped for “action picture” purposes is lost to history, although his musical conviction to “the heart ... passions and psychology” reveals, to a large degree, the extent to which Wagnerian principles of musical association had come to influence models of film music production under the Classic Hollywood Studio system from the late 1920s onwards. As Caryl Flinn suggests, a re-engineered Wagnerian paradigm of the leitmotif in the Gesamtkuntswerk provided the studio system a practical, economic and formally efficient system of musical signification as part of a wider transformation of Romanticist ideology. At the same time, however, Winters wags a warning finger at hard-and-fast authorial attributions to single composers, itself part of a Romanticist rush to establish the author as a single creative point of origin which, in turn structures what Lydia Goehr calls the “work concept”. Though certainly pivotal, Winters points out that Korngold’s involvement in the production of Robin Hood’s score was not unaided. Indeed for Winters, Korngold as a championed author figure:
“[Is] an inherently plural one, a multi-voiced character who speaks in the language of his past works, and mimics the voices of Elizabethan balladry, as much as he communicates with the voice of the composer of 1938.”
For numerous composers working within the highly differentiated studio system, the finished “work” was itself subject to numerous hands in the production process, filtering past the eyes (and ears) of the music director who walked a fine tightrope between convention, aesthetic creativity and practical economic considerations. As products of a highly collaborative process, the study of film music both compels and eludes easy composerly attribution, serving to historically disavow the complex dialogical interplay between actors of a highly organized film production unit. Better suited to the purpose, however, would be to understand the name of the composer as a placeholder for discursive process, a metonymical stand-in to avert acts of reading over-determined composer intentionality into the score.
Apart from acknowledging the authorial signature of contemporary modes of authorship, it is also possible to “read” the engagement between visual narrative and musical interjection as a dialogical construction, that is, a contractual agreement between producer and receiver. Roland Barthes signals the necessity of such a “counter signature” in the securing of cultural meaning, harkening the “death of the author” not as an epistemological break, but a critical injunction that recognises the limits of the producer’s horizon, inviting constant re-reading of a given text. It is against this backdrop that much of feminist theory and queer theory of the mid to late 20th century critical paradigm has operated, throwing cultural contingencies into (historical and theoretical) question. Both musicology and film studies have benefited greatly from the so-called “critical-turn”, spawning important groundbreaking works such authored by Susan McClary and Caryl Flinn. For Flinn, Hollywood film music’s fitness for feminine enunciation can be historically traced to a mode of musical discourse which submits to the visual image, though without means of subversion:
“[Film] music restores ... ‘lost’ dimensions to the cinematic apparatus only at the same time it carries the threat of denying that completedness and of exposing the fundamental disunity of the apparatus.”
Allied with notions of fictional utopia, Flinn goes on to argue that music’s mapping on several overlapping discursive terrains casts it as an intermediary “other” that cannot be solely pinned down by visual narrative, usually carrying connotations beyond its visible counterpart. Flinn’s own readings pay tribute to the feminist-oriented psychoanalytic proclivities of her forefathers (and foremothers) such as Kristeva, Metz and Mulvey, who work within an understanding of the sonic as phonological, maternal excess reaching beyond (and even undermining) the hegemony of logos. Yet, Flinn’s own allegiance to music’s discursive preparation for participation in ossified masculine/feminine structures risk re-perpetuating the binaries she seeks to query. While tracing the ideological servitude of film music to visual narrative as an outcome of discursive trends, she affirms models of masculinity and femininity when subjecting film music to her own formal constraints of subservience. Even assigning the redemptive possibilities of “utopia” to musical invocations of the feminine recasts her female subjects as inherently impossible objects confined to musical fiction, hammered into submission by the logic of the visible.
However, Flinn’s project reaffirms the ontological slipperiness of film music and its tortured relation to the visual – a relation that does not exist “essentially” and has to be articulated (hence consistently re-articulated) by “a vast array of supporting discourses and technologies”. Music’s curious “ineffability” has been a much-targeted trope for thinkers such as Carolyn Abbate and Vladimir Jankélévitch, whose investigations into difficult “floating signification” both challenge the production of filmic meaning as much as it invites endless opportunities for creative treatment. That is, by giving musical voice to the visual, it both can function as a stable signifier within a closed semantic system as well as give voice to the un-voiceable, rupturing the (illusory) hermetic, hegemonic autonomy of the very system it appears to serve. In other words, as much as music may proffer stable subjectivity to visible objects, it may equally queer the boundaries of such identities through its own excesses, inviting queer readings which sit beyond the reach of any film’s normative ideological terrain.
Music’s relation to queer subjectivity has been surprisingly neglected in the study of film music (itself a relatively fresh discipline) given its ability to actively resist stable signification and normative assignations to the visual. Though much has been written on music, gender and film, queerness as a destabilizing force has yet to be mined in music, perhaps precisely because queerness is only perceivable via a phenomenological contortion of normative Symbolic contours involving stable structures and hierarchies of signification. In relation to the visual image, however, this cinematic marriage is anything but queer, calling for the flourishing of which Rick Altman calls “codes of reality” and “codes of representation” in order to mask the tyranny of its intrinsically unstable signification. Within these prescribed spheres of representation, music’s performativity on extra-diegetic platforms beyond the confines of filmic levels of fiction locate it in a special position of what Foucault calls “transdiscursivity”, operating like a “pointe de capiton” (quilting point) which knits disparate discursive levels into the cinematic fabric. By importing external meaning, adhering to assigned semantic functions and possessing the ability to shake off the shackles of closed signification, music queers the stability of the semantic field into which it is structured, “speaking too much” by its paradoxical nature of not being able to “speak for itself”.
Irving Rapper’s famous insertion of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony in Now, Voyager (1942), for example, blurs the threshold between diegetic and nondiegetic, exteriority and psychological interiority in a scene which both the filmic protagonist Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis) and impossible lover Jerry Durrance (Paul Henreid) watch an orchestral performance. The orchestra’s performance of Tchaikovsk’s fourth, a work infamous for its coded homosexual undertones, slips uneasily between diegesis and non-diegesis: we are never sure whether what we are watching emanates from the diegetic reality of the orchestra or the non-diegetic level of the film’s protagonists. And yet, the semantic excesses of Tchaikovsky’s work concerning the “love that dare not speak its name” compels us to overlap the imported cultural significance of Tchaikovsky’s fourth with an equally impossibly coupling between two doomed lovers; at the same time it invites an (implausible?) added level of speculation that, perhaps, the lovers’ “doomed” romance are shaped by something more than previous social contracts. In short, does music threateningly queer one (or both) of its subjects?
It is here that we re-turn to The Adventures of Robin Hood, praised for its ‘squeaky clean’ antics of utopian idealizing, which, amidst heralding the politics of the Eisenhower New Deal and depicting democratic ideology with fervent zeal, stages heterosexuality as a normative compulsion by narrating Robin’s (Errol Flynn’s) flight and victory over the homosocial. In the atmosphere of late 1930s Hollywood filmmaking, the issue of sexuality had become a particularly tender subject. As a religiously-motivated reaction against what George Chauncey calls the “pansy craze” in the late 1920s and early 1930s over the hypervisibility of filmic homosexual subjects, the institution of the Motion Picture Production Code and the Roman Catholic Legion of Decency led to a major Hollywood ‘clean-up’ act which exiled its overtly effeminate film subjects to the veiled margins. Though not specifically targeted at queer representation, the ratification of the code by the MPPDA on 31 March 1930 listed homosexuality as a “sex perversion” in its revised guidelines. As Richard Barrios notes, the application of the code rattled off to a difficult start, mostly ignored by directors and producers who milked the “pansy craze” for all its entertaining worth in “a near effortless, nose-thumbing defiance”. In an article entitled “Tsk, tsk, such goings on”, Variety Magazine noted the degree to which cultural visibility of homosexuality via pansy embodiment had taken Hollywood by storm:
“Producers are going heavy on the pansy stuff in current pix, despite the watchful eyes of the Hays office, which is attempting to keep the dual-sex boys and Lesbos out of films. With a “queer” flash in [the movie] Calvacade, [the filmmakers’] attitude is that if [a] picture of that type can get away with it, why not in the programmers.”
By 1934, however, the newly strengthened code and its moral allegiance with the Roman Catholic League of Decency exerted a tighter stronghold over the censorship and policing of potentially “offensive” material. The recent stock market crash was far from public forgetting, and, together with the code’s alleged responsibility to moral uprightness, stood for a “symbol of supposed national well-being hailed by most as a needed boost to national modale”. Suddenly, it seemed as if overvisibility had receded into vague or veiled reference, decoded only through implicit knowledge of telltale signs. The code, it seems, had given birth to coded reference, though the onscreen vagrant never truly “vanished” from visibility. Barrios cites numerous examples of coded references including several skirmishes between the PCA and producers over characters which were deemed “too effeminate” for the masculine sensibilities of the post-crash American audience. Though overt “queer flashes” had been sanitised by the code, this did not prevent “queer flickering” from successfully queering the heteronormative sanctity of screen subjectivity. Barely recognizable veiled moments from Cary Grant’s performance in Bringing up Baby (1938), for example, produces “queer flickering”, though reduced to the level of ambiguous language use.
Given the suppression of overt referencing to “pansy” performativity in the late 1930s Hollywood film, where better a disruptive medium to entertain such “queer” feelings as the semantically incestuous level of music? It is possible that music’s privileged position as both servant and potential threat to visual narrative may be precisely harnessed to encode the unnameable in the climate of high censorship. Even if unintended, readings of “queer flickering” supported by musical material allow us to imagine (or creatively activate) new structures of spectatorly embodiment – what Diana Fuss might call “positions of enunciation” – which authorizes a receptive “counter signature” in securing filmic meaning, or acknowledging fissures in the reproduction of normative ideology. Furthermore, by prying apart the contingencies which keep normative ideology afloat, our use of music as a hermeneutic prism with which to view the screen “awry” enables us to unmask the conditions of normative ideology’s securing of discursive power by diffusing and marginalizing the queer threat, veiling, as it were, normativity’s inherent queerness.
Though billed as a family-oriented spectacle, The Adventures of Robin Hood are not exempt from its paraphernalia of “queer flickering” and veiled references. As Winters has pointed out, the most obvious lingering legacy of the “pansy craze” finds form in the villainous Prince John, played with effeminate efficacy by Claude Rains, who is “disentitled to claim the masculine subject position”. Several other visual details give away Prince John’s queer subjectivity, including his overwhelming penchant for ornate dress and lavender-based colours – flashing signposts of earlier modes of “pansy” identification.
As the mastermind of the villainous operation, Prince John has no ownership over musical material. In fact, all musical episodes linked with Prince John’s onscreen appearance are subverted by other sources within diegetic reality. In the sequence after the first opening titles, the trumpet fanfare which had accompanied the town crier [1:32] seems to announce the filmic introduction of both antagonists Prince John and Sir Guy [1:48]. The second fanfare, however, is acoustically muffled, and we are greeted with the sight of Sir Guy staring out of the castle windows, immediately relieving John’s non-diegetic ownership of musical material to the diegetic reality of trumpets blaring outside the castle enclosure. In another heroic trumpet fanfare signalling the fest of Sir Guy [6:23], the regal proceedings meant to celebrate the wealth of Prince John’s parasitic opportunism are usurped by the appearance of an ensuite medieval orchestra. Later, in a clever moment of irony, the fanfare accompanying shouts of “hail to Prince John!” undermines John’s authority when the camera pans to a voracious dog feasting on a leg of meat [7:00]. Clearly, the constant desuturing of musical material and its visual accomplice seem to suggest that Prince John’s emasculate embodiment as a site of authority is but a failed attempt at ventriloquism in place of the rightful king – he never quite “owns” the palace or musical thematic material as he is never fully fairly integrated into the realm of heteronormativity through his own vagrant inclinations.
In Prince John’s enclosure of men, it is revealing that Maid Marian and her servant are the only two female inhabitants. Prince John is never seen accosting the opposite sex; instead, he attempts to wed Sir Guy and Maid Marian for insidious political manoeuvres. At the same time, Sir Guy’s own masculinity seems to be at stake. Directly under the command of the film’s sole “pansy”, the viewer is left wondering whether his heterosexual attraction to Maid Marian is genuine, or a well-known cultural case of “lavender marriage” as coined in the 1920s to describe the coupling of a homosexual with a heterosexual spouse to avoid public stigmatization. In the stage siege of unfairly taxed booty, Sir Guy’s approach (along with Maid Marian) into Robin’s Sherwood Forrest trap is played by soaring, high-octave violins [32:56], anticipatory of the kind of scoring treatment later associated with Maid Marian. Although this mode of scoring may operate as a form of forbearing indicating the presence of a gendered female subject in Sir Guy’s entourage, the inflection of Sir Guy’s theme with a Marian-esque treatment reserved for femininity also effeminizes Sir Guy, aligning him with the faulty masculinity of Prince John rather than worthy masculine competitor of Robin Hood.
The filmic treatment of Sir Guy’s banquet scene reinforces this strange correspondence of “queer flickering” – throughout the scene, the camera cuts back and forth between Prince John, Sir Guy and Maid Marian. When Prince John attempts to cajole Marian into marrying Sir Guy by suggesting the latter was in love with her, Marian and John apparently steal glances at each other, but never share the same frame. As viewers, we are only treated to Sir Guy and Prince John locking eyes with each other in a single frame, which seems to fragment our earlier proposition: did Sir Guy and Marian ever catch each others’ gaze, or does Sir Guy only have eyes for Prince John?
The internal contradictions and ambiguities of musical homosocial networks in The Adventures of Robin Hood are further queered with another unlikely coupling, this time within Robin Hood’s own circle of merry men. The pairing of Robin and William Scarlett (Patrick Knowles) may seem innocent enough to contemporary sensibilities, but the dangers of diminishing homosocial distance are always at bay. Both Robin and William can be read against the backdrop of the late 1930s American pulp fiction and comic book explosion, introducing a wealth of superhero characters and their lesser sidekicks into the public imagination. By the 1940s, The Lone Ranger and Batman were familiar cultural icons, aided by their faithful sidekicks Tonto and Robin respectively, representing the best of nonsexualized homosocial relations. The dissociation from the homosocial to the homoerotic, however, was of large enough concern to revisionist writers in the 1950s such as Frederic Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent (1954). For Wertham, the homoerotic undertones between Batman and Robin were palpable enough to warrant a polemical outing:
“At home they lead an idyllic life. They are Bruce Wayne and ‘Dick’ Grayson. Bruce Wayne is described as a ‘socialite’ and the official relationship is that Dick is Bruce’s ward. They live in sumptuous quarters, with beautiful flowers in large vases, and have a butler, Alfred. Bruce is sometimes shown in a dressing gown. As they sit by the fireplace the young boy sometimes worries about his partner ... it is like a wish dream of two homosexuals living together.”
Although Wertham’s homophobic diatribe was laughed off by other comic-loving communities, the ever-present danger of “queer flickering” between two homosocial subjects reveals the degree to which homoeroticism as a threat itself structures the authority of homosocial networks and its performative injunctions. The relationship between Robin and William itself plays out as a battle for masculine power, in a playful symbolic battle of alpha-male phallic domination. When Robin and William are first presented onscreen, supported by a fanfare, it is William we see first, followed by Robin [3:14]. The theme, however (later ascribed to Robin) only resolves onto a G-major triad (via D-major chord V) when the camera cuts to a closeup of Robin’s face. Similarly, when we first hear the strains of the “Jollity theme”, it is William we see first, followed by Robin. But Willaim’s insufficiencies as a novice masculine subject betray his aspirations to be the controlling alpha male. He is uncomfortable in the forest, complaining to Robin as he stumbles over a tree stump, comically walks into a branch, and never lifts a fighting finger, letting Robin take the lead instead. Clearly, the musical treatment of the visual narrative seems to anticipate and reaffirm Robin’s successful interpolation of masculine subjectivity over a lesser-abled, bumbling William.
Their friendly jousts take on significant value for William Scarlett in the battle between Little John and Robin Hood in a scene choked with double-entendres, specularizing and staging the competition between masculine subjects. Upon first sighting the hulking Little John (Alan Hale) [19:55], Robin’s describes him as “a lusty infant” and proposes to take him on, with William making the snide remark that “his quarter-staff does the reasoning for him”. The testosterone-fuelled approach of Robin and Little John is accompanied by a reiteration of the “Jollity theme” in the low brasses and bassoons, testimonies to the equal masculine threat each subject poses for the other. Here, neither character is given preferential weight; as far as the viewer is concerned, either could be the winner of the match to ensue. After a few exchanged remarks, the following dialogue emerges:
Robin Hood (pulling an arrow from his holder): This fly has a mighty sting, friend.
Little John: I’ve only a staff and you threaten me with a long bow and a grey goose-shaft. Aren’t you man enough...
Robin Hood: Wait. I’ll get myself a staff.
Encountering Little John’s upright (erect) phallic weapon, Robin concedes to ditch his own phallus (his bow and arrow), agreeing to fight Little John on his terms, that is, ascribing to the rules organizing Little John’s economy of masculinity as structured by his phallic centre. Robin proceeds to fashion a long wooden staff of his own [20:40], shearing off the excess foliage, whittling himself to Little John’s level of masculine signification: he fully understands that to win Little John’s approval, there can only be one phallus up for grabs, one phallic economy which may constitute both competitors as fair, equal rivals. While both men compete rather dubiously on a single log (another long thin shaft – the phallic economy of the big Other, the unseen but master-masculine father subject?), it is William who stays out of the fight, leaving his better half to exercise his brawns while he sprawls limpidly on the other side of the bank (away from the liminality of masculine signification), satisfyingly stroking his (stringed) instrument.
It is an indistinctness with which William is positioned within the network of homosocial relations which renders him a(n) (im)properly queer subject: a position which seems to be located on the margins of a proto-Hegelian master-slave narrative (a “fight for recognition” within the order of patriarchal male supremacy) which inscribes its male subjects into the order of functional (if aggressive) masculinity rite-of-passages, while not being thoroughly excluded from that social order either. For Eve Sedgwick, this queer indistinctness does not demonstrate so much the fundamental disunity between homosocial and homosexual networks, as much as a critical turn effected to problematize the artificial spilt driven between these two polarities along the same parabola of cultural desire:
“To draw the “homosocial” back into the orbit of “desire,” of the potentially erotic, then, is to hypothesize the potential unbrokenness of a continuum between homosocial and homosexual – a continuum whose visibility, for men, in our society, is radically disrupted.”
This queer parabola – this unbroken continuum of desire – extends precariously as the thin tightrope upon which the struggle for masculine recognition is staged between Little John and Robin Hood (see still above), reminding the homosocial of its necessary occlusions of the homosexual, as well as the precariously small distance partitioning both worlds of desire. In a highly suggestive frame (shown above), Little John and Robin Hood dance on a long, protruding log which seems to stem from between William Scarlett’s thighs, an overriding “master” phallic platform upon which masculinity is performed, though it is constantly undermined by the secondary objects of phallic identification (the smaller wooden staffs) between warring parties. Both men tread apathetically upon William’s horizontal phallus, indifferent to the fact that it is their disavowal of his “queer erection” to the spectacle of masculinity on display which provides them the stage (hence the initial possibility) for their fight in the first place.
While the visual narrative of the scene belongs to Robin Hood and Little John, musically, the scene belongs unequivocally to William Scarlett. When Robin and William first enter the cinematic frame [19:55], the appearance of William’s back-slung lute coincides perfectly with a triadic strum in the orchestra, drawing the viewer’s visual attention to William’s instrument. A sub-narrative of William and his lute continues, parallel to Robin and Little John’s face-off. As William readies himself along the bank to play [20:53], the camera cuts away from what would be the visual of William playing the first chord on his lute. Instead, the image cuts to Robin and Little John, the first musical strains of the strum from William’s lute extrapolated onto the fighters falling into position, cadencing on an anticipatory V chord. As William starts to play, the strumming accompanies the reigning melody of the “Jollity theme” (itself a derivation from Robin’s theme) while Robin and Little John fight, as if enacting an intricately staged pas de deux without any hint of real danger.
While William musically accompanies the “Jollity theme”, it becomes ambiguous as to who ultimately owns the theme. Even given its relation to Robin’s theme, William’s lute provides the tonal foundation for the melody to stay afloat, suggesting that he is the true musical bedrock for the display of masculinity. With Orpheus-like powers to bewitch his two male companions into a specular performance of virility, Little John feigns an appeal to his godlike musical control of the fight [21:04], shouting: “Hey there, pretty fellow, play a livelier tune that I can make this puny fellow dance to!” Apparently charmed by Little John’s sweet-talking, William returns a smile and does so, launching the music into a more energetic rhythm which leads to Little John’s victory. Indeed, the degree of synchronity between the visual and musical (sutured to William’s musical-productive abilities) seem to suggest a link of causality between William’s music-making and the fight itself. It is as if William’s music directly determines the match, “playing” his male companions as he “plays” his lute, acting like an invisible puppet-master that pulls the strings of his masculine marionettes for his own viewing pleasure. Hoping to prolong this erotic display, William deviously halts the musical progression on a V chord on his lute [21:03], refusing satisfactory musical closure (that is, withholding climatic gesture), causing his puppets to continue fighting in an uncertain stasis, and forcing Little John to break the limbo and lodge a complaint for William to continue the tonal progression.
Like the sexual ambivalence of Sir Guy and the emasculate antics of Prince John, William Scarlett teeters on the uneasy fence between youthful emulation of full-blown masculine homosociality, and the musical suggestiveness of evocative (though closeted) homosexuality. William describes himself as “brains over brawns” at the end of Little John and Robin Hood’s skirmish, exempting himself from the discursive technologies which inscribe male subjects into a form of masculine identity predicated on brute strength. At the same time, William is curiously the only main-speaking character to play an instrument, linking his world with the nebulous semantic indistinctness of musicality. The conception of “musicality”, as Phillip Brett has argued, came to accrue dubious meaning in the history of sexuality, serving as a placeholder for the unnameable “open secret” of closeted homosexuality in the pre-Stonewall era. However, following the advice of Gary Thomas, to “out” William Scarlett would be to assign stable signification to a queer subject, an act that condemns him to the “binary logic” of the closet and cuts off his potential to generate uncertain jouissance, much in the same way the gesture of calling Handel gay would obscure our cultural indebtedness to contemporary identity politics. To be wary of William Scarlett’s musical manoeuvres in the subterranean depths of filmic narrative is to ethically “queer” William’s involvement in Robin Hood’s homosocial community of (very) merry men, and to be aware of how such “unspoken” relations penetrate, problematize and throw the visual into (musical) relief in the construction of fictional heteronormative reality.
Surrounded by “queer threats” on either side of the bank, Robin Hood’s masculinity secured by strength and skill can never fully disentangle him from the queer potentialities of his homosocial activities. Indeed these activities border on mild eroticism, with Robin Hood “riding” the subservient Friar Tuck to the interpolated “Jollity theme” [29:51] leading an angry (emasculated) Friar Tuck to a sword fight with the queer perpetrator. Similarly, this
symbolic advance is paired (staged) with (for) the watchful gaze of his merry men, who peer voyeuristically out of a nearby bush, taking delight at Robin’s queer adventures. Both Robin Hood and Little John partake hungrily of Friar Tuck’s “meat”, constituting an act of homosocial humiliation only differentiated from its fuller, homoerotic potential by a minute shift in perspective. This partaking of the flesh itself is not far from Maid Marian’s own softening attitudes to Robin Hood. Like male characters who feast of meat to insult, Maid Marian’s own chromatic soaring musical theme on a solo violin (not unlike Sir Guy’s previously emasculated theme in [32:56] accompanies her partaking of Robin’s leg of meat [40:29], throwing Robin and Little John’s earlier acts of humiliation into queer relief.
Maid Marian, the object of love in Robin Hood’s eyes, is his sole ticket out of the homosocial community of merry men. Less an equal subject, Maid Marian is Robin Hood’s necessary agent to prove his heterosexuality amidst a network where slippage between the homosocial and the homoerotic queer the boundaries of the heteronormative subject. While the film celebrates the successes of another heteronormative couple – Much the Miller’s Son (Herbert Mundin) and Marian’s ladyservant Bess (Una O’Conner), Much’s masculine success in the field of the heteronormative is downplayed due to his relative inexperience with women. On the other hand, Robin Hood’s triumphs in the league of masculinity and his deft handling of Marian’s colder antics fashion him as a prime poster-boy for heterosexual success. It is Robin’s ability to woo his lady which is ultimately celebrated at the end of the film, consequent to King Richard’s rightful retaking of the royal throne. The intervallic parity between Robin’s opening fanfare and the “King Richard” theme has been noted by Winters, but it is unclear as to which theme is authoritative, and which is derivative.
In the final scene, where King Richard is reinstated in his kingdom, the film shifts its focus to Richard’s authorization of Robin and Marian’s heterosexual coupling. Recognized and given assent by the (rightful) law (of the father), the King Richard theme surges amidst the happy nuptial couple. As Robin’s merry men crowd about the newlyweds-to-be, Robin and Marian secretly “break out” of the encroaching homosocial community of men, signalling Robin’s rejection and breakaway from that network via his betrothal to Marian, startling not only his merry men, but King Richard himself, who searches with his eyes for the couple’s whereabouts. As the music surges to the final cadential conclusion on the supposed King Richard theme, the camera remains focussed on the couple who leave the palace doors. While the King Richard theme confers authority upon Robin Hood’s flight from the homosocial (and hence the possibility of queer threat), the music de-sutures itself from King Richard as a visible subject, finding its object-cause in the Robin-Marian coupling which concludes the film. It becomes clear that the “King Richard theme” was never destined to belong to King Richard, but finds its happy concluding attachment to the ideal of compulsory heteronormativity which Robin has achieved. Furthermore, the melodic similarities between Robin’s theme and the King Richard theme invite us to read the final musical transformation as Robin’s transformation – indeed a thematic elevation in social status to that of a well-constituted heterosexual social subject who has successfully relinquished the inherent queer threat of his previous homosocial dealings.
As the music rushes to harmonic conclusion, the doors of the palace close behind the leaving couple, shutting its inhabitants, Robin’s merry men, and even King Richard himself in the dangerous enclosure of the homosocial. While musically signposting satisfactory closure, the audience is implicated in the company of the homosocial, trapped, as it were, in a cultural system of values that, while musically celebrating heterosexuality as a successful flight from the queer slippages of homosociality, remind the audience of their inherent susceptibility to the queer threat. As viewers shut behind the closed doors of Robin and Marian’s unseen heteronormative utopian future, we are faced with a choice to do as Robin does, or to accept a musical closure behind a castle fortress teeming with queer potentiality. Perhaps rightly so, Robin and Marian’s future is literally black (as the screen fades out), unseen, and hence unknowable: the secrets of their heteronormative utopia occluded behind closed doors may turn out to be an elaborate social sham, as much as it suggests the necessary containment and rejection of queer homosocial proximities as a prerequisite for heteronormative ideology.