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Kate alternately flirts and quarrels with Little John, who is one of Robin’s retainers. It seems that the man who is taking the ransom money to the Turks has disappeared, and that Sir Richard cannot repay the Abbot. Marian herself now enters, singing of love and lucre (‘Love flew in at the window’).
Sir Richard Lea enters and discusses the situation with his daughter Marian. He urges her to marry Robin, and so acquire the money to repay the debts, but she says she has vowed never to marry until King Richard himself can give her away. Little John enters with an invitation to Robin’s thirtieth birthday celebrations, and the scene changes to a hall in Robin’s house, where he and his friends are drinking a health to King Richard (‘Long live Richard!’).
Unfortunately for Robin and his men, Prince John himself is present, disguised as a monk, together with the Sheriff of Nottingham. They have come to see Marian with a view to adding her to John’s harem. However the Sheriff offers John gold if he can have her for himself. John agrees, and the Sheriff offers to pay Sir Richard’s debts in return for Marian’s hand. She says she must await the return of the king, and in the meantime accepts a betrothal ring from Robin. In the third scene he asks for a song before retiring for the night (‘To sleep! to sleep!’).
Act II – The Flight of Marian
The first act has ended with a proclamation from Prince John declaring Robin an outlaw. He and his men set out for Sherwood Forest, where they are seen a year later at the beginning of the second act. They are engaged in various outlawish activities such as mending their bows and polishing their swords (‘There is no land like England’).
Left alone, Robin learns from Kate that Prince John has been making advances to Marian, who has fled to her father. Robin disguises himself as an old woman, entertains Prince John and the Sheriff, is discovered, and fights them. He is aided by his men, plus Sir Richard Lea and Maid Marian, who is in disguise as her own brother, a Red Cross knight. Robin eventually recognizes Marian, and vows to protect her from the Sheriff. She tends her father, who has been wounded in the fight. Tennyson’s printed text of the play concludes the second act with a scene in which Robin falls asleep and is presented with a vision of Titania and her fairies. In the theatre this scene was transferred to the end of the third act, and given to Marian with appropriate alterations. Sullivan’s vocal score prints the scene in the position originally intended by Tennyson, but with the textual alterations appropriate to Marian. The Era described it in the following way: ‘And now we get a reproduction, with additions, of the beautiful scene as it was first presented on the other side of the Atlantic some eighteen months ago. The shades of evening gradually fall upon the forest, the glow of sunlight fades, and the moonbeams begin to steal through the branches overhead. Maid Marian, exhausted by the revels attendant upon her coronation, and the long watching by her wounded father, strolls along and, finding a mossy bank, stretches herself upon it and is soon fast asleep. A group of wild flowers at one side of the picture suddenly opens and lets out a fairy. From out of the foliage and trunks of giant oaks float companion elves, while big white moths circle over the ground and fireflies gleam in the air. In a moment the scene becomes fairyland. The elves dance merrily, sing sweetly, and form graceful groups around the sleeping maid until the stage becomes a fanciful dream’ (‘Evil fairy! do you hear?’).
Act III – The Crowning of Marian
The third act contains little in the way of plot. Marian is crowned Queen of the Wood, and the outlaws celebrate with a series of low comedy episodes in which they enjoy themselves at the expense of various merry beggars, married citizens, and false friars. A cask is rolled in, and the captives are forced to drink a toast to Marian. Will Scarlet sings a song in her honour (‘By all the deer that spring’).
Act IV – The Conclusion
At the beginning of the act the outlaws are awaiting the arrival of Prince John, who is coming from Nottingham to capture them. In Tennyson’s text Robin is in flirtatious mood. He tries to caress Marian, but she stops him with a song (‘The bee buzz’d up in the heat’). In the theatre this song was sung by Kate, played by Catherine Lewis, which presumably means that the opening scene had been played between her and her lover, Little John, played by Herbert Gresham.
Events are now rapidly drawing to a conclusion, aided by the arrival of King Richard. Robin sends for the Abbot and offers to repay the debt. The Abbot takes the money, but refuses to discharge the debt on a legal technicality. The Sheriff claims Marian because the debt is not paid, only to find that he has been double-crossed by Prince John, who tries to seize her for himself. However his wicked purposes are thwarted by Friar Tuck with the immortal line ‘He may be Prince, but he is not a gentleman’. All is put right by King Richard, who restores Robin to his Earldom, and presents Marian to him. Prince John flees, and the Sheriff is put in well-merited fetters. At the last moment a surprisingly honest sailor arrives with Sir Richard’s gold, and Walter himself enters, having been safe with King Richard all along. Kate and Little John make up, and the play ends with a chorus (‘Now the King is home again’).
from notes by David Eden & William Parry © 2004