Firstly I would like to thank the organisers for inviting me to speak at this conference. It is very fitting that we should hold this conference in Mid Wales as it was in this region that Twm Shon Catti, the man known as the Welsh Robin Hood undertook his villainous and heroic activities.
Historical archers, such as the longbowmen from Llantrisant have won battles, such as the Battle of Crécy in 1346, due to not only their skill, but also the leadership shown by those in the army they are part of. Robin Hood is one of the most renowned mythic archers, known for his exceptional skill at archery, purportedly more accurate than the Freemen of Llantrisant as he is known for splitting a competitor’s arrow in an archery contest to snatch victory. Despite this, some stories of Robin Hood suggest that he cannot be compared with the Freemen of Llantrisant with authors such as Dick King-Smith indicating that he could barely pull back the string of his bow properly, but even these suggest that Robin Hood had an almost obsessional interest in archery, even up to the day he died. Even with the depiction of such traits, there is little written in the literature about Robin Hood’s personality, though it is quite apparent from many of the stories about him that he exhibits many autistic traits and qualities. Robin Hood is often depicted as the leader of a band of robbers, more commonly known as the Merry Men, but what sort of leader could he have been if he exhibited certain autistic ailments?
If Robin Hood has an autistic spectrum disorder such as Asperger Syndrome, it is likely that he would also have a monotone voice as this is characteristic of people with the syndrome, which would mean that he would not be able to convey emotion as effectively as he perhaps should do. According to the Disability Rights Commissions Guidance for disabled leaders, 38% of a first impression consists of a person’s vocal qualities such as tone of voice and their rate and pitch. According to Johnson (1999) disabilities, such as autism and other developmental disabilities, are seen as antithetical to leadership, and often this perception is a barrier to people with such disabilities becoming leaders. Johnson argues that as people with disabilities emerge as educated, competent, and well-trained professionals who address issues specific to the constituency of which they are a recognised member, their leadership must be embraced. This seems to suggest that people with autism becoming leaders is something that will happen in the future, and not something that has happened in the past or is happening in the present. There are many leadership qualities possessed by people with autism and other developmental disabilities, some of which have been exhibited by historical figures, and some by mythic figures such as Robin Hood.
In attempting to understand leaders and people with autism, particularly Asperger Syndrome, some authors have found it helpful to identify the personality traits of these individuals. Stogdill (1948) identified several characteristics of emergent leadership, those being dominance, extroversion, sociability, ambition, responsibility, integrity, self-confidence, mood, emotional control, diplomacy and cooperativeness. Helton (1997) also identified a number of factors that suggest someone is a leader, including that they have vision, an ability to handle change, self-awareness, a clear set of values, openness and trustworthiness.
Friedman & Lambert (2000) concurred some of these attributes by suggesting that leaders possess vision, charisma, confidence, courage, humility, honesty, concern for others, and a strong sense of justice.
Some of these traits of leaders are consistent with the traits found in individuals with Asperger Syndrome and others are not. Individuals on the autistic spectrum are known to be dominant in their interactions with their peers according to Wolfberg ( 2003) as they like to be in control and often attempt to command over others.
According the National Autistic Society some people with Asperger Syndrome are known to have a strong sense of justice. However the NAS also indicate that people with Asperger Syndrome do not cope well with change, and some people with the syndrome find it very difficult to adapt to changes in the workplace (Bishop, 2003), something which Helton (1997) suggests leaders have the ability to do. Nelles (2005) identifies three specific attributes of people with Asperger Syndrome, which are that they have courage, strength and character. These are perhaps similar to the courage, self-confidence and charisma that are characteristic of leadership. Another trait of people with Asperger Syndrome, according to the DSM-IV criteria used to diagnose people with the condition is that they have impairment in social interaction, which conflicts with Stogdill’s (1948) claim that a characteristic of leadership is sociability. In addition to this impairment, DSM-IV also states that to diagnose someone with Asperger Syndrome they need to have “restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviour, interests and activities” which is perhaps what makes some autistic people exhibit dominating behaviour, a quality of leadership, and perhaps makes them perfectly positioned to develop a vision that restricts others to their will as a leader would, as suggested by Helton (1997).
Robin Hood has been represented in many different ways in many different mediums. Up until the nineteenth-century members of the establishment portrayed Robin Hood as a villain. In a petition to Parliament in 1439 Piers Venables of Aston in Derbyshire was disparagingly compared to Robin Hood and famously Robert Cecil, the 1st Earl of Salisbury, described Guy Fawkes and his associate terrorists as “Robin Hoods”. It is only in recent times that Robin Hood’s insurgent behaviours have been compared to someone that is a campaigner for social justice as opposed to a terrorist fighting for a political cause. In the True Tale of Robin Hood, it is said, “The widow and the fatherless he would send means unto, and those whom famine did oppress found him a friendly foe” and “Nor would he do a woman wrong, but see her safe convey’d : He would protect with power strong all those who crav’d his aid”. This suggests that Robin Hood has the leadership quality of having concern for others as well as having a strong sense of justice, something that is characteristic of both autistic people and leaders. Robin Hood is often portrayed as having no respect for unqualified authority, an autistic trait according to Frith (1991) and Arias (2006), suggesting he has a clear value system, which is a leadership quality according to Helton (1997).
A clear indication of Robin Hood having some autistic characteristics is that he is easily deceived, which according to Baron-Cohen (1992) and Sodian & Frith (1992) is a common ailment of people with autistic spectrum disorders. In the ballad, Robin Hood’s Progress to Nottingham as well as many retellings of the legend, Robin Hood is easily deceived by some foresters into killing one of the King’s deer and in the ballad, Robin Hood and Maid Marian, Robin Hood is also easily deceived, but this time by Maid Marian, whom he does not realise the identity of until after having a tussle with her.
Picking up the Ladybird series of Robin Hood books, such as The Ambush by Kester & Kenny (1955) and The Silver Arrow also by Kester & Kenny (1940) as well as many other series of Robin Hood books, Robin Hood is usually seen wearing the same clothes. According to Lewis (2002) this is characteristic of leadership, as groups are able to identify with a uniform as a symbolic form of communication and according to Pyles (2002) wearing the same clothes all the time as if they were a uniform is also characteristic of people with Asperger Syndrome. What perhaps suggests that Robin Hood was wearing the same clothes more for autistic reasons than as a leadership decision was in The Silver Arrow (Kenny & Kester, 1940), Robin Hood wore the same clothes to the archery contest as he wore when he was with his Merry Men, suggesting he had difficulties with changing his outfit as an autistic person would.
One autistic trait that Robin Hood has that perhaps conflicts with traits of a leader is the way he seeks out conflict and speaks in a confrontational manner, as Boyd (2004) suggests a person with Asperger Syndrome would, as opposed to being diplomatic as Stogdill (1948) suggests leaders should be. For example, in the ballads Robin Hood and the Curtail Friar and Robin Hood and Little John, Robin Hood makes a possibly straightforward situation for someone with diplomatic abilities as confrontational as an autistic person would. Both these stories also demonstrate how Robin Hood is courageous, which is according to Friedman & Lambert (2000) a leadership quality and according to Nelles (2005) is a quality that people with Asperger Syndrome have. Indeed, McSpadden & Wilson (1921) clearly state that Robin Hood is courageous, and in the ballad, Robin Hood’s Progress to Nottingham, Robin Hood is said to be “a proper young man, of courage stout and bold”. Other stories about Robin Hood indicate that he is slow to anger suggesting he has emotional control, which is a leadership quality according to Stogdill (1948), and something which is apparent in many adults with autistic spectrum disorders such as Asperger Syndrome.
Applying the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria to Robin Hood as well as recorded traits of people with Asperger Syndrome also suggests that he is on the autistic spectrum. Robin Hood clearly has “restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behaviour, interests and activities” as manifested in his intense interest in archery, which is alluded to in the ballad Robin Hood’s Birth, Breeding, Valour, and Marriage and suggested in the many adaptations and retellings of the legend as well as having only one close friend, that being Little John. The criteria of “qualitative impairments in social interaction and communication” can be insinuated from the theatre productions of Robin Hood as according to Knight (2003) Robin Hood has so few lines in such productions as is confirmed in the play Robin Hood and Babes in the Wood, which was recently performed in Pontypridd, where Robin Hood appears quiet in the classroom and only becomes animated when he disputes something. If Robin Hood is a leader, this may be one of his weaknesses, although perhaps if he were to be as focussed on his vision as autistic people are focussed on their plans, then he may compensate this social impairment in his leadership by being dominant in his interactions with others through trying to force his strong sense of justice onto them as someone with strong leadership skills would do, as suggested by Stogdill (1948).
The possibility that Robin Hood does not convey emotion in his voice, as depicted in Tim Brooke-Hunt’s production leads to the question of whether Robin Hood could be an ardent leader as he is often imagined if he has a monotone voice, or whether he would simply be a detached brigand.
To investigate this I carried out a study. A total of 398 people from the Robin Hood community were asked to take part in the study and 23 responses were received. Although there was no gathering of data relating to age or gender, it was evident from the participants’ profile pages that they were from diverse backgrounds, making them representative of society. Audio recordings were made of the script from the popular Robin Hood adaptation, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves where Robin Hood made a speech in which he tried to unite the Merry Men behind his vision of a just society as a leader would. The recordings were made of the actual scene from the movie in which Robin Hood played by Kevin Costner made the speech, a person who had been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome making the same speech in their naturally monotone voice, and a control, which was an actor making that speech who had not previously played the part of Robin Hood, nor been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. A website was constructed to hold these audio recordings to make them available to participants and the results collected in a database. Participants were asked to listen to the audio files one after the other and then rate the speaker using a 6-point Likert-type scale on specific attributes characteristic of leaders based on the studies by Stogdill (1948), Helton (1997) and Friedman & Lambert (2000).
The study proves conclusively that people will judge another person’s leadership qualities based on their voice and that in most cases a professional actor, in this case Kevin Costner, will convey in their voice stronger leadership qualities than an amateur actor or an autistic actor. The autistic actor was seen as less dominant than the professional actor or amateur actor, which contrary to the widely known fact that autistic people are dominant in their interactions with others. The autistic actor’s voice did not convey their strong sense of justice as the professional actor or the amateur actor, nor did their courageous traits come through. The autistic actor came out showing stronger emotional control than the professional actor. As discussed adults with an autistic spectrum disorder such as Asperger Syndrome often exhibit greater emotional control, and the results suggest this is perceived in their monotone voice.
The results of the study suggest that if Robin Hood does have a monotone voice and is autistic then he will have to rely on his dominating behaviour to portray the leadership quality of dominance to the Merry Men, rely on taking part in bold activities to demonstrate his courageousness, and rely on policies such as robbing the rich to feed the poor to convince people of his leadership qualities of having a strong sense of justice and being concerned about others. Robin Hood is perhaps better known for convincing people of his leadership qualities through demonstrating his personality through his actions than his voice, as he is known to demonstrate the leadership qualities of concern for others, courage and responsibility by taking the blame for the actions of others.