Maybe it’s been a while, but you know the classic tale of Robin Hood, robbing the rich to feed the poor and fighting off enemies like the Sheriff of Nottingham and Prince John, winning the love of Maid Marion, and chilling with his band of Merry Men in the wilderness of Sherwood Forest. One of my favourite retellings of this tale is the Disney film Robin Hood released in 1973, featuring the vocal talents of Brian Bedford, Phil Harris, Monica Evans, and the amazing Peter Ustinov. My kids watch this film so often I could recite it in its entirety by heart, including the indestructible earworm that is ‘oo-di-lally oo-di-lolly golly what a day’ song.
So it’s probably no surprise that my academic brain spotted a pattern in Prince John’s behaviour that looked familiar. So I’m going to break down the diagnostic model for BPD to the Prince John character in Disney’s classic animated film: Robin Hood.
|1. Emotional instability||Confirmed|
|2. Angry outbursts||Confirmed|
|3. Feelings of emptiness||Confirmed|
|4. Self-damaging behaviours||Unconfirmed|
|5. Suicidal ideation/self-harm||Unconfirmed|
|6. Unstable sense of self (splitting)||Unconfirmed|
|8. Fear of abandonment||Confirmed|
|9. Unstable relationships (splitting)||Confirmed|
- Emotional Instability
In the first scene we see Prince John he is gleefully revelling in the wealth he’s collected through corrupt taxes, and expositing with his trusted companion Sir Hiss of their plan to collect even more taxes from their next stop at Nottingham. His mood switches instantly when Sir Hiss mentions his brother King Richard and he becomes explosively angry. Then he switches back to a happy giddiness in a moment when they talk about their plan to send Richard away on a crusade, and then switches to childish thumb-sucking when his mother’s grief is brought into the conversation.
The scene is mostly exposition crammed into the space of a few minutes but what we see here is a prime example of what to expect from the character for the rest of the film.
2. Angry Outbursts
This one is obvious from the start. After Prince John is humiliated by Robin Hood robbing him in the disguise of a gypsy woman he becomes obsessed with revenge and flies into a rage whenever anyone mentions Robin Hood. He throws tantrums when others make fun of him, or suggest he has no claim to rule, and he sentences not one but two people to death – one by beheading and another by hanging. Pretty dark stuff for a kids movie.
3. Feelings of Emptiness
This criteria is likely proven by the way Prince John tries to fill his inner emptiness by collecting more taxes than the people can afford. Not only does he collect too much, he doesn’t appear to use the money for anything except counting. Collecting taxes for his own personal gain is legitimate corruption but I believe it also points to the vast emptiness he must feel inside if the only way he tries to fill it is with cold hard cash. He is a hoarder and a miser, keeping the country’s wealth and giving nothing back. He is vacuous and petty.
4. Self-damaging behaviours
We see no evidence of self-damaging behaviours, besides the tantrums and the hoarding, he keeps himself as fit as he needs to be and looks after his possessions with a jealous zeal. But he is never shown to turn his anger towards himself, instead he lashes out to those around him and takes no responsibility for the negative oucomes of a situation.
5. Suicidal ideation/self-harm
Again, this is not confirmed, Prince John never appears suicidal.
6. Unstable sense of self (splitting)
Here we hit another stumbling block, as it appears Prince John is quite secure in his sense of self. Robin Hood, in his gypsy disguise, says he sees Prince Johns name, to which Prince John loudly proclaims “I know my name! Get on with it!” This to me is proof of his stability of self.
On the other hand, there is a moment when Little John tricks Prince John into a quick friendship by calling him “P.J.” and Prince John immediately takes on this fun new nick name with delight, telling Sir Hiss to “put it on my luggage”. The nick name is dropped immediately when Little Johns true intentions are made clear, and Hiss misses out on the ensuing violence, calling him P.J. in a drunken stupour and immediately being tied to a post in Prince John’s rage.
This scene does show Prince John exhibiting signs of splitting, but its more of an external rather than internal splitting. His regard for others turns in an instant depending on the circumstances.
Prince John’s motivation through the film is revenge on Robin Hood for the robbery at the start. He becomes obsessed with catching him and having him killed for his crimes. He plots elaborate traps which even his closest advisor believes to be crossing a line. His paranoia of having his wealth taken from him and redistributed is so crippling he is willing to kill a man of the church to get rid of the perceived threat.
8. Fear of abandonment
There are clearly some mommy issues lying latent in this poor man’s mind. Every time he thinks of her he regresses to toddler behaviours; sucking his thumb and mumbling. “You have a very loud thumb” Sir Hiss tells him. But since we never see the mother in the film it can be safely assumed that she has abandonned him in some way or other, or even merely by having ‘loved Richard best’, as Prince John remarks.
His fear of abandonment can also be tied to his jealous acquisition of wealth and his fear of losing it. Instead of having the cash in a vault, he has it stacked and bagged in his bedroom and sleeps with several sacks of coins tucked under his pillow and under his arm. His outrage when he wakes and discovers a robbery taking place is a the climactic fury the leads him and the Sheriff of Nottingham to move to kill Robin Hood. Thankfully Robin Hood is heroic and brave and survives the attack.
9. Unstable relationships (splitting)
Here we can look to the main relationship Prince John exhibit in the film, and that is the one between him and his trusted advisor Sir Hiss. He obviously relies on Sir Hiss for his evil plots and validation but he also piles on the abuse, calling him names, hitting him, shouting at him, it’s a wonder Sir Hiss stays with him even to the end.
Since the DSM-5 criteria states that fice criteria are all that is needed for a diagnosis we can safely assume this is one of Prince john’s many mental health problems. Narcissism is certainly there, and he would probably benefit from anger management therapy. In any case his character is meant to stand as an opposite of Robin Hood’s; where Prince John is petty, materialistic, and cruel, Robin hood is magnanimous, kind, and generous. Where Prince John is prone to angry outbursts, Robin Hood is playful and brave.
If nothing else this alleged diagnosis would at least make him eligible to get on the wait list for some serious DBT, and I think the kingdom would be quite grateful for it!