- ABOUT US
Megan Rossman, Associate Editor
Photo by JOHN JERNIGAN
By Megan Rossman
August 23, 2012
Lately, I’ve been reading and watching a lot of medieval-themed shows and books. Since my youth, I’ve loved Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (despite Kevin Costner’s shoddy accent), Braveheart (despite Mel Gibson), Willow, and of late, Game of Thrones on HBO. I recently finished the first book the TV series is based on, and I’m working my way through Wolf Hall, a historical fiction novel about Henry VIII’s court, told from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell.
That having been said, the popularity of this period baffles me. It’s hard to pinpoint the cause of my own affection. Anytime I encounter the Middle Ages in literature or film, I thank my lucky stars that I was born in the age of penicillin. What was so great about the medieval period? Was it the plague and the general filth? The superstitious masses cheering pyre-side as the protestants burned? It’s anyone’s guess.
I’ve never wanted to be carried away on a white horse by a knight. It was an era too unhygienic for love. However, despite the dirt and destitution, it’s a compelling period in European history. The Dark Ages gave us the movable-type printing press, soap, cannons, and many more wonderful things that you can look up for yourself on Wikipedia.
I have a few theories about why the medieval age, particularly the later years, is an appealing focus of pop culture:
Cool Fashion: Although I’ve never yearned to put on a corset and eat a giant turkey leg at a medieval fair, I have an appreciation for Tudor-style fashion. Television has taught me that everyone was decked out in jewels and velvet, with capes and flowing brocade skirts. The everyday grandness of the nobility’s attire makes today’s haute couture look like the Gap. The peasants, of course, were not as glam.
Great Music: Shows like The Tudors and History Channel documentaries always include beautiful liturgical-sounding choir arrangements and organ music. People love this stuff. It makes whatever you’re watching seem a little bit more medieval and expensively produced.
Bountiful Feasts: The wine and mead are flowing, someone’s playing a lute, and everyone’s got a piece of meat to gnaw on. Count me in.
Grand Architecture: Flying buttresses and battlements lend a drama to everyday living that you just don’t find in most buildings today. Gossip about your boss doesn’t carry the same gravity under the fluorescent lights of a berber-carpeted conference room as it does in the shadowy recesses of a gothic cathedral. Everything feels more important taking place in a castle or a manor house.
It’s Not Now: This is perhaps the most important thing to consider. We tend to romanticize the past. Few of us will ever kill a man with a sword or dance around a maypole; those are the activities of a bygone era. But we can read about them and watch them re-enacted on film. Some of us will play video games like Dragon Age. That’s the best it gets—and probably as close to real as most of us would like.
If you’d like to get a little taste of the medieval life without all the horror, check out the merriment of the annual springtime Medieval Fair at Reaves Park in Norman. If you can’t wait until April 5-7, you can head to the Castle of Muskogee, where feudalism reigns year-round. The castle hosts several annual events, including the Boare’s Head Feaste on November 17, a one-night banquet with Henry VIII and a troupe of minstrels and dancers. And for those of you in Stillwater, OSU offers a Madrigal Dinner—complete with choir music, period attire, and a feast—each holiday season.