Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Rethinking Reenacting

There are an incredible number of people out there whose hobby is participating in reenactments, or sometimes called living history. The most common are Civil War battles, but that is hardly the end of the line. Another timely example is Renaissance era reenactments, timely because the Pennsylvania Renaissance Fair is now in full swing. As a history lover, this is something that has always interested me; but for lack of time and disposable income I’ve just never really got involved other than attendance at the occasional masked ball. Reenacting is an expensive hobby. Purchasing authentic costumes, props, travel, taking time off work or school to participate, event planning – the cost of these things adds up quickly.

An acquaintance of mine thought it would be “neat” to try one of these reenactments out. He didn’t have much appreciation for history, but loves the novel. So he applied to a pre- Renaissance European Court reenactment. I’m quite certain he expected to be a knight, or perhaps a landed baron, or even monk would have done I think. But no, he was assigned, like 90% of all the people there, to the part of a peasant, in this case the page to an important knight; meaning one of his main jobs was to tend to his horse (and his horses, ehem, defecations). In the world of reenactment, one realizes that to be appointed a servant to an important knight is better than an unimportant one since you get to eat better food, tend better-behaved horses, and sleep in a better tent, and often reap the favors of an appreciative king. Anyway, my friend left the occasion after only 16 hours. He just wasn’t willing, as they say, to shovel the shit.

Mr. Youngberg points out in a recent post that people often dream of the past as though it was better than today. But as my reenacting friend discovered, the standard of living for most folks throughout most history was pretty crappy, and as in the case of our page friend, often quite literally. Today when we think of the Renaissance we think of lords and ladies, bishops and monks, minstrels and troubadours. Those folks were certainly around, but there weren’t very many of them, either as a percentage of the population or in real numbers. We conveniently forget the fact that most people, if they were lucky, were sharecropping, engaged in some trade as a smith or tanner, or fighting in someone or other’s crusade. If they were unlucky, and most were, they were a servant to the crown or one of his cronies, tending to their horses and chambers, building their castles and ramparts, and dying of the plague.

Folks need to start remembering that thanks to the Industrial Revolution and modern technology, it isn’t only women who have decided that they don’t have to take that crap anymore. 90% of people in the western world generally no longer have to concern themselves with their lord’s diuretic horse or their lady’s chamber pot.


-Ron said...

Sorry about the font shift there - I've been having that problem lately. I'm trying to root it out.

David said...

What really amazes me is when historians, like Terry Jones from the History Channel, doesn't realize how good life is. I was watching Terry Jones's Medieval Times and he was doing a special on peasant life. After mentioning that the average serf worked about a month less than the average person in today's era, he proceeded to tell the audience that life, in general, was better then. Then he proceeded to show his viewers the average serf home--a dirt floor, a leaky straw roof and very few possessions. Of course, the serfs also lacked modern plumbing, television, microwaves, freedom, legal rights, literacy, computers, cars, opportunity and on and on and on...

Anonymous said...

Ron, just a question, what's with the html-ish breaks? It's kinda disconcerting when reading the post.

David, Terry Jones, from my understanding is not a 'real' historian. He's a stooge, hired by the channel to put a nice face and good voice on the 'real' history in the programs.