Another collection of wicked, warped and wild stories about medieval history and life in the SCA.
From jester to king, Guillaume sees the Current Middle Ages from every angle. In his second collection of humorous stories and insightful reflections, Guillaume mixes his usual assortment of irreverent tales with a “behind the scenes” look at SCA royalty, including:
- Spitting Distance from Chivalry
- Christmas Crazies: Forgotten Medieval Holiday Folklore
- Of Arms and the Knight I Sing
- To Find the SCA, Just Turn Right at Spiderman
- Fangs for the Memories: Medieval Halloween Monsters
- Reigny Days and Mondays
Enjoy these excerpts:
I need to begin this chapter with an explanation. During our reign (as King and Queen of Caid), several strange, bizarre, amusing incidents occurred in rather spontaneously — in fact, you might say the entire reign was made up of such incidents. While these incidents had very little to do with the formalities of being on the throne, they were, as we say in the world of journalism, “too good to pass up.” Thus, after the end of the reign, I asked someone called “The Inquisitor” — a shadowy, retiring entity with a nearly omniscient awareness who, nevertheless, chooses to reside in the coat closet in our guest bedroom — to set down his recollections of these incidents in writing, just as the great medieval chroniclers such as Matthew Paris or Geoffrey de Villehardouin would surely have done had they run out of real news to cover.
So, with that in mind, here’s the first of a three-part series called “Chronicles of the Inquisitor,” that details events that took place (thankfully) outside the public eye during our reign.
The first incident that I must relate to you occurred at a meeting of the revered Order of the Laurel, which Guillaume, being king, was allowed to attend. The order’s appreciation of his presence was expressed by the first item of business that Mistress Angelina, secretary of the order, had put on the agenda: “Debate regarding whether or not to duct tape king’s mouth shut.”
Fortunately, royal participation in the meeting turned out to be a very minor issue. Guillaume, with his considerable attention span, was captivated by the intellectual discussion of the arts and sciences for almost 13 full seconds. After that, he began to search for something to amuse himself with which involved either breaking furniture or setting something on fire.
Glancing around the room, Guillaume saw that a party held in the home of the meeting host had resulted in several unused piñatas being strewn around the room. One of these piñatas was shaped like the animated dog “Blue” from the cartoon Blue’s Clues. As the Laurels’ discussion of the arts and sciences continued, Guillaume felt that he could add to the order’s body of knowledge by quietly demonstrating that Blue was hollow and that the king’s entire hand could fit inside Blue’s head.
At nearly the same time, Guillaume also spotted another “leftover” item from the previous night’s party: a six-pack of Silly String aerosol spray cans. It was not long, therefore, before Guillaume in his finite royal wisdom put these two pieces of data together by placing an entire can of Silly String inside Blue’s head.
At this point, the meeting reached a lull and the members of the order turned to the king to ask whether it would be the royal pleasure to continue with the next item of business, or to take a short refreshment break. Guillaume looked at them all momentarily with an expression of great compassion, then held up the piñata and said, “I think we should take a break, ’cuz Blue’s allergies are bothering him. Tell us how you feel Blue.”
Then he made an appalling “Ah-choo!” sound and sprayed green Silly String out of the piñata’s nose, striking members of the Order of the Laurel who were sitting as far as 20 feet away.
This joke was met with the uproarious sound of horrified silence, so Guillaume repeated it several times just in case anyone had not fully appreciated the subtle humor of their king causing slimy green string to shoot out of the nose of a papier-mâché dog.
The Laurels’ appreciation of this prank was so great that in less than a minute Mistress Angelina was considering whether a simple majority vote would be sufficient to add “beat king to death” to the agenda. Fortunately Mistress Maria Theresa devised a more expedient way of calling for a recess by acquiring her own can of Silly String and conducting an experiment (remember: it’s arts and sciences) to determine whether string sprayed into the king’s right ear would, in fact, shoot out through his left ear.
Just for the record: It did not.
(Enjoy more irreverent, insightful and appalling details of Guillaume’s experiences on the throne in Here Comes the Reign, Sir Guillaume!.)
Phase I: Stupidity
Riding along through the snow with the wind in my face, 20 miles away from the nearest automobile or telephone, I began to imagine I was a medieval knight out on a sleigh ride, bundled up in a heavy cloak, gliding through an icy forest, knowing that a blazing hearth was waiting for me on my return to the castle …
Unfortunately, there were a few problems with my little winter fantasy, as I steered my snowmobile down a frozen hillside in Idaho last December.
First, a medieval knight would not have been out in weather approaching 40 below zero because he would not have had a GoreTex parka and battery-powered, heated gloves to keep him from freezing to death. He would have been at home, in front of his blazing hearth, whipping his servants for neglecting to put enough cloves into his hot mulled wine.
Second, a medieval knight would have been riding on a sedate, horse-drawn sleigh, not a neon green, high-performance snowmobile powered by a 1,000 cc racing engine capable of 0 to 60 mph acceleration in under 4 seconds.
Third, and perhaps most important, while daydreaming about a medieval sleigh ride, I had neglected to notice that the inside of the Lexan visor on my helmet had frozen into a solid sheet of ice, thus preventing me from seeing that I was headed directly toward a 40-foot fallen log which had cleverly camouflaged itself with a coating of approximately .03″ of snow.
A moment later the tinny buzz of my snowmobile’s engine was replaced by the sound of crunching plastic and aluminum, followed almost instantly by the sound of wind rushing past my head as I flew through the air and the staccato rhythm of snowmobile parts hitting the ground all around me.
When I finally plopped down into a snow bank, my first thought was, “Well, that wasn’t as bad as standing up to a Drafn shield charge. Heck, I didn’t even get a scratch.” Then I stood up and brushed away the snow … and I noticed my left hand was sort of twisted around at a 45-degree angle and pointing off to the side like I was trying to hail a taxi in a Salvador Dali painting.
Fortunately, just at this time Felinah, who was riding her own snowmobile, drove up and — drawing upon years of medical training and diagnostic experience — said, “Um, you don’t look so good.”
Phase II: Immobility
Six hours later, I was in the surgical recovery ward of Rexburg County Hospital. There were two pins in my arm holding together the various hunks of bone that formerly were my wrist, and my left arm was encased in fiberglass and nylon.
Lying there, half-dazed on medication which I’m sure was originally developed for livestock use, I began to wonder what would have happened to a real medieval knight with a similar injury after taking a bad fall from his horse during a battle or tourney. Contrary to popular opinion, not all doctors in the Middle Ages were ignorant butchers. A wealthy duke or baron would likely have enlisted the services of a physician who’d studied anatomy in Italy and seen surgical procedures performed by doctors trained in Greece or Persia. For a loud-mouthed Belgian knight who had insulted the king once too often, however, medical care would probably have come in the form of a country hack who studied anatomy behind the barn with Geraldine the milkmaid, and whose training in surgical technique consisted of helping his father cut fence posts with an axe.
I imagined a crippled knight, trying to survive one-handed without any discernable job skills other than the ability to whack people with a sword. I imagined a once-great warrior reduced to relying on the generosity of friends and relatives, or perhaps begging in the street for his meals.
Then I began to imagine how, exactly, I was going to put on a pair of pants with only one arm.
(Follow along with Guillaume’s painfully funny account of recovery, rehabilition and repentance in Here Comes the Reign, Sir Guillaume!.)
When my book This Sovereign Stage was published recently, I was thrilled by the response among the SCA’s academic community. Several of the most respected historical experts in the kingdom, including Mistress Maria-Theresa and my own mother, applauded my scholarly observations of theater in the Middle Ages with comments like: “Danny Kaye’s The Court Jester is not a primary resource,” and “Hamlet wasn’t a Scandinavian breakfast sandwich,” and “Don’t you think you should have done some actual research before writing this book?”
Clearly, I realized, they had missed the point of my writings about the medieval theatrical tradition. My book wasn’t about painstaking research and historical detail. It was based on one overarching premise that served as both a philosophical thesis and an analytical presupposition, thereby creating de facto donnée for my belles-lettres, which was this: Medieval theater was really bad.
Thus, in order to dispel any rumors that my research into thespian history was either faulty or, God forbid, fabricated, in this chapter I would like to present an overview of theater and drama from antiquity to the Middle Ages. Then, when I get finished, I’m going to go eat my Hamlet and bacon.
Classics on the Boards
Experts have a hard time agreeing on when the art form we know as theater began. (That’s primarily due to the fact that “experts” tend to be a bunch of self-important blowhards who would probably have a hard time agreeing on what kind of pizza to order for lunch.) Most believe that the origins of drama are lost in the mists of time, probably around 30,000 years ago when one Neolithic caveman accidentally hit another with a mastodon bone and a crowd of onlookers laughed themselves silly.
One of the earliest documented theatrical presentations began in Egypt around 2500 B.C. when priests created the Memphite Drama. This multi-part ritualistic show, performed on the first day of spring, was a re-enactment of the murder of the god Osiris by his brother Seth. (Thus creating a form of theatrical interaction that can be seen today on The Jerry Springer Show.) The Memphite Drama was staged annually for more than 1,900 years — a record for continual performance that was only recently surpassed by the Broadway run of Oh! Calcutta!
Theater as we know it, however, began in Greece in the 6th century B.C. There, presentations of tragic drama were performed as part of the City Dionysia, a festival whose name is derived from the fact that naming a festival after a mythological god sounds much more sophisticated than calling it, “six days of drunken riots.”
Although early stage productions focused on themes of death, betrayal, horror, sacrifice and grief, the Greeks soon invented the concept of “comedy” when audiences, having sat through several hundred hours of suicides, incest, betrayals and anguish, realized that they needed to (as theatrical scholars say) “lighten up.”
The greatest of all Greek comedy writers was Aristophanes, whose works include The Clouds, The Wasps, The Frogs, The Dingoes, The Police, The Rolling Stones, and that cult classic, The Thesmophoriazusae. But undoubtedly the greatest of all Aristophanes’ work is The Birds, which includes such brilliant comic scenes as the two main characters being startled by a slave jumping out of a thicket and, in response, defecating on stage. (As God is my witness, I’m not making that up!)
Roman Around the Theater
Greek theater came to an end in 404 B.C. when the Spartans invaded Athens after learning that matinee tickets for Miss Saigon were sold out. After this, theatrical performance moved to Rome where it took on a very different aspect.
In Rome, dramatic productions were staged as part of the Imperial festivals, which took place approximately every 48 minutes. This was good in the sense that there was lots of theater in Rome, but it was bad in the sense that stage plays had to compete with other forms of entertainment, such as gladiators, chariots, prisoners being fed to wild animals, exotic dancers, NAASCAR races, and Britney Spears concerts. And lets face it, when you have a choice between watching people in masks mince around a stage for three hours or seeing someone get eaten by a bear … well, let’s just say there’s a reason that PBS has to beg for donations while guys with names like A-Train and Ultimo Dragon get paid millions of dollars to appear on the WWF Smackdown.
The most popular type of Roman theater, however, was called mime — a form of comedy that, as we would say today, was “intended for mature audiences only.” In mime performances, viewers laughed at such delightful, humorous presentations as simulated sex on stage, obese people eating massive quantities of food, fist fights, actual sex on stage and public executions. Mime performances also included jugglers, acrobats, tightrope walkers, dancers and clowns — just to make sure the audience didn’t get bored if there was a slow spot in the sex and violence.
In Roman theater, however, nothing could compare with the most popular target for comedic ridicule: Christianity. Many mime performances featured distorted parodies of baptism and mass, which is undoubtedly why playwrights and actors suddenly began to find themselves out of work when Christian emperors rose to power in the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D. At the Trullan Council of 692, when Pope Sergius placed a ban on all forms of theatrical performance, His Holiness is said to have proclaimed, “Let’s see thou laughest at excommunication, vile stage monkeys!” …
(Read more in Here Comes the Reign, Sir Guillaume!.)