Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Storytellers of the Middle Ages

Minstrel's Path by Yue-Iceseal
If I had to pick a job to have in the Middle Ages, it would be that of a minstrel. Storytellers of the Medieval era!

Definition and description of the Minstrels: The Minstrels can be described as one of an order of men who earned a living by the arts of poetry and music, and sang verses to the accompaniment of a lute, harp or other instrument.

Musical storytellers. What could be better?

There were two main types of Medieval Musicians - the Minstrels and the Troubadours. A minstrel was a servant first employed as a travelling entertainer and then as a castle or court musician or Medieval Bard. The name 'minstrel' means a "little servant". Medieval Minstrels often created their own ballads but they were also famous for memorising long poems based on myths and legends which were called 'chansons de geste'. The themes of the songs sung by the Troubadours also dealt with chivalry and courtly love but they also told stories of far lands and historical events. The Medieval Minstrels were replaced by Troubadours and started to move around and were known as 'Wandering Minstrels'.

A wandering minstrel. Music, storytelling, and travel! That is definitely the job I would pick. I'm not sure if there were many female minstrels -- I expect not many at all -- but that's what imagination is for, right?

Because I know that you're asking this question in your head, the difference between a minstrel and a troubadour is that troubadours were more refined and poetic than the minstrels. Hence the troubadours being retained in royal courts and minstrels being kicked out to wander from place to place. Such is life.

But we're talking about minstrels first. Stay focused.

The role of the Minstrel often required many different skills including:
  • Juggling
  • Acrobatics
  • Dancing
  • Fire eating
  • Conjuring
  • Playing Musical Instruments
  • Reciting poems
  • Singing
  • Buffoonery which led to roles as jesters
  • Animal trainers - including animals such as dogs and monkeys in their shows

This is probably why I'd take the job of a minstrel over that of a troubadour; minstrels were more versitile and multi-talented. Obviously my strong point would be storytelling, but I'd certainly not be averse to learned the other skills listed there (besides singing. I already sing. And I'm not sure what I'd think about fire eating....)

Plus I get an assistant.

Jongleurs were the assistants of minstrels. Jongleurs gained a reputation of itinerant entertainers of the Middle Ages in France and Norman England. Another type of performer of even lower rank than the minstrels were the gleemen, a travelling entertainer.

Hee hee. So me and my Jongleur buddy travel all over England (with a few dips up into Scotland, of course) earning our bread and meade by entertaining nobles and peasants alike.

There were many venues for the wandering minstrels who had been displaced at the castles and courts by the refined and fashionable troubadours. Middle Ages Feasts, Fairs and Festivals were all common occurrences during the Middle Ages and were celebrated during specific times of the year (most of which were dictated by the Church and religious festivals.) The instruments played by wandering minstrels who performed at these events were light and easily carried. They included fiddles, the lute, recorders and small percussion instruments. The songs and ballads sang by the such minstrels were traditional English favorites.
[Exerpts taken from here and here. They're both almost exactly the same; you can read one and not the other without missing anything.]

I think minstrels probably had one of the more interesting lives in the Middle Ages. They got to see the splendor of the royal courts and castles of nobility, but still had access to the Hall of Secrets (more commonly referred to as the Servant's Hall, or Kitchen). They told stories of valor and adventure, love and sacrifice, but also performed acrobatic feats and mind boggling trickery through conjuring. Really, they're wholly fascinating.

I think I want to write about a minstrel and a jongluer, now. *considers*

I'll do a seperate post on Troubadours later on.

Dia duit,

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