MIDDLE AGE ENTERTAINERS
Both entertainment and education have been integrals parts of the human experience since the beginnings of time. Many scholars insist that the two institutions often serve jointly, with entertainers and entertainment serving as a main source of education. There is little argument, then, that in addition to generally appealing to the masses, entertainers have regularly fulfilled the role of a teacher to typically unsuspecting audiences. Entertainers have served as educators throughout history, from the origins of oral narratives through the Middle Ages.
The earliest forms of unwritten communication were essentially used to spread knowledge from one source to another. Religious disciplines were the first information passed from person to person through entertainment. In the third century B.C., Buddhist monks tried to win converts outside India through the use of theater and song (Burdick 97).
They taught the precepts of Siddhartha and Buddha in such theatrical epics as Ramayana and Mahabharata, setting exacting rules for theater performance in the process (Burdick 99). Similarly, Irish monks established singing schools, which taught uniform use of music throughout the church (Young 31). Through chants which were all the same, they spread identical teachings. Christian psalms and hymns in Apostolic times were sung to spread the knowledge and faith of Christianity. In fact, Christianity was promoted from the start by music. Churches were for long the only centers of learning, with monks teaching all lessons through music (Young 39). Through the use of sacred music, monks and clergy successfully spread the teachings of their religions in a practical manner.
Entertainers used the theater as a place to tell the stories of the day, both fictional and topical. The African oral tradition was rich in folk tales, myths, riddles, and proverbs, serving a religious, social, and economic function (Lindfors 1). Likewise, Asian actors covered their faces with masks in order to act out a scandal of the day without the audience knowing who was passing along the gossip (Archer 76). European puppets were another medium which permitted entertainers to spread current gossip without revealing the identity of the storyteller (Speaight 16).
The theatrical productions of the Greeks further explored the use of theater as an instructional tool. Because the theater provided such a diverse forum for expression, stage actors and playwrights consistently utilized this locale to educate the general public.
Oral communication was widely used to educate society about morals and basic truths. The most highly developed theoretical discussions from ancient times were those of the Greeks, who passed on this knowledge through music and stories. Homer, the eighth-century B.C. poet, court singer, and storyteller, embodied ideal Greek morals and heroic conduct in his spoken epic, The Iliad (Beye 1). Homer and other poets used qualities not found in written language to make the memorization of their works easier so their sagas could be repeated for generations (Edwards 1).
African tribe’s people and Native Americans also instilled morals and lessons to their communities through stories and fables (Edwards 1). These oral narratives were soon after recorded on paper as early forms of literature became prevalent.
Many of the thoughts previously expressed through oral communication only could now be recorded for the future as writing became wide-spread. The era of writing began with Chinese literature more than 3,500 years ago, as the Chinese recorded tales on oracle bones (Mair 1).
The Greeks, however, were the first known civilization to translate their oral history into writing (Henderson 1). While the earliest Greek literature was produced by the Indo-Europeans in 2,000 B.C., the most essential works began in Ionia with the epics of Homer in the eighth century B.C. (Henderson 7). This oral poetry is the foundation of Greek literature, and epic poetry such as Boetians Hesiod explored the poet’s role as a social and religious teacher (Henderson 8). These written works clearly informed those who read them, but were not as successful in educating the masses as the Greek dramas. Any spoken works that were especially significant could now be transcribed for posterity and future use.
Greek plays were also recorded on paper beginning around 500 B.C., reflecting issues of the day and entertaining audiences concurrently. The tragedies of Euripides reflect political, social, and intellectual crisis. Plays such as The Bacchae reflect the dissolution of common values of the time, while other works criticized traditional religion or represented mythical figures as unheroic (Segal 1). Each Greek drama was similarly structured: problems were presented by the chorus, and resolved in purely conventional—but always instructive—ways (Burdick 18). Topical comedies reflected the heroic spirit, and problems facing Greek society during times of great change (Henderson 2). Meanwhile, the dramas of Socrates spoke about ethical and moral change, while Demosthenes speeches hardened Athenian opposition to Phillip of Macedon (Henderson 2). Similarly, the Greek dramatist Aeschylus used his plays as a forum for resolving moral conflicts and expressing grandeur of thought and language (Segal 1). Because all social classes of the community could oy and understand the plays, Greek drama was a major force in educating the public.
Following the onset of the second century, considerable movement took place across Europe. Between 950 and 1350, the population of Western Europe doubled (Lindsay 26-33). A shortage of teachers caused eager minds to look elsewhere for education. Many of those traveling were instrumental in spreading ideas, stories, and songs across the countryside. A new kind of entertainer, the troubadours, served as the new commentators of the day, successfully blending verse and music. Their poetry was the first to set about the conscious creation of a literary speech in the vernacular (Bogin 44). In songs called sirventes, the troubadours discussed current affairs, politics, personalities, and scandals (Grunfield 25). Many troubadour songs have texts referring to the Crusades of the fourteenth century. Their crusading songs, such as those undoubtedly connected with the campaign against the Arabs in Spain, brought political unrest to the attention of the average citizen (Lindsay 61). Roger II, however, protected Arab-speaking poets who rubbed shoulders with his own Latin writers (Lindsay 44). Bertrand de Born became famous for writing warmongering songs that stirred up barons and provoked kings into going to war (Grunfield 25). Walther von der Vogelwiede attained a unique position among troubadours by transforming the short poem of proverbial wisdom into a political weapon of satire and patriotism (Hering 1).
Wandering troubadours sang most often about courtly love, but used their unique form of entertainment to express concerns regarding social and political topics to the general public.
Entertainers of the twelfth century also informed the public of the principles of topics such as chivalry and religion. Troubadour Guilhem de Poitou caused a sensation among friends and courtiers after writing about love in a way that became the code for chivalry (Bogin 37-39). He later spent a year among people of Antioch learning Arabic songs of Syria, which he brought back to France (Lindsay 4). Poet Gerbert made contributions to geometry, music theory, and arithmetic in his works which customarily valued philosophy over prayer (Lindsay 45). The religious songs of Martin Luther forced poets and scholars to take sides during the Religious conflict of the Reformation (Hering 2). Luther’s chorale Ein feste Burge became a national hymn during the reformation of the Catholic Church, encouraging followers to fight to worship in their own languages, not the universally used Latin texts (Young 66). While the troubadours were viewed primarily as entertainers who wandered aimlessly about the countryside singing about the virtues of courtly love, their contribution as educators to the public cannot be mistaken.
As the troubadours slowly began to disappear, new kinds of entertainers took their place, continuing to inform the general public through different mediums. The Meistersinger replaced the troubadour in the late fourteenth century (Sebastian 2). Middle and lower class Meistersingers established schools for the cultivation of their craft, ensuring a more structured form of entertainment than that of the wandering troubadours (Sebastian 3). A famous early fifteenth-century manuscript at the University of Heidelberg contains hundreds poems by the most famous Meistersingers as well as illustrations which are as entertaining as they are instructive (Young 44). John Wilbye represented another new form of entertainer, the madrigalist, and provided studies of English landscapes in the words and music of his madrigals (Young 71).
Again, there is a wealth of evidence to show that music was used extensively to support the spread of religious belief. For example, King David in the Canterbury Psalter tells that musical sonorities were introduced into the service of the church (Young 46). Monteverdi’s opera L Incoronazions di Poppea educated audiences with its historical context and characters (Young 77). The popularity of music remained dominant throughout the Middle Ages, although writers began to entertain through the use of written poetry as well.
European writers of the Middle Ages continued to comment on morals and acceptable behavior through their works as their predecessors did almost 2,000 years before. Hroswitha von Gandersheim, the first known woman writer, was a nun who used the Roman playwright Terence as a model for her morality plays (Hering 1). Dutch writer Jacob van Maerlant wrote poems that showcased chivalry (Flaxman 1). Spanish playwright Lope de Vega encouraged national patriotism and honor in his works that dealt with dramatic conflicts and combined tragic and comedy elements (Gasset 3).
Calderon also stresses the Spanish code of honor in his masterpiece The Mayor of Zalamea (Gasset 3). Later Francisco Gomez de Quevedo Y Villegas wrote moral works in which he explored the decadence of Spain (Gasset 3).
Social concerns inspired the writings of Italian reformer Pietro Verri, whose cynical interpretation of history established a new scientific discipline (Alvaro 1). His peer Leon Battista Alberti published On the Family, which reflected the concerns Italians for social and ethical topics (Alvaro 1).
Still, other authors such as Prince Juan Manuel of Spain wrote such seemingly simple tales as The Emperor’s New Clothes, from which reader could extract the moral lessons (Gasset 3). During this era, Europeans were constantly discussing politics and social issues, prompted by the opinions of writers who commented on the subjects.
Entertainers throughout history have undoubtedly served as educators to the public, in addition to their conventional roles as musicians or writers only. While a few performers sought only to amuse with their acts, the majority of entertainers have crafted their art with a deeper purpose in mind. Each who chose to address society’s problems and speak to the general community through their art is as worthy an educator as a modem-day college professor. Because many of the works of these great artists were recorded on paper or passed down from generation to generation through oral history, the insightful thoughts of these entertainers continue to educate the public in the twenty-first century.