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8-08-2015, 16:26

The Romance of the Middle Ages

As we laugh at the idea of a knight carrying an umbrella, we should recall the popular Renaissance festivals of our own time as well as the jousting matches that entertain crowds in air-conditioned lists in places like Excalibur in Las Vegas. The members of the Society for Creative Anachronism attempt to re-create accurately the armor and weapons, the tournaments and festivals, but also the utilitarian arts and the food and dress of the past. Other people are constructing and testing stoneslinging machines, practicing archery with long bows, forging swords, and building new “medieval” castles. Castles inspire children’s toys and adult fantasies. Theme parks have their late medieval architecture of crenellated towers and walls, turrets with witches’ hat roofs, monster-filled moats crossed by drawbridges leading to gatehouses with portcullises opening into a fantasy land as extravagant as Lord Eglinton’s tournament. The dream castle remains part of the twenty-first-century fantasies of life in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The towers of the Alcazcar of Segovia took on a second life as the witch’s castle in Walt Disney’s film version of Snow White. Fantasy lands and theme parks build crenellated turrets. Castles have become a business. They lure and beckon tourists with reenactments around the walls, banquets in the ancient halls, and tea and souvenirs in the stables. And one need only drive through an American suburb to see towers, miniature crenellations, and conical witches’ hat roofs rising above wooden houses set in manicured lawns. The castle has had a remarkable afterlife. Who would have thought that the grim mass of a great tower or the chamber block of a complex twelfth-century castle would inspire the imagination of people so many centuries later? Who would guess that people living in heated and air-conditioned buildings with glass in the windows, carpets on the floors, refrigerators and microwave ovens in the kitchen, running hot water in the showers and laundries, and flushing toilets would look back with nostalgia to the hard life experienced by people in the Middle Ages? But the sheer magnificence of castle architecture, the almost overwhelming fascination of ruined towers, the labyrinthine patterns of earthworks and crumbling walls still capture our imagination.