Saturday, September 30, 2006

Social Cues in Historical Movies

In the 1954 film Sabrina, Humphrey Bogart and William Holden portray two brothers from a wealthy family. One is a nose-to-the-grindstone businessman, the other a feckless playboy. A few subtle details, such as the angle of Bogart's hat brim, help convey their relative roles and character to the audience. These cues were clear enough to the film's original viewers, and still reasonably understandable.

For a film set 600 years ago, how practical is it to convey similar cues to a modern audience? A few medievalists might know that one style of sleeve denotes a respectable lady, and another that the wearer is a prostitute, but only a tiny minority of a modern audience could be expected to know this sort of detail.

If this information isn't conveyed then the modern audience is missing some important information about the relationship between the characters. What to do?

Ian McKellen's 1995 Richard III represents one solution. Setting the medieval story in a 1930s alternate reality transposes it into a society more comprehensible to modern viewers. The Woodvilles are portrayed as Americans, capturing their status as isolated outsiders in a way that the Olivier version missed. The interfamilial horror of Richard's coup is also underlined and the social relationship between Richard and his henchmen made more accessible.

But transposing a story to another era also has a downside. Shakespeare's Richard III may have manipulated popular opinion to gain power, but he wasn't a fascist. Fitting him into a fascist template is false to the actual Richard III, who belonged to a different era and thought differently.

The director of Knight's Tale followed a related strategy. One of the key plot elements is a romance between a rising commoner who is passing himself off as a knight and Jocelyn, an aristocratic lady. How can the director make the social gulf between them as clear to the audience as it would be to the hero? How can the director convey, not merely "she has expensive clothes" but "one of her dresses costs enough to support an ordinary family for a year?" In the film, Jocelyn wears clothes that evoke a modern couture wearing jetsetter. In one scene she wears a hat that might remind the viewer of one worn by Audrey Hepburn. In another she wears a strategically sheer dress that has more in common with modern high fashion than the Middle Ages. Her hair is the sort of expensive confection that can only be achieved with professional help, and perhaps not at all before the invention of styling mousse.

What she wears isn't necessarily much like what a woman of her rank would actually have worn in the 14th century. But it does convey a sense of expensively conspicuous consumption to the typical modern audience, and probably does a better job of doing so than literally correct costume and hairstyles would.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Knight's Tale

There's a lot that a purist could complain about in this movie, but I still like it. It has a bad case of historical clichés #4 (Real Men Don't Wear Dresses) and #5 (Bad Hair). The armor is mostly 16th c. in a story set in the 14th, and the tourney circuit portrayed in the film was more characteristic of the 12th century. 14th century squires are portrayed as peasants rather than the gentlemen they were. There's a plot hole in the final joust you could drive a Hussite war-wagon through. And yet...

I'm willing to cut the movie a lot of slack on the historical accuracy side because it doesn't pretend to be. When the opening tournament features the sound of air horns, fans doing the wave and "We Will Rock You" as background music, the viewer has fair warning that the movie is not going to be a literal recreation of the 14th century. Fair warning is good.

Having frankly admitted that it isn't necessarily going to be faithful to the actual Middle Ages, the film proceeds to provide nuggets of medieval goodness. William Thatcher (Heath Ledger), squire to the inconveniently dead Sir Hector, decides that he nonetheless has a shot at making it on the tourney circuit. He and his companions shortly encounter young Geoffrey Chaucer (Paul Bettany). "Perhaps you've heard of me? Book of the Duchess?...well fair enough, it was an allegory.." Bettany's wonderfully mournful crestfallen expression as it becomes clear that his listener's have not read the Book of the Duchesse was worth the price of admission for me.

The Chaucer subplot proceeds to wind in some characters from the Canterbury Tales and an explanation of the true background to "Chaucer's Complaint to His Purse" This sets up the conceit that the action nominally set in the 1370s thus justifies the high proportion of '70s music in the soundtrack.

Thatcher, pursuing his beloved, the aristocratic Jocelyn, is taken aback to discover that to win her love he must not simply do his best in the tournament, but go against his natural inclination and do his worst on her bidding. I'm happy to see a direct steal from Chrétien de Troyes on this, and the movie actually seems to have a fairly good take on the dynamics of courtly love. "I demand poetry, and when I want it, and I want it now." says Jocelyn, stamping her feet.

In spite of being something of a temporal tossed salad, the movie frequently tosses in highly plausible medieval artifacts. I had joyful moments of saying to myself "Hey! I recognize that aquamanile!"

And the recognition of the social value of a discovered or invented genealogy is an authentic medieval touch. This happens twice in the film. The first time it is clearly fraudulent. The second is nicely ambiguous: at a key point another tremendously convenient genealogy is revealed. Do the powers that be truly believe it, or is it a fiction that they wink at to achieve their ends without directly challenging social norms?

The jousting is splendidly kinetic and, as Jocelyn says, "abrupt", although I cringed a bit at the inadequate neck protection of some of the jousters.

Finally, I think Jocelyn's highly anachronistic hair and clothing are part of a deliberate and legitimate strategy for conveying important information to the audience. But that's fodder for another post.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Celebrating National Talk Like a Pirate Day

So, what's every pirate's dream, me mateys? Kiera nightly. Aarr arrr arrr.

To be fair to them Islamic protesters, Manuel II was a bit brusque with the whole "Show me just what Muhammad brought.." thing. Now, we hearty swabs aren't much on theology, arr, what with avoiding priests as unlucky. What stands to reason, with always seeing them at funerals and all. And not bein' much on regular reading of the Bible, on account of generally not being much on literacy, and even if you are you can't hardly open the book without reading something disapproving about wenching and plundering and what not, that leaves you feeling all conflicting about your career choices. Let alone the bits about not eating shellfish. And when you do get to a good nautical part, it's always some swab being swallowed by a whale, or St. Paul being shipwrecked and marooned and the like. Or Leviathans. I hates 'em, I do.

Where was I? Arrr. Well, it seems to a jolly tar like me that there are some of them, what you call 'em, genuine theological innovations to Islam besides the Jihadding about and suchlike capers. It's not like they're just Christians only with cutlasses. I mean to say that you get to be a monotheist but you don't have to be Jewish and you don't have to to keep straight the whole business with the Trinity which is so confusin' to a jolly swab.

Now, seems like poor old Manuel had some reason to be grumpy-like. On account of Bayazid having him as a vassal, and rubbing his nose in it by making him help take Philadelphia for him. No, not the one in the Tom Hanks movie, the one in Asia minor, what was full of Christians that had never done him harm. And then plundering most of what was left of his empire, and besieging him for what seems like an inordinate length o' time. And then they sends off a French army to rescue him, and it being the 14th century and them French he just knows that's goin' to end in tears and it does. Must have fair set him on his beam ends.

And then he starts to write up this dialogue he says he was having with one of them Persians, back when Bayazid is having him make up a fresh pot of coffee while Bayazid is pigging out on the stuffed dates and all. And he starts giving himself all the snappy comebacks that he didn't think of till later, and making the other swab go all stupid like and lose all the arguments, just like he was one of those swabs like Robert A. Heinlein or Socrates.

So that bit what old Manuel wrote wasn't exactly shipshape,but let it go, OK? Arrr. Some people need to put it behind them and move on.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Muslims Enraged by Statement by Byzantine Emperor

CONSTANTINOPLE, September 18, 1391. Ritters News Service.

Muslims around the world continued to demand a full apology after a recent statement by Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologos.

"The derogatory remarks about the philosophy of jihad and Prophet Muhammad have injured sentiments across the Muslim world and pose the danger of spreading acrimony among the religions," said Ottoman ruler Bayezid I from a siege battery outside the walls of Constantinople.

"It is obvious from the statements that the Emperor doesn't have a correct understanding of Islam." said Grand Vizier Qara Timurtash, speaking from field headquarters in Thessalonica

Gazi Evrenos Beg said on Thursday that Manuel II was "full of enmity and grudge" against Islam. He opposed the Emperor's proposal for a November truce in the ongoing siege of Constantinople.

A spokesman for the League of Jihadists in Anatolia demanded an apology and said. "I am enraged. I am boiling angry. Steam rises from my turban. He should be beheaded, and the head fed to a dog. And then you should behead the dog. It is shameful to say something like: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached........God is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death..."

"Even to quote such words is shameful, and worthy of death." said the spokesman before pausing briefly in consternation and beheading himself.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

So what if college faculties skew liberal?

....asks Michael Berube in a New York Times article.

After all, he argues, students should expect to feel uncomfortable about their beliefs as a matter of course. So what if liberals are disproportionately represented among the professors?

For starters, because it cheats the students. We all have biases. If we spend most of our time with colleagues that share our views, we get intellectually flabby. Berube cites a study in which in which there are only three times as many self declared liberals as conservatives among college professors.

Now, if he knew any Republicans in his department, they might ask him: Aren't self-declared liberals rarer than self declared conservatives these days? Don't they represent approximately the leftmost 20% of the American political spectrum, while self-declared conservatives represent the rightmost 30% of the political spectrum? And what about the professors who happily describe themselves not as Liberal, but "far left?". Eyeballing the chart they look like about 5% or more of professors, while I expect the number of Americans that describe themselves that way is somewhat less than sampling error.

If he had that advantage, he would need, if intellectually honest, to come up with some reasonable answer to those objections. And his arguments would be the stronger for it.

If you haven't had much exposure to the best arguments of the other side, you have a tendency to depend on being right for the wrong reasons. "Oh poohpoohpooh. Higher marginal tax rates decreasing growth? That's just silly. I just don't see how that could be true."

There are good reasons to argue for more progressive taxation, but this isn't one of them. Someone that rubbed elbows with people from the other end of the ideological spectrum a little more often would know that.

And there are probably good reasons why people from the leftish side of the political spectrum would prefer to work in the closest thing America offers to a government subsidized Worker's Collective with excellent job security, and why aspiring capitalists would rather do something else. That doesn't explain why the liberal tilt in universities is increasing over time.

Berube argues that there's no evidence that liberals are "actively conspiring to keep dissenting voices off the faculty roster". Surely that's a rather low bar. "Well, we didn't have a formal conspiracy to keep out people that thought differently from us. It just mysteriously sort of happened that way, and more and more each year. We didn't keep minutes or anything. It was just obvious that anyone 50 degrees to the left or right of us was an unreasonable person that didn't deserve tenure. That's fair isn't it? Because we're where the center of gravity in American politics would be if Americans weren't temporarily deluded. Surely every reasonable person agrees. Or at least every one I know."

Swords and Thrown Spears

Yesterday I watched a Mythbusters Mega Movie Myths special episode. Mythbusters looks at those questions you've always wondered about. Could a medieval Chinese would-be astronaut have ascended to heaven in a rocket propelled chair? Could methane buildup trigger a port-a-john explosion? And, if not, can we find an excuse to blow something up anyway? "Well, Jamie, it looks from our controlled experiment that it's plausible that someone could have used a stick of dynamite to try and clean the hardened cement out of their cement truck. Looks like a bunch of the cement got chipped off. Now let's see what happens when we use 850 pounds of mining explosive. Folks, don't try this at home." Great fun.

Happily, one of the movie myths they looked at was "the scene where one guy slices through the other guy's sword". Step one demonstrated that none of them were particularly competent at swinging swords. They then brought in an experienced test cutter, filmed him slicing through tatami mats and deeply into ballistic gel, and calculated the speed of the sword's point of percussion at impact. This turned out to be 48 mph. More on this later.

They then built a swinging arm to give the same velocity, which replicated the ballistic gel performance. Cutting to the chase, unless it's a low quality sword, you can't cut it, but you can break it.

Now, we also have data on how fast a modern javelin can be thrown: nearly 70 mph for an 800 gram (1.76 lbs)javelin. The runup is a significant contributor to the difference in velocity. Since kinetic energy increases with the square of velocity, a mass moving at 70 mph has more than twice the kinetic energy of the same mass at 48 mph.

For comparison, Hardy's Longbow claims that a 70 lb bow can shoot a 57.4 gram arrow with a long bodkin point at 97.5 MPH. The javelin has seven times as much kinetic energy.

Which helps explain the persistence of thrown spears in 15th c. deeds of arms. I should caution that we don't know how their technique compares with a modern athlete's, and throwing a spear in armor would have reduced performance to some degree.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Iain M. Banks: Culture Wars

Iain M. Banks is the author of dark and richly written SF novels. As Iain Banks he also writes mainstream fiction. While not exactly light reading he has a streak of humor that reminds me a bit of Jack Vance. Kilometer long heavily armed starships are controlled by whimsical artificial intelligences that give themselves names like: No More Mr Nice Guy, So Much For Subtlety, What Are The Civilian Applications, Frank Exchange Of Views, Ultimate Ship The Second, Poke It With A Stick and I Blame The Parents. The design of spacesuits and other appliances is constrained by the consideration that giving a device too much sentience will qualify it for civil rights.

Several of his works are set in a universe that contains the Culture, a wealthy, technologically advanced society of sexually permissive hedonists. From time to time the Culture comes into conflict with other poorer and less advanced societies: theocratic, autocratic, and/or sexist. These tend to see the Culture as soulless, corrupt, decadent and morally impure.

To their dismay, they discover that the smug Culture has a set of moral values that take a dim view of perceived threats to the Culture, not to mention a dim view of theocracy, autocracy and sexism. The easygoing hedonists maintain a group of hardened professionals to deal with Special Circumstances of this sort, and will descend on your neighborhood with whatever mixture of hardened professionals, drones, missiles, enormous warships, technological superiority and firepower is deemed necessary to result in a satisfactory regime change.

Banks has described the Culture as "exactly the place I would like to live. I can't imagine a better place- it's a utopian society"

I hope the similarities between the United States post 9/11 and the Culture are clear enough that I don't have to beat you over the head with them. Likewise the similarities between the Culture's adversaries and the people the US was changing the regime of during the same period.

Ironically, the Culture novels published so far were all written before 9/11/2001. And Banks has been a vigorous critic of the conduct of the US government since then.

Monday, September 11, 2006

I Blame Viagra

The New York Times ran a story on Monday August 28 on falling real wages. They buried the lede, missing the most interesting implication of the data they presented.

They presented a chart, showing wages and salary as a share of GNP. Wages are indeed at their lowest share on record (i.e., the chart goes back to 1947). Scary, yes?

But total compensation as a share of GNP is about where it was in 1966 and the mid nineties, and up from the era of post WWII egalitarian prosperity. Since 1966 it has been fluctuating in a fairly narrow band between 56% and 60% of GNP. Corporate profits have fluctuated in the same period in a similarly narrow band between about 5% and 10%, sometimes up, sometimes down.

However, eyeballing the chart, employee benefits were about 7% of GNP in 1970 and grew inexorably to over 12% today. That's a huge jump. Workers live longer, and that drives up pension costs. Viagra didn't exist in 1970. Today it does, and that's just one medication or treatment that didn't exist in the past but that today's consumer insists on getting. And, living longer, they're more likely to need it.

A longer life in retirement is a good thing, but you still have to pay for it. And if benefits take a larger share of compensation, wages will get a smaller slice of the pie.

Now, higher prices for petroleum products have meant a real decrease in the total buying power of a lot of people. That's a story the matters, although it may not be nearly as important in the long term. Gas prices have already declined considerably from their 2006 peak, and Americans will over time adjust their habits in response to higher prices. Thriftier vehicles will gradually reduce the share of the average consumer's spending that goes towards gasoline.

But the steady growth in benefits as a share of compensation is an even bigger story. Why did the writers underplay it? In part because of a leftish bias that seizes on corporate profits as a convenient scapegoat. But even more because reporters tend to think of news as what happened yesterday. A bigger story that unfolds over decades doesn't fit that model.


One of my readers writes:

"Nevertheless, I don't see the evidence for your point. Real wages are declining while corporate profits are rising. (To make matters worse, compensation gains are concentrated at the top.) The rich are getting richer, the poor poorer."

One of my points is that the appropriate measure isn't wages, but total compensation. Wages are only about 70% of compensation.

Consider this simplified scenario. Over three years CPI inflation is 10%. Productivity is unchanged. Employers are willing to pay 10% more in total compensation three years later. Health insurance costs increase faster than the CPI, but consumers still want it at the new price. Even with shifting some cost to the employee, employer costs for health insurance increase by a nominal 20%. It follows that average wages offered will increase less than inflation. Even though workers are getting what they want.

Note also that keeping total compensation equal in real terms results in increased wage inequality. Suppose that the average cost of health insurance is $6,000 per worker covered and only 60% of median workers get coverage. The median worker whose wages are $30,000 must give up $360 in wage increase to maintain the same real compensation: more than 1% in real terms. In contast, if the top 1% have 100% coverage and $300,000 in wages, they need to give up $600 in wages to maintain the same employer cost in real terms. The impact on real wages for this group is only .2%.

What Happened at Vannes?

Early in 1381 a deed of arms was fought between the English and French at Vannes. Froissart provides a detailed account of the encounter. So does Cabaret d'Orville in his work La Chronique du bon duc Loys de Bourbon, summarized in Steven Muhlberger's Deeds of Arms.

Unfortunately, the two accounts differ in many ways: the parties involved, the number of combats, and the outcomes of many of the combats. Perhaps it is best to start with where their accounts agree.

The English and French agreed to fight a number of single combats at Vannes. Each combat would be for a set number of blows on foot with different weapons, which included spear, axe and sword. Based on similar combats, this meant that when one or the other champion has struck the set number of blows, either five or three depending on which account you accept, that phase of the combat was completed and they would pick up the next set of weapons. The combat could end early if one of the champions was injured or overmatched and the judges intervened. However, at least one Englishman offered to complete the full number of blows for a companion who was unable to continue, and had his offer accepted.

Each contest began with lance on foot. Froissart describes the champions going at each other at "a good pace" and putting their lances to their breasts. Cabaret also describes the contestants "coming strongly against each other" in a way that seems similar to a later lance combat.

In the first combat one of the champions was wounded in the body by his opponent's spear in spite of the plate defenses he wore.

In the third combat Clarins or Glarains, a bastard of Savoy, struck his opponent, Edward Beauchamp, to the ground twice with his spear.
Then came the last, Edward Beauchamp and Clarins de Savoye. This bastard was a tough and brave squire, and as well formed in all his limbs as the Englishman was not. They ran at each other with a hearty good will: both set their spears on their breast in pushing; so that Edward was struck down and backwards, which angered the English greatly. When he was raised up, he took his spear and went against Clarins and Clarins against him, but the Savoyard again struck him to the ground, which made the English very angry: they said, Edward is too weak against this squire, and the devil was in him to joust against the Savorard. He was carried off among them, and said he would not fight no more.*

In the final encounter, Jean de Chateaumorand fought William Faringdon, who wounded him clear through the thigh in violation of the agreed rules for the encounter. The English were enraged by their own champion's misbehavior and made strenuous apologies and other efforts to make amends, which were ultimately accepted by the French.

Who to trust where the accounts differ? Froissart had an attitude more like a docudrama writer than a modern historian. He strove to create a vivid account of events, and if he didn't know all the details he supplied plausible ones of his own invention. We have no reason to think he was present at Vannes.

Cabaret d'Orville had a well placed source, Jean de Chateaumorand, but hardly an unbiased one. And he was writing about forty years after the encounter, while Froissart was writing when memories were fresher.

For some details, Cabaret is simply more plausible. He says that the victim in the first combat was wounded "between the lames and the piece" It seems likely that the piece in this case was the breastplate, the largest piece of the body armor. The articulation between it and the lames that covered the belly would be a relatively weak point in the body armor. Froissart says the breastplate itself was pierced, a much more challenging task.

Cabaret says that in the final contest, there was a special concession. Faringdon had a knee injury that prevented him from wearing armor, and asked that both champions fight without legharness, and that neither would strike at the other's legs. This makes the serious wound that Chateaumorand suffered more plausible: such a wound would be much less likely if legharness was worn. Froissart seems to have heard about the legs being off limit in that fight, and mistaken a specific accomodation for a general rule.

Froissart seemed to think the arms were off limit as well, but this, if true, would be a unique restriction for foot combats in this era. Cabaret, on the other hand, says that one of the English was wounded by a sword stroke that broke the mail between the piece and garde bras** and pierced his shoulder so that the fight was halted, another by a lance stroke that pierced his arm between avant-bras* and garde bras*. In neither case was this seen as a foul blow.

Froissart says there were three blows with each weapon, Cabaret five. In this case Cabaret seems more plausible. Three is a relatively low number of blows for a combat on foot: a contest planned in 1400 expected ten blows with each weapon. Three is exactly the number of blows per weapon specified for a mounted combat that Froissart says he witnessed in person, but the smaller number would be more appropriate to contests that included the particularly dangerous courses with sharp lances on horseback.

Cabaret adds that the planned exchanges would also include strokes with dagger, a common feature of such contests around this time, if the fights lasted that long, but that none did.

In all these things Cabaret seems to provide the more plausible account. However, in another dimension his account seems more dubious. In his version, the French are uniformly more generous, competent and victorious than the English, decisively winning every fight before Faringdon's foul blow. In addition to the combats already described, Cabaret also says that Tristan de la Jaille badly wounded his opponent with his second axe stroke, so that he could do no more. In Froissart's version the honors are more evenly distributed. Chateaumorand was both a principal and a partisan in the events described. Is it possible that he forgot, misremembered or shaded some details of a combat forty years in the past that might have been less flattering to his team? Is it probable that the French put so many fully armed opponents out of action in so few blows?

Whoever we believe, at least the two sources agree on many of the details of the deed of arms. Fought on foot with several opponents and a variety of weapons, it provides a valuable prototype for those interested in creating the foot combats of this period.

*Froissart, Jean, 1867-1877 Oeuvres ed. Kervyn de Lettenhove, Brussels Vol. 9 pp. 326-327 Translation copyright Will McLean 2012

**Garde bras: upper portion of armharness. Avant-bras: lower portion of armharness, cognate with vambrace

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Armor Pitfalls: Effigies

While effigies are an excellent resource for researching medieval armor, they must be used with some caution. Effigies represent the equipment of the elite that could afford them, not the great mass of ordinary men-at-arms.

Also, as Steve Muhlberger points out in response to an earlier post, "just because you have a pic of someone in a classy armor doesn't mean that person owned it." While some brasses seem individual enough to represent actual portraits, others are so stereotyped that they may owe more to the craftsman's pattern book than to the deceased's actual equipment and appearance.

While many brasses were ordered shortly after the death of the individual memorialized, this wasn't always so. Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick's plans for his own memorial included a fine new chapel to put it in, and as a result his splendid bronze effigy wasn't cast until two decades after his death. In the other direction, Thomas, Lord Berkeley ordered a brass for himself and his wife upon her death in 1392. He himself survived for another 25 years.

His brass indicates the strain of flattering idealization visible in many effigies. His armored waist is scarcely wider than his helmeted head. It seems unlikely that he had such a slim profile in life. It would be interesting to compare the dimensions of the Black Prince's surviving coat armor with those implied by his effigy.

Effigies can also contain a number of symbolic elements that might never have been worn together at one time. Like many effigies of the late 14th and early 15th c., the head of the Black Prince's effigy rests upon a crested helm. By that period such helms were rarely worn outside the jousting or tournament field. At the same time, he wears a bascinet with a tall pointed skull of the shape often seen on the battlefield, but that couldn't have fit inside the helm. English effigies of this period continue to show conservative sleeveless coat armors even though illuminations from the same period show other designs becoming popular on the battlefield and elsewhere, including the short sleeved coat armor preserved above the Black Prince's tomb. The sleeveless coat armor may have dominated memorial portrayals because it was both traditional and well adapted to displaying arms on a two dimensional brass.

Prince Edward's effigy shows a sword by his side that is the acutely pointed shape of a contemporary fighting weapon. A tournament sword would have had a different shape, and a jouster would not have worn a sword at all.

Effigies were intended to show the symbols of the status, function and ancestry of the deceased gentleman: crest, sword and heraldry. If doing so required combining elements that wouldn't normally be worn together on any given day, so be it.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Folksongs Are Your Friends

Things I’ve learned from British folk ballads

To which I'll add:

Don't roughhouse while carrying a wee pen knife, or with someone carrying a wee pen knife. For that matter, don't spend any more time than you have to anywhere near anyone carrying a wee pen knife, particularly if they seem disturbed or agitated.

And don't employ, consort with, or go on moonlit strolls with anyone whose name or job description starts with "False"

Monday, September 04, 2006

Tourney Fences

One authentic possibility for recreators of the medieval tournament seeking to provide an enclosure is to sink uprights into postholes, as was done here. Unfortunately, digging the postholes is laborious and slow.

An equally authentic but less laborious option is use uprights of inverted T shape. The most significant drawbacks of this solution are the transport and storage requirements of the fencing, which are significant.

The Company of St. Michael uses fencing inspired by a 15th c. illumination of the jousts at St. Inglevert, which show the lists surrounded by richly decorated fabric, and spectators viewing the action over the waist-height wall this provides.

This may be intended to show a conventional wooden fence of uprights and horizontal bars draped with fabric. However, we thought it was plausible to reconstruct this "a fence of stakes fixed into the ground at intervals" and hung with cloths, a construction used for some early tilts.

Pieces of cloth are stenciled with the badges of the company, and sewn with casings at top and bottom for ropes strung between banner poles decorated with pennons, as shown here. Metal "portable holes" are used to support the poles. To hold the upper rope taut, rope runs either down to metal stakes or across to wooden corner sections.

These are composed of wooden uprights and bars and pegged together. Rebar extends out of the bottom of the uprights so they can be driven into the ground without digging a hole. The cloth enclosure can be used with or without the wooden corner sections. The whole enclosure breaks down into a fairly compact package, particularly when the corner sections are omitted.

In the future, I may look at configuration with less space between each cloth panel.