Note: In advance of the reading of my and Nick Moore's PLAGUED on the 25th and 26th of January at The Gallery Players in Brooklyn, I'm writing a few little posts here about the weird and horrible 14th century in Europe. Enjoy!
In the 14th century, nobody cared about being accurate about anything.
Like, for instance, counting.
From Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th century:
It should be assumed that medieval figures for military forces, battle casualties, plague deaths, revolutionary hordes, processions, or any groups en masse are generally enlarged by several hundred percent. This is because the chroniclers did not use numbers as data but as a device of literary art to amaze or appall the reader.
This same lack of accuracy in recording events also carried over into things like how people actually looked, behaved and the things they actually did:
Isabeu of Bavaria, Queen of France, is described by one historian as a tall blonde and by another as a “dark, lively, little woman.” The Turkish Sultan Bajazet, reputed by his contemporaries to be bold, enterprising and avid for war, and surnamed Thunderbolt for the rapidity of his strikes is described by a Hungarian historian as “effeminate, sensual, irresolute and vacillating.”
And this was not true only of counting and people but like, every damn thing imaginable:
It may be taken as axiomatic that any statement of fact about the Middle ages may (and probably will) be met by a statement of the opposite or a different version. Women outnumbered men because men were killed off in wars; men outnumbered women because women died in childbirth. Common people were familiar with the Bible; common people were unfamiliar with the Bible. Nobles were tax exempt; no, they were not tax exempt. French peasants were filthy and foul-smelling and lived on bread and onions. French peasants ate pork, fowl, and game and enjoy frequent baths in the village bathhouses. The list could be extended indefinitely.
My first reaction to all this was, naturally, because I am a good person: “Ah ha ha, what silly ancient people! Oh how far we have come, and Oh how foolish they look.”
But this was a silly reaction. Yes, of course, we do have the ability to record the actual number of things, and yes of course, we have the ability to take a photograph of a person to know what they look like, but yet still people's perception of a photograph can be preposterously divergent and yet still there can exist deep contradictions in how I see the world and how others do, despite all the data and physical evidence that exists right in front of my face.
This is not news by any means, but thinking more about this, and about the deep divisions in perception that plague (sorry!) the country we live in today, and about how that gap could potentially be bridged, Nick and I decided to write an epic musical comedy about 14th century England. Like you do.
Is it an accurate depiction of that time in that place?
Is it an accurate depiction of the present in our place?
Well. That depends on your perception of either...
But hopefully it'll make you think a little bit about both.
PLAGUED (a musical comedy adventure)
Music by Nick Moore
Book and Lyrics by Daniel John Kelley
Story by Daniel John Kelley & Nick Moore
In 14th century England, being a peasant is kind of the worst. Famine, filth, slaughter, and endless toil fill a peasant’s day until eventually they die horribly and ascend to Heaven. This is the way it is…until a young peasant girl named Sarah dares to dream of one day that is marginally better than the one before it- a day on earth that is not entirely terrible. Her tremendous, preposterous, impossible dream- sung to a score whose styles evolve as the characters change, from classical to pop, from folk to rock, from jazz to funk to heavy metal and beyond- will shake the nation to its core and change the fate of England…until tomorrow. But perhaps that is more than enough.
The Gallery Players
199 14th St btw 4th and 5th in Park Slope, Brooklyn
Sunday, January 25 at 7pm
Monday, January 26 at 7pm
Tickets are $10, and available here
Composer- Nick Moore
Book and Lyrics: Daniel John Kelley
Director: Joshua William Gelb
Musical Director: Keiji Ishiguri
Stage Manager: Hannah Johnson-Walsh
Alex Birnie*, Lily Drexler, Trisch Hubbard, Michael Kirk Lane*, James Salem, Jillian Stevens, Juson Williams*, Zach Wobensmith*, Sam Tedaldi*, Tauren Hagans*, Tony Lopez, Colleen Clancy, Peter Lam*
For more information about the Overtures series please visit: http://galleryplayers.com/overtures/