The Performance of Victorian Medievalism

  • Barbara Bell


The medieval performance structure that lay at the heart of the nineteenth-century embrace of medievalism was the tournament, and perhaps the key factor in the ease with which Victorians played at and played with the medieval tournament was the essentially performative and doubled nature of the original event. Louise Fradenburg’s account in City, Marriage, Tournament: Arts of Rule in Late Medieval Scotland1 of the way in which monarchs used the performance space of the tournament field variously for public entertainment, personal recreation, military training, political maneuvering, diplomatic dialogue, and settling serious disputes makes clear that role play and the taking on of symbolic and idealized personae were key elements in the construction of tournaments.2 Nineteenth-century authors, particularly Sir Walter Scott, understood and utilized this aspect of tournaments in shaping their narratives, and it was recognized and embraced by nineteenth-century participants in recreations.


Military Training Ring Role Entertainment Industry Minor Theater General Combat 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Louise O. Fradenburg, City, Marriage, Tournament: Arts of Rule in Late Medieval Scotland (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992).Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    A. H. Saxon, Enter Foot and Horse (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1986), 6.Google Scholar
  3. 13.
    K8 in Richard Ford, Dramatisations of Scott’s Novels: A Catalogue (Oxford: Oxford Bibliographical Society, 1979).Google Scholar
  4. 15.
    James Chandler, England in 1819: The Politics of Literary Culture and the Case of Romantic Historicism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998).Google Scholar
  5. 16.
    S. Barczewski, Myth and National Identity in Nineteenth-Century Britain: The Legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 18.
    Sir Walter Scott, Ivanhoe (Harmondsworth; New York: Penguin. Penguin Classics, 1986), 508.Google Scholar
  7. 25.
    F. Fox Cooper, Ivanhoe (London: Dick’s British Drama 1883 no. 385). K18 in Ford’s catalogue.Google Scholar
  8. 32.
    Ian Anstruther, The Knight and the Umbrella (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1963).Google Scholar
  9. 33.
    R. B. Martin, “Plum’d like Estriches,” Enter Rumour. Four Early Victorian Scandals (London: Faber and Faber, 1962), 83–136.Google Scholar
  10. 45.
    J. E. Adams, Dandies and Desert Saints: Styles of Victorian Manhood (Cornell: Cornell University Press, 1995).Google Scholar
  11. 48.
    Lynda Nead, Victorian Babylon (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2000).Google Scholar
  12. 56.
    M. Girouard, The Return to Camelot: Chivalry and the English Gentleman (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1981).Google Scholar
  13. 57.
    At the last the general populace might have lost sight of the origins of the splendid spectacles that were the steam gallopers in full flow, but the fairground community remembered and in 1928, the American National Association of Amusement Parks passed a resolution in praise of a noted carousel maker who had recently died: The knights of old rode their magnificently caparisoned horses only in defense of themselves and their honor and to what they thought is [sic] their lasting way of fame. Our member produced a finer caparisoned horse than the world had known up to his time, and best of all, it was produced to give joy to the millions, and any man who made his fellow man happy, cannot be said to have lived his life in vain. Quoted in F. Fried, A Pictorial History of the Carousel (New York: A.S. Barnes and Co., 1978). The maker was William H. Dentzel.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Lorretta M. Holloway and Jennifer A. Palmgren 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Barbara Bell

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations