The last duel is the latest in a series of films set in the Middle Ages on the big screen and on streaming services. The green knight, The king and Outlaw king are notable examples of recent years. While some of these films are completely fictional and others claim to be based on historical facts, they all have one ominous element in common: their portrayal of the Middle Ages. Everyone in these films seems perpetually miserable, and the weather swings between snow, sleet, and hail. It would be easy to conclude from these depictions that everyone in the Middle Ages lived horrible lives, and the only excitement they received was from the occasional battle.
“This interpretation, from a time of decline and obscurity, has influenced perceptions of the Middle Ages since then”
This perception of a dark and miserable Middle Ages has been around much longer than any of these films, much longer even than films have even existed. It was born out of Renaissance humanism, a new style of learning and philosophy based on imitation of classical authors and styles that spread across Europe from the early 14th century. Renaissance humanism was based on the interpretation that the Middle Ages had been an era of cultural stagnation and decline, and that this trend could be reversed by drawing inspiration from the ancient Greeks and Romans.
This interpretation, from a time of decline and obscurity, has since influenced perceptions of the Middle Ages. He survived Renaissance humanism and influenced Enlightenment thinkers, allowing Western Europeans to compare themselves and their perceived progress to their medieval “barbarian” ancestors. All of these ideas made their way into the art and literature of the time, which in turn influenced later interpretations and eventually appeared in modern representations of the Middle Ages. Think about Monty Python and the Holy Grail: While a satirical comedy, its depictions of peasants rolling in grime and setting a witch on fire to weigh the same as a duck does not fall far short of how the Middle Ages continue to be portrayed At the movie theater.
That’s not to say the Middle Ages were heaven, but this movie continues to do it a huge disservice by portraying it in such a negative way. It’s easy to dismiss the whole period as boring and unnecessary when portrayed as such in art and culture. You have to remember the obvious but often forgotten fact that, above all else, medieval peoples were people. They had families, they laughed and cried, hoped and dreamed.
“Not everyone was going to constantly kill each other without consequence, despite what these films might have you believe”
When there are positive portrayals of medieval characters in films, they focus on individuals of high status. By emphasizing the narratives of those of belonging to the highest social groups, the films continue to perpetuate the idea that ordinary people living in the Middle Ages were dirty and unhappy dummies and that the only stories worth telling are those of the social elite. Medieval people were not just extras in the lives of the so-called great men of the day.
The role of violence in medieval film society also tends to be widely emphasized. While violence was a part of daily life, there were both secular and ecclesiastical courts during this period. Not all conflicts had to become epic struggles for life or death. Chivalry in particular is often at the center of violence in these films. It is important to keep in mind that chivalry was a social class in its own right, reserved primarily for social elites and those who could afford the expense of armor, horses, and other living expenses. Knights could legitimately participate in violence, but that doesn’t mean everyone could. Popular revolts and violence were often suppressed because they were illicit forms of violence. Not everyone was constantly killing each other without consequences, despite what these movies might have you believe.
This is not to discourage you from seeing the Last duel or any other film featuring the Middle Ages, only to encourage you to question the representations of medieval Europe in the cinema and to remind you that there were four seasons, and that ordinary people existed and that they did not exist. were not driving through the streets in the dirt. It was possible for them to be happy and to live a fulfilling life. The next time you watch a movie set in the Middle Ages, keep in mind the unseen historical forces and prejudices that shape the way each of us interprets history, and how those forces continue to shape the art that we do. we create on the Middle Ages.
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