Books: Comic Trying to Rewrite History; Ex Python Terry Jones Tells Simon Evans Why We've Got the Middle Ages All Wrong

The Birmingham Post (England), February 21, 2004 | Go to article overview

Books: Comic Trying to Rewrite History; Ex Python Terry Jones Tells Simon Evans Why We've Got the Middle Ages All Wrong


Byline: Simon Evans

One of the functions of comedy is to alter, if only momentarily, our perspective on the world, to reveal the absurdities of everyday life.

The Monty Python team were more successful than most at changing our view of the world around us. Like a child's kaleidoscope that, with the slightest turn, suddenly reveals a new set of patterns and colours, the Pythons took a slightly slanted, off centre view of the world and revealed it as dark, disturbing, grotesque and rather silly.

It's an attitude reflected in the work of the prolific ex-Python Terry Jones, whose various excursions into journalism, children's books, films and, most recently, the television series and book Medieval Lives, reveal a constantly enquiring, questioning mind.

In Medieval Lives, currently being shown on BBC2 and just published as a lavish book, Jones questions our received wisdom about the period, revealing that, far from being a time of superstition, ignorance, poverty and depravity, it actually wasn't too bad a time to be living in, and in many ways was more preferable to our modern day existence. As Jones puts it: 'The life of the peasant depends on the sort of society he lives in -and compared with a lot of people's lives today, there were times when the medieval peasant had it pretty good.'

Jones fascination with the Middle Ages dates back to the early Seventies, when he was involved in making the Monty Python TV series.

'In between rehearsals for the Monty Python TV series I used to go off moonlighting in the British Museum investigating all sorts of things about the period, just because I found it so fascinating,' he recalls. 'I wouldn't pretend to be a trained historian (Jones studied English at Oxford), I'm just very interested in the period.'

Part of that interest stemmed from Jones' love of the work of Geoffrey Chaucer.

'I was particularly interested in the boring bits of Chaucer,' he says. 'I've always been puzzled by the description of the knight in the General Prologue of The Canterbury Tales, which is so dreary especially when the descriptions of the other pilgrims are so fascinating, funny and witty.

'I thought maybe it's because of the way we are looking at it, the way it has been taught. The description of the knight is essentially a list of wars and battles, so I set about investigating what those battles actually were about and what they would have meant to a contemporary. I discovered that the knight was actually a medieval mercenary, which explained a lot.'

The result was Jones' book Chaucer's Knight, which is still required reading for students of The Canterbury Tales. Jones says researching the book involved 'getting into a kind of 14th century mindset, and it's the old story, the more you get into something the more you find it fascinating.'

Directing the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail also gave Jones the opportunity to explore his fascination with the Middle Ages. 'With that film we wanted to get away from the sanitised Hollywood stereotype of the period. I'm not certain that our vision was any more accurate but I think it helped make the settings more real to an audience. Basically we got everyone to blacken their teeth, which was a pain in the neck. When it came to having a quick bacon sarnie it was like eating with socks on!

'In actual fact, when they pulled up the Mary Rose they found that all the sailors had perfect teeth, the reason being that, although they didn't have dentists, they didn't eat sugar.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Books: Comic Trying to Rewrite History; Ex Python Terry Jones Tells Simon Evans Why We've Got the Middle Ages All Wrong
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.