6 Chapter 5 The spoken word Vagabonds and minstrels in sixteenth-century Wales Vagabonds and minstrels in sixteenth-century Wales Richard Suggett T hroughout much of late medieval and early modern Europe, from Poland and Russia in the east to Wales and Ireland in the west, itinerant minstrels entertained noble and plebeian audiences. Wandering entertainers may well have provided (as Burke has suggested) one of the unifying elements within European popular culture. A pan-European tradition of minstrelsy, crossing social and cultural boundaries, is an

in The spoken word
Open Access (free)
Oral culture in Britain 1500–1850
Editors: Adam Fox and Daniel Woolf

Human beings have developed a superabundance of ways of communicating with each other. Some, such as writing, are several millennia old. This book focuses on the relationship between speech and writing both within a single language, Welsh, and between two languages, Welsh and English. It demonstrates that the eighteenth-century Scottish clergy used the popular medium of Gaelic in oral and written form to advance the Gospel. The experience of literacy in early modern Wales was often an expression of legal and religious authority reinforced by the spoken word. This included the hearing of proclamations and other black-letter texts publicly read. Literate Protestant clergymen governed and shaped the Gaelic culture by acting as the bridge-builders between oral and literary traditions, and as arbiters of literary taste and the providers of reading material for newly literate people. The book also offers some illustrations of how anecdotes became social tools which used to make points not only in private correspondence but also in civil conversation in early modern England. Locating vagabonds and minstrels, and other wanderers on the margins of settled society depended on the survival of the appropriate historical record. Cautionary tales of the judgements God visited upon flagrant and incorrigible sinners circulated widely in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England: stories of sabbath-breakers, swearers, drunkards, adulterers and other ungodly livers struck down suddenly by the avenging arm of the Almighty. During the age of Enlightenment, intellectual culture nourished a new understanding of non-literate language and culture.

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encounters with the written or printed word. In the case of early modern Britain, they were lived through in different ways, at different times, in different parts of the land. They were unquestionably 11 Introduction subject to social differentiation. But if ‘literate’ can no longer be taken as a synonym for elite (or even educated), then ‘oral’ is emphatically not coterminous with popular or marginal. Speech figured in every human being’s life, from kings and archbishops down to minstrels and vagrants, and for every human being it was the most routine and commonplace

in The spoken word

recitations to entertain their audience, who, ‘determined to be amused ... sit there, and laugh, and cheer to their hearts’ content’. 60 The ship even had its own band of minstrels, who would perform ‘Negro melodies’. 61 On other nights, Alfred might be found playing the violin while other men sat or lay about reading or doing crochet. 62 Alfred grew very comfortable and content with this life and

in Royal tourists, colonial subjects and the making of a British world, 1860–1911

tablet re-used as a roofing slate recorded a bailiff ’s account for a monastic grange and is carefully inscribed in Welsh. One may suppose that in addition to libraries in the conventional sense, the abbey may have had collections of stone tablets used in routine administration which were regarded as temporary rather than permanent records. Three languages occur on these tablets – Welsh, Latin, and English – although the dominant language is Welsh and two of the scribes appear to have been, characteristically, a monk (David Gwyn, monachus) and a minstrel (David Grythor

in The spoken word
The CDC’s mission to Cold War East Pakistan, 1958

minstrel’ show to the man himself, whom they mocked as a bumbler, a ‘madman’ who ‘hopped up and down’ when agitated, and who impulsively ‘ran out of the room’. As physicians, they decided he needed tranquillising. 77 In these and other ways they undercut his authority as Chief Public Health Adviser and threw cold water on the volunteer campaign. The most likely cause of this venomous criticism was that they felt vulnerable for being so closely

in The politics of vaccination

of subsistence, and can be conceived as a means to handle disability and negotiate interactions and social relations with non-disabled people. She argues that in their encounters with non-disabled people individuals with impairments must learn to manage relationships from the beginning and ‘use charm, intimidation, ardour, deference, T HE S O C IAL RELATIO NS O F DIS ABILITY 161 humour, or entertainment to relieve nondisabled people of their discomfort’. ‘Those of us with disabilities are supplicants and minstrels,’ she argues, ‘striving to create valued

in Disability in industrial Britain

organized, and the lower rungs of these ladders may have reached or penetrated the realms both of non-aristocratic society, and of vernacular speech. Highland Perthshire provides evidence for the mediating role of itinerants such as chapmen (pacairean), and the minstrel bands known as Cliar Sheanchain, ‘as literary receptors and disseminators, operating between the spheres of high and popular culture, and across social classes’.11 Such brief contextualization may begin to explain the relevance of an analysis of a written genre to a book about the spoken word. The bond

in The spoken word