Friday, June 3, 2011

In Praise of Terry Jones

Back in 2006, Terry Jones - of Monty Python fame - and the BBC released a documentary series called Terry Jones' Medieval Lives. Jones, aside from being a culturally significant writer, director and comedian, is also an Oxford educated historian. Jones was interviewed in The Observer and stated his reasons for making the series:

"The main reason I wanted to make Medieval Lives was to get my own back on the Renaissance. It's not that the Renaissance has ever done me any harm personally, you understand. It's just that I'm sick of the way people's eyes light up when they start talking about the Renaissance. I'm sick of the way art critics tend to say: 'Aaaah! The Renaissance!' with that deeply self-satisfied air of someone who is at last getting down to the Real Thing. And I'm sick to death of that ridiculous assumption that that before the Renaissance human beings had no sense of individuality."

As it happens, I agree with the positions that Jones takes throughout the series. Jones tackles common misconceptions and myths that persist about the Medieval age and its peoples even to today. He presents the commonly held belief and then counters it. For instance, he looks at the legacy of the three King Richards, and how one has been unjustly "lionised" (pardon the pun) and the other two unjustly vilified.
I once wrote a paper entitled Perceptions of Satan through the Medieval Ages, (sadly lost along with the discs in a burglary) in which I posited that the Medieval peoples were far less superstitious regarding witchcraft (and Satan) then the people who came after them. Medieval teachings stated that all power comes from God, therefore witches had no power - it was just superstition. Jones reiterates that sentiment in the episode that looks at the status of women in the Medieval Age.
I was never able to see the series when it ran on cable television, but I picked up Netflix when I bought my XBOX and the series is on that service. Well worth checking out. I am looking forward to seeing Terry Jones' Barbarians as well, when it is offered.

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