Defining Medievalism: History, Fantasy and Intertextuality
Medievalism: The art, literature, scholarship, avocational pastimes, and sundry forms of
entertainment and culture that turn to the Middle Ages for their subject matter or inspiration,
and in doing so, explicitly
(Vikings) or implicitly
(Star Wars), by comparison or contrast, comment
on the artist’s contemporary sociocultural status (how they perceive a medieval world to be, not
●Explicit examples of Medievalism: Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Merlin, Robin
●Implicit examples of Medievalism: Star Wars, Once Upon a Time, Shrek, Harry Potter, the
●Contrasting: Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Umberto Eco’s “Ten Little Middle Ages”: Said we have to understand what our view on the
Middle Ages is and where it comes from. The many uses of the Middle Ages in Popular Culture
1. The Middle Ages as Pretext: An example of Medievalism that has no real interest in the
historical background, modern characters on a colourful medieval background, a
mythological stage. E.g a Knight’s Tale.
2. The Middle Ages as a site of Ironical Revisitation: A movie/book looks back on the Middle
Ages as a heroic proper & younger age, superior to today. Awareness that this is not
3. The Middle Ages as a Barbaric Age: This is also known as “shaggy medievalism”. The idea
of the noble savage, that medieval people were primitive. Most pervasive form.
4. Middle Ages of Romanticism
5. The Middle Ages of National Identities: The ideas that the kingdoms formed in the MA
(England, France, etc.,) can look back on their Medieval origin and feel proud. Heritage
societies and battle re-enactments (Hastings) are examples of this.
6. Decadentism: Architecture. Neo-medieval influence in art and architecture, connected to
7. Philological reconstruction: Scholarly medieval studies, responsible Medievalism.
8. Middle Ages of Tradition: Secrets, mysteries and conspiracies. Myths of Templars,
Cathars and Holy grail.
9. The Expectation of the Millennium: The apocalyptic Middle Ages. They were not always
believing the world would end, this is exaggerated Medievalism.
Neo-Medievalism: Not a dream of the Middle Ages, but a dream of someone else’s Medievalism.
It is Medievalism doubled upon itself.
A New Taxonomy: David Matthews, Published in 2015. Two basic types of Medievalism and a
tension between the two:
1. Gothic/Grotesque Medievalism: Involves threat, violence and warped sexuality. The
other. The rejected past and the grotesque forbear of modernity. Darkness, dankness, etc.,
Grotesque can be thrilling (Vampire). Negative uses of the word medieval are examples of
this type of Medievalism. This is the dominant form of medievalism as Medieval is always
associated with darkness, and known as ‘the Dark Ages’.
2. Romantic Medievalism: The idea that something valuable was lost with the Middle Ages.
The Middle Ages of romance, chivalric deeds, but also of simple communitarian living and