Monday, 18 October 2010
Britain in the Middle Ages, a country for Donald Sutherland in 'fiction', was no country for real old men in 'fact'
Watching the 75 year old Canadian actor, Donald Sutherland, play the character 'Batholomew', in the tv series. Pillars of Earth', set in England in the Middle Ages, prompted me to ask the question : was Medieval England a country for old men ?
In answer to my question : were most people dead by the age of 40 ? The answer is :
Perhaps as many as 40% died before they reached adulthood, but if they did survive childhood and adolescence, they a good chance of living to their 50's or early 60's and there were even some who lived to 70 or 80.
Further investigation revealed that the old :
* were labelled among the 'weak' members of society, along with children, on grounds of age, women, because of their sex, peasants and shepherds because they belonged to the lowest social strata.
* were there because they were considered to be physically or mentally feeble or both.
Old age was represented, on the one hand, as the stage of life in which a person goes into physical and mental decline and on the other, the one at which they attain wisdom, freedom from lusts, the ability to counsel others and look after the salvation of their soul.
In a popular text in the 1200's, a wise man asked : why did children and old people sleep so much ? He replied that children sleep because they are green and sweet and like a delicate flower which could be blown off a tree by the slightest breeze. The old who are also weak, are like a ripe apple which is liable to fall from the tree at the slightest breeze.
The best evocation of the Middle Ages was in the late Ingmar Bergman's 1957 film, 'The Seventh Seal'. Set in Sweden during the Black Death, it tells of the journey of a medieval knight and a game of chess he plays with the personification of Death, who has come to take his life.
The flagellants try to raise the punishment of The Black Death :
The most humorous evocation is in the film 'Monty Python and The Holy Grail' :
P.S. A link for those who want to learn about the old in the Middle Ages :