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Games and festivities

Games and festivities in the medieval period were often rooted in pagan beliefs, and some of these festivities still survive today. There were many members of the clergy who didn’t approve of this; they felt that it was at best reinforcing local superstitions and at worst was encouraging sorcery or witchcraft. The fact that many people are still superstitious today shows what powerful beliefs they were.

Drama, dance and song were a very important part of medieval culture, along with legends and stories. The cultural traditions of the time tended to be visual and oral, rather than written because of the high levels of illiteracy. Festivals also tended to fit in with, and very much reflect the rhythm of life and agriculture.

The kinds of local events that went on were ‘Plough Monday’, ‘Feast of Fools’, May games, summer games and harvest suppers. They also held miracle plays (a long series of short plays telling Bible stories) and secular plays, and other kinds of story-telling. There is a medieval secular play which still survives, which may have been written in Lincolnshire, called ‘The Cleric and the Girl’. These were popularist at first, but later came to be enjoyed by the aristocracy as well.

Medieval people also enjoyed bull running, bear baiting, wrestling, beauty competitions and many other festivities. Squires’ games would include quintain and tilting.

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Last updated: 3 March 2011

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