Friday, January 20, 2012

So Many Crusades, So Little Time

Having battled our way through the first three Crusades (oof), we now encounter the Medievalism chapter of this Winter Term course (to be followed next week by an all-too-rapid excursus into the Fourth Crusade, much dwelling on the meeting between "the saint (Francis) and the sultan (al-Malik, al-Kamil)," during the Fifth Crusade, and a quick dispensing of poor, misguided Louis IX (dies of dysentery at the walls of Tunis in 1270 - yish).  To initiate All Things Medievalism, we screened King Richard and the Crusaders, the 1954 Hollywood extravaganza so well commented by Lorraine Stock in her essay from the anthology, Hollywood in the Holy Land.  Rex Harrison is in brown-face as a wily Saladin, and George Saunders (whose voice sounds familiar because he voiced Shere Khan in the Disney Jungle Book movie) is Richard III. Some totally hot young guy in really tight tights whose hair never actually moves plays Kenneth of Huntington, the Leopard Knight, and Virginia Mayo plays Lady Edith, she of the perky bosom and perfect lipstick.  These movies are so delightful to watch and hate, but so incredibly useful for talking about Orientalism in their triumphalist naïveté.  Considering that Winter Term classes are not supposed to be "too academic" (whatever the hell that means) (clearly a point that frustrates me), I was proud that we at least talked about Orientalism via Delacroix (Sardanapolus) and King Richard.  I'd screened the movie at home (and read significant chunks of Sir Walter Scott's 1825 The Talisman on which it is based) and so hearing the dialogue a second time, was struck by how many times Crusaders say things like "I want to help" - "I'm here to help you" - "We want to help."  It sounds so naïve now (the students laughed at those lines, experienced viewers of Crusader films made in the post-Vietnam era that they are), but that easy triumphalism is almost hypnotic.

So it's with wonderfully mixed anticipation that I prepare to take my students to Chicago for the day tomorrow.  The Art Institute will provide us with that glorious Dieric Bouts "Weeping Virgin" and the Arms and Armor exhibited (which a few years was displaced by Indian Art - how interesting is that?), and then it's on to the D'Arcy Gallery at Loyola and finally (drum roll, please) MEDIEVAL TIMES!  Last time I went 8 years ago, it was still close enough to 9-11 that they were flying an American flag during the finale.  This time?  We shall see how medievalism is doing in the Heartland!


  1. Hi Anne,

    I just discovered your blog and have been reading through the archives with delight. I'm looking forward to more!

  2. Hello Paul - and how great to discover your blog - medieval literature IS awesome!