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Andrew Koh
Period 3
November 4, 2011
AP European History DBQ
From the Renaissance to the Modern era, festivals and carnivals were one way to release the tensions between the upper and lower classes. Festivities ranged from simple charivari to mockery as people became heedless to the social structure and class to all come together and just have some fun. However, the upper class members were using these festivals and carnivals in order to prevent any reformation, opposition, or revolution from the lower classes, and keep their hold on their country regardless of how badly oppressed the lower classes were.
The nature of these festivities was generally wild and anarchic as one Lutheran pastor, Baltasar Rusow, describes, as he frowned upon the actions of the people during these festivities, that many were in disorder, whoring, fighting, and even killing.(doc 2) Even the paintings of Pieter Brueghel the Elder had shown, particularly in ???Battle Between Carnival and Lent??? painted in 1559, the chaos and disorder the lower classes caused during these carnivals.(doc 3) The unrestrained nature of these festivities was, however, supported by the nobles as they enjoyed along with the lower class men of their mockery by the lower classes, as a Dominican monk, Brother Ciovanni di Carlo in Florence, had described.(doc 1) This was a tactic used by the upper class to lighten the tension and relations between them and the lower class. Such as Juvenal??™s famous statement ???panem et circenses???, bread and circus, was a metaphor to the people??™s appeasement despite any oppressive rule, so as long as that they are kept busy with free food and a spectacle. Thereby encouraging the lower classes to have their festivals with such little control over these carnivals, the upper class were able to prevent upward mobility from the middle class as well as any hint of revolution or reformation. To further this point R. Lassels, a French traveler commenting on an Italian Carnival, claims that these festivals were held to allow low class Italians may have a little vent for their spirits which have been stifled for a whole year and was at the brink of melancholy.(doc 5) Thoroughly explaining the reasons for a festival, and why nobles deemed it necessary to have a good grasp on the lower class. The nobles went as far as to even to celebrate with lower classes conversing and dressing like one another the rich like the poor and the poor like the rich, the maidens as young men, and even some of the younger men dressed as maidens.(doc 6) Showing the overall a seemingly impartial behavior of the nobles, but however, in the end the nobles were noble and the low class were low, and there is little doubt that at the time of festivities the nobles tolerated these behaviors, but after all the ceremonies had commenced it was back to the oppressed nature of the lower class. Some businesses even relied on these carnivals to prosper such as the plasterers, dirt daubers, joiners, and other businesses, as they fixed the carnage left behind by the lower class during these festivals and carnivals as described by John Taylor an early 17th century English writer.(doc 4) As during the celebration of Mardi Gra otherwise known as ???Shrove Tuesday??? the youth were going on a rampant rage destroying everything and anything in their way during the festivities. Even the weddings of the lower classes did not pass without a charivari, known as ???rough music??? which meant to go about pounding on pots and pans making loud noise for the celebration.
People in France in the Age of Enlightenment, however, were not satisfied with a mere festival, as a report by a police inspector, in Toulouse, France, suggests that these acts of charivari was not mere disorders to celebrate the marriage of nobles, but a beginning of a revolution and a demand of reformation from the French people.(doc 7) As the fall of absolutism was evident as the Napoleonic wars of France had ended and a sort of constitutional monarchy was put in to place.
Meanwhile, in other countries, customs formally part of the outrageous revelry for example, a custom called ???riding the stang??? is when a delinquent is put on an old broken down horse forcefully and ridiculed around town, were commonly used against the female population for having done wrong as Mrs. Elizabeth Gaskell, an English author, sympathized for a woman who she presumed was treated in a very disorderly way in a letter to a friend.(doc 8) As if suggesting how the people had taken the law in to their own hands, and humiliated a woman for whatever reason may be. However, as a fellow woman herself Mrs. Elizabeth??™s statement can be a biased and overstated, and cannot be a trusted source. Similarly in Russia, in spite of Mrs. Elizabeth letter, a report had suggested that a woman was put up for ???riding the stang??? for having picked some communal berries before the customary time, but did she even bother to complain even if she did become ill because such punishment was too severe,(It was a fatal blow ?)(doc 10) and so Mrs. Elizabeth could have very well told the truth. However, variants of a stang song in England also suggested it was not just woman that had ???rode the stang??? but men too. In this case Abram an abusive husband had beat his wife, and now for the woman of the town to set him straight.(doc 9)
All in all, the general attitude towards in carnivals and festivals had not changed in from the Renaissance to the modern era, other than the countries that had an absolute monarchy such as in France, but even then the French had used such revelries in order to cause disorder to undermine their absolute government.