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Anachronisms in A Knight’s Tale

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Published: Mon, 04 Sep 2017

There are several anachronistic factors portrayed in the 2001 film A Knight’s Tale, and these elements are specifically crafted to help allow the viewer to relate to a subject that lays outside of their area of expertise, in this case the middle ages. By blending the use of modern music, and modern clothing items, with historical references and names of that time period, the director Brian Helgeland, is providing the audience a way to relate to a subject matter that they may be unfamiliar with.

The Merriam Webster Online dictionary defines Anachronism as:

  1. an error in chronology; especially a chronological misplacing of persons, events, objects, or customs in regard to each other.
  2. A person or a thing that is chronologically out of place; especially:  one from a former age that is incongruous in the present.
  3. the state or condition of being chronologically out of place

Anachronism in storytelling is not a new phenomenon. The earliest forms of dramatic entertainment in the Middle Ages was the staging of religious narrative as public plays. These performances also relied on such anachronism to help the audiences to understand a time far removed from their own.  The roles of characters from religious plays were modelled after the roles members of the audience could relate to, to make the story easier for the audience to accept. The same can be said of the film A Knight’s Tale, which uses modern day elements, blended with a romanticised version of medieval history, to enhance the audiences’ familiarity with the period portrayed.

In medieval times a sport arose. Embraced by noble and peasant alike though only noble knights could compete. The sport was jousting. For one of these knights, an over-the-hill former champion, it was the end. But for his peasant squire William, it was merely the beginning. (A Knight’s Tale “chapter 1”)

The jousting arena as portrayed in one of the first action scenes of the film, is shown in a fairly historically accurate manner, from the design of the raised throne area for the local nobility, to the dirt and plain wooden benches for the peasants. The trappings of heraldic devices, the horses’ armor, or barding, and the lances and other tournament equipment are quite authentic in appearance; only the use of Queen’s We Will Rock You seems out of place. But the inclusion of this type of music, and that song in particular are quite intentional. That same piece of music can be heard used today, in a similar setting. In a modern hockey arena or football stadium, you can see different groups of people, seated on benches, with painted faces, cheering wildly for their chosen team. These people are separated into different areas, some with a better view of the activities than others, and this music is quite often played to help raise the anticipation of the fans, and to increase their enjoyment of the games. This lends an air of familiarity to the scene in the movie. Jousting tournaments, much like modern sporting events today, provided a sense of community and belonging that could be enjoyed by all, peasants and nobility alike.  The use of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” helps demonstrates the excitement and extravagance of the tournament scene, and reminds us how much this new “sport” is like our own NHL, WWF or Football industries. (Cetiner-Oktem, 2009, p.50). The anachronistic terminology used in describing the final jousting tournament in London as the World Championship also helps forge a link to our modern times, making the events seem more familiar and allowing the viewer to willingly suspend his disbelief.

The anachronism of modern clothes follows a similar logic in allowing the audience to relate to the film. From the style of Jocelyn’s transparent blouse, the use of a modern day hat, overcoats with deep v neck lines, or a black and white outfit that has a more modern look to it, these clothing choices are far more relatable to a modern audience than the chemise, underskirt, overskirt, bustle, corset, and heavy fabric over dress of a noblewoman’s closest. The clothing of the women is not the only anachronistic wardrobe in the film. William’s character also wears fitted and shaped pants, very similar in design to modern dress pants, and his dress tunic for the feast is cut much more in the style of a modern overcoat, rather than the traditional tunic he would have worn in the middle ages. These style cues make the characters, and the settings seem more like our own, thus allowing us to adapt to the “historical” setting of the movie a little easier. These anachronisms not only bridge the gap between periods, but create a deep sense of familiarity for the audience.

There are many historically appropriate names and places referenced in the film, including the character of Geoffrey Chaucer. By incorporating a person of historical significance, the film gains some added credibility as a period piece, but the fictional character is portrayed in a manner that makes it easier for the audience to accept and understand the character. As Chaucer speaks to the crowds as William’s herald, he uses a style of speech and tone of voice that is instantly recognizable to many modern viewers. The verbal build-up of William’s character, the accounting of all his attributes, and his past battle accomplishments, are all very reminiscent of the style and mannerisms of famous fight announcer Bruce Buffer, whom many viewers in the audience would know from Professional boxing and UFC fights. As Cetiner-Oktem states in the essay Dreaming the Middle Ages, “Chaucer is not a part of American culture. Thus, this encounter may also be read as bridging the infant American culture, embodied in William, to the well-established English culture, embodied in Chaucer.” (Cetiner-Oktem, 2009, p.50) Another historical name that is used in the film is that of William’s noble alter ego; Ulrich von Liechtenstein from Gelderland. As we have learned in our course studies, Sir Ulrich was a real knight from the thirteenth century, who also followed the ideals of courtly love and chivalry, and wrote of his many adventures. (McKenzie, 2017) The plot device that Lady Jocelyn uses to get William to prove his love to her in the film also has some historical bearing. It was originally contrived by Chrétien de Troyes in his story Lancelot or The Knight of the Cart in the twelfth century. In it Guinevere tells Lancelot to do his worst, and lose in a tournament, only to change her mind midway, and tell Lancelot to do the best he can, in order to prove his love for her. All of these historical embellishments all help to provide some credibility to the time period the film is set in, and may even provoke the audience to look further into the actual truth of the history portrayed, as it did in my case.

I feel that although this film is a neo-medievalist telling of a story, all of the modern and historical elements, from the historical names and places, to the modern elements of music and fashion are combined together with some artistry and grace to create a compelling tale that the audience can easily relate too, while providing escapist fantasy. The film still provides an enjoyable portrayal of medieval times, and provides enough historical facets to be thought provoking.

References

Anachronism. (N.D.) in Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary. Retrieved March 4, 2017, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/anachronism

Black, T. (Producer), Helgeland, B. (Producer), Van Rellim, T. (Producer) & Helgeland, B. (Director). (2001) A Knight’s Tale [Motion picture]. United States: Columbia Pictures.

Cetiner-Oktem, Z. (2009). Dreaming the Middle Ages: American Neomedievalism in A Knight’s Tale and Timeline. Interactions, (1), 43.

McKenzie, A. (2017). Week 6: Neo-medievalism in Film: Chivalry Fountains: Knightly Chivalry and the Arthurian Tradition. [Online course slides] Retrieved on March 4, 2017, from https://conestoga.desire2learn.com/d2l/le/content/145142/viewContent/3017348/View

McKenzie, A. (2017). Week 6: Neo-medievalism in Film: Chivalry Fountains: The Chivalric Code of Honour. [Online course slides] Retrieved on March 4, 2017, from https://conestoga.desire2learn.com/d2l/le/content/145142/viewContent/3017347/View


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