Borvo, Denny Bradbury, entertainment, glee, King Alfred, saxon, scops, storyteller
We all like a good story. Collectively we spend billions of pounds on print books, e-books, and audio books. Hours of our lives are taken up watching TV soaps, dramas and big-budget films.
Theatres are full with standing ovations; families and friends meet up and exchange life stories.
Stories can be factual or fictitious, sometimes a combination of both. Yet in all accounts they are entertaining.
Our love of stories in the present is no different to the love of stories in historical times.
Denny Bradbury’s latest offering, ‘Borvo’, is set in Anglo-Saxon times during the reign of King Alfred. One of the characters travels between villages, entertaining the people with his wit and cunning.
These wandering storytellers or ‘scops’ were respected. It was a true skill to pass on information, make it entertaining, and keep the interest of the audience.
Their tasks were many:
- Reporters – passing news from town to town
- Teachers – hiding ‘lessons’ within their stories, rights and wrongs, advice on how to live in a respectful and helpful manner
- Historians – reciting past events and keeping them fresh in the minds of the people
- Morale – it was necessary in times of battle and hardship to keep spirits high
- Loyalty – stories were told in such a way to leave their ‘employer’ in high regard
No royal residence or home of high society was complete without a scop at banquets. They would entertain the guests with stories, music and riddles. Some would show off other skills, such as juggling.
Scops often recited stories with a rudimentary harp or a lyre (hence the terms ‘lyrics’). This allowed for easier understanding of the words. Rhythm and rhyme enabled the scop to remember the many fables and historical events.
These storytellers tended to write and perform their own work. Although performances would include items of fantasy and extravagance, they often began life as factual stories but ‘altered’ for entertainment value.
They were usually welcomed wherever they went; people longed to hear of news from other villages. As such, scops were offered free food and shelter as a thank you for their visit.
Other people in the entertainment business were Gleemen. Although similar to scops in many ways – storytelling, performing music and other acts – they did not have a ‘base’, a home in which they could return. Instead, Gleemen relied on their talents to pay for lodgings and feed themselves.
They were not always welcomed where they roamed and were the Saxon equivalent of modern-day buskers.
The art of storytelling has not died over the years, it has merely transformed.
King Alfred championed the use of English in written form as opposed to Latin, making texts more accessible. He also brought in education for a wider range of society.
Over the years, stories were written rather than spoken and historical events were documented and not just confined to memory.
The need for oral narratives began a decline but the need for stories continue to this day.
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