11. Storytelling was not just entertainment for peasants in the Middle Ages, it was also their only link to the outside world
In the Middle Ages, the peasantry generally took a ‘do it yourself’ attitude to keeping themselves entertained. After all, while kings could afford to pay for clowns or theatre troupes, or lay on a feast to keep himself happy, the typical impoverished village would have struggled to pay for even an afternoon’s entertainment from a wandering minstrel. This is the main reason why storytelling was such a big deal. In fact, listening to someone weave a yarn or share gossip was probably the most fun peasants had in Medieval times.
Storytellers would, like minstrels, go from village to village trying to make a living. Usually they would turn up unannounced and not even declare themselves to be a storyteller. Only after a weak beer or two would they begin their show. In some cases, they would amuse their audience with familiar legends, or they might tell new, unknown tales. Since almost no peasants could read, storytellers were the best way of hearing the latest tales and poems, including saucy ones. In return, they would hope to get some beer, some food and maybe a few trinkets. And, according to some accounts from the time, some storytellers even accepted payment in the form of a lady for the night.
Storytelling was not just a popular form of entertainment. It was also the Medieval equivalent of a TV news channel. Since most peasants never left their villages, storytellers were the best way people had of finding out what was happening in the world around them. If a king died or got married, or if their country went to war, chances are, peasants would learn all about it only when a storyteller came to their village. Storytellers have also been credited with helping keep folklore, myths and legends alive. For instance, in Medieval England, the legend of Robin Hood became so popular with the country’s peasants thanks to the work of wandering bards.