Court Entertainment

Court Entertainment

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Court Entertainment

Imperial and royal courts have provided training grounds and support for professional entertainers, with different cultures using palaces, castles and forts in different ways. In the Maya city states, for example, "spectacles often took place in large plazas in front of palaces; the crowds gathered either there or in designated places from which they could watch at a distance." Court entertainments also crossed cultures. For example, the durbar was introduced to India by the Mughals, and passed onto the British Empire, which then followed Indian tradition: "institutions, titles, customs, ceremonies by which a Maharaja or Nawab were installed … the exchange of official presents … the order of precedence", for example, were "all inherited from … the Emperors of Delhi". In Korea, the "court entertainment dance" was "originally performed in the palace for entertainment at court banquets."

Court entertainment often moved from being associated with the court to more general use among commoners. This was the case with "masked dance-dramas" in Korea, which "originated in conjunction with village shaman rituals and eventually became largely an entertainment form for commoners". Nautch dancers in the Mughal Empire performed in Indian courts and palaces. Another evolution, similar to that from courtly entertainment to common practice, was the transition from religious ritual to secular entertainment, such as happened during the Goryeo dynasty with the Narye festival. Originally "solely religious or ritualistic, a secular component was added at the conclusion". Former courtly entertainments, such as jousting, often also survived in children's games.

In some courts, such as those during the Byzantine Empire, the genders were segregated among the upper classes, so that "at least before the period of the Komnenoi" (1081–1185) men were separated from women at ceremonies where there was entertainment such as receptions and banquets.

Court ceremonies, palace banquets and the spectacles associated with them, have been used not only to entertain but also to demonstrate wealth and power. Such events reinforce the relationship between ruler and ruled; between those with power and those without, serving to "dramatise the differences between ordinary families and that of the ruler". This is the case as much as for traditional courts as it is for contemporary ceremonials, such as the Hong Kong handover ceremony in 1997, at which an array of entertainments (including a banquet, a parade, fireworks, a festival performance and an art spectacle) were put to the service of highlighting a change in political power. Court entertainments were typically performed for royalty and courtiers as well as "for the pleasure of local and visiting dignitaries".Royal courts, such as the Korean one, also supported traditional dances. In Sudan, musical instruments such as the so-called "slit" or "talking" drums, once "part of the court orchestra of a powerful chief", had multiple purposes: they were used to make music; "speak" at ceremonies; mark community events; send long-distance messages; and call men to hunt or war.

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Courtly entertainments also demonstrate the complex relationship between entertainer and spectator: individuals may be either an entertainer or part of the audience, or they may swap roles even during the course of one entertainment. In the court at the Palace of Versailles, "thousands of courtiers, including men and women who inhabited its apartments, acted as both performers and spectators in daily rituals that reinforced the status hierarchy".

Like court entertainment, royal occasions such as coronations and weddings provided opportunities to entertain both the aristocracy and the people. For example, the splendid 1595 Accession Day celebrations of Queen Elizabeth I offered tournaments and jousting and other events performed "not only before the assembled court, in all their finery, but also before thousands of Londoners eager for a good day's entertainment. Entry for the day's events at the Tiltyard in Whitehall was set at 12d".

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