Made of Ƿ Does Medieval Times

Medieval Times black and white paper crown with a red carnation
Over the Memorial Day weekend, a friend took me to Medieval Times for dinner. I’ve wanted to visit for a long time, and I was not disappointed. Medieval Times is a dinner theater event; the audience eats a cutlery-free meal while watching a “tournament.” The evening included displays of horsemanship, falconry, jousting, and hand-to-hand combat. A king and princess preside over the event and answer challenges from the rude king in the north before choosing a Queen of Love and Beauty from the audience.

I didn’t bother viewing the “torture exhibit,” figuring it would irritate me too much. I wore my “medievalist” T-shirt, wondering if I was just asking for trouble by doing so (nobody cared). As a dining experience, Medieval Times did well. Our server, “Sir Ponytail of Guy,” as he called himself, was courteous and professional. The food was excellent, and I was pleased to see they served mead.

knights on horseback carrying banners: one black/yellow checked, one royal blue with gold fleurs-de-lys

Inaccurate Aspects

These are not criticisms. Medieval Times is a dinner theater, not a history lesson, so it is unreasonable to expect everything to be historically accurate. I’m not criticizing them for having some inaccuracies; I’m observing for those who may wonder which aspects represent history.

The menu included “New World” items such as tomatoes and potatoes, easy to come by in Texas but unknown to the Middle Ages. Diners should have been given knives, as medieval diners in a formal setting would have cut pieces of meat rather than gnawing the chicken off the bones.

The tournament had no clear rules for determining a victor and included the “grabbing whatever weapon was closest on the wall” technique favored in cinema. Sending the king’s champion to settle a dispute with a joust may have been common in fiction, but I haven’t found any records of it in real life. The joust of war looked very different from the joust of peace and would not have included an audience. I’ve also never found references to meals being served during jousts—the dinner always happens after a victor is declared.

Being in the Medieval Times “castle” felt like being inside a Lego castle—everything was a little too bright and too big with too little detail. It matched the paper crowns that everyone was made to wear upon entry. [1] There was a huge amount of flower-tossing. I can’t recall carnations ever being mentioned in courtly literature; flower references are almost always to roses.

five knights on horseback in a line

Accurate Aspects

I was pleased to see that Medieval Times’s show did not reinforce any of the major misconceptions of the Middle Ages. I had a hard time seeing the costumes, but from where I was sitting, they looked pretty good (the princess was not wearing a corset).The king refused to raffle off his daughter to the cruel northern king. The audience was forbidden from hurling chicken bones. A knife would have been really helpful, but asking modern diners to eat with fingers and knives is just asking for injury.

kneeling woman holds a falcon on her armWhile the fights were clearly choreographed, it was good, well-executed choreography that generally matched the way weapons would have been used (I didn’t see any ridiculously enormous swords, for example). The performers were all skilled. I don’t know much about horse riding, but they executed the fight choreography with a fluidity that comes from practice. None of the blows were telescoped, a skill that I wish more Renaissance faire performers could learn. The spear throwing was not impressive (it was more of a poke than a hurl), but the ring jousting was excellent. That aim is a skill that can’t be easily faked. The jousting spears were obviously weakened to shatter, but that made the joust no less impressive. I appreciate that a screen was lowered to protect the audience from shrapnel. All weapons were also treated to throw sparks, which is always impressive.

Medievalists: Medieval Times is a fun outing if you don’t take anything seriously. If you don’t have access to actors who perform full-contact jousting, this is the best second I’ve ever seen.

two knights fight on horseback
Many thanks to the friend who took me to Medieval Times for letting me use her pictures!

  1. I have a particular hatred of paper hats and crowns. I’m not sure why. I think it’s because I’m only comfortable humiliating myself in front of my closest friends or my students.

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