Both entertainment and education have been integrals parts of the human
experience since the beginnings of time. Many scholars insist that the two
institutions often serve jointly, with entertainers and entertainment
serving as a main source of education. There is little argument, then,
that in addition to generally appealing to the masses, entertainers have
regularly fulfilled the role of a teacher to typically unsuspecting
audiences. Entertainers have served as educators throughout history, from
the origins of oral narratives through the Middle Ages.
The earliest forms of unwritten communication were essentially
used to spread knowledge from one source to another. Religious disciplines
were the first information passed from person to person through
entertainment. In the third century B.C., Buddhist monks tried to win
converts outside India through the use of theater and song (Burdick 97).
They taught the precepts of Siddhartha and Buddha in such theatrical epics
as Ramayana and Mahabharata, setting exacting rules for theater
performance in the process (Burdick 99). Similarly, Irish monks
established singing schools, which taught uniform use of music throughout
the church (Young 31). Through chants which were all the same, they spread
identical teachings. Christian psalms and hymns in Apostolic times
were sung to spread the knowledge and faith of Christianity. In fact,
Christianity was promoted from the start by music. Churches were for long
the only centers of learning, with monks teaching all lessons through
music (Young 39). Through the use of sacred music, monks and clergy
successfully spread the teachings of their religions in a practical
Entertainers used the theater as a place to tell the stories of
the day, both fictional and topical. The African oral tradition was rich
in folk tales, myths, riddles, and proverbs, serving a religious, social,
and economic function (Lindfors 1). Likewise, Asian actors covered their
faces with masks in order to act out a scandal of the day without the
audience knowing who was passing along the gossip (Archer 76). European
puppets were another medium which permitted entertainers to spread current
gossip without revealing the identity of the storyteller (Speaight 16).
The theatrical productions of the Greeks further explored the use of
theater as an instructional tool. Because the theater provided such a
diverse forum for expression, stage actors and playwrights consistantly
utilized this locale to eduate the general public.
Oral communication was widely used to educate society about morals
and basic truths. The most highly developed theoretical discussions from
ancient times were those of he Greeks, who passed on this knowledge
through music and stories. Homer, the eighth-century B.C. poet, court
singer, and storyteller, embodied ideal Greek morals and heroic conduct in
his spoken epic, The Iliad (Beye 1). Homer and other poets used qualities
not found in written language to make the memorization of their works
easier so their sagas could be repeated for generations (Edwards 1).
African tribes people and Native Americans also instilled morals and
lessons to their communities through stories and fables (Edwards 1). These
oral narratives were soon after recorded on paper as early forms of
literature became prevalent.
Many of the thoughts previously expressed through oral
communication only could now be recorded for the future as writing became
wide-spread. The era of writing began with Chinese literature more than
3,500 years ago, as the Chinese recorded tales on oracle bones (Mair 1).
The Greeks, however, were the first known civilization to translate their
oral history into writing (Henderson 1). While the earliest Greek
literature was produced by the Indo-Europeans in 2,000 B.C., the most
essential works began in Ionia with the epics of Homer in the eighth
century B.C. (Henderson 7). This oral poetry is the foundation of Greek
literature, and epic poetry such as Boetian?s Hesiod explored the poet?s
role as a social and religious teacher (Henderson 8). These written works
clearly informed those who read them, but were not as successful in
educating the masses as the Greek dramas. Any spoken works that were
especially significant could now be transcribed for posterity and future
Greek plays were also recorded on paper beginning around 500 B.C.,
reflecting issues of the day and entertaining audiences concurrently. The
tragedies of Euripides reflect political, social, and intellectual crisis.
Plays such as The Bacchae reflect the dissolution of common values of the
time, while other works criticized traditional religion or represented
mythical figures as unheroic (Segal 1). Each Greek drama was similarly
structured: problems were ?presented by the chorus, and resolved in purely
conventional–but always instructive–ways? (Burdick 18). Topical comedies
reflected the heroic spirit, and problems facing Greek society during
times of great change (Henderson 2). Meanwhile, the dramas of Socrates
spoke about ethical and moral change, while Demosthenes? speeches hardened
Athenian opposition to Phillip of Macedon (Henderson 2). Similarly, the
Greek dramatist Aeschylus used his plays as a ?forum for resolving moral
conflicts and expressing a grandeur of thought !
and language? (Segal 1). Because all social classes of the community could
enjoy and understand the plays, Greek drama was a major force in educating
Following the onset of the second century, considerable movement
took place across Europe. Between 950 and 1350, the population of Western
Europe doubled (Lindsay 26-33). A shortage of teachers caused eager minds
to look elsewhere for education. Many of those traveling were instrumental
in spreading ideas, stories, and songs across the countryside. A new kind
of entertainer, the troubadours, served as the new commentators of the
day, successfully blending verse and music. Their poetry was the first to
?set about the conscious creation of a literary speech in the vernacular?
(Bogin 44). In songs called sirventes, the troubadours discussed current
affairs, politics, personalities, and scandals (Grunfield 25). Many
troubadour songs have texts referring to the Crusades of the fourteenth
century. Their crusading songs, such as those undoubtedly connected with
the campaign against the Arabs in Spain, brought political unrest to the
attention of the average citizen (Lindsay 61). Rog!
er II, however, protected Arab-speaking poets who rubbed shoulders with
his own Latin writers (Lindsay 44). Bertrand de Born became famous for
writing warmongering songs that ?stirred up barons and provoked kings into
going to war? (Grunfield 25). Walther von der Vogelwiede attained a unique
position among troubadours by transforming ?the short poem of proverbial
wisdom into a political weapon of satire and patriotism? (Hering 1).
Wandering troubadours sang most often about courtly love, but used their
unique form of entertainment to express concerns regarding social and
political topics to the general public.
Entertainers of the twelfth century also informed the public of
the principles of topics such as chivalry and religion. Troubadour Guilhem
de Poitou caused a sensation among friends and courtiers after writing
about love in a way that became the code for chivalry (Bogin 37-39). He
later spent a year among people of Antioch learning Arabic songs of Syria,
which he brought back to France (Lindsay 4). Poet Gerbert made
contributions to geometry, music theory, and arithmetic in his works which
customarily valued philosophy over prayer (Lindsay 45). The religious
songs of Martin Luther forced poets and scholars to take sides during the
Religious conflict of the Reformation (Hering 2). Luther?s chorale ?Ein?
feste Burge? became a national hymn during the reformation of the Catholic
church, encouraging followers to fight to worship in their own languages,
not the universally used Latin texts (Young 66). While the troubadours
were viewed primarily as entertainers who wandered aimless!
ly about the countryside singing about the virtues of courtly love, their
contribution as educators to the public cannot be mistaken.
As the troubadours slowly began to disappear, new kinds of
entertainers took their place, continuing to inform the general public
through different mediums. The meistersinger replaced the troubadour in
the late fourteenth century (Sebastian 2). Middle and lower class
meistersingers established schools for the cultivation of their craft,
ensuring a more structured form of entertainment than that of the
wandering troubadours (Sebastian 3). A famous early fifteenth-century
manuscript at the University of Heidelberg contains hundreds poems by the
most famous meistersingers as well as illustrations which are ?as
entertaining as they are instructive? (Young 44). John Wilbye represented
another new form of entertainer, the madrigalist, and provided studies of
English landscapes in the words and music of his madrigals (Young 71).
Again, there is a wealth of evidence to show that music was used
extensively to support the spread of religious belief. For example, King
David in the Cante!
rbury Psalter tells that ?musical sonorities? were introduced into the
service of the church (Young 46). Monteverdi?s opera L?Incoronazions di
Poppea educated audiences with its historical context and characters
(Young 77). The popularity of music remained dominant throughout the
Middle Ages, although writers began to entertain through the use of
written poetry as well.
European writers of the Middle Ages continued to comment on morals
and acceptable behavior through their works as their predecessors did
almost 2,000 years before. Hroswitha von Gandersheim, the first known
woman writer, was a nun who used the Roman playwright Terence as a model
for her morality plays (Hering 1). Dutch writer Jacob van Maerlant wrote
poems that showcased chivalry (Flaxman 1). Spanish playwright Lope de Vega
encouraged national patriotism and honor in his works that dealt with
dramatic conflicts and combined tragic and comedy elements (Gasset 3).
Calderon also stresses the Spanish code of honor in his masterpiece The
Mayor of Zalamea (Gasset 3). Later Francisco Gomez de Quevedo Y Villegas
wrote moral works in which he explored the decadence of Spain (Gasset 3).
Social concerns inspired the writings of Italian reformer Pietro Verri,
whose cynical interpretation of history established a new scientific
(Alvaro 1). His peer Leon Battista Alberti published On the Family, which
reflected the concerns Italians for social and ethical topics (Alvaro 1).
Still, other authors such as Prince Juan Manuel of Spain wrote such
seemingly simple tales as ?The Emperor?s New Clothes,? from which reader
could extract the moral lessons (Gasset 3). During this era, Europeans
were constantly discussing politics and social issues, prompted by the
opinions of writers who commented on the subjects.
Entertainers throughout history have undoubtedly served as
educators to the public, in addition to their conventional roles as
musicians or writers only. While a few performers sought only to amuse
with their acts, the majority of entertainers have crafted their art with
a deeper purpose in mind. Each who chose to address society?s problems and
speak to the general community through their art is as worthy an educator
as a modern-day college professor. Because many of the works of these
great artists were recorded on paper or passed down from generation to
generation through oral history, the insightful thoughts of these
entertainers continue to educate the public in the twenty-first century.
AP English 4
November 22, 1996
The Role of Entertainers as Educators
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