There are hundreds of films which depict the Middle Ages.
There are also a fair few operas set during a that period— especially a mythological version of it as well (Wagner’s Ring Cycle and Tristan und Isolde spring immediately to mind). In spite of this, so far as I am aware there are only, depending on how you count, four to six Broadway/West End musicals set during an actual or fantastical version of the Middle Ages. In 1947, Brigadoon was brought to the stage, though its relationship to the medieval is very fuzzy indeed (and the subject of another article). Similarly, whether you want to class 1965’s Man of La Mancha (based, of course, on Cervantes’ Don Quixote) as a medieval musical depends on your perspective of whether its references to a chivalric past constitute the label ‘medieval’.* Camelot in 1960 is more obviously medieval, and gave rise—sort of— to Spamalot in 2004. In 2006 The Lord of the Rings was adapted into a West End musical (surely following on the heels of the successful film franchise).
The final musical on the list is unique, in that it is the only one of these which actually purports to depict real historical figures. And perhaps that alone goes some way toward explaining why there have been so few. (more…)
Paul B. Sturtevant is Editor-in-Chief of The Public Medievalist. He is a researcher and historian for the Smithsonian Institution, where he helps the institution better understand its visitors and itself. He is an author, a medievalist, and a consultant, and has completed research projects as diverse as exploring the Caliphates of Muslim Spain, the history of American health care reform, and the peculiarities of American-style barbecue. He is unabashedly passionate about the place history has in current conversations.