Part of the difficulty in studying Renaissance fesitvals is that the participants did not usually document their own activities. Rather, they were participants, acting out in these celebrations without necessarily cultivating a consciousness or awareness of their meaning. The oral traditions and actions of these peasant craftsmen, herdsmen, sailors, servants, beggars and thieves are described by people outside of the common culture, people who were both literate and aware of what they were doing.
Historians have relied on six kinds of mediators to help them interpret attitudes and values expressed in folk activities and performances. Great writers of the period, such as Villon and Rabelais, had connections with both traditions and therefore provided some information. Friars, particularly Franciscans, were often sons of common people and were bi-cultural; that is, they were both university-educated and marketplaceoriented. Their records, letters, and sermons serve as valuable sources. Broadsides and chapbooks reproduced the peasant speech and stories and so provide insight into cultural attitudes and beliefs. Many stories and songs, collected individually from great numbers of craftsmen, peasants, both men and women, offer still another source of information on popular attitudes. Interesting trial records of criminals, heretics and witches reveal more. Finally, riots and rebellions represent dramatic expressions of large popular groups. All of these sources provide fragmentary evidence of activities performed in another time. Using not only a variety of these sources but also a variety of methods, historians, folklorists, sociologists and anthropologists work together to help illuminate the shadowy performances of this earlier time. To introduce students to the subject of documentation, I am planning to spend a day or two on examples of the kinds of sources mentioned here. Most literature anthologies contain selections of folktales, stories and songs for each period or culture being studied. Good sources for popular ballads are V. de Sola Pinto’s
The Common Muse
, collections by Hyder Rollins, and William Chappell’s
The Roxburghe Ballads