Sub-Project A02: From Festival to Violent Protest: Carnival as a Threat to Civic Order During the Late Middle Ages and the Reformation


Project A02 examines the relationship between Shrovetide theatre (i.e., all public Shrovetide activities) and discourse on civic order during the late Middle Ages and the Reformation (1450-1550). It identifies situations and ways in which civic order was threatened by violent protests during carnival and seeks to develop a set of criteria for explaining the transition from the staged to the real endangerment of civic order. Sources include the texts of Shrovetide plays, municipal ordinances and other relevant materials (such as town council records, etc.) from the cities of Nuremberg, Ulm, Regensburg and Strasbourg.

Project Team

Project Leader:

Prof. Dr. Klaus Ridder

Post-docs and Ph.D Students:

Beatrice von Lüpke (Research Field 1)

Rebekka Nöcker (Research Fields 2 and 3)

Academic Disciplines and Orientation

German Studies, Medieval Studies

Project Description

This German/Medieval Studies project in the Tübingen CRC 923 “Threatened Order - Societies under Stress” examines Shrovetide plays in cities as a phenomenon that can tilt in one direction towards a playful/staged threat to civic order, but also tilt in the other direction towards a real, violent threat to order in the form of protests or other kinds of social unrest. The project fits very well within the general framework of the CRC 923, since it adopts the CRC’s guiding methodological approach that focuses on identifying basic patterns of social order as they are revealed during (short-term) moments of threat. It uses this framework to analyse forms of public and theatrical communication on the subjects of order and threatened order as well as the points at which performances of threat turned into real threats within the “city” as a site of social tension.

Analytical Framework and Goals

On the one hand, festivals and celebrations in the late Middle Ages were a substantial factor contributing to the constitution of social order. On the other hand, from the perspective of the political authorities, they also presented a potential threat that had to be contained via social legislation (such as statutes concerning baptism, burial, and weddings). Carnival was the largest communal festival in the medieval calendar and brought together players and spectators from different social classes, professions and regions. In the eyes of city leaders, however, carnival always presented a threat of destabilization, as it was not uncommon for such festivities to boil over and truly disrupt the established social order. Indeed, carnival activities were often moments of incitement for protests and social unrest. During the Reformation, theatrical expressions of carnival served within confessional discourse to disparage opponents and to spread new religious concepts. Moreover, the interplay of reactions and counter-reactions between carnival participants and authorities, which reveals the threat to the civic order that emanated from Shrovetide theatre, is a phenomenon of European civic and festival culture. By examining the intersections between the forms of expression that were typical both for Shrovetide festivities and for discourses of civic order, the project aims to identify situations in which order was threatened and to develop criteria that explain when staged disruptions of order turned into real threats. To this end, the project will examine Shrovetide plays, statutes on public order, as well as decrees and prohibitions issued by civic authorities for the cities of Nuremberg, Ulm, Regensburg and Strasbourg during the period from 1450 to 1550. </span>

Research Fields

Nuremberg Shrovetide plays and the discourse on civic order: The surviving Shrovetide play texts play on the politics of civic order in Nuremberg with its strict regulations and numerous prohibitions; they contain references to the contemporary judicial system, for example. The project primarily examines official city books and registers from the regulatory literature in the Imperial city of Nuremberg to compare them with the play texts.

Shrovetide plays and the discourse on civic order in Imperial cities in southern Germany: When there are no surviving Shrovetide play texts, the minutes of city council meetings offer clues as to how contemporaries thought about civic order in the city as well as to the occurrence of acute conflict and threatening situations. For this reason, surviving archival materials in Ulm, Regensburg and Strasbourg will also be included in the Analysis.

Carnival as a medium of religious reform: Based on archival materials from the above cities, the project will analyse the development of carnival as an ambivalent and “tilt” phenomenon during the Protestant Reformation (carnival as a medium for the critique of authorities, etc.).

Project-related Lectures and Publications

Ridder, Klaus / Nöcker, Rebekka / von Lüpke, Beatrice:

von Lüpke, Beatrice

Nöcker, Rebekka

Ridder, Klaus

Congresses, Workshops, and Conferences

Project-related Courses

von Lüpke, Beatrice

Nöcker, Rebekka