Wednesday, 23 October 2013

On Personae

Following on from my previous discussions of selecting a name, we come to the subject of personae in general. For many people, their persona may never be developed past selecting a name (or even as far as that), but when done well, it can allow for quite an interesting set of insights into medieval life, and enhance the feel of the Society at large.

The basic parts of creating a persona are to choose a time and a place. This can be as general as a rough range of centuries, and a specific quarter of Europe - think of your generic 'Viking' persona, or get as specific as a specific year in a specific town or city - Worcester in 1540, for example. This gives you a general guide for clothing, names and other such things, and in general, the later within the SCA's period it is, the more finely you can narrow down what these things would have been for a specific year or town. There are scant few real resources on how Scandinavian clothing varied between the range of Norway to Finland or the many centuries which constitute the Viking age, but we can track fashions as they spread through England over the individual years of the 16th century. That isn't to say that you shouldn't be as specific with earlier periods as with later, just that there is somewhat more fluid answers to some of the questions.

Some people choose to develop this further, sometimes to a somewhat scary extreme of research. Baron Modar Neznanich has compiled a list of Research Questions for Developing a Persona, which can be used as both a guide for working out which areas you could research for your persona development, and for finding a coherent order in which to record the various aspects you've discovered.

An interesting alternate method for persona development, rather than creating a fully-formed medieval person who just so happens to have been transported to the strange Kingdoms of the Known World, is to create a persona based on your real story. For example, those who have read my 'About the Author' page will have noticed that my persona, while culturally rooted in the 16th century lands of England, was born in the lands of the Barony of Politarchopolis, in the fair Kingdom of Lochac, and is well traveled within that sun-baked realm (my own having moved about through various parts of Australia, translated). This allows me some flexibility in some things - for example in dress. While I aim to keep each outfit internally consistent as to time and place, there are some things which I've adapted from those around me, most notably a 15th century tellerbarret (big wide hat) with my 16th century garb. This is, largely, for practical reasons, as being a field herald wearing a Tudor bonnet which offers no sun protection would be a bad idea in the Lochac summer. I saw a style of hat which would serve my purposes admirably, and like any good Englishman, I stole the idea (there is a period book which depicts the various national fashions, and the Englishman is nearly naked, but with a bolt of cloth and pair of scissors).

Once you have a persona, what can you do with it? Firstly, it can be used as a guide for your development of other things, including garb, camping gear, feastware, &c. Each culture has its own ways of adding personalising touches to personal possessions or outfits, from the heraldic painting of western Europe to the excessive personal adornments of gold of the steppe cultures (in a nomadic setting, having all of your wealth as items to wear made it much easier to transport and show off). It can also add to the roleplaying side of the Society, with the curious interactions between people of the various cultures (so long as it's kept civil) and the differing perspectives they bring to various matters.

Finally, a brief note on what *not* to do. There is a temptation, and sometimes a tendency, to create a persona which explains every little odd combination of clothing you wish to experiment with and every other weirdness you'd like. You can, if you particularly wish, be a viking who was kidnapped by gypsies, then escaped and joined a pirate crew, before winding up in the court of Elizabeth I. Temporal problems aside, this is... well, in short, silly. You can do it, and you can also show up to SCA events dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow. Both are equally silly, in my opinion.

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