More Master and Man in Masterpiece

Today’s post is going to revisit two posts from several months ago (here and here). In them, I opined that the characters in the PBS series Inspector Morse and Inspector Lewis (detective series, set in Oxford, England) were contemporary re-imaginings of the three orders of the medieval period: 1) those who fought (knights, of whom Inspector Morse was the contemporary incarnation); 2) those who worked (squires, peasants, of whom Inspector Lewis is a modern-day version); and 3) those who prayed (Inspector Lewis’s sidekick, Detective Sergeant James Hathaway, who has religious leanings and a background as a seminary scholar).Masterpiece-Mystery-Inspector-Lewis and Hathaway

Well, I’m quite excited to report that a new season finished recently on PBS and gives further evidence that I was right to notice the echoes of the medieval period in the characters! Because Hathaway has taken, for his vacation, a “walk” which we learn half-way through the first episode is a trip to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The reference is somewhat elided: Lewis says that his neighbor has gone to that cathedral, but its significance is not fully fleshed out for the viewers.

Well, let me do that here. The Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain was a major pilgrimage site during the Middle Ages. People throughout Europe walked to the cathedral from their homes as an act of religious faith. It was the third most popular site, after Jerusalem and Rome. (The Way of St James, mapCathedral is traditionally thought to be the resting place of St. James, one of the 12 apostles.) To give you a sense of how many routes there are, I’m posting this handy map from the Wikipedia entry.

So in making this walk, James Hathaway is acting as a contemporary religious pilgrim, even if he disavows the action by saying that he “wasn’t on pilgrimage” and “didn’t go in.” He is a religious seeker, if a conflicted one. The action and destination is enough to mark him as a kind of contemporary monk.

This makes me very happy not only because my initial musings on Inspector Lewis have been proved right, but because the pilgrimage phenomenon is very interesting, whether you have religious leanings or not. Because the pilgrims exist not only in days of yore (as Hathaway’s trip indicates): the pilgrimage site is incredibly popular now.

Indeed, the church office keeps statistics on how many people make the trek as pilgrims, and in 2013, nearly 216,000 did. That’s a steep rise from 5 years earlier, when the number was 125,000. It’s a whole cultural event, with special passports, clearly marked routes, dedicated hostels, and (I am not making this up) vacation packages.

I find this incredibly touching. It’s as if Europe, rather than losing the traditions of the Age of Faith, simply…brought (at least some of) them back. Many people, according to the church’s site, go for religious reasons, but many more go as a nonreligious retreat, as a break from contemporary life (the walking can take months; you have to walk the last 100 kilometers to be certified as a pilgrim). It is also a cultural locus where one can see how pan-European—indeed, how worldwide—some of these customs are, as evidenced by the map and the fact that the cathedral is a UNESCO world heritage site.

The pilgrimage has figured not only in Inspector Lewis, but in a number of books and films. I plan to talk about some of the latter here shortly.

Master and Man in Masterpiece, Part I

I am very fond of narratives set in academe.  So today’s post is going to focus on peri-ac in popular culture:  the dreaming spires of Oxford and a television show set there, the PBS Mystery series called, in various incarnations, Inspector Morse, Lewis, and the latest, Endeavour (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/endeavour/).  Detectives in Oxford, often called to the university, pursuing murders in the town and among the gown.

I was late coming to the first of these, Inspector Morse.  A detective show featuring a college is right up my alley, but I was unenthusiastic about some other sleuths on Masterpiece Mystery—I find Miss Marple a bit tedious and Inspector Foyle a study in grey—and simply didn’t tune in enough to know that Morse was my cup of tea.  So I only became a fan once he was gone and had been replaced by his sidekick, one-time Detective Sergeant Robbie Lewis, promoted to the rank of inspector and then to the title of his own TV show.

So I love this series, now, and have steadfastly watched as it returned every summer, morphing to a different duo (Robbie Lewis and his sidekick, Detective Sergeant James Hathaway), and then to a different era (the early 1960s of Endeavour, a prequel showcasing the young Morse).

My initial focus on Lewis, though, led me notice motifs in the show that may have gone unnoticed had I started with Morse. The interlinked series seems to be knowingly playing with the medieval concepts of the three orders–concepts of master and man and their mutability in contemporary life.

And what is the three orders, you ask?  Lucky for you I’ve got my meta on. I am indebted to Peter Speed’s sturdy trilogy, among the first books I was assigned in graduate school. Their titles serve as a handy recap of the three orders: 1) Those Who Fought (knights and squires; kings and masters were a subset), 2) Those Who Worked (peasants, usually tilling the land of those who fought; the yeomen, as it were), and 3) Those Who Prayed (the religious orders). The idea of triple status, Speed cheerfully tells us ended only with the revolutions of the Enlightenment.

In the original Inspector Morse the titular character was the master—those who fought. Why?  The class distinction between Morse and Lewis in the original Inspector Morse was marked:  Morse has an upper class education and accent; Lewis is a relatively uneducated lad with a Geordie accent; Morse is an aesthete who loves opera; Lewis’s information on cultural or historical subjects is often lacking or comes from television.  Morse gives the orders, often condescendingly and in haste; Lewis carries them out.

Morse’s transport is also distinctive, just like a knight’s steed would be. In righting wrongs on the streets of Oxford, he drove a bright red Jaguar.  The international provenance of the operas he listens to links him with a cultivated elite—those who ruled. Lewis was a dogsbody, often on foot.  Master. And man.  Yet I think as the series morphed into Lewis, Lewis became a type of dual-order character.

Part II, explaining more about this, comes soon.