Saturday, 12 April 2014

Charivari - A Potty Pandemonium

A frying pan
Add one wooden spoon for the perfect charivari
(photo by Evan Amos)


Noun & verb. See also SHIVAREE. Mid-17th century.
[French, of unknown origin.]

A noun. A cacophonous mock serenade in derision of an unpopular person, marriage, etc.;
a discordant medley of sounds, a hubbub. M17

B verb trans. Greet or serenade with a charivari. E19

Do the know the problem with people today? They just don't know how to mob anymore. All this interwebbery and YouTubery has quashed the good ol' mob mentality of the days of yore, the torch-carrying, pitchfork-wielding mindset that kept society good and straight.

Take marriage, for example - the holy union of a man and his bint. In times past, marriage was policed by the people for the people, so that if there were an "incongruous marriage" - that of an older woman with a younger man, for example, or of a widow remarrying inappropriately quickly after the death of her husband - the canaille would be straight out onto the streets, forming a pot-pounding, saucepan-sounding, rough-music rousing charivari to shame that couple onto the straight and narrow. And it wasn't just age-inappropriate couples and widows that had the nerve to get over the deaths of their husbands - adulterers, unwed mothers, cuckolds and women that didn't know their place ran the risk of rousing a charivari too.

A middle-aged lady with a cup of tea
I don't know who she is, but she looks like she needs to be put in her place
(drawing from from 1851)
These days of course, the charivari is virtually dead. Some say it's the origin of wedding processions beeping their car horns as they pass through the streets, but I was too depressed by this whole state of affairs to research whether or not that's true. As I look up and down my street, I just know that there are single parents out there; I know that there are adulterers, fornicators and women that wear trousers (literally and metaphorically). But can I bang my pots and clang my saucepans to chase them out of the street? No, I can't, because apparently it's illegal. It's political correctness gone mad.

If you're interested in reviving the noble tradition of the charivari, it's pronounced sharry-varry, and is also known as shivaree in the US (it's also worth researching the skimmington and rough music). While its origins are in the European Middle Ages, it's a practice that seems to have arisen independently in a number of different locations, and was exported to the US and Canada in the 1700s (the Canadians seem to have been particularly fond of it). Sadly, the genuine charivari seems to have died out throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, largely due to silly laws against harrasment, humiliation, and sticking your nose into other people's private lives. Pah!

A crowd harassing a man
Hudibras Encounters the Skimmington
Engraving by William Hogarth (1697-1764) 
Were (or are) charivaris practised in your culture?

When was the last time you banged your saucepan at someone you didn't like?

Do please leave your pottiest comments in the box below.


  1. Rest assured that there's a lot of metaphorical charivari going on, especially in Greece. (see: same-sex marriage)

    1. I suspect, Evi, that should the Greek adopt the charivari, they'd be rather good at it. I think the weather puts a lot of people off here, so we just mutter to ourselves and grumble under our breath.

      Talking of incongruous marriages, I wonder if the woman that married a dolphin got the whole charivari treatment? That's a matter to bang a saucepan over, for sure.