Historical Spotlight: The Minstrel Orgy

We’re excited to announce a new feature here at Little Miss Perfect. “Historical Spotlight” will gently but thoroughly probe history in order to illuminate a little-known historical phenomenon. First up: the minstrel orgy.

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Although minstrels have appeared in such child-friendly programs as Lilo and Stitch and Fraggle Rock, they are far from innocent. Scholars have uncovered a seedy aspect of minstrelsy. According to some recently-discovered accounts, depraved sexual activity was common among groups of minstrels, particularly in Renaissance England.

Able to play two flutes at once, the minstrel on the left would have been a highly valued orgy participant.
Able to play two flutes at once, the minstrel on the left would have been a highly valued orgy participant.

“We know for certain that the famous composer and lutenist John Dowland regularly participated in orgies,” says a musical history scholar who wished to remain anonymous. “He even turned some of his sexual experiences into song. Perhaps you know the tune ‘Come Again,’ made famous by the singer and tantric sex expert Sting. Famous minstrel Robert Johnson also celebrated sex in his ‘O Let Us Howl’ and ‘Where The Bee Sucks, There Suck I’.”

“The poet Richard Barnfield wrote that Dowland’s ‘heavenly touch upon the lute doth ravish human sense,’” says our anonymous scholar. “I’m here to tell you that human sense wasn’t the only thing ravished by Dowland’s ‘heavenly touch.’ That’s all I’m saying.”

The details remain unclear, although scholars believe the orgies involved a confused but exhilarating tangle of lutes, flutes, fingers, and tongues, with some of the less accomplished minstrels incorporating juggling and acrobatics.

This minstrel's disheveled appearance and rosy complexion suggest that he recently participated in an orgy.
This minstrel’s disheveled appearance and rosy complexion suggest that he recently participated in an orgy.

“These lyrics from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado communicate very clearly the favorite pastime of most minstrels,” our anonymous scholar tells us. “A wandering minstrel I, a thing of shreds and patches, of ballads, songs and snatches. I don’t think you can get much more explicit than that.”

A study suggests that the recent connection between minstrels and orgies may be responsible for a resurgence of interest in minstrelsy among youth.

Readers: Is there a little-known aspect of history you’d like to see spotlighted? Let me know in the Comments section!

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