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There is something fascinating and amazing to be found in medieval manuscripts. These rich records of history and culture include everything from a list of herbs or religious prayers to innovative dog names and  cute kitten photos. These books, which are time-consuming to produce, expensive to acquire and precious to pass on, have a certain charm today. The new find suggests they might even be able to provide insight into the history of the comedy. Before  Monty Python there was Richard Hige. A rare recording of  real-life stand-up comedy from the 15th century, his manuscript contains the first documented use of the term "red herring" in the modern sense. 

The comedic value of this manuscript, held in the National Library of Scotland, was  recently confirmed by Dr. James Wade, a Cambridge scholar, in the Review of English Studies. “We should not assume that popular artists are incapable of poetic achievement. It was clearly a minstrel," explains Dr. Calf. Around 1480, Hige handwritten three texts in one volume. He was probably copying the storylines from a memo for minstrels, itinerant entertainers who made a living entertaining crowds across England. Much of the humour in it could be considered farce by today's standards. 

The three texts include a parody novel called 'Hare Hunt', 'a playful prose sermon' and 'The Battle of Braconuet', a nonsensical verse. The hunt for the hare is about killer rabbits, an image often found in medieval literature and found in Monty Python's The Beast of Kerbannog, "Jack Wade has never felt so sad / As if a rabbit stepped on his head / Just in case he'd torn his way loose" down her throat. The hunted become  hunters. The next part, "Sermon," encourages drinking and references popular ballads about drunkenness. The author criticizes the nobility of the time and describes what happened as a "distraction" or diversionary maneuver. This is the first known mention of the phrase in this sense. Finally, The Battle of Braconwet evokes the famous Robin Hood among a host of odd characters, like the competing bears that would be right at home in a Disney film. "Hige gives us a rare glimpse into the  medieval world, rich in oral tradition and popular entertainment," says Wade. At the end of the 15th century society changed. Hige, who was a mentor to a wealthy family, captured this change in a rare glimpse into a vanished culture. “These lyrics remind us that holiday entertainment thrived in an era of increased social mobility. People had a lot more fun then than we do now, so the minstrels had a lot of opportunities to perform. They were really important figures in the lives of people throughout the social hierarchy. These texts give us a picture of how medieval life was well lived.
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