What Was The Medieval Shame Flute?

What Was The Medieval Shame Flute?

Conny Waters – Icestech.info – Life for Medieval musicians wasn’t easy, especially if their music wasn’t appreciated. Frankly, in those days it was wise for untalented musicians to avoid playing in public because they could risk being punished by wearing the shame flute.

What Was The Medieval Shame Flute?

Left: A Medieval shame flute at the Torture Museum Amsterdam. Credit: CLI, Public Domain – Right: Medieval musicians. Credit: Glogster

During the Middle Ages, public humiliation existed in many forms. Medieval people used certain methods, rituals, and punishments to control various kinds of misbehavior. For example, one way of punishing a gossiper was to force him or her to wear the Mask of Shame.
The Mask of Shame was called the Schandmaske in Germany. The purpose of the masks was simple: individuals who committed a social faux pas (or crime) would have to wear it, revealing to their community what they had done.

Bad musicians were publicly humiliated being forced to wear a heavy iron flute shackled to the neck.

“The musician’s fingers were then clamped to the keys, to give the impression they were playing the instrument.

Finally, just to further their humiliation, they were forced to wear the flute while being paraded around town, so the public could throw rotten food and vegetables at them.” 1

In most cases, the person wearing the shame flute probably didn’t have to play it, but it was still painful and humiliating to stand there as onlookers mocked you.

What Was The Medieval Shame Flute?

Shame flute for bad musicians. Image source

But why should someone be punished for playing bad music? Most today would say it sounds like a harsh and unfair punishment, but Medieval people were of a different opinion.

Playing badly was a sign a person hadn’t practiced enough and abused the art of music.

Resembling a modern clarinet, the flute of shame (German-  Schandflöte) is a historical artifact and this torture device is kept in the Medieval Crime Museum in Rothenburg, Germany, and in Amsterdam’s Torture Museum.

Written by Conny Waters – Icestech.info Staff Writer

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  1. Classic FM

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