Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber was a comedic sketch on the American television show Saturday Night Live which first aired on April 22, 1978. The title character was a barber surgeon played by comedian Steve Martin, a frequent host of the show. The central gag revolved around Theodoric's belief in bloodletting as a solution to his patients' maladies. The character was brought back in a sequel, "Theodoric of York, Medieval Judge" on November 4 of the same year, in which Theodoric applied the same unenlightened methods to jurisprudence.

As an example of his method of procedure, in the initial sketch, Theodoric explained to the mother of a sick girl:

You know, medicine is not an exact science, but we are learning all the time. Why, just fifty years ago, they thought a disease like your daughter's was caused by demonic possession or witchcraft. But nowadays we know that Isabelle is suffering from an imbalance of bodily humors, perhaps caused by a toad or a small dwarf living in her stomach.

At the climax of both sketches, Theodoric would propose profound, innovative ideas that had the potential to change the course of history, but would ultimately dismiss them, as in:

Wait a minute. Perhaps she's right. Perhaps I've been wrong to blindly follow the medical traditions and superstitions of past centuries. Maybe we barbers should test these assumptions analytically, through experimentation and a "scientific method". Maybe this scientific method could be extended to other fields of learning: the natural sciences, art, architecture, navigation. Perhaps I could lead the way to a new age, an age of rebirth, a Renaissance!...Naaaaaahhh!

The second of the sketches, "Theodoric of York, Medieval Judge," lampooned both the medieval and modern judicial systems. In this skit, Martin's character would summarily pass judgment based on the outcomes of trials by ordeal, such as throwing a woman accused of witchcraft weighted into a river to see if she would drown: if the accused floated, she was determined to be guilty (because only by using her occult powers could she have risen to the surface), and if she sank and drowned, she was innocent. Upon deciding the accused was guilty, Theodoric would refer to the Book of Common Wisdom (a huge, dusty tome) to decide appropriate punishment. In the case of a man found guilty of adultery, Theodoric could not seem to find an appropriate punishment specified in the Book, so he pondered aloud, putting his hand on his chin and gazing up at the ceiling:

Hmmm....if the punishment for theft is cutting off his hand, and the punishment for bearing false witness is cutting out his tongue....what shall the punishment for adultery be?

As with "Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber," the "Medieval Judge" skit ended with Martin's proposing modern legal concepts such as trial by a jury of one's peers, provision of defense counsel, innocence until proven guilty, prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments, etc., but end by saying... "Naaaaaaaahhh!"

On October 14, 1978, SCTV aired a skit called "Master Ralph Roister Doister" (named after (but not in any way based on) the actual 16th century play by Nicholas Udall) similarly satirizing the supposed ignorance and uncleanliness of medieval times. This focused on a poverty-stricken medieval couple (played by Dave Thomas and Catherine O'Hara with burlesque English accents) attempting to survive famine, plague, high taxes, and the harassment of the local sheriff (Joe Flaherty).

See also[edit]