Last Saturday night we went to see a dance at Szeged’s open air theater. The production was called Dózsa and it was a folk-dance production about the life of Hungarian hero György Dózsa. For those unfamiliar with Hungarian history, just imagine they made a folk-dance production about William Wallace.

György Dózsa was a 16th-century professional soldier of fortune and (probably) nobleman who became famous first for bravely defending the Kingdom of Hungary against the invading Ottomans. Leo X’s papel edic gave legitimacy to this Crusade and Dózsa was appointed the leader of the movement, recruiting students and peasants to fight.

Not surprisingly, the peasants and other lower classes weren’t paid well (or at all), fed or clothed, and they revolted. When the landowners and nobility demanded the peasants come home to work the fields, they banned together and started brutally killing the landlords, burning homes and castles to the ground. In fact, they nearly destroyed Buda.  Dózsa actually wasn’t all that thrilled with this turn of events, but he wasn’t able to control the peasants either.

Ultimately he was captured, along with some followers. He was brutally (with a capital B) tortured (forced to sit on a heated iron throne and a heated iron crown was put on his head, mocking his ambitions to be a leader or king). His followers fared even worse—some flesh pulling, mutilation, forced cannibalism.  Pretty horrifying medieval torture stuff.

It’s a little unclear why he was turned into a Christian martyr figure, though that was emphasized in the 19th century, after some record (and I use that term very loosely) of monks who claimed to see the Virgin Mary in his ear when he was dying.

Anyway, as usual, it all worked out for the Ottomans. Because after over 70,000 peasants were tortured, killed or suppressed, they didn’t really feel motivated to fight for the kingdom anymore, and the Ottoman Empire easily swept into Hungary (in some cases, even seeming like saviors).

The dance was spectacular, actually. There were amazing folk dances and even guest dancers from Turkey and Romania. Very high energy.  Amazing set design. During the death-scene Dózsa climbed into this HUGE iron helmet, which was set on fire. Plus being outside at the theater is incredible. The night air and cool breeze shooing away the heat of the day.

During the play they really emphasized the Christian martyr connection, with a brief part of the play dedicated to how Dozsa would fight for Capital Him, God, instead of the landowners and nobility. I found it to be bizarre, since it really changed the historical importance and legend of the man who, despite being a nobleman and with absolutely everything to lose, wanted to help the little guy.  If anything, his story shows how the papacy corrupted wholly and in cooperation with the wealthiest of the kingdom, something that wouldn’t change in Hungary, at least, until the 19th century. The resulting laws of the Hungarian Diet increased the status of the nobility and even further decreased the rights of the peasants.

While there were countless Christian warriors at that time fighting in crusades, and perhaps Dózsa and his men fought the Ottomans under that guise, when the peasant revolt began, it no longer had to do with fighting for some greater power, but rather fighting for the people.

Despite the glitches in historical accuracy, the dancing was really great, and isn’t that the important thing? I’m really glad that we got a chance to see it, and I hope that we’ll see another show this summer (hopefully an opera!).


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