In addition to the physical objects associated with re-enactment, you will also need to have a social portrayal to match your material ‘kit’. Some members take this portrayal as an opportunity to be someone else entirely, crafting their persona as an individual whose life experiences are entirely different from their own. Other members choose to take the approach of being themselves, but doing so “medievally”. Some people want to use their persona as an opportunity to connect with their
family history and roots; others find their family’s origin story to be drab and would rather live a different culture. As with your material culture, there is no right and wrong way to build your persona, provided your backstory and experiences are rooted in historical fact, and appropriate to your physical portrayal.
1. Who: Your persona must be a named person; a broad category such as “I’m a merchant” or “I’m a Viking” is insufficient. Persona development involves becoming a self-aware individual. Your medieval name should reflect the time and place you wish to portray. Using your own name is acceptable if it is historically accurate to do so for your own portrayal.
2. What: What does your persona do? Where does your persona fit within the social context of your period? This takes into account things like family, community, and profession. The social context of your persona will be reflected in the material culture you put together. A butcher’s wife likely won’t be wearing jewels. A duke’s clothing will be suitably ornate.
3. When: What time period do you live in? “The Dark Ages” is insufficiently specific - “During the reign of King Aethelstan” is better. Remember, your persona has a normal lifespan, meaning that your experiences should not include events that are more than ~60 years apart (if you are portraying an elderly individual). Your material culture should be congruent with your ‘when’: A Viking woman will not be wearing a 14th century gown. A late medieval seamstress will not be seen in an apron-dress.
4. Where: What geographical location do you call home? Your “where” could be very narrow (a village or town if you are a butcher, a religious establishment if a nun, a military company if a soldier) or broader (a region, nation, or group of nations if you are a noble or a person who travels often). You should have a general understanding of the geography, climate, and mores of the place your persona resides. Regardless of your ‘where’, your clothing and possessions must be congruent with the place you call home; do not mix culture or artifacts without a very plausible reason.
Consider Research Requirements to Support Your Persona
As mentioned above, many reenactors wish to explore their own ethnic heritage as part of their persona. This is a fine thing, but it can present challenges. For example, you have Polish roots and quickly discover that almost all of the research material you need to build a persona is in Polish – a language that you neither speak nor read. Accessibility of resources will be important. Be aware that persona development involves the use of both primary and secondary sources, visual and written so be prepared to do some work. If you have a partner or friend who shares your interest or notice other club members reenacting your period of interest, pooling research knowledge can save a lot of effort and get you up the learning curve faster.
Note that movies and television shows set in the middle ages, even those that claim to be based upon research, are almost universally guides to what should be avoided. Modern media caters to the modern world, not the medieval one; put another way, modern media is about our perceptions of 'medieval”, so that contemporary audiences can relate. Beware of using any modern media as a basis for your persona.