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Swashbuckler (a.k.a. swasher) is a term that emerged in the 16th century and has been used as a term for pirates and swordsmen ever since. A possible explanation for this term is that it derives from a fighting style using a side-sword with a buckler in the off-hand, which was applied with much "swashing and making a noise on the buckler". Later the name "swashbuckler" (like gunslinger) became common for an archetype and the accordant special film genre.
The word swashbuckler generally describes a protagonist who is heroic and idealistic to the bone and who rescues damsels in distress. His opponent is typically characterised as the dastardly villain. There is a long list of swashbucklers who combine outstanding courage, swordfighting skill, resourcefulness, chivalry and a distinctive sense of honor and justice, as for example Cyrano de Bergerac, The Three Musketeers, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Robin Hood and Zorro.
|This section's factual accuracy is disputed. (March 2012)|
Usually swashbuckling romances are set in Europe from the late Renaissance up through the Age of Reason and the Napoleonic Wars. The renaissance saw the introduction of the rapier as a civilian weapon, and the rise of the duel of honour (as opposed to the older judicial duel) in fashionable society. Victorian-era authors of historical romances such as Walter Scott and Alexandre Dumas saw the art of rapier fencing as the origin of contemporary thrust-oriented small-sword fencing, and dismissed the earlier swords as heavy and fencing systems of earlier periods as inferior, slower and relying on cleaving blows and brute strength. In fact, modern scholars of historical fencing have largely disproved these assumptions about the older fencing systems. The perceived significant and widespread role of swordsmanship in civilian society as well as warfare in the renaissance and enlightenment periods led to fencing being performed on theatre stages as part of plays. Soon actors were taught to fence in an entertaining, dramatic manner. Eventually fencing became an established part of a classical formation for actors.
Consequently, when movie theatres mushroomed, ambitious actors took the chance to present their accordant skills on the screen. Since silent movies were no proper medium for long dialogues, the classic stories about heroes who would defend their honour with sword in hand were simplified and sheer action would gain priority. This was the birth of a new kind of film hero: the swashbuckler.
The genre has, apart from swordplay, always been characterized by influences that can be traced back to the chivalry tales of Medieval Europe, such as the legends of Robin Hood and the King Arthur. It soon created its own drafts based on classic examples like The Three Musketeers (1921), Scaramouche (1923) and The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934). Some films did also use motifs of pirate stories. Often these films were adaptations of classic historic novels published by well-known authors such as Alexandre Dumas, Rafael Sabatini, Baroness Emma Orczy, Sir Walter Scott, Johnston McCulley, and Edmond Rostand. Swashbucklers are one of the most flamboyant Hollywood film genres, unlike cinema verite or modern realistic filmmaking. The genre attracted large audiences who relished the blend of escapist adventure, historic romance, and daring stunts in cinemas before it became a fixture on TV screens.
As a first variation of the classic swashbuckler there have also been female swashbucklers. Maureen O'Hara in Against All Flags and Jean Peters in Anne of the Indies were very early action film heroines.
Eventually the typical swashbuckler motifs were used up because they had so often been shown on TV screens. Late films such as The Princess Bride, Pirates of the Caribbean and The Mask of Zorro had to modify the classic archetype to attract a big audience. The modifications of the swashbuckler archetype went so far that he even became the villain in 1995's Rob Roy film. Tim Roth plays an accomplished fencer who is overly ambitious and elegant. The final fight between Roth's character Archibald Cunningham and the protagonist demonstrates the differences between a so-called swashbuckler and a man who applies a previous combat style while swinging a heavier blade.[original research?] Rob Roy; Final fight. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVaslN1NiT0
Television followed the films especially in the UK with The Adventures of Robin Hood, Sword of Freedom, The Buccaneers, and Willam Tell between 1955 and 1960. US TV produced two series of Zorro in 1957 and 1990. Following the film The Mask of Zorro, a TV series about a female swashbuckler, the Queen of Swords, aired in 2000.
Notable swashbuckler characters from literature and other media include the following:
Actors notable for their portrayals of swashbucklers in swashbuckler films include:
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