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D'Artagnan and the Three Musketeers. Dartagnan-musketeers.jpg
D'Artagnan and the Three Musketeers.

A swashbuckler is a genre of European adventure literature that focuses on a heroic protagonist stock character who is skilled in swordplay, acrobatics, guile and chivalrous ideals. A 'swashbuckler' protagonist is heroic, daring, and idealistic: he rescues damsels in distress, protects the downtrodden, and uses duels to defend his honor or that of a lady or avenge a comrade. Swashbucklers would often engage in daring and romantic adventures with bravado or flamboyance. Swashbuckler heroes are gentleman adventurers who dress elegantly and flamboyantly in coats, waistcoats, tight breeches, large feathered hats, and high leather boots, and they are armed with the thin rapiers used by aristocrats.


Swashbucklers are not unrepentant brigands or pirates, although some may rise from such disreputable stations and achieve redemption. [1] His opponent is typically characterized as a dastardly villain. While the hero may face down a number of henchmen to the villain during a story, the climax is a dramatic one-on-one sword battle between the protagonist and the villain. There is a long list of swashbucklers who combine courage, skill, resourcefulness, and a distinctive sense of honor and justice, as for example Cyrano de Bergerac , The Three Musketeers , The Scarlet Pimpernel , Robin Hood, [2] and Zorro. [3]

As a historical fiction genre, it is often set in the Renaissance or Cavalier era. The stock character also became common in the film genre, which extended the genre to the Golden Age of Piracy. [4] As swashbuckler stories are often mixed with the romance genre, there will often be a beautiful, aristocratic female love interest to whom the hero expresses a refined, courtly love. At the same time, since swashbuckler plots are often based on intrigues involving corrupt Cardinals or scheming monarch villains, the heroes may be tempted by alluring femme fatales or vampish courtesans.


"Swashbuckler" is a compound of "swash" (archaic: to swagger with a drawn sword) and "buckler" (a small shield gripped in the fist) dating from the 16th century. [5] [6]

Historical background

R.L. Stevenson - The Black Arrow Stevenson - The Black Arrow, 1933.djvu
R.L. Stevenson – The Black Arrow

While man-at-arms and sellswords of the era usually wore armor of necessity, their counterparts in later romantic literature and film (see below) often did not, and the term evolved to denote a daring, devil-may-care demeanor rather than brandishment of accoutrements of war. Swashbuckling adventures and romances are generally set in Europe from the late Renaissance up through the Age of Reason and the Napoleonic Wars, extending into the colonial era with pirate tales in the Caribbean.


Jeffrey Richards traces the swashbuckling novel to the rise of Romanticism, and an outgrowth of the historical novel, particularly those of Sir Walter Scott, "... medieval tales of chivalry, love and adventure rediscovered in the eighteenth century". [1] This type of historical novel was further developed by Alexandre Dumas.

John Galsworthy said of Robert Louis Stevenson's 1888 swashbuckling romance, The Black Arrow , that it was "a livelier picture of medieval times than I remember elsewhere in fiction." [7] Anthony Hope's 1894, The Prisoner of Zenda initiated an additional subset of the swashbuckling novel, the Ruritanian romance. [8]


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 theaters 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. [9] For Hollywood actors to depict these skilled sword fighters, they needed advanced sword training. Four of the most famous instructors for swashbuckling swordplay are William Hobbs, Anthony De Longis, Bob Anderson and Peter Diamond.

The larger-than-life heroics portrayed in some film franchise adventures (most notably the Indiana Jones movies) set in the modern era have been described as swashbuckling. [10]


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 King Arthur. It soon created its own drafts based on classic examples like The Mark of Zorro (1920), The Three Musketeers (1921) , Scaramouche (1923) and The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) . Some films did also use motifs of pirate stories. [11] 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, [12] 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. With the focus on action, adventure, and, to a lesser degree, romance, there is little concern for historical accuracy. Filmmakers may mix incidents and events from different historical eras.

As a first variation of the classic swashbuckler there have also been female swashbucklers. [13] 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. Later films such as The Princess Bride , the Pirates of the Caribbean series and The Mask of Zorro include modern takes on the swashbuckler archetype.


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 1998 film The Mask of Zorro , a TV series about a female swashbuckler, the Queen of Swords , aired in 2000. [13]

List of characters

Famous swashbuckler characters from literature and other media include the following:


Actors notable for their portrayals of swashbucklers include:

Sources for films

Fiction writers whose novels and stories have been adapted for swashbuckler films include:

See also

Related Research Articles

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The Khaavren Romances are a series of fantasy novels written by Steven Brust and set in the fictional world of Dragaera. The novels are swashbuckling adventure stories involving war, intrigue, and romance. They are heavily influenced by and homage the d'Artagnan Romances written by Alexandre Dumas. The series is written by Brust in the voice and persona of a Dragaeran novelist, Paarfi of Roundwood, whose style is a tongue-in-cheek parody of Dumas, matching both his swashbuckling sense of adventure and his penchant for tangents and longwindedness. The Khaavren Romances books have all used Dumas novels as their chief inspiration, recasting the plots of those novels to fit within Brust's established world of Dragaera. The first five books in the cycle are inspired by the Musketeers books, while 2020's The Baron of Magister Valley uses The Count of Monte Cristo as a starting point.

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On Guard is a 1997 French swashbuckler film directed by Philippe de Broca and starring Daniel Auteuil, Fabrice Luchini, Vincent Perez, and Marie Gillain. Adapted from the 1858 historical novel Le Bossu by Paul Féval, the film is about a skilled swordsman named Lagardère who is befriended by the Duke of Nevers. When the duke is attacked by his evil cousin Gonzague, the duke in his dying moments asks Lagardère to avenge him and look after his infant daughter.

<i>Revenge of the Musketeers</i> (1994 film)

Revenge of the Musketeers is a 1994 French swashbuckler adventure film directed by Bertrand Tavernier and starring Sophie Marceau, Philippe Noiret, Claude Rich, and Sami Frey. Set in the seventeenth century, the film is about the daughter of the renowned swordsman D'Artagnan who keeps the spirit of the Musketeers alive by bringing together the aging members of the legendary band to oppose a plot to overthrow the King and seize power. Revenge of the Musketeers was filmed on location at the Château de Biron in Biron, Dordogne and the Château de Maisons in Maisons-Laffitte in France and in Portugal with a budget of $9.1 million.

<i>Cyrano and dArtagnan</i> 1964 film

Cyrano and d'Artagnan is a 1964 French adventure film directed by Abel Gance, starring José Ferrer and Jean-Pierre Cassel. It is set in 1642 and tells the story of how the poet and duelist Cyrano de Bergerac teams up with the musketeer d'Artagnan in order to stop a plot against king Louis XIII. The film draws from Edmond Rostand's 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac and Alexandre Dumas' three-volume novel d'Artagnan Romances. Ferrer repeated his role from the 1950 film Cyrano de Bergerac. Cyrano and d'Artagnan had 651,213 admissions in France.


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  2. "The Robin Hood Project at the University of Rochester". Robin Hood Project . University of Rochester . Retrieved 2011-05-10.
  3. "The University can lay claim to having its very own Zorro after a student won a prestigious national fencing competition" . Retrieved 2011-05-10.
  4. "Swashbuckler". TV Tropes . Retrieved March 28, 2015. The swashbuckler is the most rigidly conventionalized of all the subgenres of the Adventure genre
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  6. "The Buckler". The Sussex Rapier School. Retrieved 2007-05-13.
  7. Quoted in Edward Wagenknecht, Cavalcade of the English Novel (New York, 1943), 377
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  10. "How Indiana Jones Actually Changed Archaeology". nationalgeographic.com. 14 May 2015.
  11. "Swordplay and Sunken Treasures:The Great Swashbucklers and Pirate Movies" . Retrieved 2011-05-10.
  12. "266 Swashbuckling Films" . Retrieved 2011-04-12.
  13. 1 2 "Swashbuckling Women of Movies, TV, Theatre, etc" . Retrieved 2011-05-10.
  14. " Elder Coquelin Dies of Acute Embolism; Great French Actor Was Soon to Appear in Rostand's "Chanticler.", New York Times. January 28, 1909
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