“Charivari, alternatively spelled shivaree or chivaree and also called skimmington (ride), was a folk custom in which a mock parade was staged through a community accompanied by a discordant mock serenade. Since the crowd aimed to make as much noise as possible by beating on pots and pans or anything that came to hand these parades are often referred to as rough music. Parades were of three types. In the first, and generally most violent form, a wrongdoer or wrongdoers might be dragged from their home or place of work and paraded by force through a community. In the process they were subject to the derision of the crowd, they might be pelted and frequently a victim or victims were dunked at the end of the proceedings. A safer form involved a neighbour of the wrongdoer impersonating the victim whilst being carried through the streets. The impersonator was obviously not himself punished and he often cried out or sang ribald verses mocking the wrongdoer. In the common form, an effigy was employed instead, abused and often burnt at the end of the proceedings.
Communities used “rough music” to express their disapproval of different types of violation of community norms. For example, they might target marriages of which they disapproved such as a union between an older widower and much younger woman, or the too early remarriage by a widow or widower. Villages also used charivari in cases of adulterous relationships, against wife beaters, and unmarried mothers. It was also used as a form of shaming upon husbands who were beaten by their wives and had not stood up for themselves. In some cases, the community disapproved of any remarriage by older widows or widowers. Charivari is the original French word, and in Canada it is used by both English and French speakers. Chivaree became the common variant in Ontario, Canada. In the United States, the term shivaree is more common.
As species of popular justice rituals Charivaric events were carefully planned and they were often staged at times of traditional festivity thereby blending delivering justice and celebration.
The origin of the word charivari is likely from the Vulgar Latin caribaria, plural of caribarium, already referring to the custom of rattling kitchenware with an iron rod, itself probably from the Greek καρηβαρία (karēbaría), literally “heaviness in the head” but also used to mean “headache”, from κάρα “head” and βαρύς “heavy”. In any case, the tradition has been practised for at least 700 years. An engraving in the early 14th-century French manuscript, Roman de Fauvel, shows a charivari underway.
Perhaps the most common usage of the word today is in relation to circus performances, where a ‘charivari’ is a type of show opening that sees a raucous tumble of clowns and other performers into the playing space. This is the most common form of entrance used in today’s classical circus, whereas the two and three-ring circuses of the last century usually preferred a parade, or a ‘spec’.
Charivari would later be taken up by composers of the French Baroque tradition as a ‘rustic’ or ‘pastoral’ character piece. Notable examples are those of the renowned viola da gamba virtuoso Marin Marais in his five collections of pieces for the basse de viole and continuo. Some are quite advanced and difficult and subsequently evoke the title’s origins.”