Today marks the something-and-somethingth anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. No, before you start, I don't have the date memorised as the point at which England began its long slide to the dogs; wikipedia told me - and in any case, England only started going to the dogs in 1832.
Anyway, according to wikipedia, about 6,000 men are thought to have been killed in the battle - roughly 2,000 Normans and 4,000 Anglo-Saxons. That took place between 9am and 'dusk', which in Kent at this time of year must be, what, about 6pm? Let's say 9 hours of fighting, then. That's 540 minutes. Assuming the 6,000 deaths figure is accurate, 11 people were therefore killed each minute on average during the battle. Not a great deal, when you think about it - certainly nothing like what a Hollywood depiction of a battle tends to look like.
Now, obviously, this didn't all happen at a continual rate from start to finish. We can assume most of the deaths, certainly on the Angle-Saxon side, took place in the final crescendo. Since the deaths almost all presumably happened in relatively condensed clumps, it's probably the case that an awful lot of time was spent just waiting around, jostling, manoeuvring, hurling insults, ineffectually taking potshots, the odd tussle between particularly aggressive individuals (maybe even conversations), and so on.
You can get a bit of a sense of this from watching footage of two rival sets of football hooligans getting ready for a brawl. There is a huge amount of bluster, chanting and histrionics (not really much different to what you get to see at the chimpanzee enclosure on a visit to the zoo), and not a great deal of fighting; the kind of thing my dad, who had been to many an Old Firm game in his time, used to call "handbags at 12 paces" or "handbags at dawn". Gradually, the tension builds and builds, though, throughout the course of the day, as more and more alcohol is consumed (how many of the combatants at the Battle of Hastings were off their tits on mead?), and then, at a certain indefinable point there might be the noise of something snapping and you can sometimes get actual violence.
This is all mostly harmless hijinks for a lot of football fans, and probably almost nothing like what a medieval battle was like (as it has none of the discipline, none of the real threat of death, none of the unbelievable adrenaline rush that it must have been for the men involved), but is maybe the closest we can get to at least imagining something of the atmosphere surrounding one before it, so to speak, kicked off. It is also, not incidentally, the closest we can get to understanding how hard it must have been to train men to stand firm when charged by a large group of cavalry.