ArticlePDF Available

Jean Bodel's Jeu de Saint Nicolas : A Call for Non-Violent Crusade

Authors:

Abstract

French Forum 27.3 (2002) 1-14 On August 20, 1191, Richard the Lionhearted, the remaining leader of the Third Crusade, ordered that 3000 Muslim men, women and children prisoners of war be taken outside the city walls of Acre and executed. Saladin's army tried to halt the slaughter, but despite repeated assaults, the carnage continued. Richard had ostensibly ordered the massacre because Saladin had not sent enough money to ransom the prisoners. But logistically, it was time for Richard's armies to move, and taking that many civilian prisoners with them would have been virtually impossible. Christian sources indicated that the killings might have been reprisals for the huge losses suffered by the Crusaders at the Battle of Acre. Perhaps the massacre galvanized the Muslim army. Saladin and his men held firm until Richard was forced to return to England to deal with domestic matters, including the usurpation of royal power by his brother, John. The Third Crusade ended with an incredible loss of life on both sides of the conflict, and the ultimate goal of regaining Jerusalem by the Christians was not met. To add insult to injury, Richard was captured by Leopold of Austria in 1192 on his way back to England, then seized by the emperor Henry VI and eventually redeemed with a huge ransom. The goal of this article is to reinsert the Jeu de Saint Nicolas into its cultural context of crusade debate. In doing so, it will challenge the univocal reading of the Jeu as exhortation to crusade, showing that moments of tension within the play indicate anything but a party-line call to crusade. The Jeu de Saint Nicolas is a vernacular mystery play written by Jean Bodel and believed to have been performed in Arras around 1200, less than 10 years after the disastrous Third Crusade. The play tells the story of a Muslim king whose lands are invaded by Christians. His men rout the Christians, killing all except for a bourgeois "prudhom" who is found praying to a statue of Saint Nicholas. The Prudhomme tells the king of Saint Nicholas' reputation for guarding wealth, so the king decides to test the statue and the Prudhomme. The Prudhomme may live if the statue safeguards the king's treasury. Word of the test spreads to a tavern, where thieves are drinking and gambling; they soon make off with the treasury. Saint Nicholas appears to the robbers, who return the wealth in fear. A general conversion of Muslims to Christianity ensues, and the Prudhomme is released. The play has been generally received as an exhortation to Christians to participate in the Fourth Crusade. While the centrality of the crusade has not been questioned, critics tend to disagree as to the nature of the crusade Bodel advocates. H. Rey-Flaud and Patrick Vincent have described the play as a representation of crusading zeal. In viewing the play, the audience would have been moved to join the Fourth Crusade. For Vincent, the character uns crestïens, nouviaus chevaliers is the classic epic hero. This "new Christian knight" embodies the willingness to die for a just cause, and his fervor might be one shared by potential new crusaders in the audience. Other critics have noted that Jean Bodel was writing in Arras, a bourgeois town that had an unusually strong economy for the period. Jean Claude Aubailly postulates that the crusade is an internal one, with the tavern scene central to encouraging man to turn away from the pursuit of profit. Bodel would be admonishing his audience not to follow the incorrect path of the thieves. Also recognizing the importance of the tavern scene, Carolyn Dinshaw reads the entire play as an allegory of crusade through a gaming motif. Dinshaw's reading thus combines the economic and the epic for a reading that would epitomize medieval Arras. Critics sharply diverge in their discussion of whether the epic element is more important than the presence of the tavern crowd. Insisting upon the importance of the fighters over the concerns of the bourgeois, Jean Dufournet finds the conversion of the Saracens ultimately due to the martyrdom of the knights. Without crusaders, there would be no spreading of...
Lynn Tarte Ramey
Jean Bodel’s Jeu de Saint Nicolas:
ACall for Non-Violent Crusade1
On August 20, 1191, Richard the Lionhearted, the remaining leader of
the Third Crusade, ordered that 3000 Muslim men, women and chil-
dren prisoners of war be taken outside the city walls of Acre and exe-
cuted.2Saladin’s army tried to halt the slaughter, but despite repeated
assaults, the carnage continued. Richard had ostensibly ordered the
massacre because Saladin had not sent enough money to ransom the
prisoners. But logistically, it was time for Richard’s armies to move,
and taking that many civilian prisoners with them would have been vir-
tually impossible.3Christian sources indicated that the killings might
have been reprisals for the huge losses suffered by the Crusaders at the
Battle of Acre.4Perhaps the massacre galvanized the Muslim army.
Saladin and his men held firm until Richard was forced to return to
England to deal with domestic matters, including the usurpation of
royal power by his brother, John. The Third Crusade ended with an
incredible loss of life on both sides of the conflict, and the ultimate goal
of regaining Jerusalem by the Christians was not met. To add insult to
injury, Richard was captured by Leopold of Austria in 1192 on his way
back to England, then seized by the emperor Henry VI and eventually
redeemed with a huge ransom.5The goal of this article is to reinsert the
Jeu de Saint Nicolas into its cultural context of crusade debate. In doing
so, it will challenge the univocal reading of the Jeu as exhortation to
crusade, showing that moments of tension within the play indicate any-
thing but a party-line call to crusade.
The Jeu de Saint Nicolas is a vernacular mystery play written by
Jean Bodel and believed to have been performed in Arras around 1200,
less than 10 years after the disastrous Third Crusade. The play tells the
story of a Muslim king whose lands are invaded by Christians. His men
rout the Christians, killing all except for a bourgeois “prudhom” who
010 FF Ramey (1-14) 4/25/03 10:39 AM Page 1
is found praying to a statue of Saint Nicholas. The Prudhomme tells
the king of Saint Nicholas’ reputation for guarding wealth, so the king
decides to test the statue and the Prudhomme. The Prudhomme may
live if the statue safeguards the king’s treasury. Word of the test spreads
to a tavern, where thieves are drinking and gambling; they soon make
off with the treasury. Saint Nicholas appears to the robbers, who return
the wealth in fear. A general conversion of Muslims to Christianity
ensues, and the Prudhomme is released.
The play has been generally received as an exhortation to Chris-
tians to participate in the Fourth Crusade. While the centrality of the
crusade has not been questioned, critics tend to disagree as to the nature
of the crusade Bodel advocates. H. Rey-Flaud and Patrick Vincent have
described the play as a representation of crusading zeal. In viewing the
play, the audience would have been moved to join the Fourth Crusade.
For Vincent, the character uns crestïens, nouviaus chevaliers6is the
classic epic hero.7This “new Christian knight” embodies the willing-
ness to die for a just cause, and his fervor might be one shared by poten-
tial new crusaders in the audience. Other critics have noted that Jean
Bodel was writing in Arras, a bourgeois town that had an unusually
strong economy for the period. Jean Claude Aubailly postulates that
the crusade is an internal one, with the tavern scene central to encour-
aging man to turn away from the pursuit of profit.8Bodel would be
admonishing his audience not to follow the incorrect path of the
thieves. Also recognizing the importance of the tavern scene, Carolyn
Dinshaw reads the entire play as an allegory of crusade through a gam-
ing motif.9Dinshaw’s reading thus combines the economic and the
epic for a reading that would epitomize medieval Arras. Critics sharply
diverge in their discussion of whether the epic element is more impor-
tant than the presence of the tavern crowd. Insisting upon the impor-
tance of the fighters over the concerns of the bourgeois, Jean Dufournet
finds the conversion of the Saracens ultimately due to the martyrdom
of the knights.10 Without crusaders, there would be no spreading of
Christianity. In contrast, Tony Hunt, who sees the audience as strictly
bourgeois, opines that the play was written as a call to the bourgeois of
Arras to donate money instead of joining the Fourth crusade.11 Hunt
finds the crusader’s actions to be admirable but not meant for imita-
tion,12 and he gives a moral value to each segment of society repre-
sented in the play, writing: “In the social hierarchy of the play the
2/ French Forum/Fall 2002/Vol. 27, No. 3
010 FF Ramey (1-14) 4/25/03 10:39 AM Page 2
crusaders are placed at the top, to be venerated not imitated, the pagan
court and the bourgeois audience occupy the central position, and a
stylized proletariat comes at the bottom.”13 Siding with Dufournet, F.
W. Marshall finds the Jeu to be, “a biting criticism of sacrilegious and
materially-minded elements of Arras society, it is as well an urgent plea
to follow the example of the crusaders.”14
Despite their various approaches, all of these readings share the idea
that the crusade must be the essential element of the play, and agree that
crusade is portrayed as a generally positive concept. The crusade was
indeed a central element of life in thirteenth-century Arras, but views on
the crusade were anything but unanimous. Following Palmer A.
Throop’s monograph on voices of dissent against crusade after 1274,15
Elizabeth Siberry compiled a study of criticism of crusading from 1095
to 1274,16 the time period of the Jeu de Saint Nicolas. The work of these
two historians shows that public opinion about the crusades varied
widely. Throop goes so far as to link the failure of thirteenth-century cru-
sade to lack of public support. Siberry and Throop both extensively
examine clerical writings. While clerics themselves did not often speak
against the crusade spirit, they frequently went on record to counter
voices of dissent against crusade. Humbert of Romans reports and rejects
arguments such as “love of women as a hindrance” and “evidence of ter-
ror of the sea as a hindrance.”17 Throop and Siberry also acknowledge
the considerable body of literary criticism of crusade. Many objections
to crusade were raised by the troubadours, who in the genre of the cru-
sade song evidenced disillusionment with the outcome of crusades
against the infidel.18 Gaucelm Faidit writes poignantly about the defeat
of the Crusaders and the death of Richard the Lionhearted soon after the
Third Crusade:
Mas Dieus o vol; que s’el non o volgues,
E vos, seigner, visquessetz, ses faillir,
De Suria los avengr’ a fugir. (“Fortz chausa es que tot lo major dan” 4345)
[But God wills it; for if he had not wanted this,
And if you, Lord [Richard I], had lived, without fail,
They would have had to flee Syria.]19
According to Faidit, the defeat of the crusaders conformed to God’s
will. Faidit and his compatriots show that crusade was not always
Ramey: Bodel’s Jeu de Saint Nicolas / 3
010 FF Ramey (1-14) 4/25/03 10:39 AM Page 3
viewed in a positive light, particularly following the Third Crusade
when the Jeu de Saint Nicolas was written.
Bodel’s version of the play is clearly derived from a long tradition
of Latin mysteries that ascribe to Saint Nicholas the power to guard
wealth.20 The Latin plays are comprised of the following four stories,
all of them connected in some way with material possessions. In the
first (Tres Filiae), a nobleman unable to provide a dowry for his daugh-
ters is provided one by Saint Nicholas. Tres Clerici tells of three trav-
eling scholars killed for their money and resuscitated by the Saint, who
brings their killers to justice. In Filius Getronis a couple whose son is
kidnapped gives their wealth to the poor and performs community ser-
vice, and Saint Nicholas returns their son to them. In the story from
which the Jeu de Saint Nicolas is derived (Iconia Sancti Nicholai), a
Jew uses a stolen icon of Saint Nicholas to guard his wealth, and, when
he is robbed, Saint Nicholas appears to the thieves and convinces them
to return the money.21 The real interest of the Jeu de Saint Nicolas lies
not in the moments where it follows the Latin Iconia plays, but in its
divagation along the way to a similar end. Critical interest has centered
on several moments in the play that seem inconsistent with earlier leg-
end, namely the prologue, the tavern scene, and the conversion of the
Emir d’Outre l’Arbre Sec. While past criticism has sought to explain
these difficult interpretive moments through examination of the inter-
nal structure of the play, looking at each of these instances in light of
the crusading climate in Arras at the dawn of the thirteenth century
leads to an alternative reading of Bodel’s politics.
From the outset, Bodel’s play presents the audience with the conun-
drum of a prologue that summarizes the story incorrectly. A preacher
comes before the audience to explain the gist of the play in a prologue
totaling 114 lines. However, his summary does not mention the tavern,
and in the play fully one third of the action takes place as the thieves
gamble and quarrel as they imbibe. The prologue also indicates that the
Muslims attack the Christians, whereas within the action of the main
part of the play it is the opposite, and it is the Christians who attack the
Muslims. The prologue describes the invasion as follows:
Chascun jour ert entr’eus la guerre.
Un jour fist li paiens requerre
Les crestïens en itel point
4/ French Forum/Fall 2002/Vol. 27, No. 3
010 FF Ramey (1-14) 4/25/03 10:39 AM Page 4
Que il ne se gaitoient point;
Decheü furent est souspris,
Mout en i ot et mors et pris. (1116)
[Every day there was war between them. One day the pagans attacked the Chris-
tians in such a way that they were not expecting it a bit; they were tricked and
surprised. Many there were dead and captured.]22
As the play progresses, however, the prologue is contradicted. Chris-
tians are, in fact, the aggressors. Within the main part of the play, the
initiative of the Christians is made clear:
Li rois au senescal
Sont dont crestïen en ma terre?
Ont il esmeüe la guerre?
Sont il si hardi ne si os? (12325)
[The king, speaking to the seneschal: Are there Christians in my lands? Have
they started the war? Are they that bold and presumptuous?]
Because of the differences between the prologue and the actual play,
many critics have postulated that the prologue may have been added at
a later date, perhaps to prepare the audience for the coming slaughter
of Christians.23 Tony Hunt argues for the authenticity of the prologue,
but he admits that it is impossible to know one way or another.24 I
would suggest that the prologue is authentic, and the omissions and
revisions are deliberate, not to prepare the audience, but to intention-
ally put the audience off-guard. The Arrageois audience was already
quite familiar with the Saint Nicholas stories, as external evidence
shows.25 Cathedral art from the period shows Saint Nicholas perform-
ing miracles,26 and there is a rich tradition of Latin manuscripts with
plays about his miracles. Internal to the Jeu itself, the Prudhomme
makes oblique reference to the Tres Filiae and Tres Clerici stories
(lines 142425). Bodel is quite aware of his rewriting of the expected
story of the Saint Nicholas icon. He begins the play with a brief sum-
mary that would follow expected lines, but at the same time he warns
the audience that he will change the predictable plot:
Pour che n’aiés pas grant merveille
Se vous veés aucun affaire;
Ramey: Bodel’s Jeu de Saint Nicolas / 5
010 FF Ramey (1-14) 4/25/03 10:39 AM Page 5
Car canques vous nous verrés faire
sera essamples sans douter
Del miracle representer
Ensi con je devisé l’ai. (106111)
[Don’t be surprised if you should see any mishap; for what you shall see us do will
be without a doubt an attempt to represent the miracle just as I have arranged it.]
To what does Bodel refer, with this “affaire” that the audience may see?
Clearly, the audience would not be surprised to see a play, or even a
fight between Christians and Saracens. And with their familiarity with
Saint Nicholas, “grant merveille” could only result from the deviation
that Bodel will soon make from both the Iconia legend and the pro-
logue that he himself has set out. The “affaire” to which Bodel refers
is his reconception of the legend, situating the action in contemporary
Arras, with its taverns and preoccupation with crusade. The audience
will be surprised; for Bodel has not only changed the anticipated story,
he has also ironically denied his duplicity even before he has begun.
As Bodel’s play takes us into an Arrageois tavern, we encounter the
drinking and gambling underworld that the thieves inhabit. In a seeming
digression, Bodel’s characters spend almost a third of the play discussing
wine and playing dice games. But this action is no digression, as the men
inside the tavern mirror the epic conflict taking place between Christians
and Saracens outside the tavern.27 The parallel begins as the town crier,
Connart, makes a call to war to those outside the tavern:
Oiiés! Oiiés! Oiés, signeur!
Oiés vo preu et vo honneur!
Je faç le ban le roy d’Aufrike:
Que tout i viegnent, povre et rique. (22528)
[Hear ye! Hear ye! Hear ye, men! Listen concerning your station and honor! I
send forth the call of the king of Africa: all should come, poor and rich.]
Then, using the same rhetoric, Connart calls to the men inside the tav-
ern as he tells that the king has left his treasure unattended to test the
power of the saint’s icon:
Oiiés, oiiés, segneur trestout!
Venés avant, faites me escout!
De par le roi vous fai savoir
6/ French Forum/Fall 2002/Vol. 27, No. 3
010 FF Ramey (1-14) 4/25/03 10:39 AM Page 6
C’a son tresor n’a son avoir
N’ara jamais ne clef ne serre. (57680)
[Hear ye! Hear ye, all men! Come forth and listen to me! I let you know on the
part of the king that his treasure and goods will no longer be under lock and key.]
By mirroring the calls to the two parties, the warriors and the thieves,
Bodel equates the work of the robbers to those fighting for their faith.
Immediately following Connart’s notification of unguarded gold,
the first conflict, or battle, at the tavern takes place. Trouble arises when
a tavern regular, Raoulet, goes out to cry the news of a new wine in the
tavern. Connart claims that Raoulet is encroaching on his turf, and the
two come to blows. The tavern owner intervenes:
Ho, ho! segneur, che n’a mestier!
Sié cois, Raoul, et tu, Connart,
Si vous metés en mon esgart,
Vous i gaengnerés andoi. (62326)
[Whoa! Gentlemen, this is doing no good! Calm down, Raoul, and you Connart;
if you put yourselves in my hands, you will both win.]
The tavern owner then proceeds to split up the duties, with Connart
being assigned to do all calling involving official news, and Raoulet
being left to call tavern news. The tavern owner’s authority to adjudi-
cate the matter is not called into question. His judgment divides the
city, as it were, much as the Holy Land was divided up between Chris-
tian and Muslim forces.
Before long, another tavern brawl ensues, this time between the
gambling thieves, fighting over gambling proceeds:
Qu’est che, Cliquet? Est che bataille?
Laisse le tost, et tu lais lui!
Si vous alés seoir andui,
Bien ara chascuns se raison. (92325)
[What’s this, Cliquet? Is it a battle? Let go of him immediately, and you let go of
him! Go and sit down, you two, and each will have a chance to make his case.]
Caignet is made judge, and he settles the affair using arbitration, “Jel
voeil que soiés acordé, / Puisqu’il est en men jugement” (94748) [I wish
Ramey: Bodel’s Jeu de Saint Nicolas / 7
010 FF Ramey (1-14) 4/25/03 10:39 AM Page 7
that you two would come to an agreement, because it is my matter to
judge]. Yet a third fight breaks out, this time over the ill-gotten treasure,
and the tavern owner again steps in as judge to settle the conflict:
Que c’est? Pinchedé, iés tu faus?
Lai le tost, et tu lui, Rasoir,
Si vous alés andoi seoir!
Bien sai dont li affaires vient:
Metre seur mi vous en couvient,
Ne voeil pas vers vous entreprendre. (116368)
[What is this? Pincedé, are you crazy? Let him alone right now, and you him,
Rasoir. Both of you go and sit down! I know very well where this matter came
from; it is fitting that you two put this matter in my hands; I do not wish to take
advantage of you.]
The affair is settled peaceably. Just as the tavern was equated to the bat-
tlefield with its “call to arms,” physical fights ensued over conflicting
claims to wealth and position. Bodel shows repeatedly that the proper
response to warfare is not continued fighting, but judicious arbitration.
Conflicts can and should be resolved through reason and words, not
through force.
The tavern brawls are not the only place where Bodel indicates that
peaceable methods should triumph over force. The crusading parts of
the play, like the fights in the tavern, are reduced in scope. In fact, the
battle itself is limited to a few cries of admiration and fear on the part
of the Christians and the dramatically understated rubric, “Or tuent li
sarrasin tous les crestïens” (rubric after 453) [Then the Saracens kill all
the Christians]. The effect of the violence might have been quite unset-
tling for the audience, for the prologue had warned that many were
killed or taken prisoner, which is in fact far from the total annihilation
that ensued. The only Christian left is the non-fighting Prudhomme.
The Prudhomme exhibits none of the false bravado of the crestïens
nouviaus chevaliers, that “epic hero” who promises to defeat the Sara-
cens or die trying. And yet it is the Prudhomme who actually brings
about the conversion of the king of Africa, through his unwavering
prayers to Saint Nicholas. The Angel, who had comforted the doomed
knights, comes to the Prudhomme to tell him of his special role:
8/ French Forum/Fall 2002/Vol. 27, No. 3
010 FF Ramey (1-14) 4/25/03 10:39 AM Page 8
Le roy convertiras et ses barons metras
Fors de leur fole loy, et si tenront le foy
Que tienent crestïen... (55456)
[You will convert the king and put his men out of their crazy law, and they will
hold the faith that the Christians hold.]
It will be through the miracle of the saint, and not through the battle,
that the king is Christianized.
Bodel makes a general call for peace and reflection when the Prud-
homme is almost tortured and killed. The robbers have made off with
the treasury, and the king gives the order to the sadistic Durant to have
his sport with the Prudhomme before dispatching him. The Prud-
homme begs for a twenty-four-hour respite in order to give the saint a
chance to come to his rescue, “Un jour de respit cent mars vaut, /
Mainte guerre en est mise a pais” (123132). [A day of respite is worth
100 marks, many a war has been brought to peace by it.] The proverb-
like statement acts as a lesson to the audience. Its rhetorical form
implies universality, and the sententia is uttered from the mouth of the
only Christian left standing and, in fact, the one Christian who man-
ages to effect any change at all.
As if to underscore his point that conversion must be accomplished
by non-violent means, Bodel repeats the lesson in the final conversion
scene. The mass conversion resulting from Saint Nicholas’restoration
of the king’s treasury contains an unsettling moment where a pagan
emir boldly states that he is converting only by force, and that his true
devotion lies with Muhammad. Bodel gives the last word on the con-
versions to this Emir d’Outre l’Arbre Sec:28
Sains Nicolais, c’est maugré mien
Que je vous aoure, et par forche.
De moi n’arés vous fors l’escorche:
Par parole devieng vostre hom,
Mais li creanche est en Mahom. (150711)
[Saint Nicholas, it is despite myself that I worship you, and by force. Of me you
shall have nothing but the skin/bark: in word I become your man, but my faith is
in Muhammad.]
Ramey: Bodel’s Jeu de Saint Nicolas / 9
010 FF Ramey (1-14) 4/25/03 10:39 AM Page 9
Michel Zink claims that the emir d’Outre l’Arbre Sec would seem not
without grandeur to the modern audience, but that his action would
seem ridiculous and scandalous to spectators of the period.29 Zink’s
point is well made; the medieval audience would not have seen the
emir as a courageous, principled role model. Instead, he offers a cau-
tionary tale to the Christian audience. Like the emir, Muslims who are
converted by force are unlikely to be true believers. Christians who do
not heed Bodel’s message will create Christians of the “escorche,” or
bark, as the Émir d’Outre l’Arbre Sec so rightly termed himself. The
émir d’Outre l’Arbre Sec’s role is not simply one of loyalty to his
cause; he is the exemplum and justification for Bodel’s conception of
the new, non-violent crusade.
That Jean Bodel would be courageous or far-seeing enough to crit-
icize the crusading spirit of the year 1200 should come as no surprise.
Jean Bodel consistently amazed his audiences with his unusual and
creative spirit. The Jeu de Saint Nicolas deviates from the norm at the
outset, as France’s first vernacular mystery play, but this is far from his
only noteworthy work. Many have seen Bodel’s Chanson des Saisnes
as a new take on the traditional epic. In this epic, Bodel focuses on the
defeat of Charlemagne and seems to poke fun at him throughout the
piece, perhaps even using him as a disguised figure of the contempo-
rary French king Philippe Auguste.30 Bodel lets slip his ironic con-
demnation of crusade, as the wives of the crusaders take up with other
men while their husbands are off fighting. Far more daring than either
of these projects, however, Bodel wrote the first known fabliaux. The
fabliaux addressed scandalous topics with outrageous use of language
in each instance. Bodel took on the religious establishment in at least
two fabliaux, Le Vilain de Bailleul and De Gombert et des deux clercs.
In summing up the work of Jean Bodel, Luciano Rossi focuses on the
anti-establishment ethos of his oeuvre:
Il ne faudra pas oublier cependant que le but le plus important du trouvère arra-
geois est de mettre ce patrimoine culturel à la portée des auditeurs laïques, du pub-
lic vulgaire des villes picardes, sans jamais renoncer à la satire du pouvoir.31
Thus it is all the more surprising that critics have tended to read the
Jeu as a crusade cheerleading piece. Within the Jeu several confusing
or opaque instances alert both the reader and the contemporary audi-
10 / French Forum/Fall 2002/Vol. 27, No. 3
010 FF Ramey (1-14) 4/25/03 10:39 AM Page 10
ence that the play should not be seen as a straightforward remaking of
the Saint Nicholas Iconia tradition. Each of these moments, the pro-
logue, the tavern scene, and the troublesome conversion of the emir
mark Bodel’s Jeu de Saint Nicolas as a profound reconception of ear-
lier legend. With the crusade preaching that permeated the culture of
1200, Bodel takes an ironic view of the vernacular preaching of cru-
sades. Like the preachers, he addresses his audience in the vernacular,
whereas drama had previously been in Latin. Using their very words
in the calls of the criers in the text, he addresses the characters on stage
and makes the link between Christian and Muslim, knight and city-
dweller. With a completely new genre, that of vernacular theater, Bodel
makes visual his own take on the future of Christian society. Seeing
Christians and Muslims together on stage, the focus would be on
shared responsibility, thereby minimizing cultural differences. Bodel
does not question Christian faith entirely; his play ends with a chorus
of “te deum laudamus.” But the path Bodel advocates for spreading
Christianity and resolving disputes in general is clear. Bodel calls for
the end of the judicium dei and heralds the dawning age of dispute res-
olution through dialogue. For the modern reader, the Jeu de Saint Nico-
las will doubtless continue to surprise us, as it did its contemporary
audience, with the unique worldview of its unusual author, Jean Bodel.
Vanderbilt University
Notes
1This paper has its origins in a talk I gave at the Southeastern Medieval Conference in 2001.
I wish to express my appreciation to those present whose questions and comments gave new
direction to my research. Particular thanks are due to Sahar Amer, whose careful reading
improved this paper greatly, to Peggy McCracken for her encouragement, and to the outside
reviewers for their useful comments.
2P. H. Newby, Saladin in his Time (London and Boston: Faber and Faber, 1983) 158.
3Merton Jerome Hubert Ambroise and John L. La Monte, The Crusade of Richard Lion-
Heart, Records of Civilization: Sources and Studies, vol. 34 (New York: Columbia University
Press, 1941) 228.
4Sidney Painter, “The Third Crusader: Richard the Lionhearted and Philip Augustus,” in A
History of the Crusades: The Later Crusades, 1189–1311, ed. R. L. Wolff and H. W. Hazard
(Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969) 4585.
Ramey: Bodel’s Jeu de Saint Nicolas / 11
010 FF Ramey (1-14) 4/25/03 10:39 AM Page 11
5Ibid.
6The name of this character (and all other characters) is given by the rubricator in the single
extant manuscript of the Jeu de saint Nicolas.
7Patrick R. Vincent, The Jeu de saint Nicolas of Jean Bodel of Arras; A Literary Analysis,
The Johns Hopkins Studies in Romance Literatures and Languages, vol. 49 (Baltimore MD: Johns
Hopkins University Press, 1954) 63.
8“La croisade est à effectuer chez soi parce que l’on se connaît mal et qu’en s’enfonçant dans
l’erreur (la recherche du profit: l’argent est en effet l’acteur principal, mais muet, du Jeu) on s’est
engagé sur la voie de la damnation (Arras-la taverne est ville sarrasine),” Jean Claude Aubailly,
“Réflexions sur Le Jeu de saint Nicolas: Pour une ‘dramatologie,” Le Moyen Age: Revue d’His-
toire et de Philologie 95, no. 34(1989): 431. Sahar Amer has also suggested that this tavern
might be Saracen, rather than Christian (private communication). This is an intriguing possibil-
ity, for the play never gives a location for the tavern, and the Saracen messenger has easy access
to this locale. I would suggest that the tavern serves as an in-between locale, both figuratively, as
a world that mirrors the external one consumed with conflict, and literally, as a nexus between
Christian and Saracen worlds.
9“There is, however, another kind of game represented throughout the play. The Crusade
theme and the conversion of the heathens that results from the miracle are manifestations of the
general struggle between Christians and unbelievers and, ultimately, of the battle between God
and Satan,” Carolyn L. Dinshaw, “Dice Games and Other Games in Le Jeu de saint Nicolas,”
PMLA 95 (1980): 809.
10“Mais tout est lié; la conversion des Sarrasins n’est sans doute possible que parce que les
chevaliers se sont sacrifiés,” Jean Dufournet, “Du double à l’unité: Les Sarrasins dans Le Jeu de
saint Nicolas,” Studies in Honor of Hans Erich Keller: Medieval French and Occitan Literature
and Romance Linguistics, ed. T. Pickens Rupert (Kalamazoo: Medieval Inst. Pubs., Western
Michigan University Press, 193) 273.
11“The Jeu de Saint Nicolas is quite simply an appeal for investment by the citizens of Arras
in the work of the Church militant,” Tony Hunt, “ANote on the Ideology of Bodel’s Jeu de Saint
Nicolas,” Studi Francesi 58 (1976): 72.
12Ibid., 68.
13Ibid., 72.
14F. W. Marshall, “The Staging of the Jeu de Saint Nicolas: An Analysis of Movement,” Aus-
tralian Journal of French Studies (1965): 29.
15Palmer Allan Throop, Criticism of the Crusade: A Study of Public Opinion and Crusade
Propaganda (Amsterdam: N. V. Swets & Zeitlinger, 1940).
16Elizabeth Siberry, Criticism of Crusading: 1095–1274 (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1985).
17Throop, 15254.
18Ibid., 179.
19Margaret Louise Switten and Robert Eisenstein, Teaching Medieval Lyric: A Project Sup-
ported by the National Endowment for the Humanities & Mount Holyoke College (Mount
Holyoke College, 2001).
20Otto E. Albrecht dates the plays to the twelfth century or earlier, Otto Edwin Albrecht, Four
Latin Plays of St. Nicholas (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1935) 3.
21Ibid., 1719.
12 / French Forum/Fall 2002/Vol. 27, No. 3
010 FF Ramey (1-14) 4/25/03 10:39 AM Page 12
22The edition used throughout is Albert Henry’s second edition Le Jeu de saint Nicolas de
Jehan Bodel (Bruxelles: Presses Universitaires de Bruxelles, 1965). Translations of Le Jeu de
Saint Nicolas into English are my own.
23Those arguing against Bodel as author of the prologue include A. Henry, who edited the
play, Bethany A. Schroeder, “The Function of the Prologue in Le Jeu de Saint Nicolas,” Romance
Notes 10 (1968), and Luciano Rossi, “L’Oeuvre de Jean Bodel et le renouveau des littératures
romanes,” Romania 112, no. 34(191): 318. Vincent finds the prologue unnecessary for prepar-
ing the audience for the slaughter, Vincent, The Jeu de saint Nicolas of Jean Bodel of Arras; A
Literary Analysis. A good summary of criticism on both sides of the argument can be found in
Marshall, “The Staging of the Jeu de Saint Nicolas: An Analysis of Movement.”
24Tony Hunt, “The Authenticity of the Prologue of Bodel’s Jeu de Saint Nicolas,” Romania
97 (1976).
25Albrecht, Four Latin Plays of St. Nicholas, 916.
26Ibid., 71.
27Horton sees the thieves as a mirror for the emirs, an analogy that does not work for numer-
ous reasons. First of all there are three thieves and four emirs, which makes her one-for-one anal-
ogy hard to sustain. Also, most of the emirs are converted, but the thieves remain unregenerate;
Christine Horton, “The Role of the Emir d’Outre l’Arbre Sec in Jean Bodel’s Jeu de saint Nico-
las,” Australian Journal of French Studies 14 (1977).
28Christine Horton sees Outre l’Arbre Sec as facilitating conversion in that [somehow] he
changes the king from being an idol worshipper (St. Nicolas) to actually worshipping God, Ibid.
29Michel Zink, “Le Jeu de saint Nicolas de Jean Bodel, drame spirituel,” Romania 9(1978):
44n.
30Rossi, “L’Oeuvre de Jean Bodel et le renouveau des littératures romanes,” 321.
31Ibid., 324.
Works Cited
Albrecht, Otto Edwin. Four Latin Plays of St. Nicholas. Philadelphia: University of Penn-
sylvania Press, 1935.
Ambroise, Merton Jerome Hubert, and John L. La Monte. The Crusade of Richard Lion-
Heart. Records of Civilization: Sources and Studies, vol. 34. New York: Columbia University
Press, 1941.
Aubailly, Jean Claude. “Réflexions sur le Jeu de saint Nicolas: Pour une ‘dramatologie.” Le
Moyen Age: Revue d’Histoire et de Philologie 95, no. 34(1989): 41937.
Dinshaw, Carolyn L. “Dice Games and Other Games in Le Jeu de saint Nicolas.” PMLA 95
(1980): 80211.
Dufournet, Jean. “Du double à l’unité: Les Sarrasins dans Le Jeu de saint Nicolas.” Studies
in Honor of Hans Erich Keller: Medieval French and Occitan Literature and Romance Linguis-
tics. Ed. Rupert T. Pickens. Kalamazoo: Medieval Inst. Pubs., Western Michigan University
Press, 193. 26174.
Horton, Christine. “The Role of the Emir d’Outre l’Arbre Sec in Jean Bodel’s Jeu de saint
Nicolas.” Australian Journal of French Studies 14 (1977): 331.
Hunt, Tony. “The Authenticity of the Prologue of Bodel’s Jeu de Saint Nicolas.” Romania
97 (1976): 25267.
Ramey: Bodel’s Jeu de Saint Nicolas / 13
010 FF Ramey (1-14) 4/25/03 10:39 AM Page 13
———. “A Note on the Ideology of Bodel’s Jeu de Saint Nicolas.” Studi Francesi 58 (1976):
6772.
Marshall, F. W. “The Staging of the Jeu de Saint Nicolas: An Analysis of Movement.” Aus-
tralian Journal of French Studies 2(1965): 938.
Newby, P. H. Saladin in his Time. London and Boston: Faber and Faber, 1983.
Painter, Sidney. “The Third Crusader: Richard the Lionhearted and Philip Augustus.” A His-
tory of the Crusades: The Later Crusades, 1189–1311. Ed. R. L. Wolff and H. W. Hazard. Madi-
son: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969. 4585.
Rey-Flaud, Henri. Pour une dramaturgie du Moyen Age. 1ère éd. Littératures modernes 22.
Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1980.
Rossi, Luciano. “L’Oeuvre de Jean Bodel et le renouveau des littératures romanes.” Roma-
nia 112, no. 34(191): 31260.
Schroeder, Bethany A. “The Function of the Prologue in Le Jeu de Saint Nicolas.” Romance
Notes 10 (1968): 16873.
Siberry, Elizabeth. Criticism of Crusading: 10951274. Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1985.
Switten, Margaret Louise, and Robert Eisenstein. Teaching Medieval Lyric: A Project Sup-
ported by the National Endowment for the Humanities & Mount Holyoke College: Mount
Holyoke College, 2001.
Throop, Palmer Allan. Criticism of the Crusade: A Study of Public Opinion and Crusade
Propaganda. Amsterdam: N. V. Swets & Zeitlinger, 1940.
Vincent, Patrick R. The Jeu de saint Nicolas of Jean Bodel of Arras; A Literary Analysis. The
Johns Hopkins Studies in Romance Literatures and Languages, vol. 49. Baltimore: Johns Hop-
kins University Press, 1954.
Zink, Michel. “Le Jeu de saint Nicolas de Jean Bodel, drame spirituel.” Romania 9(1978):
3146.
14 / French Forum/Fall 2002/Vol. 27, No. 3
010 FF Ramey (1-14) 4/25/03 10:39 AM Page 14
Article
Full-text available
In this paper the author argues that the Christmas holidays, notwithstanding their international standing as a religious and commercial season, are most productively understood as a glocal phenomena, a concept intended to link the local with the global in a dialectics of homogenization and particularism. Juxtaposing data from Hungary and Eastern Europe, the author provides an anthropological analysis that highlights the transformative power Christmas traditions and Santa Claus have played in diverse cultural settings since the late twentieth-century. For even the imposition of communist ideology, conceived as a globalizing force, failed to eradicate images of Santa Claus; both his persona and that of his devilish imp, Krampus, survived such ruthless attempts at indoctrination with only the slightest of modifications. In view of its economic and cultural significance, this paper argues in favor of international recognition of Saint Nicholas day, December 6th, as a glocal civil holiday.
Book
Black Legacies looks at color-based prejudice in medieval and modern texts in order to reveal key similarities. Bringing far-removed time periods into startling conversation, this book argues that certain attitudes and practices present in Europe's Middle Ages were foundational in the development of the western concept of race. Using historical, literary, and artistic sources, Lynn Ramey shows that twelfth- and thirteenth-century discourse was preoccupied with skin color and the coding of black as “evil” and white as “good.” Ramey demonstrates that fears of miscegenation show up in all medieval European societies. She pinpoints these same ideas in the rhetoric of later centuries. Mapmakers and travel writers of the colonial era used medieval lore of “monstrous peoples” to question the humanity of indigenous New World populations, and medieval arguments about humanness were employed to justify the slave trade. Ramey even analyzes how race is explored in films set in medieval Europe, revealing an enduring fascination with the Middle Ages as a touchstone for processing and coping with racial conflict in the West today.
Article
This article is an analysis of the text of a play written by Jean Bodel, c. 1200 (surviving in a manuscript of c. 1288), in which the late classical legend of St Nicolas is updated within the context of the crusades. After a massacre of a Christian army, a statue of St Nicolas is charged with the protection of an African king's treasure, and when he ultimately proves successful, the pagan king and his followers convert to Christianity, abandoning their statue of Tervagant. The article explores the ways in which memories of crusade wars, both accurate and mythologised, can be traced in the writing of the play and thus how its construction, performance, copying and preservation can be seen as contributing to the further reconstruction, preservation and circulation of those memories. The play can be seen as a vital step in the process of 'social memory'.
Article
Pour une reevaluation thematique, narrative et stylistique de l'oeuvre poetique de J. Bodel, dont l'entiere production est concue comme une grande representation de jongleurs: la transposition par l'ironie et la parodie des modeles litteraires et du nouvel ordre bourgeois qui conduit notamment dans les fabliaux a un nouveau type de recit, puisant sa substance du quotidien, tout en exploitant les ressources d'un art tres raffine; la fortune medievale de l'oeuvre bodelienne (tradition manuscrite, et multiples allusions...)
Article
Scholars have attempted to determine the precise details of the dice games played in the tavern in Le Jeu de saint Nicolas but have not connected these particular games to the play's larger structural and thematic design. Jean Bodel's alterations of the Iconia Sancti Nicolai legend are governed by the concept of game as an activity defined and delimited by rules, set off from events of the "real world," yet intently pursued. His modifications are appropriate to a dramatic representation, for drama itself in the Middle Ages was considered "play," a game. The idea of game was deeply rooted in the medieval imagination: all human history was seen as a contest between God and Satan that is controlled and determined by God. Bodel contrasts the rule-governed realm of the pagans with the Christian realm of belief and celebrates God's supreme control of the game of history.
Article
Thesis--Johns Hopkins University. Bibliography: p. 105-108.