Dice Games and Other Games in Le Jeu de Saint Nicolas

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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.

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Love, in the music and literature of late medieval France, was often depicted as a game.1 Its portrayal was at times pastoral and openly sexual, often secretive and painful; it was a game seldom won. In motet 267 of the Montpellier Codex (henceforth abbreviated to mo), for example, we find the life of a deceitful lover described as being “like a well-stocked game preserve: one can hunt there, but catch nothing at all;”2 in Mo101, Love is described as having taught the lover his games, while in Mo119 the “game of love” is a metaphor for lovemaking. Indeed, French literary culture in broader terms was itself rooted in the idea of games and play, since the authors of literature and music existed in a milieu of debate and exchange.
Medieval scholarship has traditionally operated on an assumption about, rather than an investigation into, both the term and the theoretical concept of “game.” Such an assumption is ironic not only in light of the many medieval texts that serve as games themselves, but because the scholar who first considered the seriousness of games was himself a medievalist: the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga.2 Although Huizinga’s 1938 publication, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture, remains the foundational text for the field of cultural game studies, as this collection illustrates, there is still much to explore about premodern games. For Huizinga, the “ludic function” is not just a way to explore and understand culture: it is cultural production. The ludic function creates a cultural product by creating meaning and cultural memory through the experience of play and of the playing of games. The chapters in this book highlight the ludic function by showing how medieval writers, players, readers, ecclesiastics, and others produced, enjoyed, and interpreted the games they played. But it is also important to understand the history of cultural game theory and its roots in medieval culture. The aim of this afterword is to consider these chapters in their larger theoretical context and to demonstrate not only how medieval studies fits into the history of cultural game theory, but also to demonstrate how the significance of the ludic function can generate future research on games in the Middle Ages.
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'.
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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...
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