Abstracts for 2018 symposium


Albrecht Classen, University of Arizona: Drinking, Partying, Drunkenness in Late Medieval Verse Narratives and Jest Narratives

In the world of courtly literature there are hardly any references to party life, heavy drinking, and drunkenness. This radically changes in the late Middle Ages, as urban authors increasingly talked about leisure times and activities, often with rather negative consequences. Here I will examine the example of the Wiener Meerfahrt and Heinrich Wittenwiler's Der Ring, and combine this with an analysis of a variety of didactic text


Allison Coudert, University of California at Davis: Jokes and the Eighteenth-Century Unconscious

Jokes about cripples, dwarfs, hunchbacks, amputees, paupers, invalids, stutterers, the blind, the noseless, and the old appear with great frequency in eighteenth-century Jestbooks. These books were a jumble of puns, riddles, bawdy tales, and rude jokes about farting, defecation, and physical and mental abnormality. William Hay, a dwarf, who became a member of parliament, described the volley of taunts and insults his appearance inevitably provoked, one such being, “Don’t abuse the gentleman. “Can’t you see his back is up?” The deformed and disabled were routinely hired and paid to perform some physical task, which, on account of their clumsiness, produced uproarious laughter. The race between old women described in Evelina and Humphrey Clinker was a standard part of the repertoire of upper and middle class levity, as was the “Crutch Dance,” which proved a favorite interlude in variety shows and public theaters. This humor was not the province of the lower classes alone but widely enjoyed in “polite” circles. Swift was often said to have laughed only twice in his life, and one of these was when he read Mrs. Pilkington’s Jests.             T

This paper investigates the sheer malice of much eighteenth-century humor. Swift’s “A Ladies Dressing Room” makes one winch today. Henry Fielding claimed that only the most “diabolical” person laughs at “ugliness, Infirmity, or Poverty,” but his own fiction is full of cruel humor and violent incidents. The question at the heart of this talk is how does this humor square with the cult of sensibility that becomes such a feature in the second half of the eighteenth century?


Fidel Fajardo-Acosta, Creighton UniversitySubjects of the Game: Love, Law, and Leisure in William IX's "Ben vueill que sapchon li pluzor"

In his bawdy song, "Ben vueill que sapchon li pluzor," William IX, the first troubadour, uses the metaphor of a board game of tablas to represent a sexual encounter. While offering a sense of the crude sensibilities and values of Occitan courtly poets and audiences of the early twelfth century, the imagery and language of the song are also indicative of transformations taking place in the understanding of proper conduct and manners of courtly subjects.  Placed in the context of the centralization and concentration of political authority and the rise of law and legislation during the High Middle Ages, the song sheds light on the functions of leisure—including board games, the composition and performance of songs, and the courting of ladies—in the representation and enabling of new forms of domination. In that situation, even high-ranking lords, such as William, can be seen experiencing the transformative effects of leisure that disempowers individuals and renders them into subjects of higher powers embodied in the law.

Sharon Diane King, UCLA: “J’ai tiré si près / que je touche au but”: Ludic Roots, Spiritual Play in Marguerite de Navarre’s L’Inquisiteur

The theological background of many of Queen Marguerite de Navarre’s plays has been well scrutinized, especially in light of her deep connection to early Protestant theologians and authors (Lefèvre d’Étaples, Briçonnet, Marot, Bonaventure des Périers). Yet there has been relatively little exploration of the games and performative / ludic associations presented in her unique, multitonal farce L’Inquisiteur. This study will examine the real-life games and play of the children in the farce, who stand in opposition to the cruel, overpowering figure of The Grand Inquisitor, and trace the possible spiritual and cultural symbolism of their play. I will further argue that the figure of the Inquisitor both emulates and contrasts with the tradition of Raging Herod in French (and other) dramatic literature of the medieval and Renaissance periods and within Marguerite’s own theatrical corpus. Similarly, the children, whose joyous play steers the Inquisitor towards repentance, both resonate with the tradition of the Holy Innocents (also evoked in her biblical plays) and serve as foils for the wastrels of medieval French theatre whose love for frivolous games seals their doom (i.e., Les Enfants de maintenant).


Alan Murray, University of Leeds, ‘He who would do deeds of chivalry must travel through many lands’: Ulrich von Liechtenstein and the Development of the Joust

Tournaments originated as mass combats which gave knights the chance to practice the skills and manoeuvres that were essential to their success in battle. Over time, however, different forms of the tournament developed which came to place greater emphasis on the prowess of the individual combatant as well as on the entertainment value for patrons and spectators, so that by the end of the Middle Ages tournaments had become more of a chivalric entertainment than practice for war. Much of what we know about the practice of tournaments in the south-eastern parts of the Holy Roman empire in the thirteenth century derives from the literary work of the Styrian knight Ulrich von Liechtenstein (d. 1275). He is best known for his composition of a unique autobiographical poem entitled Frauendienst (‘Service of Ladies’). Most research on this romance has concentrated on its love themes and the many interpolated specimens of Minnesang, dance songs and letters in both prose and verse, yet it is just as much concerned with the practice of tournaments; the detailed descriptions of these events show the tournament evolving into quite diverse forms. These include the mass tourney, the joust, the foreis or individual challenge, but the most innovative are two events lasting several weeks: the Venusfahrt (Venus Journey) and the Artusfahrt (Arthurian Journey). While much of Frauendienst is undoubtedly fictional, the detail of tournaments had to be credible, and can be taken as evidence of changing practices.


This paper investigates the two journeys undertaken by Ulrich in the guise of the goddess Venus and of King Arthur respectively, in which he challenged all comers to joust for the honour and love of ladies. While each one involved a series of individual combats, the journeys were conceived as unitary events with a single framing literary theme. They were also lengthy, each lasting several weeks, and traversing diverse territories, in the first case from Venice to Vienna, in the second from Carinthia to the frontier of Austria and Bohemia. The emphasis on spectacle and social bonding during these two journeys set them apart from the existing common forms of mass tourney and individual jousts. It is argued that Ulrich had invented a completely new form of tournament, the chivalric journey. While Ulrich’s new form was not emulated beyond his own network, several of its features anticipate the elaborate pas d’armes which developed in Burgundy and northern France over a century later. The character of his challenges, the chivalric identities adopted by Ulrich and his opponents, and the elaborate staging clearly show how his new form was inspired by the most influential romance literature of his time. Above all, it is the central element of the lengthy quest or journey which provides a direct link with the works of Wolfram von Eschenbach, who declares in his epic Parzival (499,9-10): swer schildes ambet üeben wil, / der muoz durchstrîchen lande vil (‘he who would do deeds of chivalry / must travel through many lands’).


Scott Taylor:  Pima Community College, Tucson, AZJeux Interdits: The Rationale and Limits of Clerical and Lay Efforts to Enjoin “Scurrilia Solatia”

Throughout the Middle Ages, accelerating during the twelfth century, but continuing in various contexts well into the Frühneuzeit and occasionally beyond, prelates and princes prohibited various games ranging from chess to soccer, bowls and shuffleboard altogether or restricted their pursuit to certain groups and specified conditions or circumstances.  Some scholars such as Le Goff have posited the economic explanation that in expanding and increasingly monetary economies, ecclesiastical authorities feared that the populous would divert their largesse from pious endowments to recreation and entertainment.  Robert Bubczyk, sympathetic with Le Goff’s view, seems to suggest that the economic impetus could be extended as well to secular authorities.  This paper suggests to the contrary that a fair reading of the texts condemning chess and other games, even where aleas are mentioned, reveals that the underlying hostility is less toward gambling than toward scurrilia solatia, silly or idle recreations.  It is not so much that they are immoral per se, as that they are amoral distractions from the true Christian vocation, whether one be cleric or layman.  In some respects, the arguments of clerics such as Bernard against gaming resemble their arguments and those of writers such as Andreas Capellanus in the De Reprobatione against Courtly Love, itself perhaps the greatest “game” of the Middle Ages, and which in the romans of authors such as Chrétien de Troyes was frequently interwoven with chess and other games. While secular rulers were concerned for more mundane implications of diversions - for example, Edward IV and Henry VIII banned bowls and shuffleboard for commoners and particularly the soldiery because they were too “distracting” from the useful pursuit of archery – they, like the Church, were in some respects less concerned with what their subjects did with their money, as Le Goff posits, than they were with what they did with their time. The failure, at least in the longue durée, of such attempts to control recreational activities suggests that in expanding monetary-commodity economies, despite the Western hostility that Le Goff identifies toward otium, except perhaps among the aristocracy, contrary to earlier shibboleths, there was a corresponding development among an expanding pool of subjects of what could be called prototypical “leisure time” subject to diminishing control by Church or State.


Alex Ukropen, University of New Mexico: Didactic Functions of Play in Aldhelm’s Enigmata

Though Aldhelm’s Enigmata certainly owes its inspiration to the collection of 100 riddles of Symphosius, it also draws upon an Anglo-Saxon penchant for word play, ultimately utilizing a conventional method of play to serve an edifying purpose. Though the only extant Old English riddles are written in the Exeter book during the tenth century, certain Germanic myths and conventions of Old English poetry convey a sense that word play was a popular theme in the vernacular long before. While descriptions of other games are sparse in Old English and Anglo-Latin texts, as there are a few mentions of a board game called tæfl, the admonishing of children’s games in a few Saint’s Lives, and of course the athletic contest between Beowulf and Breca, riddles seem to serve as a form of play that was not only accepted by the ecclesiastical body, but repurposed and transmogrified to suit the church’s needs. Where Old English riddles of the Exeter book might use Aldhelm as a source in some entries, they function as a different mode of play where they are often humorous and even bawdy at times. Still, like Aldhelm’s Enigmata, these riddles portray their subjects in ways that imply new perspectives to it, guiding the reader to understand the answer on a deeper level. While Aldhelm’s riddles follow this familiar formula, his work entices readers to not only play, but also to learn Latin and, with his longest, final riddle, “Creatura,” ruminate on Christian topics. The emulation of Aldhelm’s works by later authors attributes to the popularity and effectiveness of these riddles.

Thomas Willard, University of Arizona: ‘His usuall Retyrement’: Leisure and Duty in the Early Writing of Henry Vaughan

For young men coming of age in the British isles during the 1640s, the long series of civil wars between the forces of Parliament and the king marked an end to what books of conduct called “the planned life.” For Henry Vaughan (ca. 1621-1695), the oldest son of a long established family in the Welsh county of Brecon, the outbreak of war in 1642 meant the end of his legal studies in London as well as his time in taverns where young poets gathered. Called home by his father, he considered that his formal education was ended, leaving no prospects ahead of him. He clerked briefly for a local judge and fought for the king in at least one battle, but he spent most of his time with poetry and humane letters (literarum humaniorum). Like many others of his generation, and especially those who sided with the royalist cause, he saw life in terms of the ancient distinction between virtuous action (negotium) and leisurely retirement (otium), along with the possibility of carrying on public duty within private life.


Vaughan expressed this tension in his first book of poetry (1645), where he wrote about the common theme of “retirement” from ordinary duties. He devoted half the volume to his translation of Juvenal’s tenth satire, which Samuel Johnson later imitated in “The Vanity of Human Wishes.” Vaughan considered that Juvenal “had as much true Passion, for the infirmities of that [Roman] state, as we should have Pitty, to the distractions of our owne.” He later found work as a physician and consolation in religious devotion and poetry, but he wrote from a strictly secular perspective before that, as a single young man seeking companionship and simple pleasures in a deeply divided world. This paper will consider how Classical conceptions of the well-lived life affected social mores and literary production in early modern Britain.