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Thread: Period literature part two
02-11-1999, 10:33 PM #1Kenneth GauckGuest
Period literature part two
This continues a review of Georges Duby's _A History of Private Life:
Revalations of the Medieval World_, in which I review his comments on
literature for the benifit of BR.
The orchard was a private place as well as a place of sociability which
reflects the obsession with boundaries and their ambivalence. The wall
around the orchard made it an ideal spot for lovers, seductions, and secret
meetings. For lovers the orchard is mainly a place of refuge, where it is
nearly impossible to spy or eavsdrop upon them. Comedies take the opposite
approach and often include overheard conversations in orchards and gardens.
Indeed, later the garden replaces the orchard, but they serve the same
function as a walled off place of secrets. Scenes of espionage and magical
silence occur in such places, where secret meetings and conspiracies are
Women, with little to do away from the house, take refuge in the orchard.
In the Lai de Tydorel, the queen and her damsels are in the habit of eating
their after dinner fruits in the orchard and then taking a nap. In the Lai
d'IgnaurÃ©, all the woman play at confession in the orchard, and discover
they are all the mistress of the same seducer.
As potrayed by Erasmus on several occasions, men retire to the garden to
discuss philosophy. This would be in additions to the revelation of secrets
and hatching of conspiracies we see elsewhere.
The orchard/garden sometimes symbolizes not the secret rendezvous and
perilous seductions, but an enchanted landscape in which nature's beauty is
enhanced by man's artifice. These man-made paradises symbolize the pure joy
of repose, every object is calculated to appeal to the senses. The
arrangements of flora, the various fragrences and sounds all contribue to
the effect. Here the ground has been leveled, whether by man or by the
magicians one cannot say. The orchard in Oiselet seems to be a product of
It is rich not only in fragrences, but also in "good herbs", remedies for
disease and old age. It reminds me that the two most common purposes of
magic formulas and recipies were love and medicine, both of which are
strangely lacking in D&D. The game's roots are in the dungeon-crawling
adventurer, and as such the magical system reflects that. I can easily
imagine BR magicians divining one's true love, preparing illusions for you
to away to a secret meeting, and giving you a love charm to insure their
return of affections. In the 13th century chante fablem Aucassin and
Nicolette, our herione rubs an herb over her head and face to darken her
appearance. Disguised as a street musician, she goes to her lover, Aucassin,
whereupon she applies another herb (chelidonium) to her body, restoring its
former beauty. Players with little interest in such romantic goings on can
surely imagine more devious purposes for such magic.
Perhaps we need other schools of spells, useless in combat or on adventures,
to offer magicians. I am thinking of effects of charm, illusion, and
divination which would have use only in affairs of romance. Who would be
suprised to find the the court diviner, advising the duke by day of Guilder
Kalien's plots and schemes and offering potions and advice to the young
gentlemen and damsels by even?
The Hall is the place reserved for collective puposes, where banquets are
held, hero's welcomed, court held, councils meet, and so forth. The Chamber
was reserved for secret and intimate uses, and was the place where one's Bed
was. The hall was a place of recreation, affermation of solidarity, great
dinners. Some nobles and most royals had a great hall for very large
affairs, and a smaller hall for the regular residents of court. The daily
supper would be served in the regular hall, the embassy from France recieved
in the great hall, where the foriegn visitors would then be entertained.
Weddings, feasts, visits by important people, the arrival of traveling
bards, all are occasions for the great hall.
The chamber, on the other hand is a place of solitude, ideal for escaping
from other people, and therefor a place were a person could express their
pain, their thought, their loves, and so forth. The injured and emotionally
afflicted retire to their rooms. The chamber was also a place for more
sophisticated music, stories, and games. In Eliduc, Guilliadon's father
enter's his daughter's apartments, sits down to play chess with a knight
from across the sea, and teaches his daughter how to play. Clearly the
division between collective space and individual space was fluid, and men
were allowed in areas set aside for women.
Do people sleep in the hall or the chamber? Alone or together in the same
bed? When shared were they with one's spouse or members of the same sex?
Certainly nothing quite will alert players that they are not in their own
world like telling them in passing that they settle down for the night in a
large room with 50 other people and are sharing a bed with someone of their
own sex. Likewise the differences between Rjurik and Anurian, and the other
races, can be demonstrated with sleeping customs. Do not overlook the value
of exoticism in making the game interesting.
In the literature, however, when a person slept alone, it was because they
needed their sleep. The injured and the emotionally distraught were given
their own beds, as were the most priviledged. In QuÃªte de Saint-Graal,
Arthur gives Galahad his own bed, "in order to pay homage to his high
birth." Later we are told that, in the morning Arthur entered the chamber
in which Lancelot and Gwain had slept, a tacit indication that the king had
been afforded some measure of solitude during the night.
The bed could also be a place of guilt, a shadowy place, a scene of crimes,
the truth of what went on a perpetual secret. The bed lends itself in
literature to all maner of substitutions. Women giving birth to monsters is
one clear example, and which may be a metaphore for bastards, certainly a
substition the bed. In the dark, people were easily decived as to who it
was who crawled into their beds. Decieved brides could no longer tell
brothers apart. Mistakes were always possible in the dark, as were crimes.
Wilderness: and empty place
The strangeness of the wilderness is underscored by the difficulty of its
traverse. During their perilous quest, Erec and Enide neither drink nor eat
because they can find no cottage, no village, no castle, no abbey, no
hospital, no inn within to take refuge. People get lost, encounter
mysterious creatures, and supernatural wonders. Certainly the Ranger and
other guides would seem more powerful if others just got lost when they
stepped of the marked roads and paths.
The man without a place
One of the most disturbing find in the wildreness was not a monster, but a
hermit. Solitary people were considered dangerous in the Middle Ages. In
BÃ©roul's Tristan, when Mark decides to pursue and adulterous couple alone,
his retinue cries out, "Go out alone? Was ever a king so imprudent?" In
the Count of Ponthieu's Daughter, a husband decides to reinforce his wife's
escort but takes the wrong trail through the forest and is rewarded with the
sight of his wife being raped by five men. In one lay, a hero was so upset
to see a woman travelling alone, that he married her, to his great
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