Vanina Kopp (IHA)

Kings and Queens at stake. Conversational games between elite pastime and social competition

Literary debates in vernacular language have been popular since the emergence of the troubadour lyric in the eleventh century. So-called Demandes d’amours or Jeux-dits, spoken or sung dialogues on the subject of courtly love, belonged to the repertoire of social, as well as literary interaction, until well into the fifteenth century. Poetic competitions were also a suitable instrument because they used a well-known set of courtly knowledge and customs, appealing to both men and women, and, when it came to moral questions on courtly refined love, also to the clergy. In the perspective of cultural and social history, literary games channeled aggression and allowed competition in a non-violent context, on the one hand fostering social links between people with an integrative function, and on the other, allowing for transgression and symbolic violence.

This talk will offer an overview of the contexts and functions of debates and literary games. I will examine different case studies of literary games and underline the historical importance of these games for medieval sociabilities. For this, different contexts in which debates and literary games occurred will be examined:

1) Educational contexts: Riddles and puns were a mean to convey pedagogical content for the young and old. Literary games helped to enact or teach what to know or how to behave.

3) Giving agency: Literary games or poetic competition relied on a vocal exchange. This allowed women or other participants with little power to play a role and interact as an important member of the medieval sociability.

2) Political expression: hidden as a literary game, satire could be used to express disagreement and pinpoint political or moral dissent. The frame of literary debates could also be used to create factions and increase the followers’ loyalty.

Literary games took many shapes and occurred in many contexts – urban, monastic, courtly contexts will be just a few this talk will touch upon. The aim of this talk is to showcase, not exhaustively due to a lack of time, the interconnectedness and the presence of literary games as one means of social interaction in a world based on oral exchange and ludic agonistic tendencies.


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