Le jeu de Saint Nicolas
Le Jeu de Saint Nicolas is a mix between a miracle play and a farce by Jean Bodel, published around 1200. It tells of a good christian who converts a Saracen king with the aid of Saint Nicolas. With the disclaimer that I read a translation of the text because my Old French reading skills are not up to the task, I found the play a strange mixture of modern morals in a hostile context, where the "Orientals" (because they are clearly imagined by the occident and bear no resemblance to any real culture) are treated as human beings in a world which wishes to destroy them. The majority of the characters are pagans, and are not portrayed as monsters, but as pious followers of their own religion, defending themselves against christian invaders. This is certainly a result of me as a reader imposing my own modern "Clash of Civilizations" perspective on a text dealing with the crusades, but I can't help but see the play as sympathizing with its main character, who is not the good christian, but the king. He is a complicated character, who is quick to anger and spiteful, but also loved by his vassals. He is pious towards his own religion, which Bodel twists in almost comically misinformed ways, and shows no monstrous faults outside of a normal person. When reading, I couldn't help but think of him as a kind version of Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine; a successful general and ruler who thrives in opposition to a christian world. The play's conclusion is equally ambiguous, with the king and his vassals converting to christianity, save one who accuses the king of heresy and is then forced to convert. As with Le Jeu d'Adam, the play feels modern, and no doubt has survived due to the relevance of the theme of converging cultures.
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M.A. French Literature Florida State University