Book Series Medieval Texts and Cultures of Northern Europe, vol. 23

The Playful Middle Ages

Meanings of Play and Plays of Meaning: Essays in Memory of Elaine C. Block

Paul Hardwick (ed)

  • Pages: 247 p.
  • Size:156 x 234 mm
  • Illustrations:95 b/w, 2 tables b/w.
  • Language(s):English, French
  • Publication Year:2011

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-52880-9
  • Hardback
  • Available
  • ISBN: 978-2-503-53906-5
  • E-book
  • Available


"As a study in profane humor near sacred spaces and subjects - and especially as a resource for the thorough collation and interpretation of data on comic misericords and other carvings - this collection is a valuable and fitting tribute to the white-haired heroine in the blue Renault 5 whom Billiet and the other contributors, all of whom worked with Block, so fondly remember." (Matthew Sergi, in: The Medieval Review, 12.09.26)


Love play or playing dead, wordplay or playing games - the notion of play inhabits all spheres of human activity. This collection of essays brings together international scholars from a range of disciplines to explore aspects of playfulness in the later European Middle Ages. From manuscript to performance and from the domestic to the doctrinal, the exuberance and ambiguity of verbal and visual play is interrogated in order to decode layers of meaning in texts and artefacts.

These twelve papers celebrate the work of Elaine C. Block, whose dedicated study of misericords has, through countless articles and books, made the riches of this dizzying iconographic resource easily available to scholars for the first time. Her monumental Corpus on Medieval Misericords volumes will no doubt inform medieval scholars for generations to come, and those included in the present collection are both proud and grateful to be of the first generation to benefit from her work on this body of carvings which challengingly - and playfully - straddles the
sometimes invisible line between the sacred and profane.


Paul Hardwick has a D.Phil in English medieval vernacular anticlericalism from the University of York, and has published widely on medieval literature and art.


PAUL HARDWICK:  Introduction: ‘Playing Close to the Edge’

FRÉDÉRIC BILLIET:  ‘L’Origine des stalles du Musée Pouchkine de Moscou: la dernière expertise d’Elaine Block’

ALAN HINDLEY: ‘Playing Games in the Early French Theatre (1350–1550)’

NAOMI REED KLINE: ‘Games People Play’

†CHRISTA GRÖSSINGER:  ‘The Foolishness of Old Age’

PAUL HARDWICK: ‘Talking Dirty: Vernacular Language and the Lower Body’

M. A. HALL: ‘Sideways: Face-play on the Edge of Some Scottish Pot-querns, or A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Abbey’

KRISTIANE LEMÉ-HÉBUTERNE: ‘L’Humour à travers les stalles de la cathédrale d’Amiens’

SYLVIE BETHMONT-GALLERAND: ‘Un Croquemitaine dans les stalles’

ADRIAN P. TUDOR: ‘Blingy Women, Saint Jerome’s Mirth, and Grubby Devils: Play and the Old French Vie des Pères

S. J. F. S. PHILLIPS: ‘Fairy Tale or Hairy Tail? The Curious Creatures on Medieval Misericords’

 LUUK HOUWEN: ‘Bestiaries in Wood? Misericords, Animal Imagery, and the Bestiary Tradition’

KENNETH VARTY: ‘Playing Dead: The Bestiary Fox on Misericords and in the Roman de Renart