women-fairies in the madness of Le Jeu de la feuillée

Reading through Adam de la Halle’s Le Jeu de la feuillée, Douglas was appalled at this medieval play. All the men are mean and foolish. He felt that he must be mean and foolish too, since he’s a man. But he pondered the cantankerous fairy Maglore in the fairy banquet of Le Jeu de la feuillée. She was a person like Matheolus, that outrageous voice of medieval men’s sexed protest. Douglas then realized that, even as a man, he is woman’s equal as a fully human being.

According to Le Jeu de la feuillée, Adam planned to leave his wife Moroie and his hometown of Arras to study in Paris. He intended to leave Moroie in Arras with his father Henri. But because Moroie loved her husband dearly, that plan seemed unlikely to work:

Master, that will never be,
as long as she is able to travel.
Sure as I know that wife of yours,
if she heard that you were there today,
she would be there tomorrow without delay.

{ Maistres, il n’ira mie ensi,
S’ele se puet mètre a le voie.
Car bien sai, s’onques le connui,
ki, s’ele vous i savoit hui,
ki demain iroit sans respit. }[1]

Moroie enjoyed having sex with her husband and apparently wanted to get pregnant. The wicked man Adam thought to make bitter his wife’s love for him:

And you know what I’m going to do?
To wean her from it I’ll put
some mustard on my cock.

{ Et savés vous ke je ferai?
Pour li espanir meterai
De le moustarde seur men vit. }

What a horrible man! And no one in the play said, “Not all men are like that.”

Adam regarded himself as having become enlightened and self-aware with respect to men-abasing courtly love. He recounted:

Oh, I was taken on the boil,
flush in the greenest month of spring
and in the passion of my youth,
when the thing had much better flavor.
No man hunts for what’s good for him,
but only for what enlivens his desire.
The summer was then lovely and languid,
sweet and green and clear and fine,
ringing with singing of birds.
High in the forest, close to a spring
running down on sparkling pebbles
there came to me once a vision
of her who is now my wife.
She seems so sallow and dull.
Once she was all white and rosy,
laughing, loving, and slim.
Now I see her fat and misshapen,
sullen and quarrelsome.

{ Car pris fui ou premier boullon
Tout droit en le verde saison
Et en l’aspreche de jouvent.
Ou li cose a plus grant saveur,
Ne nus ne cache sen meilleur,
Fors chou ki li vient a talent.
Esté faisoit bel et seri,
Douc et vert et cler et joli,
Delitavle en cans d’oiseillons;
En haut bos, près de fontenele
Courant seur maillie gravele,
Adont me vint avisions
De cheli ke j’ai a feme ore,
Ki or me sanle pale et sore;
Adont estoit blanke et vermeille,
Rians, amoureuse et deugie,
Or le voi crasse et mautaillie.
Triste et tenchant. }[2]

What a shallow, disloyal husband! And no one in the play said, “Not all men are like that.”

Adam thought carefully about unplanned parenthood and its consequences for men. Moroie and Adam hadn’t yet had any children. Adam declared:

Good people, I was seized
by love that caught me unaware.
No woman’s features were so fine
as love made hers to me appear.
But desire made me taste her goods
in the great flavor of her little valleys.
I must come to my senses
before my wife becomes pregnant
and the thing causes much expenses.
My hunger for it is lacking.

{ Boines gens, ensi fui jou pris
Par Amours, ki si m’ot souspris;
Car faitures n’ot pas si beles
Comme Amours les me fist sanler;
Mais Desire les me fist gouster
A le grant saveur de Vaucheles.
S’est drois ke je me reconnoisse
Tout avant ke me feme engroisse
Et ke li cose plus me coust,
Car mes fains en est apaiés. }[3]

What a sickly and ungenerous man! He’s a fool, too. If his wife got pregnant by another man, he would then have the expenses of supporting another man’s child. Adam wasn’t like Saint Joseph. And no one in the play said, “Not all men are like that.”

The fairy Morgan le Fay led two other women-fairies, Arsile and Maglore, to a lavish banquet prepared for them in Arras. Maglore complained that her table-setting lacked a knife:

And what does it mean
that I have no knife? Am I the worst?
So help me God, little they valued me,
whoever it was that planned
that I alone wouldn’t have a knife!

{ Et k’est che a dire
Ke nul n’en ai? Sui je li pire?
Si m’aït Dieus, peu me prisa
Ki estavli ne avisa
Ke toute seule a coutel faille. }

Maglore seemed to interpret the table-setting like some literary scholars today interpret medieval literature. Arsile consoled her:

Don’t be angry, lady. Such happens.
I doubt if anyone gave it a thought.

{ Ne vous caut, dame; ensi avient.
Je cuit c’on ne s’en donna warde. }

Arsile undoubtedly was right. That surely didn’t matter to Maglore.

These were privileged women-fairies. Morgan le Fay exclaimed:

Lovely, sweet friends, look
how all here has been made lovely and pure and clean.

{ Bele douche compaigne, eswarde
Ke chi fait bel et cler et net. }

Arsile proposed to reward Adam and the rich merchant Rikier for having prepared this lavish banquet. Morgan le Fay agreed. She charmed Rikier with a pile of money. Then she turned to Adam:

As for the other, I wish for him
that he be the most perfect lover
that was ever found in any country.

{ Et de l’autre, voeil k’il soit teus
Ke che soit li plus amoureus
Ki soit trouvés en nul païs. }

Arsile made Rikier even richer and Adam an even more attractive lover:

In addition, I wish that he be handsome
and a fine maker of songs.

{ Aussi voeil je k’il soit jolis
Et boins faiseres de canchons }

Maglore, however, was still angry that her table-setting lacked a knife. She cursed Rikier to become bald. Her spell on Adam turned his world upside-down:

For the other, Adam, who has been bragging
about going to school in Paris —
I wish that he becomes disgraced
among the group in Arras,
and that he forgets himself in the arms
of his wife, who is soft and tender,
such that he ruins and hates his studies
and puts off his planned departure.

{ De l’autre, ki se va vantant
D’aler a l’escole a Paris,
Voeil k’il soit si atruandis
En le compaignie d’Arras
Et k’il s’ouvlit entre les bras
Se feme, ki est mole e tenre,
Si k’il perge et hache l’apenre
Et meche se voie en respit. }

Students in Paris were wretched like courtly lovers. Maglore, in spite of herself, actually wished good for Adam. Oh happy fault that brought Adam such a great redeemer!

Adam de la Halle’s play ends with men in a tavern. An idiot-son feels that he’s being drenched with piss. Then he farts. His father beats him with a stick. After the idiot-son implies that the father beats his wife, they depart together from the tavern. At the end of the play, a monk remains in the tavern with a chest of relics that he uses to earn money. Are all men idiots, brutes, and frauds, and thus inferior to women?

making Christine de Pizan's City of Ladies

No, men need not feel ashamed about written characterizations of men. As long as men know of the fairy-women Maglore and her charms, they can respect themselves as fully human beings who are women’s equals. Adam de la Halle with his Le Jeu de la feuillée depicted a true city of men and women.[4]

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[1] Adam de la Halle’s Le Jeu de la feuillée, vv. 37-41, Old French text from Langlois (1923), English translation (modified) from Axton & Stevens (1971). All subsequent quotes from Le Jeu de la feuillée are similarly sourced. For a somewhat looser English translation with a parallel, slightly more regularized Old French text, Mermier (1997).

Adam de la Halle is thought to have composed Le Jeu de la feuillée about 1275 in Arras. The title comes from the ending line, “Explicit du li jeus de le fueillie,” of the play in MS P: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, français, 25566. The meaning of the title isn’t totally clear, but it probably means “The Play of the Bower.” The play in MS P begins with the title “The Play of Adam {Li jus Adan}. A title used in modern French is Play of Madness {Jeu de la folie}.

Characters in the play have names and statuses that correspond to persons in thirteenth-century Arras. Adam’s wife was named Moroie and his father’s name was Henri. “Adam’s play appears to be an ‘inside joke’ between friends or enemies.” Mermier (1997) p. xix. For a discussion of self-portraiture in the play, Scolnicov (1999). Cf. Laurent (2014). Arras is an important place in the development of European vernacular theater. Koopmans (2017).

Subsequent quotes above are from Le Jeu de la feuillée vv. 42-4 (And you know what…), 57-74 (Oh, I was taken on the boil…), 165-74 (Good people, I was seized…), 631-5 (And what does it mean…), 640-1 (Don’t be angry…), 642-3 (Lovely, sweet friends…), 661-3 (As for the other…), 664-5 (In addition, I wish that…), 684-91 (For the other, Adam, who has been bragging…).

[2] On the relation between courtly love ideology and disenchantment in Le Jeu de la feuillée, Laurent (2014).

[3] Dame Douce, who apparently was pregnant, blamed for her pregnancy the rich merchant Rikier. A married man, he denied it. Such paternity attribution would be lucrative for her and expensive for Rikier. Although she probably didn’t know for certain what man contributed sperm to the pregnancy, Dame Douce angrily sought to punish Rikier:

Just let me get my hands on that man!
And if I do, he’ll soon be buried,
or turned inside out and backside up
with his fingers where his feet should be!
I’ll soon have him where I want him —
stretched on his bed — just as I did
last year with Jakemon Pilepois
and with Gillon Lavier the other night.

{ Uns hom ke je voeil maniier;
Mais, se je puis, il iert en biere,
Ou tournés chou devant derriere
Devers les piés ou vers les dois.
Je l’arai bien tost a point mis
En sen lit, ensi ke je fis
L’autre an Jakemon Pilepois
Et l’autre nuit Gillon Lavier. }

Le Jeu de la feuillée, vv. 860-7.

[4] Cf. Christine de Pizan, The Book of the City of Ladies {Le Livre de la Cité des Dames}.

[image] Ladies building Christine de Pizan’s imaginary City of Ladies. Illumination by Maître de la Cité des Dames. From a luxurious instance of Christine de Pizan, The Book of the City of Ladies {Le Livre de la Cité des Dames}. Excerpt from folio 2v of Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS. Français 607.


Axton, Richard, and John E. Stevens, trans. 1971. Medieval French Plays. New York: Barnes & Noble.

Koopmans, Jelle. 2017. “Arras, where burghers and jongleurs meet, play, and develop forms – afterwards seen as theatre.” Chapter 2 (pp. 30-41) in King, Pamela, ed. The Routledge Research Companion to Early Drama and Performance. Routledge.

Langlois, Ernest, ed. 1923. Adam de la Halle. Le jeu de la feuillée. Paris: Honoré. Alternate presentation.

Laurent, Françoise. 2014. “‘Car mes fains en est apaiés.’ Le Jeu de la Feuillée d’Adam de la Halle ou comment dire la fin du désir et le désenchantement.” Revue des Langues Romanes. 118 (2). Online.

Mermier, Guy, trans. 1997. Adam de la Halle. The Play of Madness: a translation of Jeu de la feuillée. New York, NY: Lang.

Scolnicov, Hanna. 1999. “Exploring the Limits of Self-Portraiture in Le Jeu de la feuillée.” Theatre Research International. 24 (2): 125-130.

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