gender equality and paradise in Le jeu d’Adam

Elaborating upon the biblical account of Eve and Adam, the mid-twelfth-century dramatic masterpiece The Play of Adam {Le jeu d’Adam} represents love, obedience, and gender equality in a highly sophisticated way. An introductory rubric directs the play to begin with Adam and Eve in relation to God:

Let them both stand before the God-Figure — Adam somewhat nearer and with a peaceful countenance, but Eve not sufficiently submissive.

{ stent ambo coram Figura — Adam tamen propius, vultu composito, Eva vero parum demissiori }[1]

Eve’s self-assertiveness in relation to God doesn’t make Adam annoyed or resentful. He has a peaceful countenance. But as Le jeu d’Adam shows, Eve and Adam’s relationship with God has implications for their relationship with each other.

In Genesis, God places the sexually undifferentiated Adam-Eve in Eden before separating Eve’s body from Adam’s. In Le jeu d’Adam, Adam and Eve exist as separate bodily entities from the beginning. God places both of them in the paradisaical garden. That’s a significant change. It allows Eve and Adam’s relationship with God to develop along with their relationship with each other.

Le jeu d’Adam begins with God calling to Adam. God in this play conflates the two biblical accounts of him creating humans in addressing Adam:

I have formed you in my likeness.
In my image I have made you of earth.
You must never make war against me.

{ Je te ai fourmée a mun semblant
A ma imagene t’ai feit de tere
Ne moi devez ja mais mover guere. }[2]

God’s words emphasize mutually. Adam is like God and must never fight with God. Adam responds:

I will not, but I will trust you.
My creator I will obey.

{ Nen frai ge, mais te crerrai,
Mun creatur obeïrai }

Adam’s vow to obey his creator comes in the context of trust and mutuality. The hierarchical obligation of obedience here is meant to be consistent with similarity and mutuality. Moreover, God created both male and female in his image. Eve, created from Adam’s rib, in made of earth through the intermediate step of making Adam. God’s words are equally fit for Eve.

God then instructs Adam about Eve and marriage. Similarity and mutuality again conflate with hierarchical obligation of obedience. God says to Adam:

I have given you a worthy companion:
your wife, Eve by name.
She is your wife and partner.
You ought to be entirely faithful to her.
Love her, and let her love you,
if you two both would be mine.
She is to be at your command
and you two both subject to my wish.
From your side I have formed her.
Born from you, she is no stranger to you.
I fashioned her from your body,
from within you she came, not from outside.
Govern her reasonably.
Let no dispute come between you,
but have great love and much help.
Such is the law of marriage.

{ Je t’ai duné bon cumpainun:
Ce est ta femme, Eva a noun.
Ce est ta femme e tun pareil:
Tu le devez estre ben fiël.
Tu aime lui, e ele ame tei,
Si serez ben ambedui de moi.
Ele soit a tun comandement
E vus ambe deus a mun talent.
De ta coste l’ai fourmee;
N’est pas estrange, de tei est nee.
Jo la plasmai de ton cors;
De tei eissit, non pas de fors.
Tu la governe par raison.
N’ait entre vus ja tençon,
Mais grant amor, grant conservage:
Tel soit la lei de mariage. }

Eve was to be formally at Adam’s command, and he was to govern her reasonably.[3] Moreover, he must understand that she is like him. He is to love her and let her love him. That’s far from despotism or “patriarchy.” Women have long controlled households in practice. God declaring husbands to have formal authority over their wives strengthens men’s disadvantaged household position and is best interpreted as affirmative action to foster gender equality.

After first addressing Adam to boost his self-esteem, God turns to Eve. He isn’t reluctant to talk to a woman. He says to her:

To you I will speak, Eve.
Be mindful of this, do not take it in vain.
If you would do my will,
in your heart cherish goodness,
love and honor me, your creator,
and recognize me as Lord.
To serving me devote your care,
all your strength, and all your mind.
Love Adam, and hold him dear.
He is your husband, and you his wife.
Toward him in all things stay favorably disposed.
Do not depart from his instructions.
Serve and love him in good spirit,
because that is justice in marriage.
If you do well as his assistant,
I will place you with him in glory.

{ A tei parlerai, Evain.
Ço garde tu, nel tenez en vain:
Si vos faire ma volenté
En ton cors garderas bonté,
Moi aim e honor ton creator,
E moi reconuis a Seignor.
A moi servir met ton porpens,
Tote ta force e tot tun sens.
Adam aime, e lui tien chier.
Il est marid, e tu sa mullier.
A lui soies tot tens encline,
Nen issir de sa discipline.
Lui serf e aim par bon coraje,
Car ço est droiz de mariage.
Se tu le fais bon adjutoire,
Jo te mettrai od lui en gloire. }

Unlike in speaking to Adam, God has to remind Eve to take him seriously. God emphasizes that Eve should be her husband’s assistant and follow her husband’s lead. Moreover, she isn’t to be sullen or resentful about doing that. She is to be favorably disposed toward her husband in all things, and both serve and love him in good spirit. In contrast to modern mythology, Eve isn’t her husband’s chattel or slave.

Adam lacks the self-assertion to respond to God’s instruction about marriage. Eve, in contrast, confidently responds that she will follow God’s instructions:

I will do, sire, as you wish.
I would not like to stray from that.
You I will recognize as Lord,
Adam as my partner and as stronger than I.
I will always be faithful to him.
From me he will have good counsel.
Your wish, your service
I will do, sire, in every way.

{ Jol frai, sire, a ton plaisir;
Ja n’en voldrai de rien issir.
Toi conustrai a seignor,
Lui a paraille e a forzor.
Jo lui serrai tot tens feël;
De moi avra bon conseil.
Le ton pleisir, le ton servise
Frai, sire, en tote guise. }

Eve recognizes that Adam is physically stronger than her, but she suggests that she’s wiser than him. She will advise him on what to do. He is her partner.

In Le jeu d’Adam, the biblical garden of Eden becomes a paradise that Eve and Adam’s relationship centrally characterizes. Emphasizing the importance of this garden, Le jeu d’Adam begins with a rubric describing “paradise {paradisus}”:

Let paradise be constructed in a prominently high place. Let curtains and silk hangings be placed around it at such a height that those persons who will be in paradise can be seen from the shoulders up. Let sweet-smelling flowers and foliage be planted there. Within paradise let there be various trees, with fruit hanging from the trees such that it is seen to be a most delightful place.

{ Constituatur paradisus loco eminentiori; circumponantur cortinae et panni serici ea altitudine ut personae, quae in paradiso feurint, possint videri sursum ad humeros; serantur odoriferi flores et frondes; sint in eo diversae arbores et fructus in eis dependentes, ut amoenissimus locus videatur. }

Paradise is a reference point throughout the play. God sends both Adam and Eve into paradise. Then God explicitly describes the nature of that place:

I will tell you the nature of this garden.
You will not find here anything delightful to be lacking.
Any good in the world that a creature might covet
can be found here in its own proper measure.
Here woman will experience no anger from man,
nor man from woman have shame or fear.
Man here is no sinner for having sex,
nor does woman here experience pain in bearing children.
You will live forever, so you will have here a good lifetime.
You will never experience change in your age.
Death you will never fear here, nor can it harm you.
I do not wish for you to leave. Here you must make your dwelling.

{ De cest jardin tei dirrai la nature:
De nul delit n’i trovrez falture.
N’et bien al mond, que covoit criature,
Chescons n’i poisset trover a sa mesure.
Femme do home n’i avra irur,
Ne home de femme verguine ne freür.
Por engendrer n’i est hom peccheor,
Ne a l’emfanter femme n’i sent dolor.
Tot tens vivras, tant i ad bon estage;
N’i porras ja changer li toen eage.
Mort n’i crendras, ne te ferra damage.
Ne voil qu’en isses; ici feras manage. }

Literally central to this description isn’t flowers and fruit, but a joyful, life-creating relationship between Eve and Adam. Losing such a relationship implies being expelled from paradise.

On the Sistine Chapel's ceiling, Michelangelo's depiction of the Fall and expulsion of Eve and Adam from the garden of Eden

In Le jeu d’Adam, Satan tempts both Adam and Eve with equality. Satan’s long, sophisticated attempt to seduce Adam culminates in Satan urging Adam to eat the forbidden fruit:

Eat it, and you’ll do well.
You then will have nothing to fear from your God.
Instead, in all you will be his equal.
For that reason he has forbidden it.
Will you trust me? Taste of the fruit!

{ Manjue le, si fras bien.
Ne crendras pois tun Deu de rien;
Aienz serras puis del tut son per.
Por ço le quidat veer.
Creras me tu? Guste del fruit. }

Adam refuses to try to become God’s equal. Satan withdraws in frustration at Adam’s “stupidity {soz}.” Satan, however, soon returns to tempt Adam again:

Listen, Adam, pay attention to me.
I will counsel you in faith
how you can be without a master
and the equal of your creator.
I will tell you all to the top.
If you eat of the apple,
you will reign in majesty.
You can share power with God.

{ Escut, Adam, entent a moi:
Jo te conseillerai en fei
Que porras estre senz seignor,
E seras per del creatur.
Jo te dirrai tute la summe:
Si tu manjues la pome
Tu regneras en majesté.
Od Deu poez partir poësté. }

Adam doesn’t grasp for equality with God.[4] He understands Satan to be seeking to “remove me from joy, put me in sadness {tolir de joie, mettre en dolor}.” He tells Satan to go to Hell. Satan withdraws in sadness, “with a submissive countenance {vultu demisso}.” Adam has triumphed over Satan.

Then Satan approaches Eve. Satan begins tempting Eve by disparaging her man Adam. Satan says, “He’s too much of a fool {trop est fols}.” Eve concedes, “He’s a little hard {Un poi est durs}.” Perhaps she meant that compared to her, he has rocks for brains. Never concede anything to Satan. Then Satan declares, “He is harder than fire {Il est plus dors que n’est emfers}!” Satan means that Adam is harsh toward Eve. His words, however, could also be understood to imply ironically that Adam doesn’t succumb to Hell. Eve counters for Adam, “He is very noble {It est mult francs}.” Adam wasn’t noble in the sense of a being a self-abasing courtly lover. In paradise, he was probably noble in the sense that he vigorously fulfilled the original ideal of masculine chivalry.

Satan again re-interprets and contradicts Eve’s word. He disparages Adam at length and tempts Eve with a courtly lover’s flattery:

To the contrary, Adam is servile.
He lacks the will to take care of himself.
He should at least take care of you.
You are a delicate and tender thing,
and you are fresher than a rose.
You are whiter than crystal,
whiter than snow that falls on ice in the valley.
A badly matched couple the Creator has made.
You are too tender, and he, too hard.
But nonetheless you are wiser.
Your mind has discovered great wisdom.

{ Ainz, est mult serf.
Cure nen voelt prendre de soi.
Car la prenge sevals de toi.
Tu es fieblette e tendre chose,
E es plus fresche que n’est ros;
Tu es plus blanche que cristal,
Que neif que chiet sor glace en val.
Mal cuple em fist li Criator:
Tu est trop tendre, e il, trop dur.
Mais neporquant tu es plus sage;
En grant sens as mis tun corrage. }

Disparaging men to their beloved women is Satan’s work. Having thus weakened Eve, Satan urges her to take the fruit and lead Adam into disaster for them both:

Take it first and give it to Adam.
You will at once possess the crown of Heaven.
You will be the Creator’s equal.
He will not be able to hide secrets from you.
As soon as you have eaten of the fruit,
at once your hearts will be changed.
Without fail you will be in relation to God
of equal goodness, of equal power.
Taste of the fruit!

{ Primes le pren, e a Adam le done.
Del ciel averez sempres corone.
Al Creator serrez pareil;
Ne vus purra celer conseil.
Puis que del fruit avrez mangié,
Sempres vus iert le cuer changié
O Deus serrez, sanz faillance,
De egal bonté, de egal puissance.
Guste del fruit. }

The introductory rubric describing Eve as “not sufficiently submissive {parum demissior}” before God foreshadowed Satan’s tactic in tempting her. Even more than in tempting Adam, Satan emphasizes to Eve the promise of being equal to God.

Adam’s lack of confidence and self-assertiveness in relation to Eve leads to their exile from paradise. Eve takes the forbidden fruit and urges Adam to eat it. Adam, however, confesses his sense of vulnerability: “I’m fearful of it {J’en duit}.” Eve then doesn’t sympathetically comfort Adam and accommodate his justified fear. She instead taunts him, “Stop being afraid {Lai le}!” Adam and Eve would have been better off if Adam had said firmly, “I don’t want fruit. Wife, make me a sandwich, please.” Students, that’s a fundamental insight of meninist literary criticism.

After Eve taunts him with being afraid, Adam attempts to assert himself. He says to Eve: “I won’t eat it {Nen frai pas}.” Men should have the right to decide what they eat and don’t eat. Disrespecting her husband, Eve twists his words and taunts him, “You delay out of cowardice {Del demorer fai tu que las}.” She knows that she can dominate her husband by shaming him. It’s merely a matter of how long before she gets him to do what he said he won’t do. The delay is brief. Promptly reversing his decision about what he would eat, Adam declares: “I’ll take it {E jo le prendrai}.” Underscoring her dominance, Eve then puts herself first:

Eat. Take the fruit!
By it you will know both good and evil.
I’ll eat some first.

{ Manjue. Ten!
Par ço saveras e mal e bien.
Jo en manjerai premirement. }

Women leaders equally fail men. Eve declares that the apple tastes great and has wonderful effects. She’s delusional, or perhaps seeking company in her grave error. Respecting Eve’s judgment, Adam says to her, “I’ll trust you in this. You are my equal. {Jo t’en crerra. Tu es ma per.}” Eve again exhorts Adam, “Eat! Don’t be fearful {Manjue. Nen poez doter.}.” Adam then eats of the fruit. That’s a paradigmatic gender catastrophe from the perspective of meninist literary criticism.[5]

Adam immediately recognizes the disastrous consequences of his failure of self-assertiveness with respect to his wife. He understands that they are sinful wretches that have gravely offended God. He believes that they are destined to die and go to Hell, along with all subsequent humans. Adam expresses only vague awareness that humans’ situation could change. Eve significantly has the finally word in what’s merely conventionally and misleadingly called Le jeu d’Adam:

The wicked serpent, the viper of evil appearance,
caused me to eat the apple of antagonism.
I gave it to you, so I thought that to be good.
Why wasn’t I favorably disposed to the Creator?
Why, sire, didn’t I hold to your instructions?
You did wrong, but I was the root of it.
For our evil, the cure will be long.
My wrong, my enormous misdoing,
will cost dearly for our progeny.
The fruit was sweet, but the pain is harsh.
Evil it was to eat. Ours is the guilt.
But nonetheless in God is my hope.
For this wrong our flesh will be fully reconciled.
God will offer me his grace and his favor.
He will rescue us from Hell by his power.

{ Li fel serpent, la guivre de mal aire,
Me fist mangier la pome de contraire.
Jo t’en donai; si quidai por bien faire,
E mis toi en pecchié, dont ne te pois retraire.
Por quei ne fui al Criator encline?
Por quei ne tien jo, sire, ta discipline?
Tu mesfesis, més jo sui la racine.
De nostre mal, long en est la mescine.
Le mien mesfait, ma grant mesaventure,
Compera chier la nostre engendreore.
Li fruiz fu dulz, la paine est dure.
Mal fu mangiez; nostre iert la fraiture.
Mais neporquant en Deu est ma sperance.
D’icest mesfait char tot iert acordance:
Deus me rendra sa grace e sa mustrance:
Gieter nus voldra d’emfer par pussance. }

Using words that echo God’s instructions to her, Eve laments that she didn’t respect Adam’s marital leadership. She recognizes the disaster of gender antagonism. She also has hope in God that female and male flesh will be reconciled. She believes that God will offer to her grace and favor, and rescue them from Hell. Meninist literary critics might see here another indication of women’s privilege. Yet as long as Eve faithfully adheres to God’s instructions on how she is to honor and respect Adam, this women’s privilege in receiving God’s grace and favor isn’t like to oppress men as a gender.[6]

Adam and Eve ashamed at their nakedness. Painting in Christian catacombs.

Particularly over the past half-century, misinterpretations of story of Eve and Adam have bolstered gender inequality. Women dominated medieval society. Today persons at commanding heights of the propaganda apparatus proclaim that the future is female. Many women and men today already feel that they are living in a gender Hell. Progress toward a humane, gender-equal future depends on fully functioning human minds and hearts. As marginalized and excluded meninist literary criticism emphasizes, we must learn from Eve and Adam.

They exchange souls, entangled bodies made into one
body. By their spirits their hearts are made penetrable.
Slow, easy transfusion of spirits brings back their bodies,
and each dying to oneself lives in the other partner.

{ Alternant animas, laqueataque corpus in unum
Corpora spiritibus pervia corda parant.
Corpora spirituum transfusio languida reddit,
Dumque sibi moritur vivit uterque pari. }[7]

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] The Play of Adam {Le jeu d’Adam}, from introductory Latin rubric, Latin text from Bevington (1975) p. 80, English translation (modified) from id. All subsequent quotes, unless otherwise noted, are similarly serially from Le jeu d’Adam. For a freely available Old French text, Studer (1918). Axton & Stevens (1971) includes an English translation.

This play survives in only one manuscript: Tours, Bibliothèque municipale, 927, f. 20r-40r, written in the second half of the twelfth century. For a close technical analysis of the play in its manuscript context, Chaguinian (2017). Le jeu d’Adam is also known as The scriptural play (mystery play) of Adam {Le mystère d’Adam} and The Service for Representing Adam {Ordo Repraesentationis Adae}.

[2] Cf. Genesis 1:27, 2:7.

[3] In medieval thought, a marriage needed to be governed in the same sense that any realm or organization needed to be governed. In modern terms, any realm or organizations needs a formal account of status relations and formal decision-making procedures. This formal structure may have little relation to decision-making in practice.

[4] Cf. Philippians 2:15. Psalms 8:4-5 proclaims that humans already have an exalted position:

What is a man that you are mindful of him,
and a son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him little less than a god,
and crowned him with glory and honor.

{ מה־אנוש כי־תזכרנו ובן־אדם כי תפקדנו׃
ותחסרהו מעט מאלהים וכבוד והדר תעטרהו׃ }

[5] Reading Le jeu d’Adam in light of medieval European gender, Adams commented:

The woman’s greater intelligence was to blame for Adam’s fall. Eve was justly punished because she should have known better, while Adam, as the Devil truly said, was a dull animal, hardly worth the trouble of deceiving. … They {the medieval audience of Le jeu d’Adam} recognized the man as, of course, stupid, cowardly, and traitorous.

Adams (1904) p. 206. Le jeu d’Adam regrettably perpetrated negative stereotypes of men. Medieval writers, however, had relatively broad expressive freedom.

Auerbach interprets the serpent’s intervention between vv. 292 and 293 as completely changing Eve’s character and her relation to Adam. Auerbach declared:

Eve, in fact, is clumsy, very clumsy, even though her clumsiness is not hard to understand. For without the Devil’s special help she is but a weak — though curious and hence sinful — creature, far inferior to her husband and easily guided by him. That is how God created her from Adam’s rib. … Eve is fearful, submissive, self-conscious. She feels she cannot cope with his clear and reasonable and manly will. The serpent alone changes all this. It upsets the order of things established by God, it makes the woman the man’s master, and so leads both to ruin.

Auerbach (1957) p. 149. This interpretation goes far beyond the text. Moreover, it has the prevalent gender pattern of blaming another for a woman’s action and so excusing her. The introductory rubric characterizing Eve as “not sufficiently submissive {parum demissior}” directly contradicts Auerbach’s tendentious interpretation. Moreover, God designating Adam as the leader within Eve and Adam’s marriage doesn’t imply that Eve is inferior to Adam as a human being. The New Testament proclaims woman’s equality with man and also designates the husband as the leader within marriage. Galations 3:28, Ephesians 5:22-4, Colossians 1:18.

[6] After scrutinizing Le jeu d’Adam, which would be better titled Le jeu d’Eve, Grimbert (1992) judged its author not to be a male chauvinist pig. Its author has even received the ultimate modern laurel — being labeled a feminist:

Attention has often been called to the skill with which the anonymous author of the twelfth-century Jeu d’Adam presents the temptation of Eve by Satan. A closer study of certain aspects of this play and of its relationship with the Biblical counterpart suggests that Satan was not entirely untruthful when he praised Eve to the detriment of Adam, at least insofar as her conduct after the Fall is concerned. Indeed, the philogynous touch in the Jeu d’Adam is not confined to the serpent’s ill-intentioned flattery. On the contrary, a current of sympathy for the dignity and strength of Eve runs so strongly throughout the play that even the epithet “feminist” is not necessarily out of order in a religious context. Not only is Eve Adam’s equal; she is superior to him in some respects. Commentators of this play typically see Adam, not Eve, as spokesman for mankind. But reconsideration of the evidence shows that, while Adam makes a poor showing as head of the human race after the Fall, Eve dominates the scene by exemplifying perfectly the proper attitude of a repentant sinner and a believer in the mercy of God.

Kostoroski-Kadish (1975) pp. 209-10. Such analysis justifies God’s affirmative action on behalf of men within marriage. The author of Le jeu d’Adam is best regarded as a meninist.

[7] “Behold, beauty and the pleasing delight of love return {Ecce redit species et amoris grata voluptas},” vv. 18-21 (of 21), Latin text from Dronke (1965) vol. 2, p. 449, English translation (modified) from id. p. 450. This poem, apparently composed by an Anglo-Norman poet, survives in Roma, Vatican MS Reg. lat. 585, folio 4v (written in the twelfth century) and Escorial, MS. O. III. 2, folio 98r-v (written in the fourteenth century).

[images] (1) The Fall and expulsion of Eve and Adam from the garden of Eden. Michelangelo’s depiction on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, Rome. Painted between 1508 and 1512. Via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Adam and Eve ashamed at their nakedness. Painting in the Catacombs of Saints Marcellinus and Peter, Rome. Painted between 306 and 337 GC. Via Wikimedia Commons.


Adams, Henry. 1904. Mont Saint Michel and Chartres. Cambridge, MA: Riverside Press.

Auerbach, Erich. 1957. Mimesis: the Representation of Reality in Western Literature. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. Originally published in German in 1945.

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

Bevington, David M. 1975. Medieval Drama. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Chaguinian, Christophe, ed. 2017. The Jeu d’Adam: MS Tours 927 and the Provenance of the Play. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications.

Dronke, Peter. 1965. Medieval Latin and the Rise of European Love-Lyric. 2 vols. Vol. 1Vol. 2. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Grimbert, Joan Tasker. 1994. “Eve as Adam’s pareil: Equivalence and Subordination in the Jeu d’Adam.” Pp. 29-37 in Donald Maddox and Sara Sturm-Maddox, eds. Literary Aspects of Courtly Culture. Selected Papers from the Seventh Triennial Congress of the International Courtly Literature Society, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA, 27 July–1 August, 1992. Cambridge: Brewer.

Kostoroski-Kadish, Emilie. 1975. ‘“Feminism” in the Jeu d’Adam.’ Kentucky Romance Quarterly. 22 (2): 209-221.

Studer, Paul, ed. 1918. Le mystère d’Adam: an Anglo-Norman drama of the twelfth century. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

3 thoughts on “gender equality and paradise in Le jeu d’Adam

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Current month ye@r day *