The nobiliary concept of play as a mechanism for ethical-political distinction in the Late Middle Ages
By Miguel Vicente Pedraz and Juan Rodríguez López
Revista Internacional de Ciencias del Deporte, Vol.12:4 (2008)
Abstract: This article examines the problematic meaning, both in concept and practice, of games in the late Middle Ages, using Norbert Elias’ theoretical perspective of the civilizing process. Starting from the fundamental assumption that play is not a practice free of political and ideological content, whose meaning is often found at the heart of social struggles, an evolutionary model of play is proposed where it is not the transformation of practices which is given most importance, but rather the shaping of concepts around the social divisions which these practices reflect.
To this end, the comparative methodology used reveals how, in the context of social transformation and medieval mentality, two binary categories of games, parallel and differentiating (games for the nobility/games for the commoners, and games for adults/games for children), developed. At the same time, this paper also addresses the more specific case of physical challenge, and its fundamental role in mental and behavioural changes, over and above the conditions which gave rise to different types of competitions. In particular, the emergence of the concept of infancy, public decorum and politeness, in the context of increasing levels of mechanisms for behavioural self-control, will be studied.