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Paume Anyone? Representing Real Tennis after the Tennis Court Oath Au loin fut un ample manoir, Où le réseau noueux, en élastique égide, Arme d’un bras souple et nerveux, Repoussant la balle rapide, Exerçait la jeunesse en de robustes jeux. Peuple, de tes élus cette retraite obscure Fut la Délos. O murs! temple à jamais fameux! Berceau des lois! sainte masure! André Chénier, “Le jeu de paume” For centuries le jeu de paume (known as “real tennis” in Britain), a precursor to our modern-day tennis, was the exclusive cultural and social property of France’s nobility. The title of Yves Carlier’s catalog written to accompany a jeu de paume museum exhibit in 2001 represents the tight connection between the nobility and the game: Jeu des rois, roi des jeux (Game of Kings, King of Games). However, it was not always that way. Roger Morgan argues convincingly that paume began in the marketplace and was originally played by the people. As paume became a favorite pastime of the nobility, however, various kings and courts attempted to make it an exclusive royal privilege, some by preventing play on Sunday (thereby limiting play to those who did not work during one | Paume Anyone? 2 the week), others by allowing commoners to play only on Sunday (since people were neglecting their work to play paume during the week).1 In the fourteenth century Charles V, by royal decree, forbade anyone not of noble birth to play the game.2 And in 1480, testifying to the keen interest the nobility took in the game, an ordinance was passed instructing those producing balls for paume exactly how to perform their job: they must “make good balls well covered and stuffed from good leather and good filling, without adding sand, chalk, metal shards, lime, bran, sawdust, ash, moss, powder or dirt, under penalty of fines and seizure of all the bad balls that will be burned so that no one will be inconvenienced by them.”3 By the seventeenth century, philosopher Blaise Pascal confidently proclaimed that chasing a ball in order to win a point represented “the very pleasure of kings.”4 To a certain extent the nature of the game itself created barriers that prevented the lower classes from playing: the sport necessitated space, money, and vast amounts of free time. At least three walls enclosed the 110-foot-long court, with the initial serve required to strike an awning on the side wall. In addition, each player or team was obliged to bring a valet to spot and record chases (les chasses: the place where the ball touches the ground on its second bounce). In Diderot’s eighteenth-century Encyclopédie, under the heading “Paume, le jeu de,” Jaucourt writes that “those who play paume usually have two markers. These are jeu de paume valets who mark the chases.” Even if merchants or laborers had the money to pay these valets, they would undoubtedly have dif- ficulty finding enough time to devote to a sport whose three separate “movements” often lasted until dark. As Jaucourt records, “One usually plays a first match, a second, and a final, and one Paume Anyone? | 3 cannot leave this last match except with a good reason, like nightfall , or something else like it [autre semblable].” While one can only wonder what “something else like it” could possibly mean, it is clear that the nobility who practiced this sport took its rules very seriously. In fact, the intricate rules of the noble jeu de paume are as complex as the cultural and political rules of the monarchy itself. For example, the receiver has the option of directing the ball into one of the galleries on the service side of the court, returning the ball so that it bounces twice on his opponent’s side of the net, or striking the ball directly into the gallery (the dedans) behind the server. If the ball bounces twice on the server’s side, the returner has succeeded in laying down a chase, that is, a point that must be concluded when he (players were almost exclusively male) moves to the service side of the court prior to the end of the game. In a successful chase the second bounce will strike as close as possible to the back wall. The server, in turn, after hitting his serve off the awning, or toit, can earn quinze (fifteen) by hitting a ball directly into what is known as...


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