This essay extends Johan Huizinga’s analysis of the concept of play as expressed in language, with particular attention to the shifting semantics of the words “play” and “game” in English over the course of the Middle Ages. It also considers the relationship between playing and interpretation in Huizinga’s own work and in medieval literary studies influenced by him. If play is the way a society expresses its interpretation of life and the world (as Huizinga claims in Homo Ludens ), and if much medieval literature and art are the remains of medieval play and game (as he claims in The Waning of the Middle Ages ), then granting these texts the importance they deserve, interpreting them “seriously,” requires us to play their game: to draw a sort of magic circle around them, to play by rules, such as avoiding anachronism, and to play roles, such as trying to perceive as a person would at that time.


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pp. 43-61
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