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Chapter 4 "The Kynge Must Be Thus Maad": Playing with Power in Fifteenth-Century England Wherfore bycause thys sayd book is ful ofholsom wysedom and requysyte unto every astate and degree, I have purposed to enprynte it, shewing therin the figures ofsuch persons as longen to the playe, in whom al astates and degrees ben comprysed. -Caxton's 1483 preface to The Game and Playe of the Chesse In the early fifteenth century the poet Thomas Hoccleve, trapped in a low-paying post at the Office of the Privy Seal and missing his yearly annuity, attempted to compensate for his financial hardship by writing a speculum regis for the young prince Henry, later to become King Henry V. The resulting poem, The Regement ofPrinces, falls roughly into two parts. In the first half the character Hoccleve meets a beggar, who urges the poet to abandon his desire for material wealth. In the second half, considered by many to be the speculum proper, Hoccleve shifts from dialogue to monologue and counsels the king to uphold a variety of virtues that include honesty , justice, and, most important, generosity toward his subjects.1 Like most medieval writers, Hoccleve did not write the Regementex nihilo but drew on a variety of texts and genres to craft his work. Literary forms that appear in the first half of the poem range from serious Boethian complaint to comic self-presentation bordering on fabliau. At some points he even borrows the language of devotional texts, as is the case in his opening, where he assumes the posture ofa suppliant Mary.2 In the second half ofthe Regement Hoccleve does not leave us wondering about his sources, which he lists outright. They are: the pseudo-Aristotelian Secretum secretorum, or Secret ofSecrets; the "Regiment I Of Princes" by Aegidius Romanus; and "a Playing with Power in Fifteenth-Century England 123 book Jacob de Cessolis I Of the ordre of prechours maad, a worthy man, I That the Ches Moralysed clepid is;' the last of which furnishes him with nearly forty examples of virtues essential for a monarch.3 As Hoccleve begins to discuss the "Ches Moralysed;' his name for Jacobus de Cessolis's thirteenth-century Liber, he foregrounds the ways the game works as both allegory of social order and metaphor for financial exchange. Yet rather than talk openly about chess as a model of civic community or as a representation of economic transactions, Hoccleve couches the game's symbolic valences in a discussion of his own chess-playing abilities: And al be it that in that place sqwaar Of the listes-I meene th'eschequeerA man may Ierne to be wys and waar, I that have aventured many a yeer My wit therein, but lyte am I the neer, Sauf that I sumwhat knowe a kynges draght; Of othir draghtes lerned have I naght. (II. 2115-21) Here Hoccleve engages in a bit of word play. Having already referred to the "Exchequer" as the place responsible for his annuity (ll. 82o-21), and also as the place that still owes him money (1. 1877), he once again mourns the Exchequer 's failure to allow him "neer'' any type of profit. Such punning brings Hoccleve in line with the pilgrims of the Canterbury Interlude, whose arrival at the Cheker of the Hope coincides with the commencement of several different financial transactions.4 Yet in this stanza's final lines Hoccleve implicitly reinvests the chess game with the symbolic value it had in Jacobus's text. Just as his retitling of the Liber as the "Ches Moralysed" recalls the game's seedy origins, so too does it indicate a return to the game's earlier symbolic register: that chess can be "moralysed" means that it can have some positive value. By referring to the king's move, Hoccleve conceives of the board as a representation of a political community. Like Evilmerodach, the tyrannical ruler who mastered the game in the Liber, Prince Henry must learn the rules governing his own chess piece, which, as Hoccleve notes, are those most "needful unto [his] persone" (1. 2124). Only after assimilating these rules will the prince become virtuous. Thus by the end of the verse Hoccleve 's "place sqwaar" takes on a different meaning, becoming both a literal chessboard and a figurative one. When he claims to know the ways a king can move, Hoccleve is not boasting of his chess skills-he himself insists that he is ignorant "of othir draghtes"-but...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780812201048
Related ISBN
9780812239447
MARC Record
OCLC
859160604
Pages
264
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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