The game of chess reached western Europe by the year 1000, and
within several generations it had become one of the most popular
pastimes ever. Both men and women, and even priests played the game
despite the Catholic Church's repeated prohibitions. Characters in
countless romances, chansons de geste, and moral tales of
the eleventh through twelfth centuries also played chess, which
often symbolized romantic attraction or sexual consummation.
In Power Play, Jenny Adams looks to medieval literary
representations to ask what they can tell us both about the ways
the game changed as it was naturalized in the West and about the
society these changes reflected. In its Western form, chess
featured a queen rather than a counselor, a judge or bishop rather
than an elephant, a knight rather than a horse; in some
manifestations, even the pawns were differentiated into artisans,
farmers, and tradespeople with discrete identities.
Power Play is the first book to ask why chess became so
popular so quickly, why its pieces were altered, and what the
consequences of these changes were. More than pleasure was at
stake, Adams contends. As allegorists and political theorists
connected the moves of the pieces to their real-life counterparts,
chess took on important symbolic power. For these writers and
others, the game provided a means to figure both human interactions
and institutions, to envision a civic order not necessarily
dominated by a king, and to imagine a society whose members acted
in concert, bound together by contractual and economic ties. The
pieces on the chessboard were more than subjects; they were
individuals, playing by the rules.
Subjects: Language & Literature
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