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arhyalon

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02:22 pm: I Wonder As I Wonder...
Last night, we went on a candlelight tour of Sully Plantation, a local house dating back to the 1790s. We arrived to find Father Christmas dressed in green robes and his elves, who gave candy canes to the children, passed a tent and campfire surrounded by civil war soldiers (whom I insisted on calling ghosts,) and were given a tour of the house in which men, women, and children in costume spoke or played instruments, telling us about the activities of the time.

I kept insisting that they were ghosts, because I thought this made it mysterious. Juss kept insisting they were people in costumes. So, once we came out again, I brought Juss to one of the horses (the shaggiest horse I have had the pleasure to pat) and told him it was a person in a costume. This amused him.

Then, we had hot cider and cookies, and John bought me a Jane Austin action doll (complete with quill and writing tablet) for Christmas (which I don't know anything about yet, shhhh!)

On the way out, we stopped off at the slaves quarters where a gentleman sang a song as an illustration of the kind of things that might have been done for entertainment at night. For the first time, I stopped and thought about what I would have done in a similar situation...

...had the weirdest thought...

John and I have often been rather poor. (We are writers, after all.) We have a favorite activity that costs almost nothing. In fact, often it costs nothing at all. Sometimes, we bother getting a piece of paper or a twenty-sider. It's a thrilling and absorbing activity that can keep people -- couples or groups -- entertained for hours.

So, I turned to John and said, "In the past, when people had all this free time with no modern entertainment...why didn't they roleplay?"

He was stumped.

We've talked about it quite a bit since. Why is it we don't hear any reports of people in the past, primitive or more civilized roleplaying? 

We hear about storytellers, even stories that continue night after night. We hear about children's games. We hear about couples doing a little bit. ("In the meadow, we will build a snowman (snowman) and pretend that he is Parson Brown. He'll say: 'Are you married?' We'll say: 'No, Man. (No man) but you can do the job while you're in town.'"

But long, drawn out, complicated, novel-like games with action, romance, and heartbreak? I've never seen a reference to anything even remotely like it.

And yet...it does not require anything that did not exist in the past. Leisure time? Did the aristocrats roleplay? Ancient tribesmen? Slaves would could not go out in the evening?  Children played...did any of their games continue into adulthood? Did any British lords play Cavaliers and Roundheads as adults?

I wonder...



Comments

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From:mindyklasky
Date:December 14th, 2008 08:41 pm (UTC)
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For so much of Western history, actors have been discredited as immoral liars; I wonder if that attitude inhibited potential role players?

Of course, there *were* grand masquerades, throughout the Renaissance, with costume balls and role playing by adults at court. Perhaps those games were purposefully left behind by the Puritans, pilgrims, etc.?
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:December 14th, 2008 08:55 pm (UTC)
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Do you know if the the roleplaying at court was elaborate playing of others lives? Or was it more formalized? More ceremonial?
[User Picture]
From:mindyklasky
Date:December 14th, 2008 09:02 pm (UTC)
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The little that I know of it (Italian sources, from studying the lives of Leonardo and Michelangelo, and English, from various historic novels) would say that it was more diversionary - a single event ("let's play at being Greek maidens" (which I just typoed as Geek maidens...)) rather than large-scale creation of alternate worlds and lives.

I suspect that most monarchs would not have tolerated their courts swearing drawn-out fealty to anyone else, even imaginary. And most non-nobles didn't have time for any fun and games, after the hard work of every day life was done....
[User Picture]
From:juliet_winters
Date:December 16th, 2008 03:01 am (UTC)
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Check into the Lords of Misrule, popular during Christmas celebrations, yea unto Elizabethan times.

Do I sense a novel connection?
(queried she, peering down her librarian spectacles)
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:December 18th, 2008 12:12 am (UTC)
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No. Just picturing all that spare time. ;-)
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From:juliet_winters
Date:December 14th, 2008 11:10 pm (UTC)
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Ah, but they did role-play in several guises.
Reread Little Women. What are they doing but acting out the parts of Pilgrim's Progress with gusto?
Doesn't Jo pen many, many scripts for her sisters to act out?
It really was an English country house tradition, especially in the holidays, to put on revels and playact.

While researching my book, I discovered that they held renaissance faires which were in fact LARPS. With real horses and real lances. Competing for fair ladies' affections over the course of several days. They were inspired by the works of Sir Walter Scott.

Turner Ashby, nicknamed "The Black Knight" for the role he took on in these affairs, became a famed Confederate cavalry commander. A lot of his friends came to the cavalry with him. Unfortunately though he was truly brave and bold he did die and early on in the war, too.

Then there are the Brontes. Branwell and Charlotte created worlds and storylines. They called these magical, imaginary worlds Angria and Gondal. I imagine that Mr. Rochester had his character shadows there.


[User Picture]
From:kokorognosis
Date:December 14th, 2008 11:20 pm (UTC)
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In nature, play tends to exist as preparation for the real world. Puppy and dog play generally mimics their natural hunting instinct and the instincts we have bred into them.

I think, until recently, role-playing or "Let's Pretend" was most likely seen as something similar. Something children do to prepare them for adult life. Leisure time for the masses is a relatively recent invention-- a by-product of mechanization. We have enough leisure time that Chess and a fiddle won't cut it for us any longer.

Not that I'm complaining. Chess is too abstract to hold my attention for long and I have no musical talent. And, gosh darn it, I'm really darn excited about Final Fantasy XIII.

If only Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger were what I needed to prepare me for my adult life. ;) *wistful sigh*
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From:rhystuck
Date:December 14th, 2008 11:43 pm (UTC)
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I had to reread that, when you said they were ghosts, I got the idea there were people dressed in Klan outfits or something.

people had wargames in the past, stuff like Warhammer is like a modern version of that.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:December 15th, 2008 09:10 am (UTC)
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....neither my husband nor I can come up with a counter example.

I'll put a shout-out.
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From:headnoises
Date:December 15th, 2008 09:13 am (UTC)
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That is me....
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From:catholicteacher
Date:December 17th, 2008 06:44 am (UTC)

unrelated thought

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Forgive me for not talking about role-playing here, but I noticed the title to the thread immediately: I learned this carol for the first time ever this year with the school choir. It's a lovely local piece, (for y'all.)
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:December 17th, 2008 05:13 pm (UTC)

Re: unrelated thought

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Yeah, I love that one. We heard it recently and Orville asked a billion questions about it.
From:ladyhobbit
Date:December 17th, 2008 08:32 pm (UTC)
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I'm not an expert at all, but I have the impression that in English-language culture, role-playing by adults would have been viewed with some suspicion. In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, even novel-reading (especially for women) was frowned upon by strict moralists. Novels were very popular anyway, and of course novels are a way to live another life for a time. In many middle-class families, novels would be read aloud while the women of the family worked on needlework and other tasks. I suppose that a masquerade party could be considered a form of role-playing for adults. I suspect that in the working class, leisure time was very scarce, so role-playing activities would not be likely.

This is an intriguing question!
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