Grace Frank (essay date 1935)
SOURCE: "Wine Reckonings in Bodel's Jeu de Saint Nicolas," in Modern Language Notes, Vol. L, No. 1, January, 1935, pp. 9-13.
[In the following essay, Frank considers the humor and trickery in the tavern scenes from Jeu de Saint Nicolas.]
Schulze, Guesnon and Jeanroy have all tried to solve the reckonings of the tavern-keeper in the Jeu de S. Nicolas, but with results none too satisfactory even to themselves.1 As Jeanroy says, these accounts are "volontairement boîteux, et c'est en cela précisément que doit consister le comique de la scène." If we are to share in this fun, however, it seems worth while attempting to discover just wherein these accounts do limp. Moreover, it appears from looking into them that Bodel is not only satirizing the mathematics of publicans, as Jeanroy suggests, but is also playing upon the Pathelinian theme of the cheater cheated, or, he robs best who robs last.
The first scene to involve a discussion of the host's wine-prices begins at line 251. Li Tavreniers offers his wine at the tariff of the town (258) and Auberon, the King's messenger, drinks une pinte (262). When Auberon comes to pay for his pint, he asks the price and is told that it costs a denier, but that if he will drink another pint, he may have the second for a maille (i. e., half a denier), that is, the two pints for 1 ½d. Take your choice, says the host in effect, "pay a denier or drink again" (274-7).
Now it is clear from these lines that the host is reckoning his wine at one denier the pint (with a reduced rate for two pints)2 and that, accordingly, when he adds "c'est a douze deniers sans faille" (276), he means that 12 pints of his wine are worth 12 deniers. But what is this measure of 12 pints? Jeanroy (note to 1. 707) asks the question without answering it, and Guesnon, confusing the issue by assuming that the measure must contain 4 lots, confesses he does not know. The measure, however, is most probably that mentioned in line 1038, the broc (Picard, broche) which Cotgrave defines as "a steane, great flagon, tankard or pot; holding (most commonly) twelve Parisian pints."3
Auberon, in the scene just discussed, demurs at the host's price. He is willing to pay the maille at once and later, on his return, to drink another pint and pay the denier then. But the host does not trust him and demands at least "trois partis" forthwith in payment of the wine already drunk. Guesnon and Schulze correctly interpret these "trois partis" as equal to half of 1½ d., that is ¾ d. (or 1½ mailles, the parti being worth ½ maille). Jeanroy, misled by the reckoning of 1. 680 f., somehow reached the conclusion that the parti was there equivalent to a demi-denier, but in this later reckoning, as in 1. 817, the "trois partis" are still equivalent to % d. and, as we shall see, it is for quite another reason that the account of 1. 680 f. is in error.
While Auberon is disputing with the host, Cliquet appears (290), eager for a little game of dice. Auberon and Cliquet shake for the drinks and the former wins, thereby shifting the burden of the debt to the latter. For the rest of the play it is Cliquet, a thief, who owes the "trois partis" for the messenger's drink. Cliquet remains at the inn and presently welcomes there a second thief, Pincedé, inviting his companion to drink and calling to the tavern-boy, Caignet, to draw the wine for them:
Bevons un denier, toute voie.
Saque nous demi lot, Caignet!
Evidently, for Cliquet a demi lot of wine may be had for a denier. But, as we have seen above, the host's regular price for his wine was 1 d. a pinte. The demi lot ought therefore to be the equivalent of a pint. I think it was. Guesnon, however, assumed, as we have seen,4 that in...
(The entire section is 1628 words.)