Redeeming Pledges, a.k.a. Forfeits
Many parlor games create occasions for players to make mistakes, whereupon they forfeit a pledge--some small personal item or article of clothing, like a scarf or a hat--which must be redeemed through pénitences or penances. Some 1800s sources in English offer concrete details on the process of collecting pledges and rituals for redeeming them:
In short, redeeming pledges in the 19th Century tends to involve a quick, final round of light games, awkward tasks, or mild intimacies taking place after a series of parlor games. Many sources provide lengthy inventories of penances paid to redeem forfeits:
- Donald Walker's 1837 Games and Sports describes a complete process from beginning to end
- George Arnold's 1858 The Sociable describes a brief ritual
- G. H. Sandison's 1895 How to Behave and Amuse describes some brief rituals associated with the practice
- In literature, forfeits are explained in a footnote to an 1800 edition of Oliver Goldsmith's The Vicar of Wakefield from 1766 (a novel that also mentions "Questions and Commands")
- Also, Rachel Revel's 1825 Winter Evening Pastimes describes a brief ritual, and Evening Amusements; or, A New Book of Games and Forfeits, published in 1828 by Dean and Munday, does too. In both cases, a game of forfeits is associated specifically with Christmas, but the latter source includes an illustration very like the ritual described in Sandison (1895) without Christmas associations
Some earlier sources give a sense of how widely penances can vary in focus, complexity, and social atmosphere:
- Lists of pénitences in French: Ducœurjoly (1801) [see content warning about its final chapters], Le Manuel des sorciers (1802; the 1st ed. has none), Ferra (1811)--probably based on Le Manuel des sorciers, which may have a relationship to Ducœurjoly, who also had a book of magic tricks--Enfantin/Belair (1812), Tardieu-Denesle (1817), Audot (1818), Celnart (1830), Bonneveine (1865), Docx (1894), and Valaincourt (1903). Contemporary illustrations exist in Le Bon Genre for some pénitences, e.g. "Le Baiser à la capucine" (illustration) and "Le Pont d'amour" (illustration), as well as games such as "Colin-maillard assis" (illustration--see also Fragonard's multiple paintings featuring "Colin-maillard," not to mention "La Main chaude" and more)
- Lists of penances in English: Revel (1825), Dean and Munday (1828), Child (1833), Walker (1837), "Puzzlewell" (1849) [related to "Puzzlewell" (1794) which has no forfeits], Waterman (1853), Bogue (1854) [content warning for racism in its unrelated chapter on "Acting Charades"; North American audiences may find especially interesting that this source calls one possible penance "The Telegraphic Message"--i.e. "The Telephone Game" but conceived in contemporary terms], Arnold (1858), Dalton (1861), Optic (1863), Dick & Fitzgerald (1864), Smith (1867), Clarke (1881), White (1896), Northrop (1901), Canfield (1907), Blain (1909), Hollister (1917), The Guardian (2008)
- Girolamo Bargagli's discussion of penances in 1572 is summarized by Thomas Frederick Crane in Italian Social Customs of the Sixteenth Century, and Their Influence on the Literatures of Europe (1920), giving special attention to storytelling as a penance
- Text and translation of Charles Sorel's 1643 discussion of pledges, in which being tasked with giving someone a kiss seems typical
- In Eustache le Noble's 1697 story sequence Le Gage touché, a group of people redeem pledges such as a case, a golden die, a timepiece, a crystal vial--all given up during a series of games such as "Bull's Foot"--by each narrating long adventures (including the fairy tale, "L'Oiseau de verité"). This sequence was loosely translated / edited / abridged as Winter Evening Tales, &c. in 1731 (incidentally replacing "Bull's Foot" with the game "Questions and Commands"--perhaps an odd choice for the translator to make, because the kinds of commands described elsewhere in 1685 already resemble non-literary penances/forfeits)
- Two excerpts and translations from the Mémoires secrets give examples of poems composed as penances after playing parlor games in 1772 (one poem is labeled a fairy tale, but the poem itself plays with the fact that it's not)
- Text and translation of Marc Antoine René de Voyer's 1779 discussion of pledges, in which being tasked with various forms of artistic and literary production seems typical (notably including enigmas, rebuses, etc., not unlike the poetic riddle that Voltaire supposedly offered to redeem a forfeit: "Five vowels, one consonant, / In French compose my name, / And I wear on my person / That which writes it without a pencil"--oiseau)
- In 1784, The Wit's Magazine published humorist G.M. Woodward's "Christmas Gambols," a short anecdote/essay that depicts both the ritual for redeeming forfeits, multiple penalties involving kisses, and the reaction of someone who felt he'd been made a fool of
Note that Higgins (1854) calls forfeits "stupid." In 1784, G.M. Woodward's country kinsman was enraged by a kissing forfeit, and Sorel (1643), Ferra (1811), Waterman (1853), and Bogue (1854) all make it clear penances could involve embarrassment, flirting, and light physical contact--above all, kisses--presumably explaining why Enfantin (1812) praised "The Impromptu Tale" for its strong potential to yield pledges while noting older people included in a mixed group might not be subject to them. Dislike and avoidance even of purely literary/artistic penances is also a minor theme of the fictional frame story of a 1673 story sequence by François Hédelin Aubignac, translated here.
Goethe's autobiography (written 1811-1833) explains his feelings about forfeits at length:
Those little games, as they are called, which are more or less ingenious, and by which a joyous young circle is collected and combined, depend in a great measure upon forfeits, in the calling in of which kisses have no small value. I had resolved, once for all, not to kiss, and as every want or impediment stimulates us to an activity to which we should otherwise not feel inclined, I exerted all the talent and humour I possessed to help myself through, and thus to win rather than lose, before the company, and for the company. When a verse was desired for the redemption of a forfeit, the demand was usually directed to me. Now I was always prepared, and on such occasions contrived to bring out something in praise of the hostess, or of some lady who had conducted herself most agreeably towards me. If it happened that a kiss was imposed upon me at all events, I endeavoured to escape by some turn, which was considered satisfactory; and as I had time to reflect on the matter beforehand, I was never in want of various elegant excuses, although those made on the spur of the moment were always most successful.
Goethe's account points to a middle ground between Sorel's description of pledges redeemed through kisses and de Voyer's description of pledges redeemed through literary production. His views on forfeits also shed light on the counting-game episode in The Sorrows of Young Werther: "Charlotte placed the chairs in a circle; and, when the company had sat down in compliance with her request, she forthwith proposed a round game. I noticed some of the company prepare their mouths and draw themselves up at the prospect of some agreeable forfeit" ["ein saftiges Pfand"].
A fable in which a group of women are humiliated when Phryne tricks them with a forfeit task is related in "Lettre XCIV" in journalist Anne-Marguerite Petit du Noyer's Lettres historiques et galantes, de deux dames de condition, volume 6, published in 1713.
However, many other authors have offered more romantic perspectives on forfeits:
Differing contexts for forfeits in England and France are also worthy of note. Numerous English sources associate parlor games with Christmas, Twelfth Night, or winter evenings: C19 parlor game manuals like Rachel Revel's and Dean & Munday's; Giacomo Surian's letter about Twelfth Night at the court of Queen Elizabeth in 1566; Robert Burton's list in the early 1600s; Joseph Addison's comments in 1711; the register of the Order of the Garter from 1724; the 1731 recontextulization of Le Noble's parlor game story sequence as "Winter Evening Tales"; the lyrics to a theatrical song from 1782; and above all G.M. Woodward's "Christmas Gambols." This does not seem so prominent for French parlor games.
Of course, ghost stories and tales of the supernatural were also associated with winter ritual settings in English sources such as Baldwin (1584); the "Stories of Ghosts and Apparitions" that make up "Winter Evening Conversations" in Defoe (1727); "Merryman" (1734); the Christmas ghost stories and games alluded to in Irving (1819-1820); and the many, many more Christmas ghost stories after Dickens and up to the present. This too does not seem to be the case in French parlor games, which instead have stronger connections to the poetry and fairy tales composed for literary salons and trips to chateaus in the countryside, e.g. see Zipes (2013).
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