Jean Dufournet is professor emeritus at the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle (Paris III) and a prolific commentator on medieval French literature. He has authored or edited over forty books in a career spanning as many years, ranging widely from the Chanson de Roland and the lais of Marie de France to the works of François Villon and Philippe de Commynes, from the Roman de Renart to the farce of Maître Pierre Pathelin. Amid this plurality of interests, a locus of abiding fascination has been the handful of plays associated with the Franco-Flemish town of Arras: the Jeu de saint Nicolas of Jehan Bodel (d. 1210), the anonymous Courtois d'Arras, and the Jeu de la feuillée and Jeu de Robin et de Marion of Adam de la Halle (d. ca. 1288). Another related play from Picardy, Le garçon et l'aveugle, has also drawn Dufournet's attention but does not figure in this volume, which brings together a dozen or so short pieces written since the 1980s. Together, these complement two monographs published over three decades ago: Adam de la Halle: à la recherche de lui-même ou le jeu dramatique de la feuillée (Paris: Société d'édition d'enseignement Supérieur, 1974), a creative exercise in psychoanalytic biography based on gleanings from Adam's extant oeuvre, and Sur le Jeu de la feuillée: études complémentaires (Paris: Société d'édition d'enseignement Supérieur, 1977).
This collection begins with overviews of "the Arrageois theatre of the thirteenth century," the first commissioned by the Dictionnaire des oeuvres littéraires de langue française in 1994, in which Dufournet briefly circumscribes each of the four plays and confidently (but misleadingly) assigns to each a performance date. The second overview, a pairing of two separate studies published in 2001 and 2005, looks at the plays through the lens of intertextuality and sees them as bearing witness to a process of "deconstruction and reconstruction" that might be vaguely reflective of the tensions inherent in the plays' urban milieu. There follow reprints of past essays on the representation of the "Sarrasin" Other in Jehan's "Play of St. Nicholas" (1993); the plays' representations of town versus countryside (1992) and of the tavern (1989); the relationship between Courtois d'Arras and the Parable of the Prodigal Son in the context of vernacular adaptations of Biblical material (1991), revisited in 2000 with further reference to intertextuality; and the "complexity and ambiguity" of Adam's "Play about Robin and about Marion" (1980), also updated with reference to intertextuality in 1999. The collection concludes with three reviews of books more or less relevant to the theatre of medieval Arras: Jol Blanchard's La pastorale en France aux XIVe et XVe siècles (1983; reviewed in 1984), Roger Berger's Littérature et société arrageoises au XIIIe siècle (1981, reviewed in 1984), and Thierry Revol's Représentations du sacré dans les textes dramatiques des XIe-XIIIe siècles (1999, reviewed in 2004). ).
Le théâtre arrageois au XIIIe siècle does not include prefatory remarks by the author or the series editor (Denis Hué), but the arrangement of its contents suggests that it is intended as a summation of the author's views on a favorite subject, not as a critical meditation on those views. And indeed, Dufournet's approach to the plays of Arras seems to have changed very little since the 1970s, and to have been influenced by the scholarship of few others. So although the pieces published here appeared at different times and in different venues, they maintain a certain internal coherence when read (or re-read) together. All convey the untroubled impression that the plays of Arras were conceived and functioned as plays in the modern sense, and that their edited texts--Dufournet does not work directly with manuscripts--represent the scripts as they were originally performed. The complicated circumstances of their inscription and survival, and the real methodological and epistemological challenges that must be faced before anything may be said about their enactment or reception, are not problems that he has ever acknowledged, or that even concern him. What has concerned him, and what this commemorative volume celebrates, is the obvious artistry and elusive meanings of these well-known but mysterious jeux.