Monday, June 12, 2006

New Fair

Here is a jolly amusement that is mentioned in Piers Plowman. Later, the same game seems to have been known as Handicap. The details I've filled in from later descriptions are marked (thus).

Clement the Cobbler casts off his cloak, and offers to "Sell it at New Fair" Hick the Hackneyman offers his hood against it. Robin the Roper offers himself as noumpere (umpire). He will try to broker a fair trade. The two items aren't worth the same amount, so one side must offer "amends" to make the trade even. The noumpere will determine the amends. In this case, he rules that Clement must "fill the cup" to make the trade even.

(Clement, Hick, and Robin each put up a stake. For example, a penny. Clement and Hick hide their hands in their cap or hood, and then show that they either hold, or don't hold the coin. Holding the coin shows that they are willing to trade.

If both show, they trade and Robin keeps the stake.
If neither shows, they don't trade and Robin keeps the stake.
If one shows and the other doesn't, the one that shows keeps the stake and there is no trade.

It follows that it is very much in the interest of the noumpere to make amends as fair as he is able. Side bets on whether the trade will happen can be made by bystanders)

That amends between the hood and cloak are a drink implies that both articles are very drasty indeed.

(But later examples are for more valuable stakes. A horse against a gold watch, chain, and fob, for instance)

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