Mardi Gras

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As carnival games or carnival games one describes comical burlesques , which originated in Germany in the 15th century and represent the first beginnings of a secular stage .

The easiest way to explain their origin is that around the time of Shrovetide, young boys in disguise went from one house to another to amuse their acquaintances. This gradually led to real ideas, which were combined with a dialogue, and finally even with scenic arrangements, and which absorbed and further developed the secular and comic element that had already developed in the much older mystery plays .

A typical sequence of a carnival game: One of the players interrupts the general carnival hustle and bustle, greets guests and host and asks for silence. Then he leads on to the subject of the game. At the end he announces the end and the beginning, since there has to be played somewhere else. He thanks the landlord and every now and then invites you to dance and drink. There was no stage , no stage directions , no elaborate props . The games should make a special contribution to the general carnival pleasure, with a cheerful, coarse content, simple construction and small size.


Older folklore research initially assumed that “Fastnacht” had something to do with the verb drivel (flourish, multiply) and thus had its origin in pagan fertility cults. The Middle High German word “vastnaht” or “vasnaht” refers to the “eve of Lent ”. As a term, the carnival game was first handed down in the 15th century as "vasnacht spil" and is part of the carnival culture. According to Mikhail Bakhtin's theory of carnival literature, secular play can be seen as the critical-compensatory potential of drafts of an "upside-down world" that originated in the medieval city of the 15th and 16th centuries.


Carnival games originated in the middle of the 15th century. The actors were amateur actors who presented their performance in the open air. It was mostly students or journeymen who performed pieces in front of an audience from the bourgeoisie, in which popular and religious elements but also moral aspects were taken up. In terms of content, for example, stupid farmers, deceitful clergy, inflated doctors or legal representatives, Jews or robber barons were depicted in a satirical way. There were also plays that dealt with the quarrels between men and women. The carnival games were probably influenced by topics from German folk traditions from the pre-Christian era.

The tradition of performing comic pieces during the Carnival period originated around 1440, initially in Nuremberg without reference to ancient comedy or spiritual play . There an independent urban bourgeoisie developed as early as the 1st half of the 15th century , which is the prerequisite for the education of secular games . Because after 1400 Nuremberg became an important center of the poetry and this is very closely related to the carnival games. In Nuremberg alone, 108 of the 144 traditional carnival games of the 15th century were created. When Lent was abolished with the introduction of the Reformation, the term Carnival Game continued to be used. They are similar in the forms and the techniques, since the overall form of a carnival game corresponds to a string of individual speeches (similar to the sayings) and Hans Rosenplüt and Hans Folz , the first carnival play poets, were also poets.

Rosenplüt and Folz were the most notable carnival dramatists of their time. In her plays and comedies, the traditional character of the fool mostly played the main role. In the 16th century the plays reached a level of more seriousness than Hans Sachs wrote many carnival games in addition to his plays. Jakob Ayrer , whose plays were influenced by the style of the English comedian, was one of the last prominent dramatists in this form of representation.

15th century

The vast majority of the early texts come from anonymous authors. Essentially two types of structure developed: the series or revue form, which includes court games, for example, and the action game, which was partly based on storytelling and well-known fluctuations .

Series games

The earliest carnival games were the series games . They mainly ruled the 15th century. The series game consists of a series of individual speeches. The series could be extended or shortened as desired, depending on how many actors were available and how long the audience could be kept from the general carnival. Series plays were therefore not much longer than 250 verses . They started and ended with a neutral person, the precursor , who shouts in or out. He was irreplaceable for mediating between the carnival and the play, as he had to announce the play in the noisy tavern and introduce the topic and at the end of the play led back to the carnival amusements. In the carnival game, the freedom of carnival takes the place of generally accepted norms. The instinctual sphere is given free rein and sexuality in particular was the dominant theme in early plays, but fecal expressions also contributed to the general amusement.

The pieces live from the imagery that is exposed by the audience and rewarded with laughter. Laughter is an expression of the joy of finding a solution to the riddle and the joy or recognition of the author's skill . The action in series plays is secondary, because the pictorial joke replaces the tension-laden process. Everything that is taboo in everyday life has been exaggerated here. The figures are shown as unlikely. Most of the time, stupid peasant boobies are portrayed. There are three different types of series games, which are also stages of development.

  1. Different people speak, regardless of each other or the audience (revue).
  2. Different people are related to one another. The following player responds to the previous one or the other way around (partial removal of the frontal position towards the audience).
  3. Different people are related to a leading personality and thus approach the closed plot (usually the character of a competition).

Action games

The action game is the second type of carnival game next to the series game. In the 15th century there were only a few action games and mostly only as a mixed form with Hans Folz. It was not until the 16th century that Hans Sachs made the action game more popular. While sexuality was the dominant theme in the series game, the action made the carnival game more realistic and more realistic, and thus fecal and sexual expressions had to disappear. Innovations are:

  1. The carnival game became an event independent of the audience.
  2. Sexual imagery as a means of activating comedy is now largely dispensed with.
  3. The audience's laughter no longer happens through direct activation (direct addressing through puzzles and jokes), but rather through the rapid advancement of the action, using the rhyme .

The action game does not replace the series game. In addition to the action games, there was still the series game, as it still fit better into the carnival bustle. The action game still had the frame forms of the series game: a screamer at the beginning and a dance challenger at the end of the piece. Over time, however, these characters also approach the plot. An originally independent screamer becomes a character who also has a role in the play. This then leads the audience into the sphere of the play.

The carnival games have different materials , motifs and content that can also overlap:

Motifs Representations of people
  • Process motive (judgment is usually missing)
  • Promotion game (similar to the process game, group of people who come together to decide who is the best)
  • Scholarly satire
  • Doctor games
  • Old Germanic hero poems
  • Fabrics from the courtly and knightly world
  • Everyday events are brought into dramatic form

As a rule, the Mardi Gras pieces of the 15th century were impromptu pieces that were hardly written down by the journeymen themselves. Only a few authors are known from the time, as they also produced other literary products such as poetry , master song or the like. The authors of carnival games in the 15th century are:

  • Hans Rosenplut
  • Hans Folz

Even if there was a center of the carnival game in Nuremberg, there were also plays of a similar form and content in other cities:

Around the year 1600 more and more professional actors, such as the English comedians or Dutch traveling troops, appeared, so that the carnival games lost their importance. In so-called Meistersinger societies, however, they were still cultivated into the 18th century.

16th Century

The carnival game of the 16th century was mainly influenced by the Nuremberg poet Hans Sachs. He initially continued the old tradition of the Nuremberg carnival game and also wrote series games, although most of his pieces were plot pieces. He replaced the individual lectures in action-related monologues and dialogues and created a closed action. Furthermore, he deliberately separated the game from the carnival events, which was necessary because the meaning of carnival was lost with the advent of the Reformation . Mardi Gras meetings were dropped and with it the erotic word games and picture puzzles that are customary for Carnival in the series games or individual lectures. Now the joy of the material prevailed and thus also of the performances with content-rich processes that are only possible in the action game. The European novelistic is gaining in importance for carnival poets like Sachs. German Schwankgut, Boccaccio's Decamerone and well-known ancient sources were processed in carnival games. More serious issues have now also been included. Most of the games, however, remained lighthearted entertainment and included marriage scenes, exposure of lustful priests and peasants who were portrayed as ridiculous.

Sachs used comedy through the double game , although the preparations are actually the funniest. The double play thus takes on the functions of the comical individual lectures in the series play. Special characters here are the maid, the priest and the traveling student .

The change or elimination of the frame parts is particularly noticeable. These are no longer necessary because the carnival game no longer had to be integrated into the carnival bustle. The precursor is omitted, as is an introduction as a greeting or as preparation for the action. A carnival game usually begins with an introductory monologue. The final part, as a return to socializing, is also omitted and is replaced by a monologue. What is new, however, is a variant of the end of the game in which the respective actor addresses the audience with a doctrinal intention.

Another Carnival author alongside Hans Sachs in the 16th century was Jakob Ayrer. With him the comedy is lost and the carnival games get longer. The carnival game from the 2nd half of the 16th century only refers to the time of performance and no longer to structure and function.

Other carnival game authors of the 16th century are:

They represent rather the large form of the carnival game.

Carnival Games (selection)

  • Hans Rosenplüt: The feast of the King of England. Nuremberg around 1490, urn : nbn: de: bsz: 31-37656 .
  • Hans Rudolf Manuel, Theodor Odinga: The wine game. Fastnachtsspiel 1548 (= reprints of German literary works of the 16th and 17th centuries. 101/102). Niemeyer, Halle / Saale 1892, OCLC 299677183 .
  • Nicolaus Locke, Werner Hermann Preuss: Play of the free and irrepressible youth, or, Comedy of the unpredictable and lost son. Carnival game by Nicolaus Loccius on the Lüneburger Kopefahrt, 1619. Husum 2011, ISBN 978-3-89876-594-7 .
  • Matthäus Creutz, Ferdinand Broemser: The carnival game of Matthäus Creutz from Andernach from 1552. H. Boldt, Boppard am Rhein 1980, ISBN 3-7646-1788-8 .
  • Hans Sachs: The brooding of calves. A carnival game. E. Matthes, Leipzig 1919, OCLC 6562066 .
  • Hans Sachs, Andreas Paul Weber: The fool cutting. A carnival game. E. Matthes, Leipzig [u. a.] 1921, OCLC 245896641 .
  • Hans Sachs: The horse thief at Fünsing. A carnival game. Matthes, Leipzig 1920, OCLC 6393834 .


Web links

Wiktionary: Carnival game  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d Hartmut Kugler: Carnival game. In: Encyclopedia of Modern Times. Brill, 2014, ISSN  2352-0248 ( ).
  2. a b Fastnachtsspiel - German play. In: Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved May 14, 2016 .
  3. For example, the doctor Vasnacht .