Leisure time for most people in the Middle Ages was more limited than now, yet entertainment remained an important part of their lives-- perhaps even more so because of the limited opportunities to enjoy it. For the aristocracy, play was almost a characteristic way of life. In addition to their designated role as rulers and warriors, the culture of the aristocracy was in many respects defined by their recreations: hunting, hawking, tourneying, and courtly literature were among the pastimes which identified the aristocrat. Even the working commoner had at least some eight weeks of Sundays and holy days in the course of a year, so there was plenty of time to indulge a taste for entertainment.
Recreational activities were especially important because they served to give order and meaning to the rest of people's lives. The cycle of Sundays and holy days shaped the ritual year: it is sometimes said that the medieval peasant lived in memory of the last festival and in anticipation of the next. Through their games, amusements, and festivities, they expressed their values, their aspirations, and their sense of identity. As we shall see, the games people played have much to tell us about the way they saw their world.
Entertainment was somewhat more ritualized than it is today. This was partly because for most people the heavy schedule of work forced entertainment into certain restricted settings. For the medieval commoner, entertainment activities were concentrated on festival occasions, especially Sundays and