The Hunchback of Notre-Dame: Novel Summary: Book I Chapter 1


Summary
On the sixth day of January 1482 all the bells in Paris were ringing to announce the double holiday of the Epiphany and the Fete de Fous or Feast of Fools an ancient holiday marked by licentiousness and buffoonery. A bonfire was planned in the Place de Greve, a maypole was to be planted at the Chapelle de Braque and a mystery play was to be performed in the Grand Salle, or great hall, of the Palais de Justice. The weather was very cold many of the city's residents chose to attend the bonfire or the play. Those who flocked to the Palais Justice went not only for the play but also to view the spectacle of the ambassadors recently arrived from Flanders to negotiate the marriage of Margaret of Flanders to the French Dauphin. The Grand Salle, the traditional seat and center of the administration of the law, was reputed to be among the largest halls in the world at the time and it was packed to its walls and the entryway occupied by a great throng of spectators. The author describes the hall as it appeared in 1482 in detail since much of the structure was destroyed in a fire of 1618. Inside there were seven pillars, stalls selling glass trinkets and around the hall statues of all the French kings. The hall was a vast parallelogram with an enormous marble table at one end and a chapel at the other. Opposite the main entrance a galley had been constructed for the Flemish envoys and other personages invited to the play. A high wooden framework was built upon the enormous marble table to be used as the stage and a drapery had been strung across its lower portion to provide a dressing area for the actors. A simple ladder provided the means for the actors to move between the dressing area and the stage.
The play was scheduled to begin at the somewhat late hour of 12 noon in order to allow the Flemish ambassadors time to arrive in the hall. The crowd, many of whom had been waiting since early morning, became bitter and sour as the hours passed uncomfortably. Among the crowd there were many scholars from the University and lackeys and clerks from all quarters who found great amusement in observing the throng's dissatisfaction and encouraging it with shouts and devilment when possible. One group had broken the glass out of window and used it as a perch from which to exhort their fellows in the crowd to verbal jests that fell harshly upon the ears of Sire Giles Lecornu, the king's master-furrier who became at once an object of jest and merriment. One of the scholars, Jehan Frollo, took the lead in baiting the more uptight members of the crowd to the satisfaction of his fellows. The scholars then turned their ironical plaudits upon the rector Maitre Thibaut who, along with the other personages, withstood many sarcastic remarks as he made his way to the observation galley. The king's furrier and the sworn bookseller agreed that the advances of the age, like velvet and the printing press, have made the scholars more bold and contributed to their decline in manners.
At the stroke of noon, however, the whole crowd falls silent but as the minutes pass the Flemish envoys fail to appear and the play shows no signs of beginning. After a time the crowd begins to shout that the mystery play must be performed whether the Flemings have arrived or not and the four guards posted near the stage grow uneasy as the throng becomes more agitated. At the peak of the unrest a figure clad garishly in bright robes takes the stage and nervously explains that he is to play Jupiter in the play entitled "The Good Award of our Lady the Virgin Mary". He goes on to explain that the play has been delayed to await the arrival of his Eminence Monsieur le Cardinal.

 

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