The most fascinating and profound studies on play I found by the Dutch lingusit and historian Johan Huizinga (1872-1945). He was one of the founders of modern cultural history, started out as a student of Comparative linguistics, gaining a good command of Sanskrit. He wrote his doctoral thesis on the role of the jester in Indian drama. Huizinga had an aesthetic approach to history, where art and spectacle played an important part. His most famous work is The Autumn of the Middle Ages (a.k.a. The Waning of the Middle Ages). interestingly, he reinterprets the later Middle Ages as a period of pessimism and decadence rather than rebirth.
In his book Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture Huizinga argues that play is one of fundamental drivers of human life, and is at the root of poetry, music, philosophy – even jurisprudence and war. (more…)