From the beginning of the article:
Owing to its cultural polyvocality and polyfunctionality, the hobbyhorse figure has been subjected to very different interpretations within the scope of cultural anthropology, linguistics, literary studies and art history. In current German and English usage, the hobbyhorse is considered to be a metaphor for a harmless passion, a favoured pastime, ‘the most gentle of all transgressions beyond the border of common sense.’ For literary and art scholars engaged in researching text and image material from the late Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, the hobbyhorse is present in a whole host of functions and meanings: the hobbyhorse symbolizes folly; it is an emblem of childhood; it caricatures chivalry; it embodies wildness; it refers to the rustic; it is used in a staging of disorder; and as a metaphor for a prostitute; in short, it arouses a whole series of contradictory associations. This cultural symbol has its firm Sitz im Leben, not only as a well-known children’s toy but also as a ritual attribute of carnivalesque and calendrical customs widespread in various parts of Europe in the late Middle Ages and the Early Modern period (See ill. 1), traditions which are still practised today (See ill. 2, 3, 4 and 5). Is it possible to find a common denominator for this heterogeneous series of meanings and usage? Does the metaphoric and playful usage point to a path leading back to the original ritual function of this figure, whose degraded form it represents or does their usage run parallel to one another? Are they tied to one another and, if so, then how?