By Louise O. Vasvari
eHumanista: Journal of Iberian Studies, Volume 15 (2010)
Introduction: My aim in this paper is to recuperate elements of bodily performance, particularly the acting out of copulation, in the medieval Schwank- or fabliau-tales. There is much closer mimetic similarity than is usually recognized between these tales and their dramatic reworking in later farces, such as the Fastnachtspiele. While the key element in the generic shift from tale to farce is generally considered to be the difference between “telling” and “showing”, I aim to illustrate through the example of the Ritter mit den Nüzzen and related tales in other languages that even without the added dimension of the stage and live actors, numerous dialogued Schwank-tales are full of theatrical manifestations. In particular, obscene gestures serve to mime both the sex act and the sexual impotence of duped husbands.
In the Ritter mit den Nüzzen (von der Hagen 277-82), an anonymous thirteenth-century tale, a sudden rainstorm forces a knight to return home unexpectedly from a hunting trip. His wife is dallying with her lover, whom she then brazenly hides in the conjugal bed, while with a typical show of Weiberlist she loudly berates her husband for having neglected her by going hunting. He tries to placate her by countering that he has brought her a present of some hazelnuts collected in his hat, which had fallen in the rainstorm. He proceeds to shake the nuts into her lap, from where the couple crack and eat them, while the lover overhears them from behind the bedcurtains: Da sassen si un bissen/ Der nüsse uz der vrouwen schoss. I aim to show that the cracking and eating nuts from the lady’s lap serve to mime for the audience both the wife’s adultery and the duped husband’s impotence and humiliation.