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The Folktale
Stith Thompson

Motif J1149.2

Cheater discovered by fishing in the street. Man arouses the curiosity of the rascal who has swindled his wife. Type 1382.

Part Two

The Folktale from Ireland to India

III – The Simple Tale

1. Jests and Anecdotes

A. Tales of Cleverness

In one way or another a large proportion of the most popular anecdotes and [p. 189] jests are concerned with cleverness. Sometimes the interest is in the contrast between a clever and a foolish person, with the main interest in the latter. Sometimes the principal attention is given to the act of deception perpetrated by the clever man, and frequently enough, particularly in tales originating in the literature of the Orient, the story-teller seems to be concerned most of all with the display of cleverness itself. Such is true, for instance, in a group of stories concerning cleverness in the detection of truth. Literary tales of this kind are common, such as the legend of Susanna and the Elders, from the Apocrypha, and the exemplum about the false message which is sent to the thief's wife to induce her to send the stolen jewel as a bribe to the judge (J1141.4). [293] Possibly of ultimate literary origin, but now well known in the folklore of the Baltic states and even in Spain is the anecdote of the man who fishes in the street and thus arouses the curiosity of the rascal who has swindled his wife (J1149.2; Type 1382).

A clever man may sometimes find that his plans are frustrated, or even that he is liable to punishment for a crime which he did not commit, all because he has a foolish and talkative wife or son. He sometimes tells his wife about obviously impossible things, such as the catching of birds in a fish-net, so that when she tells this wild story along with the true one of his discovery of hidden treasure, no one will believe her (J1151.1.1; Type 1381). This form of the story is very popular in medieval literature and is told all over Europe and in North Africa. A number of variations on the theme were popular with the writers of jestbooks and fabliaux. A wife puts fish into a furrow and lets her husband plow them up, or a mother makes her foolish son believe that it has rained sausages. When they talk of the fish that were plowed up (J1151.1.2), or the day of the sausage rain (J1151.1.3), no one will believe them. The latter form has had some acceptance in Italian popular tales since the time of Basile. Other stories of cleverness in connection with the law courts concern repartee between the prisoner and the judge. Most of these are either purely literary, or else they form a part of long tales of cleverness, such as The Clever Peasant Girl (Type 875). One of them, which goes back to Buddhistic sources and was popular in the medieval literary collections, is also found occasionally in the folklore of peoples as widely scattered as those of Iceland and Indo-China. This story has to do with the boy who has been told by the judge that he should always kill a fly whenever he sees one. The boy obeys, and kills the fly on the judge's nose (J1193.1; Type 1586).

A very popular form of anecdote in the medieval tale collections illustrated the maxim that a rule must work both ways. [294] Generally, these tales have not been taken into folklore, although the one about the master who suggests to [p. 190] his servant that they will only make believe at eating and the servant's later insistence that they will only act as if they were working has some popularity in the states around the Baltic. In general, it must be said, however, that tales of cleverness have not appealed especially to the oral story-teller except when such incidents are a part of a series or of a complex tale such as The Clever Peasant Girl. If one is looking for independent stories of this kind, he will find them by the hundreds in the jestbooks of the Renaissance, the large collections of medieval exempla, and the Oriental literary works from which many of these European collections borrowed.

[293] References of this kind consisting of a capital letter followed by a number are to the author's Motif-Index in which the motifs are thus numbered.

[294] See J1511 and all its subdivisions.

Types:

875 1381, 1382, 1586

Motifs

J1149.2, J1511, J1151.1.1, J1151.1.2, J1151.1.3, J1193.1