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The Folktale
Stith Thompson

Motif K1210-K1239

Deception into humiliating positionץ

Part Two

The Folktale from Ireland to India

III – The Simple Tale

1. Jests and Anecdotes

H. Seduction and Adultery

To the unlettered story-teller and listener, as well as to the writer of literary tales, there has always been a greater interest in deceptions connected with sex conduct than any other. Such deceptions may be of several kinds. They may result in seduction, in the discomfiture of unwelcome lovers, in the beguiling of cuckolded husbands, or in the discovery and punishment of adulterers by the outraged husband or by some trickster who profits by the exposure. Tales like these are very old, and they were especially popular with the writers of fabliaux, novelle, and jestbooks. A great proportion of such literary tales are never heard from popular story-tellers. But some of [p. 203] them are very well known everywhere. And many such tales have certainly been made up in entire independence of literary influences.

As a part of longer tales we have already seen a number of cases of what is essentially seduction. A girl masks as a man and wins a princess's love; or the hero frames his questions to the princess who must always answer "No" in such a way as to gain his desires; or a princess is enticed on board a merchant's ship to inspect beautiful clothes; or the garments of bathing girls are seized and held. We have also seen a young man entering the princess's room in a golden ram or hidden in a chest, or even by means of artificial wings. And we have seen the frog prince buying the right to sleep before the girl's door, at the foot of her bed, and finally in the bed itself. [315]

One of the most widely-known tales of seduction is frequently recounted as a part of the Anger Bargain cycle (Types 1000-1029). After the trickster has heaped all manner of indignities upon the master, the latter sends him into the house to bring back two articles. He meets the two daughters and calls back to the master, "Both?" ''Yes, I said both," replies the master. The youth then has his will of both daughters (K1354.1; Type 1563). This anecdote is as old as the Thousand and One Nights, and was repeated in Renaissance jestbooks. It is a favorite in the Baltic states and has been reported in Roumania and among the French. Its appearance in three Indian tribes of North America and one of Bolivia and in Portuguese tradition in Massachusetts would suggest that not all European versions have been collected. Much less witty, but equally popular around the Baltic, is the tale of the young man who tricks a lady with a promise of a pair of beautiful shoes. The husband, however, appears before payment can be made (K1357; Type 1731). [316]

Writers of novelle and fabliaux were fond of tales of humiliated lovers. Virgil hanging in a basket below his mistress's window, or Aristotle crawling on all fours as a riding horse for his scornful lady, or the bawdy tricks recounted by Chaucer in his Miller's Tale—all these are a part of literature rather than of folklore. [317] On the contrary, the Oriental and Renaissance literary tale of The Entrapped Suitors (Lai l'épervier) (K1218.1; Type 1730) has attained a real popularity in the folklore of eastern Europe, and has been collected in Spain and Indonesia. The chaste wife with many suitors has them come, one at a time. As each arrives, the one before has just undressed and must hide. At the end, the husband and his guests come and chase the embarrassed suitors away.

Somewhat similar tales from fabliaux and jestbooks popular in eastern Europe but otherwise apparently unknown as folktales are two concerning [p. 204] discovered lovers. One of them tells how a man hidden in a roof sees a girl and her lover. He becomes so interested that he falls, and they flee and leave him in possession (K1271.1.4; Type 1776). The other anecdote is only a slight variant of this. The man who has seen the intrigue from the stable roof threatens to tell about it, and the woman gives him money to keep quiet (K1271.1.4.1; Type 1360B).

In the anecdote just mentioned the situation is related by the rascal in the form of a story, so that only gradually the woman realizes that her secret is known. This conversation with a double meaning reminds one of the very well-known tale of Old Hildebrand (K1556; Type 1360C). [318] In this case the husband leaves home and, suspecting his wife, has himself carried back, where he finds her entertaining the priest. They make rhymes about the husband's absence and the good times they expect to have. From his hiding place in the basket he answers in appropriate rhymes. In his exhaustive treatment of this tale, Walter Anderson [319] carries it back to Flemish literature of the late fifteenth century and shows its subsequent treatment in songs, puppet theaters, and Russian bylini. Contrary to most anecdotes which we have noticed, this one is almost completely unknown in Finland, Estonia, and Lithuania, although it is popular in all parts of Russia, even into Siberia, and in practically every part of Europe. In America it has been reported in several places: in the English tradition of North Carolina, the Negro of Louisiana and the Bahamas, and the Portuguese of Massachusetts. The combination of literary texts with its widespread oral acceptance made this one of the best of all short anecdotes for comparative study.

In the tale cycle of Big Claus and Little Claus (Type 1535) we saw how the trickster, acting as a sham magician, discovers a woman's adultery and manages to buy the chest which contains the hidden paramour (K1574). There are a number of variations to this motif, and in several combinations they go together to make an independent anecdote (Type 1725). The trickster, having discovered the intended adultery and the prepared feast, brings it about that the food goes to the husband instead of the paramour (K1571). Sometimes he merely makes her believe that the husband is coming to punish her, and thus forces her confession (K1572). In other versions the trickster, by a ruse, sends the master running after the departing paramour (K1573). Though the master knows nothing of the adultery, the lover is thoroughly frightened and the wife confesses to the husband. Of all these incidents, the latter is by far the most popular. It appears in the Thousand and One Nights, in various fabliaux and jestbooks, and in the writings of Hans Sachs. It is known orally in all parts of Europe, particularly in the north. Similar tales are reported from India. [p. 205]

[315] Types 514, 851, 516, 313 and 400, 854 and 900, 882, 575, and 440, respectively.

[316] With some variation, Chaucer has used this motif for his Shipman's Tale. See the study by Spargo, Shipman's Tale, pp. 50ff.

[317] For this group of motifs, see K1210-K1239.

[318] This resemblance is certainly not important, and Walter Anderson is quite right in taking me to task for assigning it the number 1360C as if it were only a subdivision of 1360. Old Hildebrand has to do with a returning husband and not with an outside trickster.

[319] Der Schwank vom alten Hildebrand.


313, 400, 440, 514, 516, 851, 854, 882, 900, 1000-1029, 1360, 1360B, 1360C, 1535, 1563, 1725, 1730, 1731, 1776


K1210-K1239, K1218.1, K1271.1.4, K1271.1.4.1, K1556, K1354.1, K1357, K1571, K1572, K1573, K1574