322 Sexual Pantomime in Von dem Ritter mit den Nüzzen

Louise Vasvari
2010 unpublished
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
more » ... ough 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. 1 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. Given that in the Middle Ages narrative works depended for their circulation on miming and dramatic recitation by jongleurs, generic divisions become very difficult to make between "para-theatrical" and true theatrical forms. These range from the Schwank-or fabliau-tale, the jongleur's monolog, and the "monologue dialogue," where the jongleur splitting himself into multiple characters mimed various voices, to the true dialogue, and, finally, to the farce. As Rabenalt pointed out: "Der Weg vom dialogisierten Schwank zum Fastnachtspiel ist näher als man gemeinlich glaubt (64)." As an example, Jean Frappier in his Le théàtre profane au moyen âge (5) concluded of 1 See Bebermeyer, who defines Schwank as a "scherzhafte, lustige Erzählung [...]; im Ton häufig derb, gern ins Obszöne gleitend, von oft lehrhafter Tendenz" (208ff.). Hufeland, who reviews this and other definitions, concludes that Schwank is completely imprecise as a formal or generic term (13). Perhaps more useful is Dronke's succinct definition of fabliau taken in its extended meaning as any "amusing stories of deception and outwitting, especially of a sexual kind" (276). Obscenity is inherent to the Schwank, although this is not always recognizable today because many stories lived only in an oral "underground tradition," seldom committed to writing. Others that were written down were later often censored out of existence (Dronke 289, Frank 212). On the structure of fabliau-tales in general, see Schenk; for German, see Jonas (54, 74).