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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: April ::
Cuckolds, Horns, Horner, and Horny
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.0742  Monday, 10 April 2000.

From:           Jimmy Jung <
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Date:           Thursday, 06 Apr 2000 13:14:47 -0400
Subject:        Cuckolds, Horns, Horner, and Horny

Let me start by saying that DC's Shakespeare Theater is doing
Wycherley's The Country Wife.  It is performed in period, has a cool set
and is very funny; I don't think I give away too much, if I say it is
about trying to get another man's wife into bed. But this is SHAKSPER
not WYCHERLY and much more would be off topic.  However, after an
evening full of questionable fidelity, a couple of questions popped into
my head.

First, we know that jokes about horns were just buckets of laughs back
in Shakespeare's time, but do we have any explanation, or guesses as to
why this was?

I also wonder if we can even guess at how much real cuckoldry was going
on.  Does this fixation on the topic suggest that it happened all the
time, or that the fear of it happening was overwhelming?

And about those horns; what's up with that?  Did they really believe
that invisible horns grew on your head, or was that a fairy tale now
taken as part of the joke, and where did the fairy tale start?  The
chief seducer in the play is named Mr. Horner and I spent sometime
wondering if "horny" had the same connotations for Wycherly that it does
in our time.  It wasn't till midway through the play that I realized he
is actually a "horner," one who places horns on other's heads by
cuckolding them.  So I assume that somewhere in our linguistic past
"horny" relates to horns and cuckoldry, although in this age it has
taken on a more generic "lusty" meaning.

I've also been trying to figure out in my head if anyone ever actually
gets cuckolded in Shakespeare.  Oh, they talk about it all the time (16
different plays according to the MIT search engine), but I don't
remember it actually happening (Cressida was as close as I came.)  Is
this the difference (okay, a difference) between Shakespeare's time,
where it's just talk and restoration comedy, where its happening almost
constantly? and why that difference?

Any thoughts on this intriguing topic?

Jimmy Jung

The Washington Post review of the production is at:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A5656-2000Apr3.html
 

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