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Jack’s Naughty Bits: Fran

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Jack's Naughty Bits


Each

of the major literary languages of medieval Europe had a comedic author par

excellence, a ribald trickster whose tawdry wit continues to charm even today. Italy had

Boccaccio, England Chaucer, and France the great Rabelais. In five works (four finished, one

unfinished and posthumously published), he tells the supremely satrical tale of

Gargantua and Pantagruel, debauched giants of gluttony, flatulence and vulgarity. They

drink hogsheads of ale, piss rivers, fart windstorms, flout armies and scandalize women. They

are, in effect, enormous fratboys having their way with the theology and politics of sixteenth

century France. No storyteller has ever taken as many liberties as Rabelais, no tale has ever

been more over-the-top, and, thus, the history of literature provides few things that are more

fun to read.


    

In the excerpt below, Rabelais takes a feather from Boccaccio’s cap, having a friar tell

an ingenious trick for how to keep a wife faithful. Like

Boccaccio (and

Petronius before him), Rabelais knew

how to mix sex and riddles, stimulating the reader both above

and below the neck. Here’s a prime example:



* * *



From Pantagruel: Tiers Livre by François Rabelais

translated by Jack Murnighan



“I’ll teach you one way, ” said Friar John, “to prevent your wife from ever making you a

cuckold without your knowing about it.”


    

“I beg to you, my friend” said Panurge, “Tell it to me now.”


    

“Use Hans Carvel’s ring,” said Friar John . . . and went on to explain. “Hans Carvel was a

intelligent and worthy man . . . In his later years he married . . .

a young, attractive, flirtatious

girl who was exceedingly friendly with their neighbors and servants. So after only a few

weeks, Hans became jealous as a tiger and suspected that his wife was getting her back end

tambourined elsewhere. To try to prevent this from happening, Hans started telling her stories

about what misery can arise from adultery and read to her from the Legend of Chaste

Women . . . Yet he still found her so resilient and so joyful with the neighbors that he got

ever more jealous. Then one night among others, while sleeping beside her, he dreamt he was

talking to the devil and explained his concerns. The devil comforted him, and put a ring on

his middle finger, and said, “I will give you this ring. While you wear it on your finger, your

wife will not be shared by any man without your consent and knowledge.” Hans thanked the

devil . . . and the devil vanished. When Hans awoke, he was pleased to find his finger up the

whatchamacallit of his dear wife, who, I forgot to mention, drew back as if to say,

‘That’s not what you’re supposed to put in there!’ And she squirmed and squirmed, but he

wouldn’t let her take off his ring!


    

“Now isn’t that an infallible solution? So take my advice and always keep your wife’s

ring on your finger!”



The original French version