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Title:Sexual Metaphors in the Fifteenth to Sixteenth Century French Farce
Author(s):White, Leah Thompson
Department / Program:French
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Literature, Medieval
Abstract:Although much work has been done on various aspects of 15th and 16th century French farce, its metaphorical obscenity has been largely ignored. Not all farces are sexually oriented, but those which are are by far the funniest and their humor stems primarily from the use of metaphor. I have thus systematically gathered evident sexual metaphors from 168 plays, and, for comparison and contrast, from other literature (Aristophanes, Chaucer, the fabliaux, Poggio, Boccaccio, etc.). Due to the volume of material collected, the dissertation alas was limited to those sexual metaphors which form the basis of the plot of one or more plays (sex as medicine, i.e. the giving of a clystere and restraintif; chimney-sweeping; wax-warming; saddle-stuffing; tail-dragging; digging in a garden; combat; singing; and the lending and greasing of a waffle iron) and to a discussion of vessels as female sexual symbols.
Male symbols are usually tools used for an infinite variety of tasks and thus constitute a much less cohesive group. The emphasis in the farces is clearly on the female. Female symbols outnumber the male, even among the extremely limited number of explicit/obvious/vulgar terms used for human genitals. The majority of sexual allusions are metaphoric, drawing from an entirely different subject area (e.g., saddle-stuffing), or are neutrally applicable to any human endeavor (e.g., to do a great job), or refer to pleasure in general (e.g., to have fun), or refer to an action related to sex but only in the most innocent way (e.g., to hug). Compared to the bawdy use of metaphor elsewhere in literature, the farces are relatively refined.
Verbs dominate. Of the nouns used as female and male symbols, inanimate replacement terms predominate. The use of other parts of the human body and of small furry animals is curiously limited. Nouns denoting intercourse and nouns referring to lovers, easy ladies and cuckolds are few. Desire and arousal are couched in references to color (red and green), illness and heat (including fever; lack of/of interest in, sex is symbolized by cold, dryness, and rust.)
Active verbs predominate, the majority of which denote some sort of activity rather than actual movement from place to place. The activities are mostly related to domestic life or that of small tradesmen. There is a very large number of faire expressions. Few verbs describe a condition or state of affairs. There is a significant lack of passive constructions, but they are all used by females. Active verbs are however equally distributed between use by males and females, and active verbs used by the male are also used causatively by the female. Verbs specifically referring to sex as cuckolding are as few as three, and there are only two possible references to prostitution. The main motivation for sex is simply enjoyment, rather than profit or revenge. Only one perversion is found, masturbation, and only in four farces.
In contrast to the metaphors in the farces, few puns are found. The use however of these puns as well as of the metaphors was found to be clever and literate, and far more complex than thought previously. The metaphors are drawn from an intriguingly large number of subject areas, more than in any other single genre, and yet certain themes recur. An understanding of the relationship between metaphors in the farces and their similarity and dissimilarity to metaphors in other bawdy literature stimulates a far better appreciation of the plays as a whole.
Issue Date:1981
Description:253 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1981.
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI8127732
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-12-14
Date Deposited:1981

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