Frangois Rabelais (149-?-1553)

Rabelais was born at Chinon in Touraine during the last years of the Fifteenth Century. He studied medicine at Montpellier and then went to Lyon, where he practised and began writing. It was during the 30’s that he began publishing Gargantua and Pantagruel. Somewhat later, he was physician to Cardinal Du Bellay, and toward the end of his life he entered the priesthood, though after a short while he left it. He died about 1553.

A great scholar and Humanist, one of the giant figures of literature, Rabelais sang the praises of life in his magnificent books. In these are found occasional episodes, like the two included in this collection, that entitle Rabelais to an important place among the writers of short tales.

The present version of these tales is from the old translation of The Lives, Heroic Deeds… of Gargantua and His Son Pantagruel, by Sir Thomas Urquhart and Peter Le Motteux. The first story is from Chapter XXXIV, the second from Chapter XXXVII, of the Third Book. Neither story has any title in the original.

He who Married a Dumb Wife

Welcome, in good faith, my dear Master, welcome; it did me good to hear you talk, the Lord be praised for all. I do not remember to have seen you before now, since the last time that you acted at Montpellier, with our ancient friends, Anthony Saporra, Guy Bourguyer, Balthasar Noyer, Tolly, Jhon Quentin, Francis Robinet, Jhon Perdrier, and Francis Rabelais, the Moral Comedy of him who had espoused and married a Dumb Wife.

I was there, quoth Episte- mon; the good honest man, her husband, was very earnestly urgent to have the fillet of her tongue untied, and would needs have her speak by all means: At his desire some pains were taken on her, and partly by the industry of the physician, other part by the expertness of the surgeon, the encyliglotte, which she had under her tongue, being cut, she spoke and spoke again; yea, within few hours she spoke so loud, so much, so fiercely, and so long, that her poor husband returned to the same physician for a recipe to make her hold her peace:

There are (quoth the physician) many proper remedies in our art, to make dumb women speak, but there are none, that ever I could learn therein, to make them silent. The only cure which I have found out, is their hus­band’s deafness. The wretch became within few weeks thereafter, by virtue of some drugs, charms or enchantments, which the physician had prescribed unto him, so deaf, that he could not have heard the thundering of nineteen hundred cannons at a salvo.

His wife, per­ceiving that indeed he was as deaf as a door-nail, and that her scolding was but in vain, sith that he heard her not, she grew stark mad. Some time after, the doctor asked for his fee of the husband; who answered, That truly he was deaf, and so was not able to understand what the tenure of his demand might be.

Whereupon the leech be dusted him with a little, I know not what, sort of powder; which rendered him a fool immediately: so great was the stultification virtue of that strange kind of pulverized dose. Then did this fool of a husband and his mad wife join together, falling on the doctor and the surgeon, did so scratch, bethwack, and bang them, that they were left half dead upon the lace, so furious were the blows which they received: I never in my fetime laughed so much, as at the acting of that buffoonery.

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