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CUCKOLDS AND HORNS

Cuckold [kuhk’-uhld], n. The husband of an unfaithful wife. v. To make a cuckold of a married man. “The allusion to the cuckoo on which the word cuckold is based may not be appreciated by those unfamiliar with the nesting habits of certain varieties of this bird. The female…cuckoo lays its eggs in the nests of other birds, leaving them to be cared for by the resident nesters. This parasitic tendency has given the female bird a figurative reputation for unfaithfulness as well. Hence in Old French we find the word cucuault, composed of cocu, "cuckoo, cuckold," and the pejorative suffix -ald and used to designate a husband whose wife has wandered afield like the female cuckoo.”

from The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition. ©2009


During the 16th and 17th century, cuckolds were frequently refered to as being burdened with the horns of cuckoldry or even simply “wearing the horns.” There are numeorus scholarly theories about the origin of this reference. The majors opinions include a claim that states that “horning” derives from the mythical satyrs and their licentious desires. Another pundit refers to the fact that the cuckold is always the last to know of his wife’s infidelity. The horns are seen by everone in the community, while the hapless husband remains completely unaware.

MOLIERE ON THE SCHOOL FOR WIVES
When The School for Wives debuted in December of 1662, it was met with a great popular success among the commoners…and a far greater scandal among religious men and men of letters. For two years, the volleys of ridicule against the play and playwright were an active battleground in France. The heated period became known as the Quarrel of the School for Wives. Famously, Moliere penned his own rebuttal and self-critique in the form of a play entitled The School for Wives Criticized…which was also attacked by his critics. In it, Moliere speaks directly about his style of writing, and his critically misunderstood use of satire, or le ridicule. “Satire of this kind is aimed directly at habits, and only hits individuals by rebound. Let us not apply to ourselves the points of general censure; let us profit by the lesson, if possible, without assuming that we are spoken against. All the ridiculous delineations which are drawn on the stage should be looked on by everyone without annoyance. They are public mirrors, in which we must never pretend to see ourselves. To loudly advertise that we are offended at being hit, is to state openly that we are at fault.”

Act IV: The School for Wives Criticized

RICHARD WILBUR ON THE SCHOOL FOR WIVES
“Arnolphe…is one of Moliere’s coercers of life. Like Tartuffe, he proposes to manipulate the world for his own ends, and the play is one long joke about the futility of selfish calculation…The play seems to assert that any effort to impose expectations on life will meet with surprises, and that narrow, rigid, and inhumane demand will not be honored by Nature.” from Introduction to Moliere’s The School for Wives