Story 28

November 28, 2020

Our story today, told by Simontaut, features another one of Marguerite’s secretaries. This man, while in Paris, comes upon a merchant who is playing music for the chambermaids in the household of a lieutenant and teaching them a dance from his native Gascony in southwestern France. (For an idea of what the dance may have looked like, check out these short videos of the Branle des lavandières from the Library of Congress in the US and the Historical Dance Society in the UK.) The original French says he is playing a vielle, a kind of medieval fiddle that may or may not have had the turning wheel typical of the hurdy-gurdy.

Claiming the lieutenant will be appalled by this behavior in his home and offering his silence for a price, the secretary believes he tricks the merchant into providing him with a free Sunday dinner, a pie made with some tasty Gascon ham, and so he promises the woman he is courting in Paris that he will bring it to her. She invites a few friends, and the secretary is humiliated when he cuts into the dish and discovers that it contains not ham but a wooden shoe! The Gascon merchant—whom the royal secretary took for a country bumpkin—has tricked the trickster, prompting Geburon to observe that “there’s nothing more foolish than a man who thinks he’s clever, and nothing more wise than the man who thinks that he is nothing.”

Here’s a French-made vielle à roue from the seventeenth century at the Musée de la musique in Paris (E.52).

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