My Husband's Got No Courage in Him
DESCRIPTION: (Two women meet); one laments, "(My) husband's got no courage in him." She describes all she has done to encourage his "courage," but all attempts have failed. (Even now she still has her maidenhead.) (She hopes he dies so she can find another)
EARLIEST DATE: 1701 (broadside NLScotland, Ry.III.a.10(053))
KEYWORDS: wife husband sex disability
FOUND IN: Britain(England(South),Scotland(Aber))
REFERENCES (7 citations):
Kennedy-FolksongsOfBritainAndIreland 213, "Rue the Day" (1 text, 1 tune)
Greig/Duncan7 1367, "My Husband's Got No Courage in Him" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
Reeves/Sharp-TheIdiomOfThePeople 67, "O Dear O" (2 texts)
Silber/Silber-FolksingersWordbook, p. 171, "The Husband With No Courage In Him" (1 text)
Olson-BroadsideBalladIndex, ZN2114, "Of late it was my chance to walke"
DT, NOCOURAG* NOUCOURG2
ADDITIONAL: Roy Palmer, "'Birmingham Broadsides and Oral Tradition" -- essay found in David Atkinson and Steve Roud, Editors, _Street Ballads in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Ireland, and North America: The Interface between Print and Oral Tradition_, Ashgate, 2014, p. 44, "O! Dear O! He's Got No Courage In Him" (1 text, probably missing some verses)
NLScotland, Ry.III.a.10(053), "My Husband Has No Courage In Him," unknown, 1701
cf. "Maids, When You're Young"
cf. "What Can a Young Lassie"
cf. "The Jolly Barber Lad" (theme)
cf. "The Old Man from Over the Sea"
NOTES [553 words]: Although this sounds like it is just a woman's lament over an impotent (or homosexual?) husband, it's just possible that there is more going on. At least if you believe Roach. Failure to consummate a marriage of course could allow for an annulment -- and, in sixteenth and seventeenth century France, could call for more. Roach, pp. 149-152, told how a man could be sued by his wife for non-performance. In such a case, he had to prove, before witnesses, that he could produce an erection. If he failed, he could be fined and forbidden to remarry -- and the dowry he had gained upon marriage would be forfeit. The inability to "put up" could thus be extremely expensive as well as embarrassing.
The use of the term "courage" for sexual potency goes back to Middle English; we find it in Chaucer's "Merchant's Tale." In this tale, the old man January has just taken a young wife May, and is trying his best to consummate the marriage:
He drynketh ypocras, clarree, and vernage
Of spices hoote t'encreesen his corage....
"He drinks hippocras, clarree, and Vernaccia
Of/with hot spices to increase his courage."
Hippocras is wine mixed with spices and sugar and strained; claree is wine mixed with honey and spices; Vernaccia is a strong Italian wine. None of them in fact increase "courage," but the wine plus the heat of the spices was thought to do so in the Middle Ages.
The lines are Fragment IV, lines 1807-1808 in the Riverside Chaucer; lines 563-564 of the Merchant's Tale in E. Talbot Donaldson's Chaucer's Poetry; lines 595-596 in the Cambridge edition of the Merchant's Prologue and Tale by Maurice Hussey; some older editions call them Fragment E, lines 1806-1807.
Chaucer didn't invent this idea; two lines after the above quote we find that January derived his ideas from "daun Constantyn," that is Constantinus Africanus, who, according to Masi, pp. 16-21, wrote among other things a book De Coitu about, well, sex. It was more philosophical than dirty, though; it was a medical text. Constantinus (1015-1087, according to Masi, p. 18) was mostly a translator of Greek and Arabic medical treatises into Latin. The Wife of Bath apparently took information from him also (Masi, pp. 20-21).
Rossignol, p. 92, described De Coitu as follows: "A treatise on sexual intercourse written by an 11th-century monk of Monte Cassino named Constantius Africanus, or Constantine the African, who was considered one of the fathers of Western medicine.... The treatise was known to contain recipes for aphrodisiacs." On p. 97, Rossignol says that Constantine was "referred to simply (and confusingly) as 'Constantyn' by Chaucer, was a merchant, physician and scholar of the 11th century. Born in North Africa, he traveled widely in the Middle East as a merchant, and later became a monk, focusing his studies on medicine and philosophy. Contantine spent his last year at the monastery of Monte Cassino in Salerno, Italy, where he translated a number of Arabic works into Latin. The medical works that he translated gave western Europe its first general view of Greek medicine.... Constantine is mentioned in Chaucer's General Prologue... as one of the medical authorities whose teacher the Doctor of Phisic had studdied."
Thus the ideas behind this song are very old in English, and even older in other languages. - RBW
Last updated in version 5.0
- Masi: Michael Masi, Chaucer and Gender, Peter Lang, 2005
- Roach: Mary Roach, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, Norton, 2008
- Rossignol: Rosalyn Rossignol, Chaucer A-Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Works, Facts on File, 1999
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