The Man with the Horns: The Threat of Cuckoldry in Shakespearean Comedy

Kyra Laubacher Butler University
Faculty Sponsor(s): William Walsh Butler University
The Shakespearean comedies are most commonly recognized by such elements as clever witticisms, complicated and interwoven plots, conflicting inner tensions, and complex juxtapositions of appearance versus reality, among others. These basic building blocks of comedy give Shakespeare’s humorous stage plays their familiar flavor and compound a wildly successful formula for the laughter and literary renown which have followed his works throughout history. However, underneath these layers of comedic brick and mortar lies just as integral an element to Shakespearean comedy of which we tend to speak less: the infamous cuckold joke. In this paper, I analyze the cuckold in Shakespearean comedy, unveiling the sociohistorical and literary significance he yields, not only within the texts but also within the minds of his audiences and readers. The cuckold’s role in his texts may be revealed through research of societal code relative to Shakespeare’s time, as well as close textual analysis of specific character motivation, intent, and action within the plays themselves. For the purposes of this paper, I focus on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, and The Merchant of Venice to locate and deconstruct specific operations of the cuckold joke. Understanding that the cuckold functions as an ideological construction – a threat to sociohistorical masculine identification – one may identify his role as the cathartic scapegoat; he is the fabricated form onto which one transfers underlying insecurities, thereby disowning them with a laugh whose uneasy undertone usually goes unnoticed. As such, the cuckold joke acts as a naturalized power play.
Competitive Paper--All Disciplines (includes an Oral Presentation)
Competitive Paper (includes an Oral Presentation)

When & Where

09:30 AM
Pharmacy & Health Sciences 150