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Una McIlvenna does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment. But the ideas and language are nothing new; in fact, it was during the Renaissance, from the 16th to the 18th centuries, that Europe had a cultural obsession with cuckoldry.
Thus, if a man were married, his wife was obviously cheating on him. This infidelity would cause the poor husband to grow invisible horns, the ultimate symbol of cuckoldry, and the comic figure of the horned cuckold made its way into fictional songs, engravings, and theatre. The animal symbolism connected with cuckoldry is complex. The anxieties around paternal lineage due to a cheating wife are obvious in this naming. The theory that intrigues me, however, is the one of the capon castrated cockerel. This refers to the formerly prevalent practice of cutting off the spurs from the legs of a castrated cock and engrafting them on the root of the excised comb, where they could grow and become horns, sometimes several inches long.
Capons, lacking in sexual hormones, grow fat due to their lack of activity and were prized and still are for their moist, tender meat. Their lack of aggression also meant that they could be kept with other hens and roosters. The practice of grafting a spur on their he served to distinguish them from the other, fully-sexed birds. The mockery of cuckolds also links these men to the character of the fool. As well as plays and prints, ball also mocked the cuckold as a hen-pecked husband who was overly submissive to his wife. This 17th-century ballad summoned all cuckolds to meet at Cuckolds-Point, an area on the Thames in East London, to repair the footpath that their wives would take with their lovers to Horn-Fair, a carnival-like parade that took place every October:.
Although this song seeks solidarity in the brotherhood of cuckoldry, others are less kind. They can no longer go to a public place because of his inability to control her, and the shame is so great he eventually commits suicide whereupon she follows him to Hell:. There is a man in our town who is jealous of his wife. He is not jealous without cause, but he is cuckolded by everybody. And it also shows that men have been ridiculing each other in terms of sexual inadequacy for a very long time. Edition: Available editions United Kingdom. French engraving of a cuckolded husband.
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Everything You Need to Know About Cuckolding