From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Carvel's ring is a facetia first found in print in Poggio's Facetiae as "Visio Francisci Philelphi". It is best-known in the version of Rabelais as told in the chapter "How Friar John comforteth Panurge in the doubtful matter of cuckoldry" of Gargantua and Pantagruel. It was adapted as a poem by La Fontaine based on Rabelais's version. Rabelais probably found the allegory in the tales of Ariosto who admitted that it was a very old tale. Francis Grose collected it in his Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.
Hans Carvel, a jealous old doctor, being in bed with his wife, dreamed that the Devil gave him a ring , which, so long as he had it on his finger , would prevent his being made a cuckold: waking he found he had got his finger the "Lord-knows-where." Lord-knows-where is an obvious euphemism for the wife's vagina. For as long as his finger is in there, his wife would not be unfaithful to him. In the 19th century Carvel's ring was itself a euphemism for vagina.
We find in Mémoires de Littérature:
- "Thus, we find in Rabelais, in the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles, in Ariosto, in the Ducento Novelle of Celio Malespini, in La Fontaine and sundry others, the tale of Hans Carvel's Ring, the invention of which is due to Poggio.
- "Rabelais is not always the inventor of the tales he interweaves with his principal fable. He often borrows them from other quarters, but he embellishes and renders them his own by his manner of narrating them. That of Dodin, and the Cordelier, B. iii. ch. 23, is of this number. The original is to be found in the Latin poems of Nicholas Barthelemi. The following is the exact genealogy of the Ring of Hans Carvel. The invention is due to Poggio, the Florentine, who died in 1459. It is the 133d of his Facetiae, entitled the Vision of Philelphus, for which Rabelais has merely substituted the name of Hans Carvel. It is then to be met with in the eleventh of the Cent Nouvelles, a work which Poggio certainly had not seen, for they were not collected till after the year 1461, under the reign of Louis XI., in whose presence they are said to have been related while be was residing as Dauphin at Gueneppe, a castle of the Duke of Burgundy, in Brabant. Ariosto is the third who has introduced the tale, at the end of his fifth Satire, and has given it an air of novelty, by the graces which he has added to it. It is also the eleventh of an anonymous collection of novels, published at Lyons in 1555, an imitation and, in fact, a mere modernization of the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles. Celio Malespini has also introduced the story at page 288 of part second of his Ducento Novelle, printed in 4to, at Venice, in 1609, nearly one-half of which are borrowed, word for word, from the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles. La Fontaine, in 1665, turned into elegant verse the prose of Rabelais, believing him really to have been the author of the tale. It has been also very elegantly versified in Latin Anacreontics, by La Monnoye himself. "
La Fontaine version
- HANS CARVEL took, when weak and late in life;
- A girl, with youth and beauteous charms to wife;
- And with her, num'rous troubles, cares and fears;
- For, scarcely one without the rest appears.
- Bab (such her name, and daughter of a knight)
- Was airy, buxom: formed for am'rous fight.
- Hans, holding jeers and cuckoldom in dread,
- Would have his precious rib with caution tread,
- And nothing but the Bible e'er peruse;
- All other books he daily would abuse;
- Blamed secret visits; frowned at loose attire;
- And censured ev'ry thing gallants admire.
- The dame, howe'er, was deaf to all he said;
- No preaching pleased but what to pleasure led,
- Which made the aged husband hold his tongue.
- And wish for death, since all round went wrong.
- Some easy moments he perhaps might get;
- A full detail in hist'ry's page is met.
- One night, when company he'd had to dine,
- And pretty well was fill'd with gen'rous wine,
- Hans dreamed, as near his wife he snoring lay,
- The devil came his compliments to pay,
- And having on his finger put a ring,
- Said he, friend Hans, I know thou feel'st a sting;
- Thy trouble 's great: I pity much thy case;
- Let but this ring, howe'er, thy finger grace,
- And while 'tis there I'll answer with my head,
- THAT ne'er shall happen which is now thy dread:
- Hans, quite delighted, forced his finger through;
- You drunken beast, cried Bab, what would you do?
- To love's devoirs quite lost, you take no care,
- And now have thrust your finger God knows where!