Medieval Crime and Social Control

By Barbara A. Hanawalt; David Wallace | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
The “Unfaithful Wife” in Medieval
Spanish Literature and Law

Louise Mirrer

No image of woman has been more frequently developed or cited in the history of Spanish literature than that of the unfaithful wife.1 Collapsing the common notion of female lust as insatiable and uncontrollable2 with the common definition of woman as “man's confusion,” meaning that she is treacherous and deceitful,3 the image appears and reappears across a broad spectrum of literary genres, from early lyric to contemporary drama.

In the Middle Ages, the image runs like a rich vein through popular as well as learned texts. For example, the medieval Castilian Refranero or proverb collection proffers women who deceive their husbands as protagonists in all but six of some eighty proverbs relating specifically to marital infidelity. These proverbs tend to generalize, denouncing married women without exception in such broad declarations as

Kada rratón tiene su nido, i kada muxer su abrigo i amigo4

[Every rat has its nest, and every woman her overcoat and her lover]

or

Muxer kasada, nunka asegurada.5

[A married woman is never a safe bet.]

The image also functions as the basis for the ballad of La bella malmaridada (The beautiful, unhappily married woman), a medieval text that has been glossed or cited with greater frequency than any other text in Spanish literary history.6 This ballad reports a dialogue between a beautiful married woman and a man who begs her to take him as a lover. The man claims to have knowledge of her husband's faithlessness, and the woman, who apparently needs no further prompting, readily gives in, imploring the lover to take her away with him. At this point, the husband appears. One version of La bella malmandada, probably dating from the fifteenth century but collected for the first time in Juan de Molina's Cancionero of 1527, reads as follows:

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