Okay, okay…I woke up in the middle of the night last night laughing at a 500-year old joke. I know. How sad is that?
It’s from a jolly little French Christmas carol–a very popular one in the Renaissance.
Joseph est bien marie/A la fille de Jesse/Joseph est bien marie/A la fille de Jesse.
C’est un chose bien nouvelle/D’etre femme est pucelle/Dieu y avait opere/Joseph est bien marie.
Or, in English: Joseph is well-married to the daughter of Jesse. It’s a very new thing to be a wife and a virgin. God did it! Joseph is well-married…
And this little carol would have provoked unlimited chuckling and sniggering in corners. Because they thought it was hilarious that God was THE MAN, and Joseph had been cuckolded by God. It was just too funny to them.
(Okay, I think the whole idea’s pretty funny too…hence me waking up laughing over it.)
But in fact, old Joseph gets a pretty bad time in most of the mediaeval and Renaissance carols. Because they saw being cuckolded as proof of weakness and lack of virility–which made him a figure of fun.
(Yes, yes, how juvenile…I never said they were mature or politically correct, did I?)
And in that scheme of things, God is uber-virile and macho. (Never really applied those concepts to Deity before, did you? Ha ha.)
And then there’s the phrasing of it: God did it. Cue more sniggering from the adolescents in the audience…you know, He did IT. And obviously that’s just too funny to be borne.
However…however, the English give Joseph an even harder time of it. In their carols, when they have a Joseph character–just to emphasise the point–he’s sung by a counter-tenor. Or as the singer would have been in those days, a castrato. Just to rub it in with a little salt.
And the height of this is found in a carol known as Marvel Not, Joseph.
…Sure beats all those po-faced Victorian carols, the ones that sound like dirges–about good little children, and all that–doesn’t it?