Comic wedding speeches
Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanów

Passage to knowledge

Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanów

Comic wedding speeches Maria Barłowska

The culture of nobility in the Commonwealth developed a peculiar and very elaborate nuptial tradition. The art of oratory played an important role at every stage of the process: from asking for a maid's hand through engagement and marriage to moving to the spouse's house. Nuptial eloquence was governed not only by principles influenced by rhetoric but, more importantly, by customs associated with Polish practice. They included, among others, the principle of dialogue, i.e. polite answering to every speech (even if it was a refusal), solemnity and complete elimination of erotic content from nuptial speeches.

On the other hand, weddings were naturally accompanied by a festive and frivolous atmosphere. Even though speeches prepared for specific events were moralistic and panegyrical, manuscripts include quite a large number of comic wedding speeches. It is not clear whether they were supposed to entertain guests or were some kind of a literary game. One way or another, incorporating elements of parody, they required knowledge of the official conventions.

Unlike serious speeches, the comic ones did not have titles referring to the speaker, bride and groom, time or place. Instead, they were entitled as, for example: Serbian oration or Mazowsze oration, referring to stereotypical associations with - obscenity in the first case and lack of good manners in the latter. Other titles directly presented texts as jokes, e.g.: Courtly, or rather comic, giving away of the bride to the groom, Jolly giving away of the bride, alias baculus in angulo, Political oration of the comedians of this age, Anno Domini 1644. Various means were used to achieve comic effects. For example, the humour of the Jolly giving away of the bride... is associated with the context of feasting. The speaker struggles for the right to speak, repeats himself, makes pauses and reprimands his audience using invectives and imitating boozy language of phonetic deformations. On the other hand, the Courtly, or rather comic, giving away... imitates stuttering, the main purpose of which is to emphasise erotic undertones. The same role is played by insertions and intonation in theSerbian oration:

As I say, it is the Lord's blessing what you have been for so long (although you are still young) trying to win, namely to marry a godly maiden. You have not and never had gold or silver, but you had and still have honesty and decency. And should anything happen, you know what I mean, make sure to take good care of it. Do not oppose should someone give a reason (for anger) as it may happen that one will touch another in a dark corner. We know it very well that the bride is a great lover of the Church, God's glory and other virtues that are hard to find.

Most comic speeches mock the official speech given in the name of a bride's parents or caretakers, addressed to the groom upon the giving away of the bride, the purpose of which was to officially give her under the custody of her husband. Such oration was of the demonstrative kind (genus demonstrativum) and it consisted of a reflective part, praising the bride (mainly in the form of lauding her family) and an official formula of the giving-away proper, combined with instructions and wishes. The Serbian oration mocks even this ceremonial element: And I take the Bride from the hands of her parents and give her to you. Exchange your rings, or, if you have none, exchange at least kisses so that God may bless you forever.

In the Political oration... the praise of the groom was transformed into a grotesque story about his thievish deeds and teaching, while in the Serbian oration..., serious and ornamental reflections about marriage were replaced with proverbs taken from casual language: When one hand washes another, both get whiter and when misfortune touches one and rubs an old face, it will break its finger.

On the other hand, the Mazowsze oration is an equivalent of a speech asking for permission to "become a servant," that is to start competing for a girl's favours. Instead of the final request for approving the officially declared feelings, it ends with a plea based on mockingly used improper metaphors: thus it seems to me that you preserve me by the hot bakery of your heart and chain me in your favours like in a chest with iron brackets.

Traces of comic wedding speeches can be found in poetry. For example, Wespazjan Kochowski's epigramSerbska oracjya (Serbian oration) contains a comic version of a speech accompanying the giving of presents during a wedding:

Dear bride, Mr N. sends you this bowl,
He may be a new nobleman, but the silver is old.

Presentation of presents that also accompanied such speeches could not refer to their material value. Also, the poem Przy oddawaniu wieńca ślubnego (Upon the giving away of a wedding wreath) reprinted by Karol Badecki in his Polska fraszka mieszczańska (Polish bourgeois limerick) could well serve as a speech accompanying the offering of a wreath - an important symbolic gift handed in on behalf of the groom - if not for one detail: the narrator is the bride, which completely changes the significance of the offering.

New texts that are being discovered, including also personal satires (e.g. on Franciszek Gałecki, Royal Chef at the times of King Jan III) prove that the conventions of nuptial orations were strongly embedded in the conscience of those times.

Translation: Lingua Lab

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