(Hermann Vogel, charming illustration for ‘The Good Bargain’, in the Brothers Grimm, Kinder- und Hausmärchen, n.d. (München: Verlag von Braun u. Schneider) found here)
A short time later, the countryman slaughters another of his cows and sets off for the town. A dog is barking at a gate, ‘Bow wow, what now?’ The countryman talks to him, the dog only ever replying ‘Bow wow, what now?’, and gives him the meat to take to the butcher. No sooner has he turned away, than the dog and all his fellows devour it. Three days later, the countryman has still not received his money from the dog so he goes straight to the butcher and requests his money – the butcher drives him away with a broom.
Angrily, the countryman sets off for the palace to demand justice. He pours out his tale to the king and the princess, who laughs. The king is delighted and says:
I cannot give you justice here, but instead you shall have my daughter as your wife: all her life long she has never laughed, except just now at you, and I have promised her to the one who would make her laugh.
However, the countryman declines the offer – he already has a wife at home and she’s quite enough of a handful! Insulted, the king declares he will give him another reward and orders him to return in three days to receive five hundred. When the countryman steps out of the chamber, he is accosted by a sentry who is impressed that he made the princess laugh. A peasant, says the sentry, won’t know what to do with all that money, why doesn’t he share it? The countryman agrees and tells him that two hundred are his – in three days’ time he may claim them from the king. A Jew is standing nearby and overhears the conversation; he runs after the countryman and offers to exchange the remaining three hundred into small coins for him. To this too the countryman agrees. The Jew is to go to the king in three days’ time; meanwhile he gives the countryman the small coin (which is bad – three of his groschen are worth two normal ones).
Three days later, the countryman, the sentry and the Jew go to the king for the reward. The king orders the countryman to remove his coat, but the latter explains that he’s given his reward to the other two. Of course, the ‘reward’ is a beating – the sentry accepts his with dignity while the Jew does not. The king is amused by the countryman and orders him to fill his pockets with gold from the treasury. Afterwards the countryman, followed by the Jew, goes to a tavern and grumbles that he cannot know the worth of the money because the ‘rogue of a king’ didn’t give it to him personally; he’s been tricked. The Jew rushes to inform the king of the countryman’s disrespect. The king flies into another rage and shouts at the Jew to fetch the countryman. However, the countryman refuses to go unless he has a new coat; now that he has money it would be improper to stand before a monarch in rags. The Jew, afraid that the king’s anger will dissipate, lends the countryman his finest coat. Before the king, the countryman is charged with his own ‘wicked’ words, to which he replies:
Oh, [...] what a Jew says is always a lie; he never lets a word of truth leave his mouth. That fellow there is capable of saying that I’m wearing his coat.
The Jew protests that he is wearing his coat; the king reflects that the Jew must have deceived one of them and has him beaten again, and the countryman returns home with the money and the fine coat and says to himself, ‘This time I made it!’
To the modern reader, the anti-Semitism is a depressing reminder of prevailing attitudes in Europe, attitudes which lasted so very long. The comedy has not worn well either, in my opinion at least. Motifs from other tales appear in the tale – the naïve hero who succeeds despite himself (as for instance in ‘The Tale of the Boy Who Set Out to Learn Fear’), the princess who is the reward for the completed task (and in ‘The Golden Goose’ there is another princess who cannot laugh), the use of trickery. Perhaps we could see it as a rude retort to some of the other tales, a story with some at least of the ‘right’ components for a ‘tale’, but with the magical shine rubbed off and a more cynical undercoat showing through. What do you think?
Next week: ‘The Twelve Brothers’.