The Weaker Sex

A few pages later, the summer readers arrive at last at the key (perhaps) to the strange motto (“The deceived is wiser than the one not deceived”) noted at the beginning of “Reflections on Marriage”:

If I picture two actors, one playing the role of Don Giovanni, the other the role of the Commendatore, in the scene where the Commendatore is holding Don Giovanni by the hand while the latter desperately tries to wrench himself free, I ask myself which one is using the greater force. Don Giovanni is the one who suffers; the Commendatore stands calmly with his right hand extended. Yet I am betting on Don Giovanni. If the actor playing Don Giovanni were to use only half his strength, he would make the Commendatore totter; on the other hand, if he does not writhe, does not shake, he spoils the effect. So what does he do? He uses half his strength to express the pain, the other half to support the Commendatore, and while he appears to be trying with all his might to wrench himself away from the Commendatore, he is holding on to him so that he will not totter.

So it is, so it is in actuality with a wife, for this was just idle conjecturing. She loves her husband so much that she always wants him to be dominant, and this is why he appears to be so strong and she so weak, for she uses her strength to support him, uses it as devotedness and submission. What wonderful weakness! Even though the gallery believes that the Comendatore has greater powers, even though the profane praise masculine strength and misuse it to humble the woman, the married man has another interpretation, and the deceived is wiser than the one not deceived, the one deceiving is the more justified than the one not deceiving. (p. 143-4)


  1. Jonathan Potter says

    Well, I’m not sure that this really sheds light on the motto. It’s all as lucid as can be, with the apt analogy between the actors and the husband/wife dynamic, but then he goes and throws that motto in there and seems to contradict himself. Who is “the deceived”? It seems to me that logically and sytactically it would apply to the gallery and the profane who are fooled by the actor portraying Don Giovanni on the one hand and the wife on the other. But that doesn’t really make sense in the larger context of this passage. Does it? So, who is the deceived?

  2. Jonathan Potter says

    Maybe “the deceived” stands more for something like a willing suspension of disbelief, a willingness to play along with this game that is the dance of man and woman in marriage, where the masculine is falsely seen as stronger and the feminine falsely as weaker — but there is a wisdom in playing the game, in willing to deceive and to be deceived.

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