Dunce cap  

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 True portrait of Monsieur Ubu (1896) is a woodcut frontispiece for Ubu Roi. It represents Ubu, a fictional character from Jarry's eponymous play.
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True portrait of Monsieur Ubu (1896) is a woodcut frontispiece for Ubu Roi. It represents Ubu, a fictional character from Jarry's eponymous play.

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

A dunce cap, also variously known as a dunce hat, dunce's cap, or dunce's hat, is a pointed hat. In popular culture, it is typically made of paper and often marked with a D or the word "dunce", and given to schoolchildren to wear as punishment by public humiliation for misbehavior and, as the name implies, stupidity. Frequently the 'dunce' was made to stand in the corner, facing the wall as a result of some bad behaviour, usually rudeness or mean threatening actions. Depending on the teacher, they might have to stand for as long as half an hour. Throwing spitballs, passing notes, or pulling on a hair could prompt the measure. Class clowns were frequently admonished with the dunce cap. Only in some locations was it used against those who failed during studies – it usually was more a measure to teach manners and how to be a responsible individual. In modern society dunce caps are extremely rare, and are frowned upon.

A very similar practice on the European continent was a paper headdress known as donkey's ears, as a symbol of 'asinine' stupidity.

Origins

The word "dunce" comes from the name of the beatified Franciscan, John Duns Scotus, a Scholastic whose followers were called "duns" or "dunsmen". Duns Scotus wrote treatises on Catholic theology, grammar, logic, and metaphysics which were widely used as textbooks in the medieval British universities. As the English Renaissance began and the new learning superseded Duns Scotus' theories, his adherents obstinately refused to acquiesce. The word "dunce" then began to be used by humanists to ridicule the Scholastics, gradually acquiring its modern meaning.

Duns Scotus

King Philip IV of France wanted to tax the church in order to finance his war with England, but Pope Boniface VIII threatened to excommunicate him instead. Duns Scotus supported the pope and was banished from France, later taking up a university professorship in Germany. Those who disagreed with Scotus' teachings started referring to his supporters by the word 'dunce', which meant 'stupid or dull witted'. His books on theology, philosophy, and logic were university textbooks. His followers were later challenged by their opponents about what was perceived as a system of hair-splitting and distinctions; their obstinance over an increasing array of challenges posed first by humanists and then by reformers led to the term "dunses" to denote fools in part.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edition), "dunce cap" did not enter the English language until after the term "dunce" was so transformed. John Ford's 1624 play The Sun's Darling is the first recorded mention of the related term "dunce table," a table provided for duller or poorer students; "dunce cap" appears first in the 1840 novel The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Dunce cap" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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