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Developments: Le Lai d' Aristote - Le Chevalier Qui Fist parler les Cons - Middle Ages - fiction - literature - tale - 1100s

Reynard the Fox as depicted in an 1869 children's book.
Image sourced here.


The fabliau (plural fabliaux) is a comic, usually anonymous tale written by jongleurs in northeast France circa the 13th Century. They are generally bawdy in nature, and several of them were reworked by Geoffrey Chaucer for his Canterbury Tales. All but one of the fabliaux are in octosyllabic rhyming couplets. Some 150 fabliaux are extant depending on how narrowly fabliau is defined.

Typical fabliaux concern cuckolded husbands, rapacious clergy and foolish peasants. The status of peasants appears to vary based on the audience that the fabliau was being written for. Poems that were presumably written for the nobility portray peasants (vilains in French) as stupid and vile, whereas those written for the lower classes often tell of peasants getting the better of the clergy.

Longer medieval poems such as Le Roman de Renart and those found in The Canterbury Tales have their origin in one or several fabliaux.

The fabliau gradually disappeared at the beginning of the 16th century. It was replaced by the prose short story. Famous French writers such as Molière, Jean de La Fontaine and Voltaire owe much to the tradition of the fabliau, in their prose works as well as in their poetry.

Example tales
In "L'enfant de neige" ("The snow baby"), we hear a tale of black comedy. A merchant returns home after an absence of two years to find his wife with a newborn son. She explains one snowy day she swallowed a snowflake while thinking about her husband which caused her to conceive. Pretending to believe the "miracle", they raise the boy until the age of 15 when the merchant takes him on a business trip to Genoa. There, he sells the boy into slavery. On his return, he explains to his wife that the sun burns bright and hot in Italy. Since he was begotten by a snowflake, he melted in the heat. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fabliau [Sept 2005]

See also: tale - 1100s

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