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D.S. Brewer, "The Fabliaux."

by Chrysula Dimitrakopulu
Web posted at 4:20 PM on 3/8/96 from 26.salc.wsu.edu.
Brewer, D.S. "The Fabliaux." Companion to Chaucer Studies. Ed. Beryl Rowland.Oxford 1979. 296-326.

Brewer states that only in the 20th-century the fabliaux have begun to receive adequate criticism and only now they are accepted as among Chaucer's highest achievement.

Definition: Fabliau is a versified short story designed to make you laugh, and its subject matter is most often indecent, concerned either with sexual or excretory functions. The plot is usually in the form of a practical joke carried out for love or revenge. Fabliaux are: Miller's, Reeve's, Cook's, Friar's, Summoner's, Merchant's, and Shipman's Tale.

Outline of the progress of 20th-century criticism and scholarship of the fabliau:
-medieval French fabliau first edited and studied in 18th-century (1872-90 standard collection of Montaiglon and Raynaud)
-1893 modern study by Baudier: fabliau is invention of 13th-century in France, did not long persist in the 14th; he conceived refined and idealizing romance as courtly genre, coarse and realistic fabliau as bourgeois genre
-1957 Nykrog: fabliau is as courtly a genre as a romance; is aristocratic burlesque, holding up to amusement the coarse buffooneries of lower classes and some clergy; subject matter low, but no erotic elaboration, no pornography, no perversion
about Chaucer's fabliaux:
-first five centuries caused amusement (Wordsworth)
-early 20th-century caused embarrassment, e.g. Manly omitted fabliaux from his edition, Root has divided judgment: low in artistic value, extreme indecency but brilliant characterization and consummate narrative skill
-Germaine Dempster (1932): for first time fabliaux are shown to be artistic center of Chaucer's poetry; Chaucer learnt from fabliaux objectivity, impersonality of style, quickness and lightness of touch, pervading realism; she notes cruelty and fierce irony of some tales
-Shelly (1940): notes vivid realism, merriment, lively characterization, and the neglect of fabliaux so far
(in late 40's and 50's greatness of fabliau as poetry is emphasized)
-Coghill (1949): contrasts fantasy of plots with realism of description and character
-Lawrence (1950): question of interrelationship of tales, pilgrimage to introduce fabliaux with dramatic plausibility
-Speirs (1951): points to allegories, symbols, and imagery in poems; remarkable is range Chaucer spans from farmyard to court
-Muscatine (1957): fabliaux represent extreme of realism, * naturalism, poems maintain conflict between Chaucer's general * idealism of his world view, and his realism-naturalism in equilibrium; (e.g. Miller's, Merchant's Tale are dualistic, mixture of courtliness and naturalism); New Criticism, stylistic analysis, introduces notion of narrator of poem; emphasizes Symbolist Chaucer
-Robertson (1962): emphasizes allegorical and conceptual elements; questions that fabliaux are * like life
-Corsa (1964): Chaucer as poet of mirth and morality; fabliaux concerned with justice of several kinds
-Ruggiers (1965): Chaucer more and more sympathetic to the secular and profane; Chaucer's concern with morality; all tales contribute to some moral end, are expressions of characters of tellers

From lowly position, regarded with contempt or neglect, however modified by amusement, Chaucer's fabliaux have gained position of central importance for most critics; reasons for this shift( change in notion of poetry; satire and humor now viewed as appropriate poetic expressions; modern literature more indecent and immoral than Chaucer's indecency

general notes on tales:
* Miller's Tale( language as parody of popular romance; Freudian symbolism in action and style; mocking Seven Liberal Arts and Miracle Plays; alluding to Song of Songs; (Brewer) comedy of sex, full of injustice, and immoral
* Reeve's Tale( comedy of social pride; emphasizes poetic justice and comic morality; relation of tale to the character
* Friar's Tale( little linguistic or stylistic analysis; full of echoes of excommunication; realism is sacrificed to irony; greed and coarse sexuality
* Summoner's Tale(richer, though more unsavory than The Friar's Tale; many puns and verbal allusions; characterization of Friar through his odiously smarmy speech; no comment on scholastic elements
* Shipman's Tale( nearer to pure fabliau-type; double-entendre at the end, no agreement that poem was meant for woman speaker; relationship between sex and money
* Merchant's Tale( furthest away from fabliau-type; does not fit to any simple category; ironic references to the Song of Songs; physical and moral blindness of January has Freudian symbolism; structure of plot is ironical; matter of argument: levels of narration, degree of drama of tale, relationship between Merchant's own experience and tale to be examined: differences and similarities between traditional fabliaux and Chaucer's; Chaucer's philological, linguistic, stylistic resources, levels of narration, kind of characterization.
Brewer is of the opinion that we should see the fabliaux for what they are, as comedies, fantasies full of fun and enjoyment, both like and unlike life.

This article is surely very valuable to gain an overview of representative studies of the European fabliaux and of twentieth-century scholarship of Chaucer's fabliau, but does not go into detail.

Bedier, J. Les Fabliaux. Bibl. de l' ecole des hautes Etudes, fasc. 98. Paris: Emile Bouillon, 1893.

Coghill, Nevill. The Poet Chaucer. London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1949.

Corsa, Helen Storm. Chaucer: Poet of Mirth and Morality. Notre Dame, Ind.: Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1964.

Dempster, Germaine. Dramatic Irony in Chaucer. 1932. Rpt. New York: Humanities Press, 1959.

Lawrence, William Witherle. Chaucer and the Canterbury Tales. New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1950.

Montaiglon, Anatole de, and Gaston Raynaud, eds. Recueil gnral et complet des fabliaux des XIII et
XIV sicles, imprims ou indits, publis avec notes et variantes d' aprs les manuscrits. 6 vls. Paris, 1872-90.

Muscatine, Charles. Chaucer and the French Tradition: A Study in Style and Meaning. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1957.

Nykrog, Per. Les Fabliaux: tude d'histoire littraire et de stylistique mdivale. 1957. New ed. Genve: Librairie Droz, 1973.

Robertson, D. W., Jr. A Preface to Chaucer: Studies in Medieval Perspectives. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1962.

Ruggiers, Paul G. The Art of the Canterbury Tales. Madison: Univ.of Wisconsin Press, 1965.

Shelly, Percy Van Dyke. The Living Chaucer. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1940.

Speirs, John. Chaucer the Maker.1951. Rev. 2d ed. London: Faber, 1960.
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