“Fabliaux: 12th-14th centuries) Short humorous tales, often ribald or scurrilous. Highly popular in the Middle Ages, they are situation comedies burlesquing the weaknesses of human nature; women, priests, and gullible fools are often the butts of the buffoonery, which sometimes becomes savagely bitter. The material derives from the oral folk tradition of bawdy anecdotes, practical jokes, and clever tricks of revenge, but the term fabliau was first specifically applied to a medieval French literary form, a narrative of three hundred to four hundred lines in octo-syllabic couplets. About 150 of these are still extant. Similar prose tales became popular all over Europe, as in Boccaccio’s Decameron. Apparently only a few narratives in the style of the fabliau were written in England; the most notable are the ones Chaucer included in his Canterbury Tales, such as the Miller’s, the Reeve’s, the Friar’s, the Summoner’s, and the Shipman’s tales.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

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