fable A fable is a story in either verse or prose designed to convey a moral or lesson. personification is a common device used within fables, as animals and objects are often the main characters. The most famous collection of fables was written by Aesop. Fables were common in the Middle Ages. Both Marie de France and Robert Henryson wrote a series of fables based on Aesop's work. Another famous fable is Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Nun's Priest's Tale," a beast fable following the adventures of a fox and a cock.

See also Morall Fabillis of Esope the Phrygian, The; Reynard literature.

FABLIAU The term fabliau (pl. fabliaux) refers to a comic tale that was especially popular in the Norman and Picardy regions of France during the 13th century. Generally, the fabliau is a short comical or satirical tale written in verse and usually composed in octosyllabic couplets, the standard meter of courtly romance. It is often considered to be a more realistic version of its counterpart, the romance, and typically subverts the ideals of courtly literature. Fabliaux dramatize the ribaldries of lower- and middle-class human characters that are purportedly too raucous and obscene for courtly convention to divulge. They are designed primarily to entertain—usually with bawdy humor ridiculing the (im)piety of the clergy, the stupidity of cuckolded husbands (often older men married to a younger wives), or the insatiable sexual appetites of women. Characteristically, each fabliau focuses on a single, brief, episode and its immediate (and humorous) consequences. The fabliaux were not intended for private reading, but rather for public performance by professional jongleurs (literally "jugglers" of words). They often feature love triangles that mirror the ones found in romances—a jealous and incapable husband, a lecherous wife, and a randy cleric are ingredients in one of the more common scenarios.

The fabliau style is vigorous, yet simple and straightforward, relying on bodily humor. Fabliaux are marked by their irreverence—their snubbing of the dictates of religion, the virtues, and the snobbery of the aristocracy. Although not all fabliaux are sexually obscene or explicitly bawdy, crudeness is a fabliau characteristic, and many feature rude words (e.g., queynte [cunt], cock, etc.). Some fabliaux feature "gentle" euphemisms for sexual acts (e.g., broaching the cask, feeding the pig, polishing the ring, etc.). Fabliaux are also distinctive for their rather cynical treatment of women—par-ticularly for featuring transgressive behavior by women—and for vengeance schemes based on sex, both of which contribute to their characteristic misogynist outlook. A number of scholars have noted that fabliaux have their own ironic sense of justice. The endings, which often come as a surprise, have nonetheless been carefully set up throughout the story. In this way, the ending seems artistically fitting and appropriate. Finally, another common source of humor is the portrayal of decidedly uncourteous characters trying to adopt stereotypically courteous manners. The fabliaux feature socially ambitious bourgeois merchants and artisans, and as such, many are also merciless on social climbers.

Approximately 150 fabliaux have survived, most averaging around 250 lines. During the 12th and 13th centuries, the fabliau flourished in France, and its popularity continued in England. The two most well-known fabliaux in Middle English are "The Miller's Tale," which is thought to borrow from De Berangier au lonc cul, and (to a slightly lesser extent) "The Reeve's Tale," both written by Geoffrey Chaucer as part of The Canterbury Tales. "The Shipman's Tale," "Sum-moner's Tale," and fragmentary "Cook's Tale" also exhibit fabliau characteristics.

While fabliaux are often said to lack the moralizing principles characteristic of fables, they do generally feature a dubious brand of "fabliau justice," according to which the unruly protagonists are indubitably punished for their baser motivations and physiological shortcomings. Nowhere is this more apparent than in "The Miller's Tale," in which jealous John the Carpenter, his infamously unchaste wife Alisoun, and her illicit suitors—an Oxford clerk called "hende Nicolas" (I. 3199) and his would-be rival, a foppish parish clerk named Absolon—all receive their comeuppance by the end of the tale.

See also Middle English poetry; "Miller's Tale, The."

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