story of the wily, rebellious, and usually badly behaved fox name Reynard, also known as Renart and Renard, have long been in dispute. Like much of medieval literature, stories about Reynard are often seen as either the result of long folkloric tradition or written works composed in a particular time and place with influences from other traditions. For Reynard literature, similar stories can be found in the Indian Panchatantra and the Arabic Kalila wa Dimna, both of which predate the fox's appearance in European literature. The Ysen-grimus, a Latin verse epic, was written in Flanders around 1150, with its eponymous hero being the wolf, who is beleaguered by a crafty fox. In the 1170s, Pierre de Saint Cloud penned the earliest French tales centered on Renart the fox, and the tales became so popular that the word renart eclipsed the Old French word goupil for fox.
Much of Reynard's popularity can be attributed to the undoubtedly funny and yet deeply ironic situations in which the fox finds himself. For instance, the courtly love triangle among Reynard, the wolf, and the wolf's wife is a satiric send-up of literature of the period, while Reynard's participation in a crusade has profound political importance for a society embroiled in conflict. Because of their animal status, Reynard and his friends allowed authors to poke fun at existing social conventions and structures, cloaking their meaning behind the "innocent" beast fables.
Tales of Reynard's escapades flourished in Germany, Flanders, and France, and spread to England, written in Anglo-Norman French. Marie de France's 12th-century Fables contain a story taken from the Reynard cycle, telling of a rooster who outwits a fox. Geoffrey Chaucer reworks and expands this fable in "The Nun's Priest's Tale." Reynard stories were retold into the early modern era in England, as well, including the William Caxton version of the cycle published in 1485, and some scholars have postulated connections to the Robin Hood ballads.
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