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Boccaccio's Fabliaux

Medieval Short Stories and the Function of Reversal

Katherine A. Brown

Publication Year: 2014

Short works known for their humor and ribaldry, the fabliaux were comic or satirical tales told by wandering minstrels in medieval France. Although the fabliaux are widely acknowledged as inspiring Giovanni Boccaccio’s masterpiece, the Decameron, this theory has never been substantiated beyond perceived commonalities in length and theme. This new and provocative interpretation examines the formal similarities between the Decameron’s tales of wit, wisdom, and practical jokes and the popular thirteenth-century fabliaux.

Katherine Brown examines these works through a prism of reversal and chiasmus to show that Boccaccio was not only inspired by the content of the fabliaux but also by their fundamental design--where a passage of truth could be read as a lie or a tale of life as a tale of death. Brown reveals close resemblances in rhetoric, literary models, and narrative structure to demonstrate how the Old French manuscripts of the fabliaux were adapted in the organization of the Decameron.

Identifying specific examples of fabliaux transformed by Boccaccio for his classic Decameron, Brown shows how Boccaccio refashioned borrowed literary themes and devices, playing with endless possibilities of literary creation through manipulations of his model texts.

Published by: University Press of Florida


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

I wish to express my profound gratitude to everyone who has helped me in the course of writing this book. First of all, I would like to thank the late Karl D. Uitti for introducing me to the fabliaux. This book would not have been possible without his guidance. I am especially grateful to Simone Marchesi...

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pp. 1-9

Medieval short stories took many forms from the middle of the twelfth century until the end of the fourteenth century. During this period, oral tradition passed to written record and short stories were transcribed, translated, and preserved in various collections. The Old French fabliaux constitute one popular...

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1. Fabliaux Reversals and La Grue

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pp. 10-45

Reversal is one of the key features of the fabliaux that Boccaccio borrowed and reproduced in the Decameron. This chapter will explore the ways in which reversal functions in the fabliaux, first by defining the types of reversal through examples, and second by illustrating how these reversals distinguish the fabliaux...

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2. The Fabliaux in Context: BNF fr. 2173

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pp. 46-83

In order to clarify the role of the fabliaux within the larger structure of manuscript anthologies, in this chapter I will examine the inner workings of a single and complete codex: BNF fr. 2173 (MS K).1 Reciprocally, an intertextual consideration of the works in this codex will furnish a more comprehensive view...

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3. Medieval Story Collections and Framing Devices

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pp. 84-124

The first and second chapters showed that the fabliaux are distinct from other medieval short stories because of their use of reversals on rhetorical, thematic, and structural levels, while also interconnected with other genres, often as combinations or parodies of them. The reversals in the fabliaux allow these...

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4. Boccaccio’s Fabliaux: Transmission and Transformation of the Fabliaux to the Decameron

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pp. 125-162

The previous chapter explored similarities between codices preserving fabliaux and the organizational levels of the Decameron, but this relationship was based on two presuppositions: The first is a connection between the Old French literary tradition generally and fabliaux specifically to Boccaccio; this...

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pp. 163-168

In this study I have suggested the ways in which reversal participates in a paradigm shift in reading literature. The closed, didactic system of literature, intended in large part for a community of listeners, cedes its place in the course of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries to an open literature of choices...


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pp. 169-172


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pp. 173-204


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pp. 205-220


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pp. 221-226

About the Author

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p. 227

E-ISBN-13: 9780813048666
E-ISBN-10: 0813048664
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813049175

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 2 tables, 1 drawing
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 870646830
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Boccaccio's Fabliaux

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Subject Headings

  • Boccaccio, Giovanni, 1313-1375 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Boccaccio, Giovanni, 1313-1375. Decamerone.
  • Fabliaux -- History and criticism.
  • Poetry -- Early works to 1800.
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