Boccaccio's Fabliaux

Katherine A. Brown

Published by University Press of Florida

Published in print March 2014 | ISBN: 9780813049175
Published online September 2014 | e-ISBN: 9780813050034 | DOI:
Boccaccio's Fabliaux

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The Old French fabliaux are humorous short stories from the 13th century that resemble some of the most memorable tales in Giovanni Boccaccio's Decameron (1348-1351). Yet their humor and ostensible frivolity conceal a serious challenge to didactic literature. A century later, Boccaccio used these types of tales to promote the openness of literary interpretation as a choice for the reader. This study shows that the fabliaux had a greater influence on the Decameron than has previously been recognized. Boccaccio took from the fabliaux the use of reversal as a technique for manipulating narrative structure; in addition, the manuscripts in which the fabliaux were transmitted served as models for the organization of the Decameron. The use of reversal in both the fabliaux and the Decameron underscores a paradigm shift in medieval thinking away from purely didactic literature toward a literature of enjoyment. Reversal in the fabliaux brings together linguistic and thematic opposites and interchanges them in order to show that these opposites offer equally valid positions from which the stories can be interpreted. Reversal also allows the fabliaux to adapt to a variety of contemporaneous genres while still maintaining their fundamental character. The fabliaux's use of reversal disrupts the moral didacticism preserved with the texts in manuscript anthologies. As Boccaccio standardized the medieval short story in the Decameron, he drew from both the fabliaux tradition and from the manuscript anthologies in which they were transmitted in order to conjoin diverse genres and provoke a multiplicity of interpretations.

Keywords: Boccaccio; chiasmus; Decameron; fabliau; genre; intertextuality; manuscript study; reading practices; reversal as technique; story collections

Book.  240 pages.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Early and Medieval)

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