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Chapter 16 - Trouble and Strife in the Old French Fabliaux

from IV - Genre and Gender

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 July 2023

Corinne Saunders
Affiliation:
Durham University
Diane Watt
Affiliation:
University of Surrey
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Summary

Neil Cartlidgeߣs essay addresses the genre seemingly least sympathetic to women, that of fabliau, to show that the truth is more complex. Fabliaux, Cartlidge argues, deals in what is literally ߢfabulousߣ: its distortions and caricatured, often obscene or violent humour cannot be read as commenting directly on the treatment of women or reflecting general attitudes to gender but, rather, work through defamiliarisation and absurdity. The essay offers a new perspective on London, BL Harley 2253, through the analysis of four Old French fabliaux found in it, the most concentrated gathering of fabliaux in any extant English manuscript. The group offers a representative selection of the genre, depicting and undercutting sexual desire, violence, and humiliation by taking them to extremes that are both uneasy and absurd. As Cartlidge shows, such works play creatively and troublingly with attitudes to language and shame/honour cultures, marriage, sexuality, and desire. Celebrating neither gender, the fabliaux create communities of readers through the shared laughter of their audiences, male and female.

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Chapter
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Women and Medieval Literary Culture
From the Early Middle Ages to the Fifteenth Century
, pp. 324 - 341
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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References

Further Reading

Bloch, Howard (1986). The Scandal of the Fabliaux, Chicago: Chicago University Press.Google Scholar
Burns, E. Jane (1993). Bodytalk: When Women Speak in Old French Literature, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
Burr, Kristin L., Moran, John F., and Lacy, Norris J., eds. (2008). The Old French Fabliaux: Essays on Comedy and Context, Jefferson, NC: McFarland.Google Scholar
Crocker, Holly, ed. (2006). Comic Provocations: Exposing the Corpus of Old French Fabliaux, New York: Palgrave.Google Scholar
Fein, Susanna, ed. (2000). Studies in the Harley Manuscript: The Scribes, Contents and Social Contexts of British Library MS Harley 2253, Kalamazoo, MI: TEAMS.Google Scholar
Hines, John (1993). The Fabliau in English, London: Longman.Google Scholar
Muñoz, Nathalie (2014). Disabusing Women in the Old French Fabliaux, New York: Peter Lang.Google Scholar

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