Short metrical tale made popular in medieval France by jongleurs. Fabliaux were characterized by vivid detail and realistic observation and were usually comic, coarse, and cynical, especially in their treatment of women. Though understandable to the bourgeois and common people, they frequently contain an element of burlesque that depends for its appreciation on considerable knowledge of courtly society, love, and manners. About 150 fabliaux survive, by both amateur and professional writers.
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Typical fabliaux concern cuckolded husbands, rapacious clergy, and foolish peasants. The status of peasants appears to vary based on the audience for which the fabliau was being written. Poems that were presumably written for the nobility portray peasants (vilains) as stupid and vile, whereas those written for the lower classes often tell of peasants getting the better of the clergy.
The fabliau gradually disappeared at the beginning of the 16th century. It was replaced by the prose short story. Famous French writers such as Molière, Jean de La Fontaine and Voltaire owe much to the tradition of the fabliau, in their prose works as well as in their poetry.
In "L'enfant de neige" ("The snow baby"), we hear a tale of black comedy. A merchant returns home after an absence of two years to find his wife with a newborn son. She explains one snowy day she swallowed a snowflake while thinking about her husband which caused her to conceive. Pretending to believe the "miracle", they raise the boy until the age of 15 when the merchant takes him on a business trip to Genoa. There, he sells the boy into slavery. On his return, he explains to his wife that the sun burns bright and hot in Italy. Since he was begotten by a snowflake, he melted in the heat.
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