[fab-lee-oh; Fr. fa-blee-oh]
fabliau, plural fabliaux, short comic, often bawdy tale in verse that deals realistically and satirically with middle-class or lower-class characters. Fabliaux were often directed against marriage and against members of the clergy. The form was extremely popular in France during the Middle Ages. Excellent examples of fabliaux can be found in pre-Christian Oriental literature, in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and in Boccaccio's Decameron.
The fabliau (plural fabliaux or "'fablieaux'") is a comic, usually anonymous tale written by jongleurs in northeast France circa the 13th Century. They are generally bawdy in nature, and several of them were reworked by Geoffrey Chaucer for his Canterbury Tales. Some 150 French fabliaux are extant depending on how narrowly fabliau is defined.

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.

Longer medieval poems such as Le Roman de Renart and those found in The Canterbury Tales have their origin in one or several fabliaux.

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.

Example tales

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.

Others may include:

  • "La vielle qui graissa la patte de chevalier" ("The old woman who put grease on the knights hand")
  • "Estula" ("Estula")
  • "Le Pauvre Clerc" ("The poor clerk")
  • "Le Couverture partagée" ("The shared covering")
  • "Le Pretre qui mangea les mûres" ("The priest who ate mulberries")
  • "La crotte" ("The turd")
  • "Le Chevalier qui fait les cons parler ("The Knight who made cunts speak")
  • "The Miller's Tale" (From The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer)


See also


  • Joseph Bédier, Les Fabliaux, Paris: Editions Champion, 1964.
  • Holly A. Crocker (Ed.), Comic provocations: Exposing the corpus of old french fabliaux. 2007, Palgrave. ISBN 978-14039-7043-5.
  • The Fabliaux (part of a Geoffrey Chaucer page)
  • Robert Hellman, Fabliaux: Ribald Tales from the Old French, 1965, English translation of 21 Fabliaux. ISBN 0-8371-7414-7
  • Sarah Lawall (Gen. Ed.), The Norton Anthology of Western Literature, Volume I. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006.

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