Misconceptions about Beast Fables and Beast Tales, and the Role of the Fox in All of It

Misconceptions about Beast Fables and Beast Tales, and the Role of the Fox in All of It

By Lilian Schutter

Master’s Thesis, Faculteit der Letteren Rijksuniversiteit Groningen (2008)

Reynard the Fox depicted in BNF, Paris, Ms fr. 1581f. 6v

Abstract: In this dissertation, the genres of the beast fable and beast tale will be looked at more closely, as well as the role that the fox plays in these stories. Beast tales are often mistaken for beast fables because these genres share certain characteristics, such as the fact that the protagonists are played by animals, who act and talk like human beings. The reason why animals represent humans in these stories is because this gives the author a chance to express his or her opinion about certain people or societies. However, there are significant differences between beats tales and beast fables which make it impossible to mistake the one for the other. These differences can occur in the length of the stories, as well as in the number of subplots, the significance of the roles that humans play, and the presence of a moral lesson.

In order to corroborate the similarities and differences between these two genres, four different tales will be analyzed and discussed in great detail. The tales that will be used here are The Fox and the Wolf written by an anonymous author, the Nun’s Priest’s Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer, and two tales from the English translation that William Caxton made of Le Roman de Renart, the Historye of Reynart the Foxe. What these tales all have in common is that, first of all, their authors all used two separate branches, number II and IV, of the original Le Roman de Renart as a source of information for their own tales, and secondly, the tales are all mistaken for beast fables whereas in fact they are beast tales. These statements will be discussed excessively and proven to be true based on solid evidence.

The third and final feature that these four tales have in common is that they all feature a fox as the main protagonist. This animal played, and still plays, a very important role within literature as well as in animated films. The fox is usually described as an animal with mainly negative characteristics, as is also the case in these four tales. An analysis of this specific role will be given, as are, in my opinion, the reasons why these characteristics are usually portrayed in this way.

Click here to read this thesis from Rijksuniversiteit Groningen


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