Men’s Words in Women’s Mouths: Why Misogynous Stereotypes are Humorous in the Old French Fabliaux

Medieval music

Medieval music

Rebecca Woods

Reinvention: A Journal of Undergraduate Research: Volume 3, Issue 2 (2010)


While many scholars have examined the subject of misogyny in Old French fabliaux in a number of contexts, no consensus has yet been reached on how the fabliaux can be considered humorous in the light of the stereotypes found therein. By conducting a close contextualised study of three fabliaux, this paper asserts that the humour of the fabliaux is created out of misogynous stereotypes by investing female characters with the ability to appropriate and subvert masculinist rhetoric and discourse styles. This subversive portrayal of women enjoys a circular relationship with humour; the creation of a clearly defined ‘joke-world’ within the fabliaux licenses socially outrageous portrayals of female protagonists, which in turn create humour through their incongruity with the realities faced by medieval women of all social classes.


The subject of misogyny in the fabliaux has been an area of particular interest for modern medievalists, yet the question remains: how can misogyny, or any such unabashed and unrepentant diatribe against women, be part of a genre which is largely considered to be comic? This paper will argue that, although discourse styles which are often attributed to men may find an outlet in the fabliaux, on several occasions they are found to be channelled through the genre’s female protagonists, whose subsequent treatment of them casts a new light on the role of the fabliau woman and her place in the social hierarchy. Simultaneously, this paper aims to show that humour is not only the product of the creation of strong female protagonists but also that it facilitates this portrayal; that the humorous world created by the fableors allows fabliau women to take and subvert traditional, narrative and social forms of masculinist discourse, empowering them and enabling them to display their creativity, wit and ability to succeed.

Click here to read this article from the University of Warwick

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