One of the best ways to learn about a culture is to figure out its sense of humour. In medieval Europe, this means looking at fabliaux: short, funny tales that demonstrate common stereotypes and jokes – usually sexual, violent, and containing a clear scapegoat.
Most of the time, fabliaux are lighthearted and lusty, but occasionally they stray into dark humour, like ‘The Snow Baby’.
Throughout history verbal jousts tested a participant’s creativity, knowledge, and mastery of language, thus catalyzing the evolution of so-called wisdom literature.
In this thesis, I intend to illustrate how Chaucer uses his knowledge of garden traditions, both biblical and practical, to discuss the concept of the Garden of Eden and the Fall of humanity.
The linguistic composition of the Exeter Book Riddles supports this, and in fact, the genre became a refuge for contemporary colloquial speech which was seen as coarse and lower class within the ideologies of Christianity and Germanic heroism.
In courtly works, the resolution is generally in favour of the status quo as a courtly adulterous affair rarely works out, while in the fabliau the marriage is generally left intact, although a deceitful wife may be given carte blanche to philander.
How can misogyny, or any such unabashed and unrepentant diatribe against women, be part of a genre which is largely considered to be comic?
Busby’s conclusion with regard to Old French fabliaux might just as well apply to Middle Dutch tales: “Reading fabliaux in their manuscript context reveals an important aspect of their significance for early readers or listeners which would otherwise remain concealed.”
They were the sitcoms of their time –– lowbrow comedies that lampooned every serious topic, from sex and relationships to politics and religion
They perpetrate many deceptions in order to gain a sexual or monetary advantage over their victims and are portrayed as malicious mischief-makers and the protagonists of humorous and smutty stories. Women also feature in these either as deceived victims or as the perpetrators of deception, as they outwit their husbands in order to enjoy their own adulterous affairs.
I will be examining a very particular version of this woman. In each case she appears, at least for a time, in disguise, in male garb.
Comedy, though often seen by the ancients as a lesser form of art, has a certain form and structure that audiences expect. Comedy serves an important social function. It alleviates social fears, draws a community together by defining its values, and often works as a critique of a culture in a non-threatening manner.