The English Fabliau Tradition and Chaucer’s “Miller’s Tale”
By Robert E. Lewis
Modern Philology, Vol. 79, No. 3 (1982)
Introduction: Since the early 1940s, when Laura Hibbard Loomis first showed the extent to which Chaucer was indebted to the English romance tradition, critics have come to recognize that Chaucer was in fact working in a native English tradition in addition to the continental, and in the past thirty years a number of very good studies of Chaucer’s use of the tradition have appeared. During the same period there has been renewed interest in the fabliau-an interest that was stimulated in large measure by Per Nykrog’s book, Les Fabliaux, published in 1957, and that has reached a certain culmination in the last few years with some of those sure indicators of popularity in literary studies: the dissertation topic, the anthology of critical articles, and the Modern Language Association seminar. In view of the accumulation of information and the new insights into these two subjects now available, it is worth trying to answer two related questions that it would have been impossible, and perhaps laughable, even to ask thirty years ago: Was there an English fabliau tradition before Chaucer, and, if so, was Chaucer indebted to it?