Boccaccio's Fabliaux:
Medieval Short Stories and the Function of Reversal

Katherine A. Brown

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"A remarkably well-informed and truly innovative study of the way Boccaccio reimagined and rewrote Old French fabliaux in his Decameron."--François Rigolot, Princeton University

"Theoretically savvy, and yet jargon-free, philologically impeccable and critically acute, this is a book that shows the author’s unflinching dedication to the highest standards of scholarship."--Simone Marchesi, author of Dante and Augustine

"Brown’s attention to codicological contexts coupled with persuasive new interpretations of some of the fabliaux and Decameron stories make this book a pleasure to read for medievalist veterans and novices alike."--Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski, author of Poets, Saints, and Visionaries of the Great Schism, 1378-1417


Short works known for their humor and ribaldry, the fabliaux were comic or satirical tales told by wandering minstrels in medieval France. Although the fabliaux are widely acknowledged as inspiring Giovanni Boccaccio’s masterpiece, the Decameron. This theory has never been substantiated beyond perceived commonalities in length and theme. This new and provocative interpretation examines the formal similarities between the Decameron’s tales of wit, wisdom, and practical jokes and the popular thirteenth-century fabliaux.

Katherine Brown examines these works through a prism of reversal and chiasmus to show that Boccaccio was not only inspired by the content of the fabliaux but also by their fundamental design--where a passage of truth could be read as a lie or a tale of life as a tale of death. Brown reveals close resemblances in rhetoric, literary models, and narrative structure to demonstrate how the Old French manuscripts of the fabliaux were adapted in the organization of the Decameron.

Identifying specific examples of fabliaux transformed by Boccaccio for his classic Decameron, Brown shows how Boccaccio refashioned borrowed literary themes and devices, playing with endless possibilities of literary creation through manipulations of his model texts.

Katherine A. Brown is a specialist of medieval French and Italian literature.

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Indicates possible new sources both for some of Boccaccio’s stories and for his frame narrative.-- Modern Language Review

Brown has certainly done an excellent job of studying the fabliaux in their manuscript context and building convincing lines of reception realized by this Italian Renaissance poet.-- Mediaevistik

In this thoroughly researched and well-cited book, Katherine A. Brown explores extensively the literary evolution of the popular fabliau genre as an influential element in the short narrative form used in Boccaccio’s collection of novellas.-- Comitatus

Discusses the mutual influences of medieval short forms, bringing into view the web of forces at work between fabliaux, exempla, dits, lais, fables, and medieval adaptions of Eastern collections. . . .Brown’s open approach to fabliau sources and influences allows her to cast an inclusive and comprehensive eye on the field of medieval short forms.-- The Medieval Review

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