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Cultures courtoises en mouvement

Isabelle Arseneau
Francis Gingras

Discours et contre-discours de la courtoisie

The Courtly Fabliau Debate: Subversion of Genre in “The Merchant’s Tale”

Noah G. Peterson

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Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is full of a wide variety of stories, especially in terms of the number of genres presented. In The Canterbury Tales, we find almost every genre: from courtly literature to debate and from beast fables to Breton lays. The fabliau is one of the most studied genres in which Chaucer wrote. It is generally agreed upon that Chaucer wrote fabliaux, but the list of what tales qualify as fabliaux varies. Almost always included in lists of Chaucer’s fabliaux are “The Miller’s Tale,” “The Reeves’s Tale,” “The Shipman’s Tale,” and the unfinished “Cook’s Tale.” Tales less frequently found in these lists include “The Summoner’s Tale,” “The Friar’s Tale,” and “The Merchant’s Tale.” Chaucer found in the thirteenth century French fabliaux a form that he could easily and skillfully adapt to his own purposes. He exploited the fabliau model “in various ways: both by emphasizing the qualities that set these tales apart from other contemporary genres, and by enlarging the sphe...


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