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

By Katherine A. Brown | Go to book overview

1
Fabliaux Reversals and La Grue

Exhibeas te in rege philosophum et in philosopho regem, regiam
philosophie disciplina temperans maiestatem commendansque
philosophiam regie maiesti.

[Show yourself to be a philosopher king and a king philosopher.
Temper your kingly majesty with the training of philosophy,
and entrust philosophy to the care of your kingly majesty.]

DOLOPATHOS

Reversal is one of the key features of the fabliaux that Boccaccio borrowed and reproduced in the Decameron. This chapter will explore the ways in which reversal functions in the fabliaux, first by defining the types of reversal through examples, and second by illustrating how these reversals distinguish the fabliaux from other contemporary short stories.

Encompassing diverse readings of the fabliaux, reversal has three discrete senses in this study. The rhetorical figure of chiasmus is the basis of the first type of reversal. Chiasmus is defined as a grammatical, semantic, or phonetic construction whose parallel parts ABAB are inverted to form the pattern ABBA.1 Although the term chiasmus is modern, the concept was familiar in the Middle Ages through rhetorical manuals and other models of writing learned in the studia generalia. Heinrich Lausberg categorizes chiasmus as a type of commutatio, which “consists in the opposition of an idea and its converse by means of the repetition of the two word stems, with reciprocal exchange of the syntactic function of both stems in the repetition.”2 In the section on figures of diction in the rhetorical manual Rhetorica ad Herennium, attributed to Cicero, the definition of commutatio also implies antithesis or contradiction among the parts transposed.3 The antithesis applies to the entire statement, not necessarily to the relationship of the transposed words. An example in the Rhetorica ad Herennium, “Esse oportet ut vivas, non vivere ut edas” [You must eat to

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Fabliaux Reversals and la Grue 10
  • 2 - The Fabliaux in Context 46
  • 3 - Medieval Story Collections and Framing Devices 84
  • 4 - Boccaccio’s Fabliaux Transmission and Transformation of the Fabliaux to the Decameron 125
  • Conclusion 163
  • Appendix 169
  • Notes 173
  • Bibliography 205
  • Index 221
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