Reynard the Fox

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Reynard the Fox

Reynard the Fox (rĕ´nərd, rā´närd), the supreme trickster and celebrated hero of the medieval beast epics, works predominantly in verse which became increasingly popular after c.1150. They are found chiefly in Latin, French, Low German, Dutch, High German, and English. The type probably originated in a German-speaking section of what is now Alsace-Lorraine, whence it passed into France, the Low Countries, and Germany. The summons of Reynard by King Noble (the Lion) to answer accusations by Isengrim the Wolf and other animals forms the nucleus and starting point of the loosely connected tales. Most of the stories reflect in biting satire the peasant's criticism and contempt for the upper classes and the clergy. An episode at once outstanding and typical is the funeral of Reynard, with the pious laments of his late enemies and his devastating resurrection from the grave. Professional minstrels and poets soon found these tales good entertainment and made them popular with the upper and middle classes. The French, who contributed most to the original story, produced Le Roman de Renart (c.1175–1250). Caxton translated from a Flemish version his Historie of Reynart the Foxe (1481). By 1700 there were 22 further editions. Modern English versions include T. J. Arnold's translation (1860) of Goethe's Reinecke Fuchs, a paraphrase of an older High German version, and William Rose's Epic of the Beast (1924).

See K. Varty, Reynard the Fox (1967); The History of Reynard the Fox, tr. by W. Caxton, ed. by N. F. Blake (1970).

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