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Logic and Humour in the Fabliaux

Logic and Humour in the Fabliaux: An Essay in Applied Narratology

Roy J. Pearcy
Series: Gallica
Volume: 7
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 260
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  • Book Info
    Logic and Humour in the Fabliaux
    Book Description:

    Joseph Bédier's 1893 definition of the fabliaux as 'funny stories in verse' is still widely accepted as the best brief and general description for a heterogeneous collection of texts. But the heterogeneity creates difficulties and at the periphery of the canon all three of the criteria included in Bédier's definition are open to question. The inventory proposed in the current study is based on a new structural definition, a ‘conjointure’, akin to that of romance, combining a logical ‘episteme’ with a rhetorical ‘narreme’. The ‘episteme’ features a contradictory taken from Boolean algebra, and assumes four different forms, depending on whether ambiguity resulting from the contradictory is understood by neither, by both, or by either the sender or the receiver of a message, In the first two instances, a character foreign to the ‘episteme’ intervenes to resolve confusion in the ‘narreme’, or appears as the victim of the sophistical assumption of a contrary-to-fact reality; in the latter instances the sender or the receiver of the message in the ‘episteme’ triumphs in the ‘narreme’. The resulting inventory, including and augmenting the texts admitted by Per Nykrog and discarding numerous stories already challenged for authenticity, is theoretically defensible to a degree not previously achieved. ROY PEARCY is an Honorary Research Fellow of the University of London.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-564-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-vii)
    (pp. viii-viii)
    (pp. 1-10)

    The idea that an intimate connection exists between humour and logic is not original with this study. Even before logic had been formalised as an autonomous discipline, humour often appeared in the pseudo-proof of some theory so extravagantly at odds with common-sense notions as to provoke laughter. Some of the epicheirêmata of the pre-Socratic philosopher Zeno of Elea fit this pattern, such as his argument that, given a start, a tortoise could never be overtaken by Achilles.¹ A taste for humorous paradox pervades the work of the fifth-century sophist Gorgias,² and persists into the writings of the thirteenth-century Averroist Siger...

  6. 1 Origins: Fable To Fabliau Cele qui se Fist Foutre sur la Fosse de son Mari
    (pp. 11-33)

    Two classic and popular fabliaux, La vieille Truande and Le Chevalier qui fist parler les Cons, begin by positing a relationship between fabliaux and fables:¹

    Des fables fait on les fabliaus,

    Et des notes les sons noviaus,

    Et des materes les canchons,

    Et des dras cauces et cauchons.²

    This prologue appears in almost identical form in all five extant exemplars of La vieille Truande and is presumably authorial. It appears in only one of seven extant exemplars of Le Chevalier qui fist parler les cons, and its presence there probably reflects a scribe’s effort to repair a lacuna in his...

  7. 2 Outline of a Methodology Part 1: The Logical Contradictories
    (pp. 34-51)

    The attempt in the previous chapter to ascertain some of the differences between fabliaux and fables, and to arrive subsequently at a better understanding of the distinctive features of each, was an essentially extensive procedure, taking its point of departure in the texts themselves, and hoping by analysis to identify some features applicable to all members of the respective genres. The investigation in this and subsequent chapters will aim to arrive at an intensive definition by creating a theoretical inventory of definitive structural devices that in some variation or combination are an essential ingredient in all examples of the genre....

  8. 3 Outline of a Methodology Part 2: Episteme and Narreme
    (pp. 52-76)

    Efforts to arrive at a structural definition of the genre have been made in the past. Joseph Bédier is conventionally credited with the first of these.¹ The principles of his approach are encoded in the formula Ω + a + b + c, where omega represents the immutable core element of the narrative, and a, b, c its unessential accessory traits.² Bédier’s intention was to mount a diachronic attack on the ‘théorie orientaliste’, and to discredit efforts to postulate antique near-eastern sources for a substantial number of medieval French narratives. His concentration on the accessory elements led directly to his...

  9. 4 Origins: Fabliau to Fable The Paris B.N. Fr. 12603 Version of Auberee
    (pp. 77-122)

    As a preliminary move to establish fundamental differences between the two genres, Chapter 1 examined the relationship between a traditional fable, The Matron of Ephesus, and what is unquestionably a fabliau, Cele qui se fist foutre. One clear distinction emerges from the fact that while the narreme (see Fig. 1.2, page 24) adequately accounts for the narrative action in the fable, and recurs as part of the structure of the fabliau, only in the fabliau can this narreme be analysed into epistemes of the kind described in Chapter 3. This epistemic structural level articulates an engagement with logical concerns which...

  10. 5 The Fabliau Canon
    (pp. 123-147)

    An understanding of the definitive characteristics of the fabliau genre began with the great manuscript collections. Some of these combined copies of the Fables of Marie de France (e.g., MS Paris B.N. fr. 1593), and of Le Chastoiement d’un Père à son Fils (e.g., MS Paris B.N. fr. 19152) with a collection of short, humorous, generally narrative pieces in French octosyllabic couplets circulating independently of any synoptic framework. These independent pieces were also assembled in extensive miscellanies which might contain forty (MS Berne 354) or as many as fifty-eight (MS Paris B.N. fr. 837) fabliau texts. Some perception of fabliaux...

  11. 6 Fabliaux Structures Part 1: Single Narreme Fabliaux
    (pp. 148-175)

    Chapters 2 and 3 created an inventory of those fabliaux whose logical structure could be accounted for by one of the permutations derived from the four possibilities for actant distribution, (E), (EE), (E1) or (E2), and one of the three possibilities for logical fallacy, (AA), (AB), or (A+B). The twelve patterns produced by various combinations of these elements account for approximately half of extant fabliaux. They also account for all fabliau episodes, but the remaining fabliaux, rather than simply exploiting one of the twelve patterns to produce a complete narrative, join two or more epistemes or two or more narremes...

  12. 7 Fabliau Structures Part 2: Multiple Narreme Fabliaux
    (pp. 176-196)

    Identifying multiple narreme fabliaux involves a number of different issues. Actant distribution is not radically different from that in single narreme narratives. In exceptional cases, as in Les trois Aveugles de Compiegne,¹ the characters featured in the first episteme, the three blind men and the itinerant clerk, are different from those in the second episteme, the clerk and the innkeeper, and from those in the third episteme, the innkeeper and the village priest. Incidents of pattern (iii), where only one of the protagonists from the first episteme carries over to the second, are more prevalent than in single narreme fabliaux....

  13. 8 Fabliau Aesthetic
    (pp. 197-209)

    The major aesthetic qualities of fabliaux have been lauded in most of the critical assessments of the canon. Despite his general distaste for the genre, and his unease with a number of its distinctive characteristics, Joseph Bédier, the first modern critic to submit the total corpus to serious investigation, recognised that fabliaux manifest many admirable qualities, particularly the ability shown by fablëors to organise the often labyrinthine intrigues of their brief narratives with admirable economy and clarity. His views have been echoed by generations of commentators following his critical lead. The fabliaux have been praised particularly for their naturalistic style,¹...

    (pp. 210-214)

    This study was initially undertaken with the single objective of devising a structural definition of fabliaux sufficiently general to embrace all extant examples of the genre, and sufficiently precise to permit a reasoned discrimination between narratives with a legitimate claim to inclusion in the canon and others that ought by definition to be excluded. This purpose has remained central, although in the course of its development the study has diverged into related areas such as fabliau origins and evolution. The system proposed, whereby fabliaux are conceived as combining a logically derived episteme with a Greimasian-model narreme, adequately accounts for the...

  15. Varia: Appendices A–F
    (pp. 215-232)
    (pp. 233-236)
    (pp. 237-248)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 249-252)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 253-253)