No single theory can account for the writing, performance, or preservation of the fabliaux over the course of nearly three centuries. Surely some of them were originally no more than non-poetic, obscene improvisations intended for after-dinner entertainment as Joseph Bedier and others have argued. And some of the manuscripts containing them must have been complied by or for private collectors with a taste for bawdy stories. Yet the best of the fabliaux - and the fabliaux collectively as they have been preserved in several different contexts - can teach us just how enlivening the small bawdy comedies of sex, gender war, and treachery were for the unfolding of later medieval literature.


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