115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Is Seeing Believing? Male Sight and Female Insight in Two Old French Fabliaux

Natalie Muñoz, California State University, Fresno

This paper will investigate the differences between male sight and female insight in two Old French Fabliaux.  The male characters rely on their sight and the visual world to maintain their position of authority.  The female characters depend on their ability to manipulate signs and meaning to destabilize the male position.


In the two fabliaux, Le Vilain de Bailluel and Le chevalier à la robe vermeille, the male characters’ reliance on sight and the visual world and their seemingly secure position of authority provide opportunities for the female characters to destabilize their world. The male dupe believes in an appearance of reality because he relies too heavily on what he can “see” and “prove” in practical terms and because he believes his authority is stable. The female victor, on the other hand, operates on the higher plane of meaning destabilizing the foundation of male authority and manipulate meaning, and controlling the outcome.

            In Le Vilain de Bailluel, the wife requires the help of her lover, the chaplain in order to fully dupe her husband. Even so, her aptitude for linguistic manipulation makes her husband, who depends on his sight, easy prey.  The fabliau Le chevalier à la robe vermeille further underscores women’s skill at manipulating male sensory perception. It is the cleverness and the ability to react quickly to adverse situations that is appreciated in this fabliau. Understanding her husband’s needs and weaknesses, the wife plays on his sense of social status.

            With the ability to destabilize the foundation of male authority and manipulate meaning, the female is in control. By being capable of manipulating everyday objects, language and the male characters’ self-image between the two realms of “being” and “seeming”, the female characters force their male counterparts into situations of the female characters’ design, all the while the male characters are under the impression that it is of their own accord.

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