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

Turning Verbal Tricks: The Poetic and the Erotic in the French Fabliaux

Brooke Di Lauro, University of Mary Washington

The medieval philosophical debate between the nominalists and realists plays itself out in the popular, bawdy fabliaux where literal language is as ineffective as it is unentertaining for a jongleur’s audience. Instead, euphemisms are necessary for the inscription of desire, and thus the poetic and the erotic are inextricably linked.  

Proposal: 

Fabliaux, popular, often bawdy, tales were recounted orally and often disseminated via travelling jongleurs who moved from town to town and market to market retelling their stories in hopes of making a profit. The novelty, originality, and credibility of the tale determine the worthiness of its circulation. For just as the characters of the recounted tale are competing against each other to create the most believable and entertaining tale or ruse, so too is the jongleur trying to beat out his rival poets by telling the most engaging tale.  By means of example, I will examine the fabliau entitled Boivin de Provins and compare it to other fabliaux.The story, set in a market, illustrates the popularity of markets, prostitution, and itinerant storytellers and the interconnections between the three. The market, the heart of exchange of ideas, goods, and money in the Middle Ages, perfectly mirrored the interactions that took place within the brothels.  After all, jongleurs, just like prostitutes, turn verbal tricks to please their clients who are their only sources of income.  We can clearly see the medieval philosophical debate between the nominalists and realists plays itself out in the fabliau where literal language is as ineffective as it is unentertaining for a jongleur’s audience. Instead, euphemisms are necessary for the inscription of desire, and thus the poetic and the erotic are inextricably linked.  

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