Fabliau: A short, comic, often cynical or satiric verse narrative generally composed in octosyllabic couplets. Fabliaux, which were particularly popular in medieval France in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, spread to England and Italy but essentially disappeared as a genre around the sixteenth century. The tales, which commonly involve trickery and were designed to entertain rather than to make a moral point, featured human characters, especially middle- and lower-class people, and portrayed their concerns in a realistic manner. Fabliaux frequently took humor to the point of ridicule and ribaldry, often targeting clergy, women, and cuckolded husbands.
EXAMPLES: French fabliaux include the thirteenth-century poet Rutebeuf’s Frère Denyse (Brother Dennis) and La Vengeance de Charlot (The Vengeance of Charlot). Dame Siriz (c. 1275), an early English fabliau based on the “weeping bitch” motif, involves a young wife who is duped into sleeping with a man she previously refused when a trickster claims a weeping dog is her daughter — transformed by a clerk whose advances she had refused. Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (c. 1387) includes such fabliaux as “The Miller’s Tale” and “The Reeve’s Tale.”