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Fabliaux are short comic verse tales composed for listening audiences in France during the 12th, 13th, and early 14th centuries. The date of Watriquet de Couvins's “The Three Ladies of Paris” (1321) marks the approximate end of the genre.

The rapidly recurring rhymes of their octosyllabic couplets reinforce the swift action that characterizes the fabliaux. The shortest is 18 lines: “The Priest and the Sheep,” which tells of a sheep butting an adulterous priest. The longest is 1,364 lines: “The Priest and the Knight,” a revenge comedy that grows longer and funnier with each term of a poor knight's revenge against a wealthy priest's inhospitality.

The comic plots of the fabliaux can be domestic or courtly, scatological or bawdy, crammed with double entendres or taboo words. In ...

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