Places: Reynard the Fox

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First transcribed: c. 1175-1250 (English translation, 1481)

Type of work: Short fiction

Type of plot: Satire

Time of work: Middle Ages

Places DiscussedNoble the Lion’s court

Noble Reynard the Foxthe Lion’s court. Imaginary court meant to represent the court of the French king. The animals present their grievances to Noble the king, whose weakness and indecision are the targets of satire. The rapacious demands for vengeance by the courtiers and the sophistry of those pleading their cases re-create an important institution of the time but cast it in a ridiculous light. A fictitious court run by animals provides the authors with a certain immunity and poetic license. The world they present is a world turned upside down, and the absurd conduct of the characters is part of that world. Reynard’s trial at the court enables the authors to indulge in a lengthy satire on women and their sexual appetites and to poke fun at cuckolded husbands.

Ysangrin the wolf’s den

Ysangrin the wolf’s den. Scene of the adultery of Reynard and Hersent, a dark and private place that provides an ideal setting for animals to imitate the conduct of humans. Courtly love and its rules of privacy and secrecy are satirized in this episode.

Reynard the fox’s den

Reynard the fox’s den. Place with the characteristics of an actual fox’s den. It has openings large enough for a fox to enter and exit but not big enough to accommodate a larger animal. Its size and shape enable the author to write a farcical scene in which Hersent, caught at the entrance, is raped by Reynard, who insists he was trying to extricate her.

Maupertuis

Maupertuis (moh-pehr-TWEE). Reynard’s dwelling tends to have features of both castle and den. It appears to be a castle, but sometimes means of entry and exit are more those of a den. Maupertuis is strong and impenetrable. Here Noble lays siege to Reynard after the fox escapes punishment at his trial. Maupertuis is surrounded by forest. Noble, who has brought his queen, Fière, with him, has encamped his army amid the trees. By combining animal and human attributes of his characters, the author creates an amusing scene in which Reynard ties Noble and his courtiers by their tails to the trees and then rapes Fière in full view.

Battlefield

Battlefield. This setting occasions the parody of the Chanson de Geste. The field is soon strewn with mutilated bodies. The exploits of Noble and his warriors are described with the exaggeration and excess characteristic of the heroic poems of the period.

Well

Well. Typical well from which water is drawn by the use of buckets. In this tale Reynard saves himself and makes a fool of Ysangrin by using the bucket mechanism. The humor of the episode is derived from the two animals mistaking their reflections in the well for real creatures and consequently becoming trapped.

Barnyards

Barnyards. The various barnyards containing hen houses and guard dogs instigate several episodes of trickery and pursuit. Although the animals speak in these tales, they remain animals.

Forests

Forests. Places for hunting in which predators and prey meet, and characters consistently try to do each other harm. The humor of the episodes is created by the ill that befalls the animals as they encounter traps, human hunters, and other predators.

BibliographyBellon, Roger. “Trickery as an Element of the Character of Renart.” Forum for Modern Language Studies 22, no. 1 (January, 1986): 34-52. Examines Reynard the Fox in terms of its use of archetypal elements of the medieval fable. Provides insight into the social significance of the trickster character.Blake, N. F. “Reflections on William Caxton’s Reynard the Fox.” Canadian Journal of Netherlandic Studies 4, no. 1 (May, 1983): 69-76. Provides a thorough exploration of William Caxton’s translation of the medieval classic. Blake’s treatment provides a general consideration of Reynard’s place in the Germanic literary tradition, folk narrative, and European fable.Owen, D. D. R., trans., ed. The Romance of Reynard the Fox. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1994. Notes and introduction offer a comprehensive overview of the fable, its history, its place in medieval art, and its revelations about medieval society.Varty, Kenneth. “Animal Fable and Fabulous Animal.” Bestia: Yearbook of the Beast Fable Society 3, no. 1 (May, 1991): 5-14. Discussion of European beast fables considers Reynard the Fox within its historical, aesthetic, and ideological context. Also considered is the evolution of the animal in European folklore.Varty, Kenneth. Reynard the Fox: A Study of the Fox in Medieval English Art. Leicester, England: Leicester University Press, 1967. Considers Reynard the Fox’s impact on the visual art and literature of the medieval period. Presentation includes color plates and textual excerpts.
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