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Chaucer's Miller's Tale and Reeve's Tale, Boccaccio's Decameron, and the French fabliaux.

While the indebtedness of Chaucer's versified comic tales to thirteenth-century French fabliaux has been closely studied by scholars, their relationship to the prose tales of Boccaccio's Decameron has been studied less and with greater reservation. (1) The relationship between the comic tales of Chaucer and Boccaccio deserves more attention, at least as much as that given to the English poet's tales and the French fabliaux. Many of the French antecedents are judged to be "lost;" whereas, Boccaccio's tales are there for the reading and it is increasingly clear that Chaucer knew them. Even when the relationships between the English and Italian comic tales turn out to be more those of analogues than of sources and derivatives, much can be learned from a comparative examination of style. This article focuses on the first two English fabliaux told in Fragment I of the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer's Miller's Tale and Reeve's Tale and their possible links to Boccaccio's Decameron. They are the comic tales that Chaucer's readers encounter first and remember best.

A word on the genre is in order. "Les fabliaux sont des contes a rire en vers" (Fabliaux are stories in verse that make one laugh)--thus Joseph Bedier summed up the genre in his seminal study. (2) His study followed on the publication of the collection of medieval French fabliaux edited by Montaiglon and Raynaud in the nineteenth century. (3) The recently completed Nouveau recueil complet des fabliaux, edited by Noomen and Boogard, pays homage to that important earlier edition in its title. (4) Most of the extant 150 comic tales in Old French narrative verse were composed in the thirteenth century, but the earliest date to the twelfth and the latest, to the fourteenth century. They have come down to us in 43 manuscripts dating to the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries wherein the fabliaux appear side by side with courtly poems, testifying to the varied tastes of aristocratic audiences and the wide repertoire of the jongleur's who entertained them. (5) The fact that the compilers and scribes who made the thirteenth-and fourteenth-century manuscripts included sacred and profane, crude and sophisticated texts side by side led the Danish scholar, Per Nykrog, to question Bedier's assumption that fabliaux were intended for a bourgeois audience. (6) The best of the fabliaux suggest authors (and audiences) with considerable learning and sophistication, those associated with court and church. Clerks may well have composed and recited fabliaux alongside the jongleurs; clerks, it has been pointed out, "are interestingly, the only class of people uniformly admired in the fabliaux...." (7) The clerical connection may explain why the Old French fabliaux bear an interesting relationship to non-dramatic Latin "comedies" written in elegiac distichs. Most of them come from the Loire valley in France and date from the second half of the twelfth century. Early Latin comedies written in France by Vital de Blois such as Geta and Aulularia even suggest the Old French fabliaux reach back to the ancient Latin comedy of Plautus (though the Roman's works were intended for the stage). (8) The non-dramatic Latin comedies written in France and the fabliaux contain common themes (i.e., the eternal triangle and the deceived husband) as well as character types (the sensual young woman of engin [cunning], the tricked husband, the clever lover [usually a squire, clerk or priest]). The Latin comedies could rightly be called Latin fabliaux. (9)

Chaucer's relationship to the French fabliaux has long been a subject of study since, of the twenty-one completed Canterbury Tales, six are fabliaux: "The Miller's Tale," "The Reeve's Tale," "The Merchant's Tale," "The Shipman's Tale," "The Summoner's Tale," and "The Friar's Tale." Derek Brewer well observed in his discussion of the fabliaux for Beryl Rowland's Companion to Chaucer Studies, "Chaucer's own handling of the genre shows both his deep understanding of it, in its original French form, and his transformation of it.... these indecent anecdotes were Chaucer's greatest interest in his maturity." (10) The Fabliaux among the Canterbury tales are fundamental to Charles Muscatine's early study of the stylistic contrasts between the "ideal" and the "realistic" tales of the collection: Chaucer and the French Tradition (published in the same year as Per Nykrog's Les Fabliaux). (11) These comic tales have an important position in The Canterbury Tales: we have a courtly romance followed by two fabliaux (three if the Cook's fragment is counted) in the first fragment, followed by a pious tale (The Man of Law's Tale, fragment II), and then another romance followed by two more fabliaux (in fragment III). Hall of the tales in the first half of the collection are fabliaux. (12) Barbara Nolan has recently applied her sense of Chaucer's orchestration of The Canterbury Tales as a miscellany containing all medieval genres (romance, fabliau, saint's life, parody, beast fable, Breton lay, sermon) to her study of manuscripts containing French fabliaux. Not primarily concerned with definition of genre nor the establishment of intended audience, she settles on matters codicological. Nolan emphasizes that manuscript compilations that contain fabliaux are miscellanies much like Chaucer's wherein "The fissures, the tensions, the conflicts between scriptural history or saint's lives or religious allegories or courtly lais or chronicles of kings on one hand and fabliau-farce on the other lie open to laughter." (13) Thus, she applies Chaucerian intertextuality to anthologies containing fabliaux and insinuates a question--is it possible that Chaucer "knew and aimed to mimic ... what he found in one or several manuscripts" of the sort she discusses? (14)

There is, as far as I know, no extensive examination of Boccaccio's knowledge of French fabliaux. If a general statement of Charles Muscatine's is correct, Boccaccio was likely to be well acquainted with them:
 in a large sense ... twelfth-century French (with Provencal) was the
 seminal vernacular literature of the high Middle Ages. It is behind
 Dante and Petrarch, Boccaccio and Machaut, the dolce stil Nuovo,
 Minnesang, and English and German romance. (15)

Moreover, though Boccaccio was born in a small village (Certaldo?) outside of Florence in 1313, his education really took place in the learned courtly atmosphere of the Angevin kingdom of Naples to which the family moved in 1327, making his acquaintance with the fabliaux even more likely. As the son of a wealthy Florentine banker, Boccaccio would have found the doors of Neapolitan society open to him--not just those of wealthy, cultured Florentine emigres, but those of the Angevin court as well. The most telling evidence of the influence of the French fabliaux on Boccaccio is the prominence of plot in the narratives of the Decameron; "le recit," according to Bedier, is the essence of French fabliaux. (16) Nearly one third of the one hundred tales which make up the Decameron are comic and could be thought of as fabliaux. The fact that both Chaucer and Boccaccio probably listened to court readings of fabliaux and also read them for themselves does not eliminate the possibility of direct relationships between their English and Italian comic tales. On the contrary, the coincidence of their tastes in comedy would naturally lead Chaucer, who wrote his Canterbury Tales in the late fourteenth century, to seek out the comic masterwork of the early fourteenth-century Italian author.

While there is general agreement that Chaucer used Boccaccio's Teseida from which he actually summarized more than 1,000 lines in 139 lines of the romance told by the Knight, there has been considerable doubt until recently as to whether or not Chaucer even knew of the Decameron. Apart from the Knight's Tale, Chaucer also drew on the Teseida for such works as the Parliament of Foules, Troilus and Criseyde, the House of Fame, and the Legend of Good Women. Robert Pratt's assessment is still accurate:
 ... of all Italian writings, except Dante's Commedia, the Teseida
 served Chaucer the most widely. It formed the basic material out of
 which he created The Knight's Tale, and was the source of passages
 in Anelida and Arcite, The Parliament of Fowls, Troilus and
 Criseyde, The Legend of Good Women, The Franklin's Tale and possibly
 The House of Fame. (17)

Piero Boitani, whose Chaucer and Boccaccio is the most elegant and detailed comparison of Chaucer's Knight's Tale and Boccaccio's Teseida, concludes that
 The Teseida works on the 'remembraunce' of the English poet at the
 deepest level, that of the formulation of thoughts and images into
 words. Besides the recurrence of single words and more general
 echoes, the actual number of translations and suggestions proves
 this. (18)

Despite Boitani's use of the word remembraunce, he assumes that Chaucer acquired a manuscript of the Teseida "in Italy in 1373" during his first trip there or "in England either before or after 1373" from merchants or friars. (19) Thus Boitani understands the Teseida to be a direct source since he assumes that Chaucer had access to a manuscript. (20)

Boccaccio's Decameron, composed about forty years before Chaucer began writing the Canterbury Tales, contains analogues to approximately one fourth of Chaucer's tales. Scholarship has long been inclined, nonetheless, to discount the influence of the Decameron on The Canterbury Tales, partly because there are also analogues elsewhere, some of them closer. (21) Establishing sources, analogues, even "influences" is problematic for, as Helen Cooper observes of Chaucer,
 he will have worked with a copytext when producing a translation,
 but he clearly also had an exceptional memory for words--for
 phrases, cadences, maxims, and stories. This in turn raises a
 further problem, because of the frequency with which medieval works,
 and especialty moral and didactic ones, repeat the same adages and
 use the same examples. It is often difficult to be sure from which
 of various works Chaucer might have derived an idea.... (22)

Still, there is an impressive enough number of parallels between the two masterly fourteenth-century tale collections to suggest that the Decameron is at least as much an influence on Chaucer as other works by Boccaccio that are acknowledged sources (i.e., the Teseida, the Filocolo, the Ameto). It is well known that both Chaucer and Boccaccio apologize for their more churlish tales by making disingenuous appeals to the need for realism. In the "Prologue" to the Miller's Tale, Chaucer defends himself:
 ... I moot reherce
 Hir tales alle, be they better or werse,
 Or elles falsen som of my mateere. (3173-75) (23)

He further pleads, "Blameth nat me if that ye chese amys. / The Millere is a cherl; ye knowe wel this" (3181-82). Similarly, writing in the "Conclusion" to the Decameron to defend himself against the charge that he "nello scriver queste novelle troppa licenzia usata, si come in fare alcuna volta dire alle donne e molto spesso ascoltare, cose non assai convenienti ne a dire ne ad ascoltare," (24) Boccaccio says: "... se alcuna cosa in alcuna n'e, la qualita delle novelle / l'hanno richesta ..." (1255). (25) There are also clear parallels between two of Chaucer's more sober tales--the pious Clerk's Tale and the Franklin's Tale--and the Decameron: Chaucer's capricious Walter is closer to Boccaccio's cruel husband (in Decameron 10, 10) than Petrarch's (in his Latin version of the tale), and the final question about which of the characters is most generous is left unanswered in both the Franklin's Tale and Decameron 10, 5, a variant of a story also told in Boccaccio's Filocolo, generally regarded to be Chaucer's direct source. (26) Among Chaucer's comic tales, his Shipman's Tale and Decameron 8, 1 and the Merchant's Tale and Decameron 7, 9 are strong analogues. For more than seventy years it was assumed that the source of the Shipman's Tale was a lost French fabliau. (27) The thesis of my 1990 article on the relationship of Chaucer's Shipman's Tale to Boccaccio's Decameron 8, 1 was cautious, "I propose merely that by studying Chaucer's handling of the story by Boccaccio we may form a very good idea of the direction in which he modified the received French fabliau (if there was one). Surely the prominence of the plot of Decameron, 8, 1, coupled with the sense the tale leaves the reader with, that it is one where the characters are barely there at all, lead one to suspect that the supposed lost French fabliau probably resembles Boccaccio's tale very much." (28) More recently, Peter Beidler has called Decameron 8, 1 a "hard analogue," but hesitates to use the term "source." (29) In the case of the Merchant's Tale, Decameron 7, 9 is one analogue among many others. I am convinced that the ninth tale told on the seventh day of the Decameron and the Merchant's Tale are both indebted to the twelfth-century Latin comedy written in France--Comedia Lidie, a common source. (30) There are, however, motifs shared by Boccaccio's and Chaucer's tales not found in other analogues that indicate Chaucer's knowledge of Decameron 7, 9 as well. (31)

What can be said about the relationship of Chaucer's Miller's Tale and Reeve's Tale to the Decameron? They are, after all, the two fabliaux most familiar to and beloved by Chaucer's readers, specialist and general reader alike. Only the "Prologue" to the Wife of Bath's Tale exceeds them in popularity. They are also the first fabliaux a reader of The Canterbury Tales encounters. These considerations together with the fact that Chaucer wrote most of the extant medieval English fabliaux--a very small corpus, indeed--make the question a natural one to raise.

The essential plot of the Reeve's Tale is found in five analogues that are earlier than Chaucer's tale: the French Le Meunier et les II clers and De Gombert et des II clers, the German Das Studentenabenteur and Irregang und Girregar, and the Italian Decameron 9, 6. (32) In each of the analogues, as in Chaucer's tale, two young men find lodging in the home of another man who has a beautiful wife, a young daughter, and an infant. At night one young man slips into bed with the daughter, and shortly thereafter, the other moves the infant's cradle from the wife's bed and places it near his. The result of the transfer of the cradle is that the wife goes to the bed of the second young man when she returns to bed after getting up for a moment in the middle of the night. The wife thinks it is her husband's bed and the young man is quick to take advantage of her mistake. Also confused by the misplaced cradle is the first young man who decides to return to his own bed but instead beds down with the daughter's father to whom he brags about his sexual exploits, having mistaken him for his young companion. A fight breaks out between the father and young man. The next morning the young men depart leaving the father badly beaten or deluded in thinking nothing really happened between his daughter and the young lodger. Except for minor details, the story line in all six versions is close. The thirteenth-century French fabliau, Le Meunier et les II clers, is generally agreed, however, to be the closest analogue to the Reeve's Tale. (33) As in Chaucer's tale, the two clerks in the French fabliau take wheat to be ground at a mill where the miller steals their horse and wheat. While the young men in all versions are clerks or scholars, the theft of wheat and horse (or setting horses free) occurs only in the Reeve's Tale and Le Meunier. (34) Thus the French fabliau and Chaucer's tale are clearly related.

But there is also a unique parallel between Decameron 9, 6 and the Reeve's Tale that deserves to be considered as important as that of the parallel thefts in Le Meunier and Chaucer's fabliau: the moment when the wife, who has gotten up in the night, is about to re-enter the bed where her husband is sleeping but then catches herself in what she thinks is a mistake and speaks out loud about almost jumping into bed with a guest. Then she, of course, does just that. The moment when the wife notices that there is no cradle by the bed is handled by Chaucer in a way so close to Boccaccio's as to suggest paraphrase. Boccaccio writes:
 La donna, avendo cerco e trovato che quello che caduto era non
 era tal cosa, non si curb d'altramenti accender lume per vederlo,
 ma, garrito alla gatta, nella cameretta se ne torno, e a tentone
 diritamente al letto dove il marito dormiva se n'ando; ma, non
 trovandovi la culla, disse seco stessa: "Oime, cattiva me, vedi
 quel che io faceva! in fe di Dio, che io me n'andava dirittamente
 nel letto degli osti miei"; e, fattasi un poco piu avanti e
 trovando la culla, in quello letto al quale ella era allato,
 insieme con Adriano si corico, credendosi col marito coricare.

Chaucer reworks this passage and even retains the direct discourse of the wife:
 ... the wyf hir rowtyng leet,
 And gan awake, and wente hire out to pisse,
 And cam again, and gan hir cradle mysse,
 And groped heer and ther, but she foond noon.
 "Allas!" quod she, "I hadde almost mysgoon;
 I hadde almost goon to the clerkes bed.
 Ey, benedicite! Thanne hadde I foule ysped!"
 And forth she gooth til she the cradle fond.
 She gropeth alwey forther with hir hond,
 And foond the bed, and thoghte noght but good,
 By cause that the cradle by it stood. (4214-24)

In both passages the homely reason for getting up in the night enhances the domestic atmosphere of the comic tales. Chaucer's wife needs to relieve herself and Boccaccio's gets up to investigate a disturbance that is caused by a cat. (35) The direct discourse of both passages includes religions oaths ("benedicite" in Chaucer; "in fe di Dio" in Boccaccio) and explicit statements about almost getting into bed with the lodger by mistake ("I hadde almost mysgoon; / I hadde almost goon to the clerkes bed"; "vedi quell che io faceva ... che io me n'andava dirittamente nel letto degli osti miei!"). And finally both passages describe the wife as fumbling in the dark for the infant's cradle ("She gropeth alwey forther with hir hond, / And foond the bed"; "E fattasi un poco piu avanti e trovata la culla"). The paraphrase at points is so close as to be almost translation, suggesting that Chaucer was not merely depending on recollection of a tale read on an early trip to Italy but actually had a copy of Decameron 9, 6.

Another point of contact between Chaucer's and Boccaccio's telling of the story that has, as far as I know, gone unnoticed is that in both their tales the daughter's favors do not have to be won with a ring. In the Reeve's Tale, Aleyn simply goes to Malyne's bed and is received, and likewise in Decameron 9, 6, Pinuccio went to Niccolosa's bed and was accepted, even gladly ("lietamente," 1076). In Le Meuniere et les II clers, however, a clerk has to go to a bin where the daughter is kept at night and bribe her with a ring--albeit one snatched from the hearth and iron--before they make love. While the connections between the French fabliau and the Reeve's Tale are close, those between Chaucer's tale and Boccaccio's seem equally so.

That said, the approaches taken by Boccaccio and Chaucer to telling the story are very different. Revenge is no issue in Boccaccio. There is no wheat to steal from young clerks who go to a mill, because in the Italian tale, the horses are carrying not wheat but a couple of insignificant saddlebags stuffed with straw. Furthermore, the motivation for travel is not to wheat into flour but for Pinuccio to spend the night with the host's young daughter with whom he has already fallen in love. It's as if Boccaccio knows Le Meunier et les II clers and has purposely decided to toss out the whole business of the wheat. Let it be worthless straw! Also, the journey of the two young men is mere pretense: they have circled the city of Florence with their horses but tell the host that they are returning from Romagna and need lodging because it is too late to reach Florence. As soon as everyone is in bed, Pinuccio goes to the bed of Niccolosa. Adriano is not envious of his friend's lovemaking; he has, in fact, gone to a lot of trouble to help Pinuccio win his goal. Adriano gets to make love to the wife because he thoughtlessly pushed the cradle out of his way when going to relieve himself. The happy lovemaking was not the result of premeditation. In Chaucer's account, John gets jealous of Aleyn who has bedded down with the miller's daughter, and so moves the cradle on purpose so as to confuse the mother who is tricked into John's bed by his clever maneuver. There are mean spirits all around in Chaucer: Aleyn goes to bed with Malyne to get revenge for the stolen wheat and John ensnares the miller's wife because his friend has someone in bed with him and he doesn't. In Boccaccio, on the other hand, one friend helps get another friend into bed with his beloved and, quite by accident, the beloved's mother ends up in bed with the helpful young man. Instead of the violent beatings at the end of the Reeve's Tale, in Boccaccio's novella "un subito avvedimento d'una buona donna avere un grande scandalo tolto via" (1073). When the wife hears her husband quarreling with the young man who bragged about sleeping with their daughter, she gets out of Adriano's bed, gets into her daughter's, and convinces her husband that she has been there all night and that Pinuccio is a talkative, foolish, sleepwalker. Boccaccio's version is a softer, funnier story--terse, witty, and swift to get to the playful denouement.

Chaucer begins his tale with a focus on the miller and his family, not the clerks, the point at which Boccaccio starts, and the result is the introduction of social issues that are absent from the Italian version. The miller and his wife are caught up in the social stratification of the town and Chaucer so portrays their characters that the reader senses immediately that pride will have its fall. Symkyn the miller is snobby, his "highborn" wife is the daughter of the village priest, and because they want their daughter to marry high on the social ladder, poor Malyne is twenty and still unmarried. It is Symnkyn's pride that tempts him to cheat the two Cambridge clerks who carefully guard their wheat while it is being milled. He is the type of the tradesman who thinks he can outsmart the university boys. Ranged above the portraits in the tale are the interactions between the pilgrims (Reeve versus Miller) and genres (fabliaux versus romance) of Fragment I of The Canterbury Tales; these further enlarge the combative tone of the English version of the story. Growing out of the Reeve's determination to "quite" the Miller, his tale is an altogether more angry, nasty one than Boccaccio's. Boccaccio's version is about lust; Chaucer's, about anger, and the difference affects the storyteller's attitude toward his characters. In Boccaccio, the wife is described as a very beautiful woman ("assai bella femina," 1074) and her daughter is also beautiful, but graceful and young as well--15 or 16 years old ("una giovanetta bella e leggiadra, d'eta di quindici o di sedici anni"), while in Chaucer the wife is put down as having as much dignity as ditch water (she "was as digne as water in a dich," 3964) and the daughter is said to be both overweight--a "wenche thikke" (3973)--and over the hill ("twenty yeer," 3970).

The relationship between the Miller's Tale and its analogues is different from that between the Reeve's Tale and its nearest relatives, Le Meunier et les II clers and (I would argue) Decameron 9, 6. No one analogue contains the complete plot of the Miller's Tale. Traditionally scholarship has discussed Chaucer's tale and its various analogues in terms of three motifs--the predicted flood, the misplaced kiss, and the hot poker--found separately or in some combination in the analogues. All three elements are found in a fourteenth-century Flemish fabliau, Dits van Heilen van Beersele, and their presence Stith Thompson believed strengthened "the argument for a lost French fabliau" being Chaucer's direct source. (36) There are two Italian novelle, one from the fifteenth century, the other from the sixteenth, the earlier of which contains both the misplaced kiss and poker motifs and the later, only the flood prediction. Both novelle are too late, however, for Chaucer to have known, though oral transmission or lost, earlier versions are always a possibility (along with lost French fabliaux). Also late is the fifteenth-century tale by Hans Folz that includes only the misplaced kiss. (37) Unlike Stith Thompson or Benson and Andersson, Helen Cooper also cites Decameron 3, 4 as an analogue. Since, however, Cooper uses the traditional system of plot motifs, she designates it a "remote" one. (38) Considering how little like the Miller's Tale the closer analogues are, it may be that plot motifs are not the most significant elements connecting Chaucer to his analogues or sources.

Even a casual reading of Decameron 3, 4 reveals that Chaucer picked up important cues from Boccaccio that helped him shape the scene of the lover's arrangements for the tryst in the Miller's Tale. Chaucer's approach to the scene simultaneously displays the ingenuity of the would-be lover, the gullibility of the husband, and the happy complicity of the wife-just as in Boccaccio. Chaucer's use of cues taken from Boccaccio and the variations he worked on them are at least as significant as the borrowing of one or another plot motif. In both Decameron 3, 4 and the Miller's Tale men who are as religious as they are gullible are shown the way to salvation by learned scholars who hatch outlandish schemes in order to be alone to fornicate with the young wives of the trusting men. Both schemes take advantage of the husbands' piety. In the Miller's Tale, Chaucer begins to emphasize the simple religious faith of John, Alisoun's husband, at the very point where Nicholas, the Oxford scholar who lodges in carpenter John's house, starts to put his scheme into action. This emphasis helps make credible John's acceptance of Nicholas's prediction of the coming second flood and his willingness to follow the scholar's advice about how to prepare for it. The carpenter swears "by Seint Thomas" (3425); invokes God (3427); prays, "Help us, Seint Frydeswyde!" (3449); makes an observation about the limitations of human reason ("Men sholde nat knowe of Goddes pryvetee," 3454); praises the common man whose only knowledge is his faith ("Ye, blessed be alwey a lewed man / That noght but oonly his bileve kan!" 3455-56); invokes "Seint Thomas" a second time (3461); takes an oath "by Jhesus, hevene kyng!" (3464); urges the apparently entranced Nicholas to "thenk on Christes passioun!" (3478); says a prayer--"Jhesu Crist and Seinte Benedight, / Blesse this hous from every wikked wight, / For nyghtes verye, the white pater-noster!" (3483-85); urges the clerk to "Thynk on God" (3491) as working men do. All this Chaucer piles on before Nicholas begins to tell the husband what to do to prepare for the coming flood, assuring him that it is "Cristes conseil that I seye" (3504).

Similarly, Boccaccio at the outset of Decameron 3, 4 establishes the husband as a man of piety. Puccio di Rinieri was a spiritual person ("tutto dato allo spirito," 361) who joined the Third Order of St. Francis and became Brother Puccio ("si fece bizzoco di quegli di san Francesco, e fu chimato frate Puccio," 361). Boccacdo even suggests that limited intelligence caused Puccio to become a religious fanatic:
 E per cio che uomo idiota era e di grossa pasta, diceva suoi
 paternostri, andava alle prediche, stava alle messe, ne mai falliva
 che alle laude che cantavano i secolari esso non fosse, e digiunava
 e disciplinavasi, e bucinavasi che egli era degli scopatori. (361)

Just three paragraphs later, Boccaccio has the monk give Puccio bizarre instructions about what he needs to do to achieve sainthood (and to clear the monk's path to the paradise of the wife's bedroom).

The monk's instructions in Decameron 3, 4 and Nicholas's counsel are equally outrageous. The monk tells Puccio about a special form of penance that requires forty consecutive days of fasting, sexual abstinence, and, most importantly, the recitation of prayers said with arms outstretched and eyes fixed on the sky. The prayers are to be said from Compline to Matins. Puccio is further instructed that while he is free thereafter to sleep, he must find the time to attend three masses, remain in church until Vespers and then at Compline to return again to the room in his house where he prays, gazing at the sky, and start the cycle of penitential ritual all over again. Puccio's skywatching Compline prayers go on nightly for forty days while, in the next room, his wife and the monk eat, drink, and make love together. One night their actions cause the floor to shake so hard that the husband calls out from prayers in the next room to inquire what is happening. The quick-witted wife informs him that fasting is causing her to toss about in bed. Her gullible husband believes her and continues his Paternosters; the lovers continue their pleasures undisturbed, the wife triumphantly saying to her lover: "Tu fai fare la penitenza a frate Puccio, per la quale noi abbiamo guadagnato il paradiso" (367).

Nicholas, the clerk in the Miller's Tale, offers to teach John to "saven hire [Alisoun, the wife] and thee and me" (3533). He gets to sleep with the carpenter's wife by convincing him that to escape a calamitous flood, which he predicts is coming, John must hoist three wooden tubs to the rafters, one each for the wife, the clerk, and himself. Like Boccacdo's monk, the clerk urges the husband's abstinence: "Thy wyf and thou moote hange fer atweynne / For that bitwixe yow shal be no synne" (3589-90). All three climb to the rafters, get into their tubs, but the wife and clerk retreat to the bedroom as soon as John falls asleep. Before he does, however, he prays the Paternoster like Boccaccio's Brother Puccio:
 Now, Pater-noster, clom! seyde Nicholay,
 And "Clom!" quod John, and "Clom!" seyde Alisoun.
 This carpenter seyde his devocioun,
 And stille he sit, and biddeth preyere. (3638-41)

Compared to the Flemish, German, and Italian analogues cited by Stith Thompson and Benson and Andersson, Decameron 3, 4 may be distant, yet the spirit, style, and shape of the episodes that get the husband out of the way of the wife and lover are similar enough to suggest that we have here an instance of memorial borrowing. Chaucer probably read the tale, remembered it, and produced something close to it when he set up the tryst in the Miller's Tale. In his critical commentary to the variorum edition of the Miller's Tale, Thomas Ross cites an observation made by Chaucer's eighteenth-century editor, Thomas Tyrwhitt, apropos of Chaucer's handling of sources and analogues in the comic tales: "he is generally satisfied with borrowing a slight hint of his subject, which he varies, enlarges, and embellishes at pleasure, and gives the whole the air and colour of an original." (39) This statement certainly seems to apply to Chaucer's handling of the tryst-plotting episode in Decameron 3, 4 discussed above.

The comic novellas of Boccaccio's Decameron along with French (sometimes Flemish) fabliaux provided Chaucer with material that he could rework and reimagine in his own comic tales. The fact that Chaucer wrote verse narratives like the French composers of fabliaux, not novellas in prose like Boccaccio, did not keep Chaucer from borrowing as much from one body of narrative as the other. If we can speak of prose romances, we can probably consider a new term for Chaucer's comic tales: metrical novellas.



(1) Among the best studies of Chancer and French fabliaux are the relevant chapters in Charles Muscatine's Chaucer and the French Tradition (Berkeley: U of California P, 1957); Thomas D. Cooke, Old French and Chaucerian Fabliaux: A Study in Their Comic Climax (Columbia: U of Missouri P, 1978); and John Hines, The Fabliaux in English (London: Longman, 1993). Also generally useful is Larry Benson and Theodore Andersson, Literary Contexts of Chaucer's Fabliaux: Texts and Translations (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1971). Among early examinations of links between The Canterbury Tales and The Decameron is an unpublished dissertation that examines possible connections, broadly considered (Richard Guerin, "The Canterbury Tales and II Decamerone," Unpub. University of Colorado diss., 1966), and a reconsideration of the issue (Donald McGrady, "Chaucer and the Decameron Reconsidered," The Chaucer Review 12 [1977]: 1-26). A few scholars have addressed some comic tales specifically. An early article by Peter Beidler discussed a medical thread that appears to tie Chaucer's Merchant's Tale to the Decameron ("Chaucer's Merchant's Tale and the Decameron," Italica 50 [1973]: 275) and in two independent articles Boccaccio's Decameron 8, 1 has been discussed as an analogue to Chancer's Shipman's Tale, both articles stopping short of the claim that the Italian prose tale is Chaucer's source (Richard Guerin, "The Shipman's Tale: The Italian Analogues," English Studies 52 [1971]: 412-19; Carol F. Heffernan, "Chaucer's Shipman's Tale and Boccaccio's Decameron VIII, I: Retelling a Story," Courtly Literature: Culture and Context, ed. Keith Busby and Erik Kooper [Philadelphia: John Benjamin, 1990] 261-70). Two recent studies indicate a renewal of interest in Chancer's knowledge of Boccaccio, though neither focuses specifically on the fabliaux. There is a collection of essays edited by Leonard Michael Koff and Brenda Deen Schildgen, The Decameron and The Canterbury Tales: New Essays on An Old Question (Madison: Farleigh Dickinson UP, 2000) and N. S. Thompson's Chaucer and Boccaccio and the Debate of Love: A Comparative Study of the Decameron and The Canterbury Tales (Oxford: Clarendon, 1996).

(2) Joseph Bedier, Les Fabliaux (Paris: Champion, 1893).

(3) Eds. A. de Montaiglon and G. Raynaud, Recueil general et complet des fabliaux des [xiii.sup.e] et xiv siecles, imprimes ou inedits, publies avec notes et variants d'apres les manuscripts, 6 vols. (Paris: Libraire des Bibliophiles, 1872-90).

(4) Willem Noomen and Nico van den Boogaard, eds., Nouveau Recueil complet des fabliaux, 10 vols. (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1983-98).

(5) A comic exchange in Les Deux Bordeors ribauz shows that the jongleur's abilities extended to a variety of literary forms: fabliaux as well as romance, epic, and lyric: "Ge sai contes, ge sai flabeax; / Ge sai conter beax diz noveax, / Rotruenges viez et noveles, / Et sirventois et pastoreles. / Ge sai le flabel du Denier, / Et du Fouteor a loier, / Et de Gobert et dame Erme, / Qui ainz des eiz ne plora lerme, / Et si sai de la Coille noire; / Si sai de Parceval l'estoire, / Et si sai du Provoire taint / Qui o les crucefiz fu painz; / Du Prestre qui menja les muires / Quant il devoit dire ses heures; / Si sai Richait, si sai Renart ... / De Charlemaine et de Roulant / Et d'Olivier le combatant." [I know stories, I know fabliaux. I can tell fine new tales, rotrouenges old and new, and sirventois and pastourelles. I know the story of the Penny (not a fabliau), and of the Fucker for hire, and Gombert, and about Dame Erme who never shed a tear, and about Black Balls. I know the story of Percival, and the dyed Priest who was painted along with the crucifixes, and the Priest who are mulberries when he was supposed to be saying his hours. I know about Richeut and Renart ... Charlemagne and Roland and Olivier the fighter.] Cited and translated by Charles Muscatine in The Old French Fabliaux (New Haven: Yale UP, 1986) 6.

(6) Per Nykrog, Les Fabliaux (Copenhagen, 1957; Geneva: Droz, 1973) 46.

(7) Muscatine, Old French Fabliaux 7.

(8) Ibid. 14.

(9) In a recent article, I have demonstrated that one such Latin comic tale--the twelfth-century Comedia Lidie--is a common source of both Boccaccio's Decameron 7, 9 and Chaucer's Merchant's Tale ("Three Unnoticed Links between Matthew of Vendome's Comedia Lidie and Chaucer's Merchant's Tale," Notes and Queries 50 [new series] 2 [June 2003]: 158-62). Janet L. Smarr attempts to link Chaucer and Boccaccio with reference to the Comedia Lidie in "Mercury in the Garden: Mythographical Methods in the Merchant's Tale and Decameron 7.9," The Mythographic Art: Classical Fable and the Rise of the Vernacular in Early France and England, ed. Jane Chance (Gainesville: U of Florida P, 1990) 209.

(10) D. S. Brewer, "The Fabliaux," Companion to Chaucer Studies, ed. Beryl Rowland (New York: Oxford UP, 1968) 247.

(11) Muscatine, Chaucer and the French Tradition (Berkeley: U of California P, 1957) and Per Nykrog, Les Fabliaux (Copenhagen: Ejnar Munksgaard, 1957).

(12) Thomas D. Cook emphasizes the position of the fabliaux in The Old French and Chaucerian Fabliaux: A Study of Their Comic Climax (Columbia: U of Missouri P, 1978) 170-71.

(13) Barbara Nolan, "Turning over the Leaves of Medieval Fablian-Anthologies: The Case of Bibliotheque Nationale MS. francais 2173," Medieval Perspectives 13 (1998): 11.

(14) Nolan 9. This interesting structural question is one she clearly intends to explore further in future articles.

(15) Muscatine, Chaucer and the French Tradition 6. In a recent article, Luciano Rossi argues that scholarship on Boccaccio's debt to medieval French literature is littered with hall truths because the matter is so complex: "Quando pero ci si chieda cosa sia in realta un fablel, la risposta non e semplice, perche lo stesso termine tecnico antico-francese ha subito ... un importante evoluzione" ("In Luogo di Sollazzo: i fabliaux del Decameron," Leggiadre donne: novella e racconto breve in Italia, ed. Francesco Bruni [Venezia: Marsilio, 2000] 14).

(16) Bedier 6.

(17) Robert Pratt, "Chaucer's Use of the Teseida," PMLA 72 (1947): 598.

(18) Piero Boitani, Chaucer and Boccaccio, Medium AEvum Monographs, New Series 8 (Oxford: Society for the Study of Mediaeval Languages and Literature, 1977) 105.

(19) Boitani 72.

(20) Mary Hamel and Robert R. Edwards respectively offer useful statements about what a source is in Sources and Analogues of the Canterbury Tales, ed. Robert M. Correale and Mary Hamel (Cambridge, UK: D. S. Brewer, 2002) 269 and 214.

(21) The conclusion of Hubertis M. Cummings in The Indebtedness of Chaucer's Works to the Italian Works of Boccaccio (University of Cincinnati Studies 10, part 2 [Cincinnati: U of Cincinnati P, 1916]) was echoed in scholarship for more than fifty years; that is, that the Decameron did not influence Chaucer "in the inception, or in the composition of either the frame-work of The Canterbury Tales or the Tales themselves" (198). In 1941, Robert Pratt and Karl Young concur that "Chaucer does not mention the Decameron, he borrows no stories directly from it, and no copy or translation of it can be traced in England during the period of his life" (Sources and Analogues, ed. W. F. Bryan and Germaine Dempster [Chicago: U of Chicago P] 20). Tatlock, by 1950, however, is unwilling to consider the matter closed: "In view of his taste for reading and inexhaustible curiosity, it is incredible that he had not heard of the Decameron, and indeed seen it" (John S. P. Tatlock, The Mind and Art of Chaucer [Syracuse: U of Syracuse P, 1950] 90).

(22) Helen Cooper, The Canterbury Tales, Oxford Guides to Chaucer, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford UP, 1996) 11.

(23) Chaucer's text is cited from The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry Benson, 3rd ed. (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1987). All future Chaucer quotations come from this edition.

(24) I quote from Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameron, ed. Vittore Branca (Torino: Einaudi, 1991) 1254. All future references to the Decameron are made to this text. For an English translation of the Decameron, see Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron, transl. Mark Musa and Peter Bondanella (New York: Norton, 1982).

(25) With respect to the question of comic realism, see also Boccaccio's Proem and Introduction to the Fourth Day as well as Chaucer's Generul Prologue (I. 731-33).

(26) John Finlayson has recently made the argument for considering Decameron 10, 10 a source of the Clerk's Tale ("Petrarch, Boccaccio, and Chaucer's Clerk's Tale," Studies in Philology 97 (2000): 255-75). Also, as scholars become more ready to accept Boccaccio's Decameron as a text with which Chaucer was familiar, Decameron 10, 5 may be seen to have as much claim as the Filocolo as a source for the Franklin's Tale. See, however, Robert Edwards who prefers the claims of the Filocolo ("The Franklin's Tale," Correale and Hamel 214).

(27) Such was the influence of a statement by John Spargo in Chaucer's Shipman's Tale: The Lover's Gift Regained (Helsinki, 1930) 56: "there is no a priori reason why the Shipman's Tale should not have been taken over almost verbatim from an Old French fabliau."

(28) Heffernan, "Chaucer's Shipman's Tale and Boccaccio" 262.

(29) Peter Beidler, "Just Say Yes, Chaucer Knew the Decameron: Or, Bringing the Shipman's Tale Out of Limbo," The Decameron and the Canterbury Tales, ed. Koff and Schildgen 25-46.

(30) Heffernan, "Three Unnoticed Links" 158-59.

(31) See Beidler, "Chaucer's Merchant's Tale and the Decameron" 266-84.

(32) Texts and translations of these works (except for Boccaccio's novella) appear in Benson and Andersson (88-193). W. M. Hart's "The Reeve's Tale" in Bryan and Dempster provides only Le Meunier (untranslated; 126-47). Peter Beidler's "The Reeve's Tale" in Correale and Hamel includes texts and translations of Le Meunier, Decameron 9, 6, and a Flemish version of De Gombert (28-73).

(33) Peter Beidler, "The Reeve's Tale" in Correale and Hamel 24; Benson and Andersson 100; W. M. Hart, "The Reeve's Tale," in Bryan and Dempster 124.

(34) In Boccaccio's tale the two young men are only identified as being from Florence. They could be scholars, but might just as likely be bourgeois men about town.

(35) In Boccaccio's tale, Adriano, Pinuccio's friend, gets up to relieve himself. His casually moving the cradle out of his way later happens to confuse the wife who, to his surprise, accidentally goes to his bed. Adriano's reason for getting up may have given Chaucer the idea of the miller's wife going out "to pisse" (4215).

(36) Stith Thompson, The Miller's Tale, in Bryan and Dempster 106.

(37) These analogues appear in Benson and Andersson (26-38 and 46-60) and Bryan and Dempster (106-23).

(38) Cooper 96.

(39) Thomas Tyrwhitt, The Canterbury Tales (1798) 87; cited by Thomas W. Ross, ed., The Miller's Tale, Variorum Edition of the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, II, 3 (Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1983) 4.
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Date:Sep 22, 2004
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