As we have seen, Reynard the Fox is a literary work which, despite its dating back a very long way, will not only inspire other authors, but also prove central to Western jurisprudence. His judgment is a masterpiece. As a lawyer, Reynard doesn’t meet his match until Barry C. Scheck (born 19 September 1949), one of the lawyers, the dream team, who managed to save O. J. Simpson from a lengthy stay in prison. In Molière’s Tartuffe (1664-1669), Tartuffe is a pious individual who knows how to take sinfulness away from sin, in which he is very precious to a pater familias, or heavy father, Orgon, who wants to be a tyrant. Dom Juan (1665) also turns into a faux-dévot. Both Tartuffe and Dom Juan use the same ruse: they fake devotion.
However, we have not mentioned folklore. Folklore is an oral rather than written
tradition. Many tales have been handed down by storytellers and there are times when one doesn’t know where to draw the line between the oral and the written traditions. The Ysengrimus (c. 1150) and Reynard the Fox are literary works. But Reynard the Fox incorporates tales that have been handed down by word of mouth: tales of ruse and cleverness.
Reynard is a rascal, but he rates very high on the EQ scale (emotional intelligence). In fact, in his role as Columbo, Peter Falk resembled Reynard. He knew how to trap his suspect, except that he never caused a wolf to be flayed and survive his injuries. This happens in comics only.
So, some of the content of Reynard the Fox is material that has belonged and sometimes returns to an oral tradition. Moreover, Reynard the Fox contains motifs that recur. In the Mi’kMaq Glooscap, we find a rabbit who loses his tail, which explains why rabbits have short tails. Such tales are called pourquoi (why) tales. Besides the severed tail motif recurs in the Roman de Renart itself, during the siege of Maupertuis. In A. A. Milne’s (author) and Ernest H. Shepard’s (illustrations) Winnie-the-Pooh, Eyeore loses his tale, but gets it back.
Classification of Folktales
Anti Aarne and Stith Thompson [i] have collected folktales from around the world and made a répertoire of elements such recurring motifs. It was quite the undertaking, but we have a repertoire of motifs and related elements. Other scholars have found the narreme, the small unit of a narrative. And still others have focused on archetypes, such as the stock characters of the commedia dell’arte: il dottore, the braggart soldier, or soldat fanfaron, clever domestics, zanni, etc. But as Stith Thompson, “the scholar runs the risk of too subtle analysis.” (p. 7)
Animals as Superior to Humans
Having reflected on folklore, motifs, narremes, archetypes, etc. I would also like to emphasize that, in animal tales, animals are not only humans in disguise but also superior to humans. Noble is King and Renart a connestable, an important officer, the origine for the word constable. As for the people (vilains), they are mere peasants. It is therefore a topsy-turvy world, or, as Jill Mann notes, a “world-upside-down.”[ii] However, what is particularly ironic in Reynard the Fox is that he “talks” himself away from the gallows. Letting animals talk is just fine, but Reynard’s barat is eloquence and persuasive. The King’s wife, Fière (proud), actually believes that Reynard is remorseful.
The Siege of Maupertuis and the Continuing Judgement
Yes, having returned to Maupertuis, instead of leaving for the Crusades, Maupertuis, Reynard’s castle and fortress is besieged by the animals he has fooled. Reynard is once again about to be executed when he decides to put on the mask of a devout individual. Fière, the lion’s wife, is again deceived and Reynard remains at Maupertuis.
- Caxton’s translation of a Flemish the History of Reynard the Fox is online
- Le Roman de Renart, Wikisource
[i] Stith Thompson, The Folktale (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1977 ), p. 7.
[ii] Jill Mann, “The Satiric Fiction of the Ysengrimus ” in Kenneth Varty, editor, Reynard the Fox, Social Engagement and Cultural Metamorphoses in the Beast Epic from the Middle Ages to the Present (New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2000), p. 11.