Fabliau (Fabliaux) are brief comic tales in verse that were popular in France in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. These parodies about ordinary people, usually of the lower or middle class, were set in everyday places.
The plots of these short tales were often satirical or bawdy. They frequently centered on the cleverness (and sexual enthusiasm) of the hero or heroine and the gullibility of the victim. A fabliau might have a social edge, pointing at members of the clergy or institutions such as marriage.
Marie de France’s “A Woman and Her Paramour” of the early twelfth century and Boccaccio’s mid-fourteenth-century Decameron are prime examples of fabliaux. Several of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, such as “The Reeve’s Tale,” drew from this genre.
The high age of the fabliau ended in the fourteenth century. Its popularity was already waning by the time Chaucer used the form at the end of that century. These bawdy tales are rarely used today.