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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).>br>Volume I. From the Beginnings to the Cycles of Romance.

XVII. Later Transition English

§ 6. The Fox and the Wolf

There is, unfortunately, very little of the famous satirical beast epic Reynard the Fox that can be claimed for England. Some of the animals were known to Odo of Cheriton, the fabulist, who makes use of stories of Reynard to point the moral of his sermons; and a short fabliau of about the same period as those above mentioned is extant; but this is about all. In The Fox and the Wolf is cleverly related in bold and firm couplets the familiar story of the well and the device of Renauard for getting himself out of it at the expense of the wolf Sigrim. The teller of the story in Middle English is learned in his craft, and the poem is an admirable example of comic satire, perhaps the best of its kind left to us before the days of Chaucer. Not only are the two characters well conceived, but they are made the vehicle, as in the romance of the Fleming Willem, of light satire on the life of the times. Before admitting the wolf to the paradise in the bucket at the bottom of the well, the fox takes upon himself the duties of a confessor, and the wolf, to gain absolution, asks forgiveness, not only for the ordinary sins of his life, but, after a little pressing, even repents him of the resentment shown when the confessor made free with the penitent’s wife. Few things show more clearly the failings and vices current in the Middle Ages than do the various stories of the deeds of Reynard in his ecclesiastical disguises; stories that were carved in stone and wood and shown in painted glass, as well as recited and written. His smug cowled face looks out from pulpits and leers at us from under miserere seats.