BC4015: Reynard the Fox – Metal

Reynard the Fox is a beast fable, generally a satirical genre in which human follies are portrayed as belonging to animals. The underlying framework of this popular medieval literary form is a series of stories linked by common characters. In Reynard the Fox, the character of Reynard provides the connective thread. Most versions of Reynard the Fox are long, and the episodes are only vaguely related. In addition, the point of such beast fables is satire of the contemporary social and political scenes. Reynard the Fox satirizes the royal court, the judicial system, and many other aspects of medieval life.

The main literary tradition of Reynard the Fox descends from the surviving French “branches” of the Roman de Renart (about 30 in number, totaling nearly 40,000 lines of verse). These French branches are probably elaborations of the same kernel poem that was used by Heinrich in the earlier German version. The facetious portrayal of rustic life, the camel as a papal legate speaking broken French, the animals riding on horses and recounting elaborate dreams, suggest the atmosphere of 13th-century France and foreshadow the more sophisticated “Nun’s Priest’s Tale” of Geoffrey Chaucer. Because of the popularity of these tales the nickname renard has replaced the old word goupil (“fox”) throughout France. The Flemish adaptations of these French tales by Aenout and Willem (c. 1250) were the sources of the Dutch and Low German prose manuscripts and chapbooks, which in turn were used by the English printer William Caxton and subsequent imitators down to J.W. von Goethe’s Reineke Fuchs (1794).

Since the Reynard stories were not written by one person, and various parts of the stories were written without any collaboration, the character of Reynard shifts from a Robin Hood type hero to a villainous rogue, and anything in between. However, there are a few similarities between all versions. Reynard is a noble in the animal court, and he lives in a structure sometimes referred to as a den, and sometimes as a castle known as Malperdy with his wife, Hermeline, and his three sons, who are known by various names in different episodes. He is a trickster, first and foremost, and his relationship with his uncle, Isengrim the wolf, is at the core of the story. Though once partners in crime, they have since become bitter rivals when Reynard repeatedly fooled the less savvy Isengrim.

Reynard the Fox is a hero of several medieval European cycles of versified animal tales that satirize contemporary human society. Though Reynard is sly, amoral, cowardly, and self-seeking, he is still a sympathetic hero, whose cunning is a necessity for survival. He symbolizes the triumph of craft over brute strength, usually personified by Isengrim the greedy and dull-witted wolf. Some of the cyclic stories collected around him, such as the wolf or bear fishing with his tail through a hole in the ice, are found all over the world; others, like the sick lion cured by the wolf’s skin, derive by oral transmission from Greco-Roman sources. The cycle arose in the area between Flanders and Germany in the 10th and 11th centuries, when clerks began to forge Latin beast epics out of popular tales. The name “Ysengrimus” was first used as the title of a poem in Latin elegiac couplets by Nivard of Ghent in 1152, and some of the stories were soon recounted in French octosyllabic couplets. The Middle High German poem “Fuchs Reinhard” (c. 1180) by Heinrich (der Glîchesaere?), a masterpiece of 2,000 lines, freely adapted from a lost French original, is another early version of the cycle.

The skilful designers of Berkeley Chess have brought these medieval fables to life and all of the key characters are included in the set.

Metrics: BC4015 Reynard the Fox – Metal. King Height 7.6″ (19cm). King Dia 1.8″ (4.8cm). King Weight 570g (20oz)

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