Reynard the Fox: A New Translation (Hardcover)

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By James Simpson (Translated by), Stephen Greenblatt (Foreword by)
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One of the greatest characters of medieval literature, the trickster Reynard the Fox, comes to life in this rollicking new translation.

What do a weak lion king, a grief-stricken rooster, a dim-witted bear, and one really angry wolf have in common? The answer is they’ve all been had by one sly fox named Reynard. Originally bursting forth from Europe in the twelfth century, Reynard the Fox—a classic trickster narrative centered on a wily and gleefully amoral fox and his numerous victims in the animal kingdom—anticipated both Tex Avery and The Prince by showing that it’s better to be clever than virtuous. However, where The Prince taught kings how to manipulate their subjects, Reynard the Fox demonstrated how, in a world of ruthless competition, clever subjects could outwit both their rulers and enemies alike.

In these riotous pages, Reynard lies, cheats, or eats anyone and anything that he crosses paths with, conning the likes of Tybert the Cat, Bruin the Bear, and Bellin the Ram, among others. Reynard's rapacious nature and constant "stealing and roving" eventually bring him into conflict with the court of the less-than-perceptive Noble the Lion and the brutal Isengrim the Wolf, pitting cunning trickery against brute force. Unlike the animal fables of Aesop, which use small narratives to teach schoolboy morality, Reynard the Fox employs a dark and outrageous sense of humor to puncture the hypocritical authority figures of the “civilized” order, as the rhetorically brilliant fox outwits all comers by manipulating their bottomless greed.

As James Simpson, one of the world’s leading scholars of medieval literature, notes in his introduction, with translations in every major European language and twenty-three separate editions between 1481 and 1700 in England alone, the Reynard tales were ubiquitous. However, despite its immense popularity at the time, this brains-over-brawn parable largely disappeared. Now, for the first time in over a century, the fifteenth-century version of Reynard the Fox reemerges in this rollicking translation.

Readers both young and old will be delighted by Reynard’s exploits, as he excels at stitching up the vain, pompous, and crooked and escapes punishment no matter how tight the noose. Highlighted by new illustrations by Edith E. Newman, Simpson's translation of the late Middle English Caxton edition restores this classic as a part of a vital tradition that extends all the way to Br’er Rabbit, Bugs Bunny, and even Itchy & Scratchy. As Stephen Greenblatt writes in his foreword, Reynard is the "animal fable's version of Homer's Odysseus, the man of many wiles," proving that in a dog-eat-dog world the fox reigns supreme.

About the Author

James Simpson is the Donald P. and Katherine B. Loker Professor of English at Harvard University. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Stephen Greenblatt (Ph.D. Yale) is Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University. Also General Editor of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, he is the author of eleven books, including Tyrant, The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve: The Story that Created Us, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (winner of the 2011 National Book Award and the 2012 Pulitzer Prize); Shakespeare's Freedom; Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare; Hamlet in Purgatory; Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World; Learning to Curse: Essays in Early Modern Culture; and Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare. He has edited seven collections of criticism, including Cultural Mobility: A Manifesto, and is a founding coeditor of the journal Representations. His honors include the MLA’s James Russell Lowell Prize, for both Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England and The Swerve, the Sapegno Prize, the Distinguished Humanist Award from the Mellon Foundation, the Wilbur Cross Medal from the Yale University Graduate School, the William Shakespeare Award for Classical Theatre, the Erasmus Institute Prize, two Guggenheim Fellowships, and the Distinguished Teaching Award from the University of California, Berkeley. He was president of the Modern Language Association of America and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Praise For…

When I read Reynard the Fox for the first time…I instantly knew that Reynard could be enjoyed by everyone over a certain age: the literary pleasures of this work are instantly accessible to all lovers of great narrative…We are all political animals who need to survive, whatever we do. And all of us like laughing. And all of us are fascinated by animals, not least because we are ourselves animals who need to pretend otherwise.

— James Simpson, from the introduction

[Reynard the Fox] is clearly a satire, one that exposes the greed, corruption, and lying that poison institutions and social relations, above all at court…It helps, of course, that this is an animal fable, so what might otherwise seem like pages taken from King Lear or Othello come across as episodes from a "Road Runner" cartoon or an episode of The Itchy & Scratchy Show. Still more, the literary artistry of Reynard the Fox—its pace, its deft twists of plot, its zany characters, and its savage humor—persuades us that to survive in this world it is more important to pretend to be good than actually to be good. To this extent at least, Reynard is the secret twin of his great contemporary Niccolo Machiavelli.

— Stephen Greenblatt from the foreword

Reynard…is one of the defining documents of a vast tradition in Western art, indeed, in Western consciousness: the trickster tale…. [James] Simpson says that his version is the first readily accessible English translation to appear in almost a hundred years. I am glad that he rescued it.
— Joan Acocella - The New Yorker

Product Details
ISBN: 9780871407368
ISBN-10: 0871407361
Publisher: Liveright
Publication Date: March 9th, 2015
Pages: 256
Language: English