Fabliaux are a notably clear-cut and decisive demonstration of the mode of operation of such narrative artifice. They are widely current in France and Italy (the Decameron contains many examples), though for some reason rare in England, and almost unknown in English before Chaucer. It may be that clerical culture exerted a firmer hold upon writers in England, or that the taste for such tales was well satisfied, among the classes that had such a taste, by French fabliaux. This taste, it should be stressed, is an aristocratic or elite taste as much as or rather than a bourgeois or vulgar one. The belief, or pretence, that refined taste
171 calculations of practical utility. Morality has little to do with the systems of value on which such tales are based, least of all Christian morality. 'Honesty is the best policy' is the nearest such exemplary tales will come to morality, and when circumstances change it may be equally well be that 'Honesty is not the best policy', as in the Manciple's Tale. A characteristic of the Middle Ages is the readiness of its exegetes and commentators to annex such stories, subservient as they are on their literal level to the imperatives of appetite, to the illustration of Christian doctrine. The Nun's Priest's Tale chiefly exists to enable Chaucer to share with us his amusement at the consequence.