Fox

Fox

CreaturesBackground Essay Author: Kara L. McShane
Foxes are crafty, according to the bestiary tradition; they are able to play dead and lure birds close to capture them (Clark 141).  These creatures are thus associated with the Devil, who tricks and ensnares Christians (142).  Cunning is the defining attribute of foxes in their few appearances in medieval Arthuriana.
 
This association of the fox with cunning seems to underlie references to the fox in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  The last creature hunted by Bertilak's party in the poem is a fox, which is called Reynard in the text: "Ofte he watz runnen at when he out rayked, / And ofte reled in agayn, so Reniarde watz wylé" (1727-28).  Reniarde is a variant of the name of the title character of the twelfth century French Roman de Renart, a figure notable for his cleverness.  Renart is implicated in a love triangle with Ysengrin the wolf and his wife, Hersent.  The allusion in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, then, is particularly apt because the hunt for the fox parallels Lady Bertilak's gift of the girdle, a gift which Gawain keeps secret in an attempt to preserve his life.  (Gawain later laments this craftiness, because in his estimation it costs him his honor though he preserves his life.)
 
In the letters that Lancelot sends to Tristram in Malory's Morte, Lancelot refers to King Mark as "Kyng Foxe" as a way to remind Tristram to be wary of his uncle.  Lancelot warns Tristram about Mark in his letters, "for ever he called hym in hys lettirs Kynge...

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