Fable: A fable is a brief tale conveying a moral. Usually, in fables beast and birds are made to act and speak like human beings. But Dryden’s Fables are in no sense fables, but rather tales in verse. They are verse paraphrases of tales by Chaucer, Boccaccio and Ovid.
The Background: In the Preface to the Fables, Dryden explains the background and project of the Fables. He explains how the project was taken up on a very modest scale which however expanded to the full size of a book. Metaphorically, Dryden says that he had only planned to build a lodge, but ended up with a house.
Dryden began with a translation of the first book of Homer’s Iliad. This was done as an experiment. However it was a great success. The success gave him confidence and he soon turned to another writer, Ovid. He translated into simple English Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’. These experiments and the success he got, encouraged him to choose five tales from Chaucer’s famous work “Canterbury Tales”. Later he translated three of Boccaccio’s Tales. At the end of the preface Dryden says that he makes no claims as to the merits of his translation. He leaves it to the readers to decide.