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Performing Medieval Narrative

Performing Medieval Narrative

Evelyn Birge Vitz
Nancy Freeman Regalado
Marilyn Lawrence
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 278
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  • Book Info
    Performing Medieval Narrative
    Book Description:

    This book provides the first comprehensive study of the performance of medieval narrative, using examples from England and the Continent and a variety of genres to examine the crucial question of whether - and how - medieval narratives were indeed intended for performance. Moving beyond the familiar dichotomy between oral and written literature, the various contributions emphasize the range and power of medieval performance traditions, and demonstrate that knowledge of the modes and means of performance is crucial for appreciating medieval narratives. The book is divided into four main parts, with each essay engaging with a specific issue or work, relating it to larger questions about performance. It first focuses on representations of the art of medieval performers of narrative. It then examines relationships between narrative performances and the material books that inspired, recorded, or represented them. The next section studies performance features inscribed in texts and the significance of considering performability. The volume concludes with contributions by present-day professional performers who bring medieval narratives to life for contemporary audiences. Topics covered include orality, performance, storytelling, music, drama, the material book, public reading, and court life.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-420-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Contributors
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)
    Evelyn Birge Vitz, Nancy Freeman Regalado and Marilyn Lawrence

    This scene, which opens Chrétien de Troyes’s romanceLe chevalier au lion (Yvain),¹ is a striking medieval depiction of a narrative in performance. It tells us much about the content and purpose of this moment of storytelling. It displays a courtly entertainment performed here by one member of an elegant group of knights and ladies; the story is intended to touch the valiant heart of its hearers. Yet the artist who illustrated the key episodes ofLe chevalier au lionso richly in Paris, BnF MS Fr. 1433 passes over Calogrenant’s performance before the assembly of knights and ladies, beginning...

  7. Part I Medieval performers of narrative and their art

    • “He was the best teller of tales in the world”: Performing Medieval Welsh Narrative
      (pp. 15-26)
      Sioned Davies

      The Fourth Branch of theMabinogicontains two passages that give a tantalising glimpse of the performance of medieval Welsh narrative. The first tells how Gwydion and his men enter the court of Pryderi, disguised as poets. They receive a great welcome, and Gwydion is given the place of honour at the table, next to Pryderi. When asked forcyfarwyddyd, Gwydion “entertains the court with pleasingymdiddanauandcyfarwyddyd”; everyone is pleased, because Gwydion is the best cyfarwydd in the world. Later in the tale, and again in the guise of a poet, Gwydion and his host Arianrhod entertain each...

    • The Complaint of the Makers: Wynnere and Wastoure and the “Misperformance Topos” in Medieval England
      (pp. 27-40)
      Joyce Coleman

      ‘Rap was looked at, back in the day, as something creative, something new . . .’ I’m reading a local arts weekly at the food court in my university’s student union, taking a break from writing an article, this article, about medieval texts in which the author denounces performers who somehow misperform: who mangle texts or degrade the profession in some manner. These texts are frequently described, by editors and scholars of medieval English literature, as “conventional.” Usually discussion stops there, as if the conventional were simply meaningless.

      Trugoy the Dove’s group, De La Soul, was big in the 1990s,...

    • Dioneo’s Repertory: Performance and Writing in Boccaccio’s Decameron
      (pp. 41-58)
      John Ahern

      Many studies of theDecameronquite rightly assume its status as a major literary text—an assumption which would have surprised Boccaccio’s contemporaries but not the author himself. The very ease with which the text lent itself to performance blinded readers to its literariness. What follows is an attempt to situate theDecameronin relation to oral performance and textual production. Evidence is drawn from the book itself, which purports to record a ten-day-long oral performance, as well as from what we know of oral performance and manuscript production in medieval Italy. In Boccaccio’s world silent reading was gradually assuming...

  8. Part II Medieval performance and the book

    • Mise en texte as Indicator of Oral Performance in Old French Verse Narrative
      (pp. 61-72)
      Keith Busby

      Traditional arguments for oral performance of Old French narrative have generally been based either on indications within the texts themselves or on pictorial representations of reading scenes in miniatures which show a reader with a book in front of a listening audience. It would be perverse indeed to deny that the recitation, from memory or from the manuscript page, of Chrétien de Troyes’s romances or thechansons de gestewas a primary form of communication for the texts, although I believe that even at a very early stage individual reading was more common than is usually thought.²

      If it is...

    • Erotic Reading in the Middle Ages: Performance and Re-performance of Romance
      (pp. 73-88)
      Evelyn Birge Vitz

      InOrality and Performance in Early French RomanceI examined at length one important type of performance of narrative in the Middle Ages: recitation of verse romances from memory by minstrels and other performers.² Here I will take up a very different sort of performance of romance, but one which was no less significant to medieval culture: erotic reading as a performance mode.

      First, some definitions: The termeroticrefers both to the reading material, which is about love—typically drawn from romance—and to the effect of the reading, which results in the formation of a couple, and frequently...

    • Oral Performance of Written Narrative in the Medieval French Romance Ysaÿe le Triste
      (pp. 89-102)
      Marilyn Lawrence

      Ysaÿe le Triste, an anonymous French prose romance dating from the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century, is both a product and reflection of a literary culture where multiple modes of composition and performance of narrative flourished.¹ The romance recounts the intertwined stories of Ysaÿe, the son of Tristan and Yseut; his lover, Marthe; their son, named Marc(!); and Ysaÿe’s dwarf attendant, Tronc (who is actually the fairy-king Oberon transmogrified by a curse). The substantial subplot centered on Mar the (some eighty pages out of André Giacchetti’s 460-page edition, more than one-sixth ofYsaÿe le Triste) is remarkable in its...

    • Performing Romance: Arthurian Interludes in Sarrasin’s Le roman du Hem (1278)
      (pp. 103-120)
      Nancy Freeman Regalado

      Although Arthurian romances were popular in the Middle Ages, few records depict actual circumstances of their performance.Le roman du Hem,² which presents itself as an eyewitness account of a tournament at Le Hem in 1278, is therefore an invaluable document, for it describes five interludes based on characters and motifs of Arthurian romance. These interludes are entertainments presented during the festive banquet and at intervals between the jousts. In them, storytelling shifts towards dramatic enactments where those attending the tournament play scenes derived from Arthurian romance. There are allusions to Arthurian themes in tournaments beginning in the early thirteenth...

  9. Part III Performability and medieval narrative genres

    • Performing Fabliaux
      (pp. 123-140)
      Brian J. Levy

      In setting out on a search for performances of the Old French comic fabliaux, this essay begins neither in the town marketplace, nor in the higher social surroundings of manor house or castle hall, but in the pulpit. Paradoxically, and with an irony that would not have been lost on the professionalconteorsthemselves (so often ready to close their stories with a mock-homily), some of the most direct evidence that we possess of the fabliaux’s performance potential comes from theartes prædicandi[arts of preaching]. Throughout the various collections ofexempla,which bear full witness to the practical eclecticism...

    • Preaching, Storytelling, and the Performance of Short Pious Narratives
      (pp. 141-154)
      Adrian P. Tudor

      Short pious narratives present interesting performance issues as they occupy a middle ground in vernacular medieval literature. These stories have a message to communicate—and indeed often include short sermons—but they also aim to entertain.¹ Their message may have written sources (e.g., commentaries, patristic texts), but their delivery is oral. We can surmise that many of them were intended to be read to mixed audiences (male and female, young and old, lay and clerical) which implies divergent styles of performance. Part fabliau, partexemplum,part sermon, part Saints’ Life, these texts do not at face value represent a cohesive...

    • Reading, Reciting, and Performing the Renart
      (pp. 155-166)
      Kenneth Varty

      So begins Branch X,Renart trompe Roënel le chien et Brichemer le cerf: Renart médecin[Renart Tricks Roënel the Dog and Brichemer the Stag: Renart Physician]. Particularly relevant are the next four lines, for they seem to indicate that the storytelling session which the text reflects took place in very impressive surroundings:

      Toz sui espris et escaufés

      De Renartdireen tel endroit,

      Sanz delaiement orendroit,

      Q’eincn’oïstesen si bon leu

      De lui e d’Ysengrin le leu. (Dufournet II, 192, lines 10–13)

      [I am very excited and eagerto tell aboutReynard here and now in such a...

    • Turkic Bard and Medieval Entertainer: What a Living Epic Tradition Can Tell Us about Oral Performance of Narrative in the Middle Ages
      (pp. 167-178)
      Karl Reichl

      In the first part of Gottfried von Straكburg’s courtly epicTristan(c. 1210), there is a striking moment when the young Tristan betrays his noble origin at King Mark’s court in Tintagel by performing two Breton lays with astonishing musical and verbal skills. The second lay treats the unhappy love of Pyramus and Thisbe:

      rîlîche huob er aber an

      einen senelîchen leich als ê

      de la cûrtoise Tispê

      von der alten Bâbilône.

      den harphete er sô schône

      und gie den noten sô rehte mite

      nâch rehte meisterlîchem site,

      daz es den harphوr wunder nam;

      und als ez ie ze staten...

  10. Part IV Perspectives from contemporary performers

    • Beowulf, the Edda, and the Performance of Medieval Epic: Notes from the Workshop of a Reconstructed “Singer of Tales”
      (pp. 181-192)
      Benjamin Bagby

      Over the years of performing my reconstructions ofBeowulfand the Eddic poems, I have often given presentations about my work, either in the form of a pre-concert talk or as a question-and-answer session following the performance. I am always struck by one enormous difference between these two formats; there are usually just some general and hesitant questions before the performance (“Is it like Gregorian chant?”), but afterwards, a genuinely critical dialogue often ensues, provoked by what the listeners have just experienced, and by their curiosity—or in some cases, consternation—about my working process. I amgrateful for the ease...

    • The Weddynge of Sir Gawen and Dame Ragnell: Performance and Intertextuality in Middle English Popular Romance
      (pp. 193-208)
      Linda Marie Zaerr

      Actual performance by a particular voice and body for a physically present audience can provide information that validates and redirects theoretical understanding of textual variation. Paul Zumthor’s concept ofmouvance, a graphic representation of intertextuality in which virtual models function as the vertical axis and actual variations the horizontal axis,¹ has provided a vehicle for addressing the variation so characteristic of Middle English verse romances. The termmouvancemay also be used to describe the degree and quality of variation of a performance event from the text on which it is based.² Themouvancerecorded in a memorized performance of...

    • “Une aventure vous dirai”: Performing Medieval Narrative
      (pp. 209-222)
      Anne Azéma

      Singing is a dangerous enterprise; singers are often tempted to focus their efforts on peripheral issues. It is best for performers to have a clear idea of priorities. For me, the potency of the word, the strength of the poetic gesture,¹ and the act of storytelling are what is central to singing medieval music. These seem much more important goals than that of simply attaining a beautiful sound (however one chooses to define that notion). The combination of word with poetic gesture and sound makes for an interesting dialogue—a complex series of dance steps into which the public is...

  11. Afterword
    (pp. 223-224)

    The essays in this book inspire new appreciation of the art of the medieval storyteller. They show how stories are brought into performance from manuscripts, and from a common fund of narrative motifs and storytelling practices. While several of the articles encourage readers to imagine performance of works now received in writing, the essays by contemporary performers go even further. They show how live performances can be reconstructed from manuscripts, from surviving narrative and musical practices, and from instruments depicted in medieval images or long buried underground; they bring us into the world of professional artists as they tell a...

  12. Index
    (pp. 245-261)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 262-262)