Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase


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About the scene and clip:
This clip tells the entire lai of Laostic. The performer acts as narrator and also impersonates the characters–the wife, the jealous husband and the lover.

About the work:
Marie de France, a major literary figure from the Middle Ages, is one of the few women writers of the period whose work has survived. Little is known of her, except that she was almost certainly of the nobility. She wrote in England apparently in the 1160s and ‘70s; her work is in French (or “Anglo-Norman”: the French language as spoken and written in medieval England). She wrote lais—a dozen short narrative poems with Breton roots, composed in octosyllabic rhymed couplets, and bearing on love in its many forms. The lais circulated separately, and also together in a volume that she dedicated to King Henry (probably English King Henry II). She also wrote Espurgatoire seint Patriz (St. Patrick’s Purgatory), about a pilgrimage down to the afterlife, based on Latin sources; and Fables, also based largely on Latin sources. She is now widely believed also to have been the author of the Anglo-Norman Vie seinte Audree (Life of Saint Audrey).

The Lai of the Nightingale (Laostic, also Laüstic or Aüstic) is one of Marie de France’s Lais. It tells of the love affair between a knight and a married woman. Her jealous husband catches and kills the nightingale which had been the pretext for her nightly visits to her window. The wife wraps the dead nightingale carefully in precious cloth and the lover enshrines it in a precious coffer, thus ensuring that their love will be remembered.

About the genre:
A narrative lai is a short poetic tale composed in verse, which claims to tell the story of how a musical lai from ancient Brittany came to be written. The 12th-century Anglo-Norman woman poet Marie de France is the best known author of narrative lais in French, and may be one of the creators of the genre.

About the edition/translation:
The Lais of Marie de France, trans. Robert Hanning and Joan Ferrante, Durham, NC, Labyrinth, 1982. Original: Les Lais de Marie de France, ed. Karl Warnke, (Mod. French) trans. Laurence Harf-Lancner, Paris, Lettres Gothiques, 1990.

About the performer/ensemble:
Andrew Kahrl is a Drama student in the Playwrights Horizons Theater School at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts (2003)

About the production:
This performance was created as part of an Independent Study for Prof. Timmie (E.B.) Vitz in spring 2003. The video was made at a private performance at the Maison Française of New York University in December 2003.