Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Aristotle: Aristotle’s come-uppance

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About the scene and clip:
In this clip four performers act out how Alexander the Great’s beautiful Indian mistress teaches a lesson about the irresistibility of love to the philosopher Aristotle.

About the work:
The title of this fabliau—The Lay of Aristotle—probably suggests its relatively courtly style. It tells how Alexander the Great falls in love with a beautiful Indian woman and neglects his kingly duties. His tutor, the philosopher Aristotle, reproaches him for the affair and Alexander agrees to break with her. But unable to stay away, he reveals his problem to her. Determined to have revenge on Aristotle, she sets out to seduce him, and she succeeds in making him fall in love and play the fool for her: she rides around the field on his back as though he were an ass—while Alexander is a witness to Aristotle’s humiliation. Was Aristotle right, or wrong, to warn Alexander against Love?

About the genre:
Fabliaux are short comic tales. This narrative genre was extremely popular in the 13th and 14th centuries in France and elsewhere in Europe (Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale is a sophisticated fabliau). Fabliaux almost invariably deal with the passions of lust, gluttony, avarice–and with attempts to trick or deceive others. Characters are typically bourgeois, clerks and monks, or peasants–and often women. The treatment is comic or satirical, but fabliaux vary considerably. Some are extremely vulgar in language and treatment, inviting crude gestures in performance. Other fabliaux are based on puns or wordplay. Many have a moral at the end and some have ethical overtones throughout. A few fabliaux are refined and courtly in language and themes. Many fabliaux are anonymous, but a few are by known poets. Performance styles and strategies for the fabliaux probably varied considerably in the Middle Ages, according to the subject matter and characters, the poet, the performer(s), the occasion, and the kind of audience present.

About the edition/translation:
Abridged from Gallic Salt, ed./trans Robert L. Harrison, Berkeley, CA, University of California Press, 1974, pp. 268-289.

About the performer/ensemble:
Amanda Guillett is a Drama student in the CAP 21 Studio at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts (2004). Alexander Sarian is a student in Educational Theatre at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Education (2004). Jak Peters is a Drama student in the Meisner Studio at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts (2004). Michael Ritchie is a PhD student in the French Department at New York University; he served as Teaching Assistant in “Acting Medieval Literature” (2004).

About the production:
This performance was created for the course “Acting Medieval Literature,” taught by Prof. Timmie (E.B.) Vitz at New York University in spring 2004. It took place in May 2004 in the Great Hall of 19 University Place at New York University, at a public gathering of medievalists held under the auspices of the Colloquium for Orality, Writing and Culture, co-convenors Prof. Nancy Freeman Regalado and Prof. Vitz. The performance was videoed by NYU-TV.