Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Culhwch and Olwen

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About the scene and clip:
This clip tells the abridged story of the winning of Olwen by Culhwch. A solo performer recites the tale from memory.

About the work:
The Welsh tale Culhwch and Olwen is an important early part of the Arthurian tradition. The tale was apparently composed in the late 11th century. It survives in two important manuscripts of the 13th-14th c.; today, it is generally included in a collection of tales called the Mabinogi or MabinogionCulhwch and Olwen tells of Culhwch’s birth; his mother’s death; his love for Olwen, daughter of Isbaddaden, Chief Giant (his passionate love was laid on him as a curse by his stepmother); his visit to the court of his uncle, King Arthur, to ask for help in winning Olwen; and the many, seemingly impossible tasks that Culhwch, with the aid of Arthur and his men, accomplishes in order to win the hand of the beautiful Olwen from her very unwilling father.

About the genre:
This story belongs to the tale tradition. The tale, like the epic, is an ancient genre and one found everywhere in the world. Many tales are firmly rooted in oral tradition and are recited or told by amateur and professional storytellers and performers. Other tales are the work of literarily sophisticated authors and are often intended to be read aloud or silently from written texts. Some tales circulate separately, while others are part of collections, which may be set in complex frames (as in the case of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Boccaccio’s Decameron and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales). There are many sub-groups of tales with specific characteristics; see for example the “lai” and the “fabliau.”

About the edition/translation:
Abridged from The tale of Culhwch and Olwen, trans. Richard M. Loomis, in The Romance of Arthur, eds. James J. Wilhelm and Laila Zamuelis Gross, New York, Garland, 1984, pp. 27-55. (Many translations of the Mabinogion exist.) Medieval Welsh: Culhwch and Olwen: An edition and study of the Oldest Arthurian Tale, eds. R. Bromwich and D.S. Evans, Cardiff, Wales, U. of Wales Press, 1992.

About the performer/ensemble:
Marcail Riggs is a Drama student at New York University Tisch School of the Arts, with a minor in Irish Studies (2004).

About the production:
This performance was created as part of an Independent Study with Prof. Timmie (E.B.) Vitz in fall 2004. This video was made in December 2004 at a gathering at the Maison Française of New York University; videography by Nick Spangler.