Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Hunchbacks: Entire fabliau

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About the scene and clip:
The performer tells—and rather freely adapts—the fabliau. He adopts different accents for the characters; he juggles; he uses several props, with volleyballs representing the hunchbacks’ hunches.

About the work:
The Three Hunchbacks is a comic tale about a man who marries off his daughter to a jealous hunchback–and about the wife’s clever stratagem to get rid of the bodies of three hunchbacked minstrels who suffocated in trunks in her chamber; her nasty husband is disposed of as well. The website contains several clips drawn from this fabliau, exemplifying some of the many ways in which this story can be performed.

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 Fabliaux Fair and Foul, trans. John Duval, Pegasus/ Medieval & Renaissance Texts, Binghamton, NY, 1992, pp. 143-145. Old French: Fabliaux, ed. R.C. Johnston and D.D.R. Owen, Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1965 (other Old French editions also exist).

About the performer/ensemble:
Michael Ritchie is a PhD student in the French Department at New York University (2005).

About the production:
This is one of two fabliau performances by Michael Ritchie at the Kentucky Foreign Language Conference in April 2005, in a session devoted to performance of medieval narrative organized by Timmie (E.B.) Vitz. The videography was done by Faith Young, a student of Prof. Simonetta Cochia at Transylvania College in Lexington, Kentucky.