Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Hunchbacks: Inebriated minstrel starts telling the fabliau

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About the scene and clip:
The performer, pretending to be somewhat drunk, begins to tell the fabliau of The Three Hunchbacks. Many scenes in medieval literature show enjoyment of inebriated characters or performers.

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:
Fabliaux Fair and Foul, trans. John Duval, Pegasus/ Medieval & Renaissance Texts, Binghamton, NY, 1992, pp. 140-141. French: Fabliaux, ed. R.C. Johnston and D.D.R. Owen, Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1965 (other French editions also exist).

About the performer/ensemble:
Andrew Porter is a Film and TV student at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts (2004); he videoed many scenes for this website.

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 an open class held at the Maison Française in April 2004, and was videoed by NYU-TV.