Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Inferno, canto VIII: Dante meets Francesca

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About the scene and clip:
This clip recounts canto V of the Inferno. In this scene, Dante, the pilgrim, enters the fifth circle of Hell where those who were ruled in life by their passions are punished. He meets Francesca da Rimini who tells him of her adulterous affair. The performer tells the story, also impersonating the various characters; a book is used as a prop.

About the work:
The Divine Comedy (1315-1320) is one of the greatest works of the Middle Ages. In this three part work, composed in cantos of terza rima, Dante tells of a spiritual pilgrimage through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. Beatrice, whom Dante had known and loved in his youth and who is now in heaven, has been enabled through divine grace to send Virgil to be his guide for much of the way. Throughout the Commedia Dante’s deep learning is visible, along with his interest in Italian and Church history and politics, theological issues, poetry and poetics, and scientific thought. In the Inferno, the pilgrim descends through the concentric circles of Hell in which different types of sinners receive the eternal punishment appropriate to their sins. The Pilgrim speaks with many whom he meets on his way.

About the genre:
The Divine Comedy is a unique work but it is also, in some respects, an epic (see paragraph below). It belongs as well to a long tradition of narrative journeys to the other world, written at first in Latin and then in the various vernaculars.

The epic is an ancient genre and is found in almost every culture. It is a long heroic narrative which tells of war and great deeds. Epics are generally composed in verse, and sung from memory or improvised in performance by professional performers with instrumental accompaniment. These narratives are created from traditional elements, commonly without recourse to writing, by poets whose names are often unknown to us. Among the famous traditional epics are the Iliad and the Odyssey, attributed to Homer; the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf; and the Old French Song of Roland. Many known poets adopt epic forms and themes for their literary verse (such as Virgil in his Aeneid).

About the edition/translation:
The Divine Comedy, trans. C.H. Sisson, Manchester, Carcanet New Press, 1980. There are many editions of the original Italian.

About the performer/ensemble:
Gina Guadagnino graduated from New York University in May 2003 with a major in English; she minored in Medieval and Renaissance Studies and Irish Studies.

About the production:
This scene is one of a series created under the direction of Prof. Timmie (E.B.) Vitz in fall 2003. This clip comes from a performance that took place at Gluckman Ireland House at New York University for the Medieval and Renaissance Program’s Holiday party in December 2003. The performance was videoed by NYU-TV.