Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Knights, Clerks and Churls

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About the scene and clip:
This tale contrasts the reactions of two knights, two clerks, and two churls as each pair looks at a beautiful meadow: the knights see it as an ideal spot for a fancy picnic; the clerks (medieval students), as a place to make love with a woman; the churls (peasants) as the perfect place in which to defecate. The fabliau reflects and plays with medieval ideas of class differences. In this clip, two performers act out the three pairs of characters; they also interact in a comic and vulgar way with their audience of fellow-students and with the third performer who reads parts of the story aloud. Props are used: a fake buttocks and chocolate turds.

About the work:
See “About the scene” (above).

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:
This performance is drawn from Fabliaux, Fair and Foul, trans. John DuVal, Medieval and Renaissance Texts & Studies, Binghamton, NY, 1992, pp. 44-45. Original: Fabliaux et contes des poètes français des XI, XII, XIII, XIV et XVe siècles, ed. Étienne Barbazan, Paris, Chez B. Waree oncle, 1808, Vol. 3., 28-29.

About the performer/ensemble:
Justin Fair is a Drama Student in the Atlantic Acting School at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts (2003). Andrew Kahrl is a student in the Playwrights Horizons Theatre School at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts (2003). Brooke Stanley is double majoring in Drama and Political Science at New York University (2002).

About the production:
This scene was created for “Acting Medieval Literature,” taught by Prof. E.B. Vitz at New York University in fall 2002. This performance was filmed for a class held at the Maison Française.