Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Partridges: Wife devours birds

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About the scene and clip:
This performance represents an experiment with mimed action: one performer mimes the furtive but passionate eating of the partridges, while readers narrate the story.

About the work:
In The Partridges (Les Perdris), an anonymous fabliau, a wife cannot resist devouring the partridges she and her husband were to eat for dinner. The priest, who was to have joined them for dinner, arrives just as the husband is sharpening his knife to carve the partridges. The wife tells her husband that the priest has stolen the partridges, and she tells the priest that her husband wants to castrate him with his knife. The terrified priest runs away with the husband at his heels.

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 and Studies, Binghamton, NY, 1992 (pp. 46-49), pp.46-47; II. 1-52. Original: Le Nouveau recueil complet des fabliaux, eds. Willem Noomen & Nico van den Boogaard, Assen: Van Gorcum, Vol. IV (1983), pp. 8-12.

About the performer/ensemble:
Stacey Sund (the wife) is a Drama student at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts; the readers are Amanda Espinosa (New York University’s College of Arts and Science: Spanish major) and Gabriella Mongiovi (New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts: Drama) (2002).

About the production:
This scene was performed and filmed during a class titled “Acting Medieval Literature,” taught by Prof. E.B. Vitz at New York University in fall 2002.