Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Renard: Camel, papal legate, speaks in court before Lion the King

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About the scene and clip:
In this scene, the Camel, the Papal Legate, is invited by King Noble the Lion to speak to the court about Renard’s case. The Camel, an Italian, speaks in a blend of Latin, Italian, and French (the French is here replaced by English). Two performers do this scene; the Legate (Nick Robbins) imitates (with a wad of chewing gum) the Camel’s cud-chewing nature, as well as his pompous, if impassioned, largely incomprehensible speech. The play of languages or dialects was often central to the performance of medieval works.

About the work:
Le Roman de Renart– The Romance of Renard [or Reynard] the Fox– is the work of many poets, some known, some unknown, of the 12th and 13th centuries. It consists of different “branches,” which recount in octosyllabic rhymed couplets the adventures of Renard and his generally-violent tangles with Isengrin the Wolf, Tibert the Cat, Chanteclere the Cock, and numerous other birds and beasts. Tone and treatment vary, but parody and satire predominate. Many scenes mock feudal institutions, royal justice, religious practices, and courtly love, as well as literary genres such as the epic, romance, and saint’s life; obscenity is frequent. The Renard material apparently originated in France, and then traveled widely, finding receptive audiences in the Low Countries and elsewhere in Europe.

This story comes from Branch II–one of the earliest and most important branches–by Pierre de Saint-Cloud. This particular episode tells about Chanteclere the Cock and his wife, Pinte the Hen; Renart catches Chanteclere but is tricked into letting him go.

The website contains several clips from the Renart that demonstrate some of the many different ways in which characters and scenes from this work can be performed.

About the genre:
While these stories are called a “roman,” that is a romance, Le Roman de Renart is primarily a loose compilation of related tales; these stories also partake of the mock-epic and of satire. Thus, they do not fit neatly into any genre classification.

The tale, like the epic, is an ancient genre and one found everywhere in the world. Many tales are firmly rooted in oral tradition and are recited or told by amateur and professional storytellers and performers. Other tales are the work of literarily sophisticated authors and are often intended to be read aloud or silently from written texts. Some tales circulate separately, while others are part of collections, which may be set in complex frames (as in the case of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Boccaccio’s Decameron and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales). There are many sub-groups of tales with specific characteristics; see for example the “lai” and the “fabliau.”

About the edition/translation:
Renard the Fox: The Misadventures of an Epic Hero, trans. Patricia Terry, Boston, Northeastern University Press, 1983, pp. 29ff. French: The Earliest Branches of the Roman de Renart, ed. Anthony Lodge and Kenneth Varty, New Alyth, Lochee Publications, 1989 (other French editions also exist).

About the performer/ensemble:
Nick Robbins (the Camel Legate) and Jak Peters (Lion, the King) are both Drama students in the Meisner Studio at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts (2004).

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.