Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Rose: Mimed images on garden wall

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About the scene and clip:
This scene comes from the opening passage of The Romance of the Rose by Guillaume de Lorris. The Narrator–the “Dreamer”–describes the images that he saw painted on the outer wall of the Garden of Pleasure, or “Verger de Déduit”: these negative figures–Hate, Felony, Villainy, Covetousness, Avarice, Envy, Sorrow, Old Age, Pope Holy, and Poverty–are excluded from the garden of love. This performance combines a single reader with three actors who mime the allegorical figures.

About the work:
The Romance of the Rose is arguably the most influential French work of the Middle Ages. This work is a romance, composed in verse and treating of love. But it is a highly unusual romance in many regards.The Rose introduced into romance a set of major allegorical figures such as Love, Reason, and Danger; it established the popularity of the dream vision; and it launched a new fashion in pseudo-autobiographical narrative. The first 4000 lines (in octosyllabic rhymed couplets) were written by Guillaume de Lorris around 1230. This strongly lyrical part of the romance emphasizes the beauty of the Garden of Love, and the suffering by the Lover in his quest for love; Guillaume’s romance was left unfinished. Around 1280, Jean de Meun completed the work by adding close to 18,000 lines; his lengthy and learned text features speeches delivered by such characters as Reason, the Jealous Husband, the Old Woman, Nature, and Genius.

About the genre:
Medieval romances are typically long narratives of love and adventure in which an aristocratic hero (or occasionally a heroine) proves himself in combat and courtship. Medieval romance arose in France and Anglo-Norman England in the 12th century and spread through Western and even Eastern Europe. Many early romances tell the stories of knights and ladies at King Arthur’s court. In the 12th and 13th centuries, romances are composed in verse (typically octosyllabic rhymed couplets), and are commonly performed aloud from memory by minstrels; romances are also sometimes read aloud. In the 13th century, some romances begin to be written in prose; public and private readings become more frequent.

Allegory is a way of composing and of interpreting texts: characters and the plot point beyond themselves to something “other”—something symbolic. Characters are often personifications of forces such as Love, Pride, Reason, or Friendship. The plot is also symbolic: characters’ struggles are between vices and virtues; their journey may refer to life’s pilgrimage or to the discovery of some great truth, such as the nature of love. Works may be entirely allegorical, or may just contain brief passages written in this mode. Allegorical works are often strongly religious, philosophical, or moral.

About the edition/translation:
Performance abridged from of The Romance of the Rose, Harry W. Robbins trans., New York, Dutton, 1962, pp. 5-12/ ll. 129-520; French edition: Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose, ed./[Modern French] trans. Armand Strubel, Paris, Lettres Gothiques, 1992.

About the performer/ensemble:
Amanda Espinosa is a Spanish major in the College of Arts and Science at New York University (2002). Erin Huiett is a Drama major at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts (2002). Rebeca Jefferson is an English major in the College of Arts and Science at New York University (2002).

About the production:
This clip was filmed at the Maison Française of New York University in the course “Acting Medieval Literature,” taught by Prof. E.B. Vitz in fall 2002.