Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Silence: Merlin, Nature and Nurture

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About the scene and clip:
In this scene (abridged from the original), Merlin is torn between Nature and Nurture who debate about human beings. The performer acts as narrator and impersonates all the characters, playing with changes in accent.

About the work:
Silence tells the story of a girl whose parents raise her as a boy so that she can inherit their land. Silence, though inwardly conflicted over her true nature, becomes a successful knight and minstrel and unwittingly attracts the love of the queen. Silence is finally unmasked by the seer Merlin; now a woman, she wins the love of the king. This unusual romance contains major female characters whose names refer to speech (Silence and Euphemie) and the allegorical adversaries, Nature vs. Nurture. The website contains several clips from Silence that demonstrate some of the many different ways in which characters and scenes from this work can be performed

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:
Abridged from A Thirteenth-Century French Romance, Silence, ed. /trans. Sarah Roche-Mahdi, East Lansing, MI, Colleagues Press, 1992, pp. 281ff.

About the performer/ensemble:
Julia Jones is a Drama student in the Stella Adler Studio of acting 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 was filmed in the classroom by Andrew Porter, a Film/TV student in the Tisch School of the Arts (2004).