Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Silence: Silence’s female identity revealed

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About the scene and clip:
In this scene near the end of the romance, Merlin has just revealed to the court that Silence is really a young woman, not a man. As the performer both tells the story and impersonates the different characters, we see Silence shift out of her assumed male role and become a woman. A shawl provides minimal recourse to costume.

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.

About the edition/translation:
Slightly modified from A Thirteenth-Century French Romance, Silence, ed./trans. Sarah Roche-Mahdi, East Lansing, MI, Colleagues Press, 1992, pp. 309ff.

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).

About the production:
This scene was created as part of an Independent Study with Prof. Timmie (E.B.) Vitz in fall 2003. This performance took place in November 2003 at the Maison Française of New York University at a Roundtable on “New Perspectives on Medieval Narrative,” sponsored by the Colloquium on Orality, Writing and Culture, co-convenors Prof. Nancy Freeman Regalado and Prof. Vitz. The performance was videoed by NYU-TV.