Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

St. Peter and Jongleur: Puppets, 1

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About the scene and clip:
This clip is a free adaptation of the entire fabliau [see “about the work”], using puppets and contemporary American show-tunes.

About the work:
This fabliau tells how St. Peter rescued all the souls from hell by winning at dice against a bumbling minstrel who had been left in charge while Satan was busy elsewhere; it may well be a parody of the Harrowing of Hell in which Christ rescued the souls of the just from Hell.

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:
Abridged and adapted from Fabliaux, Fair and Foul, trans. John DuVal, Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, Binghamton, NY, 1992, pp. 130-139; French edition: “St. Pierre et le jongleur,” inNouveau Recueil des Fabliaux, eds. Willem Noomen and Nico van den Boogaard, Assen: Van Gorcum, Vol. I (1983).

About the performer/ensemble:
Kelly Houlihan graduated in May 2003 from New York University with a major in French.

About the production:
This performance was originally created for “Acting Medieval Literature,” taught by Prof. Timmie (E.B.) Vitz in fall 2001. This clip comes from a performance that took place in September 2003 at the Maison Française of New York University at an informal gathering of medievalists held under the auspices of the Colloquium for Orality, Writing and Culture, co-convenors Prof. Nancy Freeman Regalado and Prof. Vitz. The performance was videoed by NYU-TV.