Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Wedding of Gawain: What do women want?

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About the scene and clip:
This clip shows two scenes from the romance. In the first, a strange knight demands that King Arthur find out what women want, or he will kill and dishonor him. In the second scene, the King and Gawain go in search of the answer; they discover that only the loathsome Dame Ragnell knows–and she will divulge the answer only if Gawain agrees to marry her. (He does marry her, and at the end Ragnell turns into a beautiful woman.) Here and throughout the video, the performer alternates between narrating and impersonating all the various characters in turn, using costumes, props, and stage settings.

About the work:
The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell is a late-medieval Arthurian romance, one of many Middle English romances devoted to the great knight of King Arthur’s court, Sir Gawain. The work is composed in tail-rhyme stanzas.

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:
Sir Gawain: Eleven Romances and Tales, ed. Thomas G. Hahn, Kalamazoo, MI, TEAMS (Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages), Middle English Texts Series, 1995.

About the performer/ensemble:
Linda Marie Zaerr is Professor of English at Boise State University (2004) and a professional performer of medieval literature who has performed widely at scholarly conferences and given many concerts. In her performances she narrates, acts, sings, and plays the vielle.

About the production:
The video from which this clip is taken was recorded by the Chaucer Studio, with support from TEAMS (Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages), Kalamazoo, MI. For purschase and further information, contact the director of the Chaucer Studio, Professor Paul Thomas (paul_thomas@byu.edu; phone: 801-422-2531).