Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Butcher: Group performance

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About the scene and clip:
Students in a group take turns telling the fabliau.

About the work:
This fabliau tells how a butcher—angry at a rude and inhospitable priest—manages to trick him, several times over.

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.

Satire generally attacks, often in comic terms, the failings of classes or groups of people, such as those in political power (monarchs and aristocrats), or the clergy, or women; most satire focuses criticism on groups, rather than on individuals. Satire can also mock a political or religious philosophy, or an institution or system.

About the edition/translation:
Fabliaux Fair and Foul, trans. John Duval, Pegasus, Medieval & Renaissance Texts, Binghamton, NY, 1992, pp. 1-14. French: Du bouchier d’Abevile: fabliau du XIIIe siècle, Genève, Droz, 1975.

About the performer/ensemble:
The performers were all the students in “Medieval Stories in Motion/Emotion: The Art of Storytelling” in 2006. All were students at the College of Arts and Science and/or at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.

About the production:
This performance was created for a course called “Medieval Stories in Motion/Emotion: The Art of Storytelling,” taught in spring 2006 at New York University by Profs. Paula Murray Cole and Timmie (E.B.) Vitz. The performance took place in Washington Square Park in New York City’s Greenwich Village in May 2006. Videography by Nitzan Rotschild.