Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Butcher: Solo performance

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About the scene and clip:
The fabliau-performer recounts the entire fabliau, using a variety of props and costume elements.

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.

About the edition/translation:
Abridged from 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:
Michael Ritchie is a PhD student in the French Department at New York University (2005).

About the production:
This performance took place at the Tank–an “off-off-Broadway” venue in New York City–in July 2005. It was part of an evening of performances of medieval narrative organized by Jenn Jordan, a member of the Advisory Board of the website, and Timmie Vitz. Videography by Kennon Hewlitt (a Film student at New York University).