Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Conquest: William and Orable in the dungeon

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About the scene and clip:
This clip shows William and his men in the Saracen dungeon; the Saracen queen Orable arrives to help them—and romance develops. This is a very comic performance: the female actor plays William and his men, and the male actor plays Orable—but this epic itself is of a highly comic, even rather parodic, nature.

About the work:
The Conquest of Orange tells a major story in the great life of William of Orange (Guillaume d’Orange), who was the hero of an entire cycle of French medieval epic songs. (He was an historical figure, a 9th-century contemporary of Charlemagne; many legends arose about him, and he was revered as a saint.) William is a strongly colorful, often comic, hero. In this late-12th-century epic, which contains many funny scenes, William conquers the southern-French city of Orange from its Saracen lord, King Aragon, and wins the love of Queen Orable, taking her away from her husband; she converts to Christianity and adopts a new name, Guibourc. Like most medieval French epics, The Conquest of Orange is composed in laisses (or stanzas) of variable length with ten-syllable lines in assonance (the final vowel is the same within each laisse). Such epics were originally sung by jongleurs, often with vielle accompaniment.

About the genre:
The epic is an ancient genre and is found in almost every culture. It is a long heroic narrative which tells of war and great deeds. Epics are generally composed in verse, and sung from memory or improvised in performance by professional performers with instrumental accompaniment. These narratives are created from traditional elements, commonly without recourse to writing, by poets whose names are often unknown to us. Among the famous traditional epics are the Iliad and the Odyssey, attributed to Homer; the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf; and the Old French Song of Roland. Many known poets adopt epic forms and themes for their literary verse (such as Virgil in his Aeneid).

About the edition/translation:
Guillaume d’Orange: Four Twelfth-Century Epics, tr. Joan M. Ferrante, New York/London, Columbia University Press, 1974, laisses xliv ff., pp. 179ff. Original: La Prise d’Orange, ed. C. Régnier, Paris, Klincksieck, 1970.

About the performer/ensemble:
Eric Giancola and Kelly Swartz are Drama students in the CAP 21 Studio at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts (2005).

About the production:
This performance was created for a book party for Performing Medieval Narrative at the Maison Française of New York University in October 2005. The event was also sponsored by “Storytelling in Performance,” a workshop funded by the Humanities Council of New York University and co-directed by Profs. Timmie Vitz, Nancy Regalado and Martha Hodes. Videography was by NYU-TV.