Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Gawain: Hunting and wooing scenes

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About the scene and clip:
Eight performers take turns telling and performing the (abridged) hunting and wooing scenes, using costumes and adding some comic elements; among them: the hunting horn is a harmonica; students in animal costume act out the terrified animals; the cutting up of the deer becomes a surgical operation.

About the work:
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, one of the best loved works of medieval literature, is an anonymous Middle English romance of the 14th century. The style is “alliterative”: each poetic line is dominated by a certain letter sound that is repeated.

The story: At Christmas, a strange, huge, all-green knight arrives at King Arthur’s court. He challenges all present to an exchange of blows with his great axe. Gawain accepts, and cuts off the knight’s head—but the green man does not die! Rather, he picks up his head and, before riding away, reminds Gawain that in a year it will be his turn to receive his blow. Gawain, in his dutiful quest for the Green Knight, encounters many adventures—in particular, at a castle where he has an exchange of gifts with the lord, and where the lady attempts repeatedly to seduce the virtuous and honorable Gawain. He finally finds the Green Knight—in a surprising conclusion to the romance.

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:
Abridged from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, tr. Brian Stone, Penguin, 2nd ed., London, 1974, pp. 62ff. One edition of this frequently-edited work is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, ed. J. R. R. Tolkien and E. V. Gordon, 2nd ed. revised by Norman Davis, Oxford, Clarendon, 1968.

About the performer/ensemble:
Danielle Benzaken is a student in Psychology and English in the College of Arts and Science at New York University. Jessica Carei is a student in Journalism and Medieval and Renaissance Studies in the College of Arts and Science at New York University. Ruby Joy is a Drama student in the Playwrights Horizons Theater School at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Kat Keating is a student in English, Medieval and Renaissance Studies, and Music in the College of Arts and Science at New York University. Nick Kocher is a Drama student in the Experimental Theatre Wing at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Andrew Long is a Drama student in the CAP 21 Studio at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and a student in Spanish literature and culture at the College of Arts and Science. Marielle Mosthof is a Drama student in the Stella Adler Studio of Acting at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Steven Northrup is a Drama student in the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts (2008).

About the production:
This performance was created for the course “Acting Medieval Literature,” taught by Prof. Timmie (E.B.) Vitz at New York University in spring 2008. It took place at the Maison Française at an event called “Making It Real 2008” in April 2008; it was videoed by Gina Guadagnino.