Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Golden Legend: Martyrdom of St. Felicitas and Her Seven Sons

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About the scene and clip:
The solo performer, both dramatically and soberly, tells the story of the martyrdom of a mother and her seven sons: Felicitas encouraged her sons, one by one, to endure torture and suffer martyrdom for their faith in Christ, and then finally received the crown of martyrdom herself. She is, we are told, to be admired for her extraordinary courage.

About the work:
The work known as the Legenda Aurea (The Golden Legend) is a massive compilation of stories about the saints by an Italian Dominican, Jacobus of Voragine (or Varazze), Archbishop of Genoa, writing around 1260. Organized around the Catholic liturgical year, The Golden Legend tells the lives and stories of many important saints, as well as of Christ and the Virgin Mary. It was very widely known; preachers and storytellers often told stories from The Golden Legend, and it inspired much medieval art. The work as a whole and stories drawn from it were translated into many vernacular languages. About 900 manuscripts of the The Golden Legend survive, and at the end of the Middle Ages it was even more frequently printed than the Bible.

About the genre:
Stories about the saintly wisdom, heroism, or miracles of remarkable men and women exist in many religious traditions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Such stories are termed “hagiography.” In medieval Europe, the saint’s life or legend was an extremely popular type of work. A great many stories (and plays) about male and female Christian saints exist in Latin and in all the vernacular languages. These works may focus on the saint’s dramatic death by martyrdom, or recount the remarkable miracles performed by the saint, or may relate the entire life of the holy man or woman. Among the most important collections of saints’ lives and legends is The Golden Legend by Jacobus of Voragine. Chaucer’s “Prioress’s Tale” in The Canterbury Tales is a tale of martyrdom. Miracle and pious tales about the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, constitute a special, and highly important, category of saintly legends.

This story also belongs to the tale tradition. The tale, like the epic, is an ancient genre and one found everywhere in the world. Many tales are firmly rooted in oral tradition and are recited or told by amateur and professional storytellers and performers. Other tales are the work of literarily sophisticated authors and are often intended to be read aloud or silently from written texts. Some tales circulate separately, while others are part of collections, which may be set in complex frames (as in the case of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Boccaccio’s Decameron and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales). There are many sub-groups of tales with specific characteristics; see for example the “lai” and the “fabliau.”

About the edition/translation:
From The Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine, translated by William G. Ryan and Helmut Ripperger, New York Press, 1969, p. 347. Latin: Iacopo da Varazze, Legenda Aurea, ed. Giovanni Paolo Maggioni, 2nd ed., Firenze, SISMEL, Edizioni del Galluzzo, 1998, 2 vols.

About the performer/ensemble:
Brandon Goodman is a Drama student in the Experimental Theatre Wing at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts (2009).

About the production:
This performance was created for “Acting Medieval Literature,” taught by Prof. Timmie (E.B.) Vitz in spring 2009. It was videoed in the classroom by a fellow student.