Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Igor: Tragic campaign begins

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About the scene and clip:
The solo performer recounts dramatically the opening part of Igor’s heroic, but ill-omened and doomed, raid against the Kumans.

About the work:
The Russian Lay, or Song, of Igor’s Campaign, probably dates from the late 12th century. It tells of the tragically unsuccessful military campaign that Prince Igor of Novgorod-Seversk led against Turkic nomads, the Kumans, in 1185.

About the genre:
Despite the title “Lay” which is sometimes given it in translation, this unusual work is a blend of several genres: epic, tale, lament, and song.

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).

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:
Medieval Russia’s Epics Chronicles, and Tales, ed. Serge A. Zenkovsky, New York, Dutton, 1973, rev. ed., pp. 170ff. Original text: One edition of this frequently-edited text is in Dmitry S. Likhachev,Literaturnye pamiatniki, Moscow-Leningrad, 1950.

About the performer/ensemble:
Nick Robbins is a Drama student in The Meisner Studio at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts (2005).

About the production:
This performance was created for an Independent Study with Prof. Timmie (E.B.) Vitz in fall 2005; it was a final performance for the course, and was videoed in December 2005 at the Maison Française of New York University by Nick Spangler.