Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Moor of Venice: Shakespeare’s source for Othello

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About the scene and clip:
The solo performer tells the end of the tragic Italian story of Othello, the Moor of Venice, and his wife Desdemona.

About the work:
The tale of Othello—The Moor of Venice—was originally told by the Italian author Giambattista Cinthio (or Cinzio) Giraldi. It was part of a tale collection published in 1565, titled Gli Hecatommiti ovvero cento novella, similar in concept to Boccaccio’s Decameron (stories told by ten characters, over the course of ten days, on fixed themes). Shakespeare drew heavily from this tale in his tragedy Othello.

About the genre:
This story 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:
English translation in Geoffrey Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, 8 vols; Vol. 7 (1973), pp. 241-52. Original text: Gli Hecatommiti di Giambattista Giraldi Cinthio, ed. Giovanni Bertino, Sassari, G. Galliozzi & Co, 1903.

About the performer/ensemble:
Elyse Beyer is a Drama student in the Stella Adler Studio of Acting at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts (2005).

About the production:
This performance was created for a group independent study with Prof. Timmie (E.B.) Vitz in fall 2005. It took place on December 15, 2005, as part of an event titled “Making It Real: Performing the Middle Ages,” at an Off-off-Broadway venue in New York City—The American Place Theatre, 266 West 37th St (22nd floor). The performance 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. Gina Guadagnino was the videographer.