Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Nibelungenlied: Comic, abridged, group

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About the scene and clip:
Five students rapidly summarize, act out and (occasionally) sing to kazoo accompaniment the story of the Nibelungs, in a comic handling of the epic material; they provide a useful body count for this frequently gory epic.

About the work:
The Nibelungenlied, or Song of the Nibelungs, is an anonymous German epic composed around 1200, probably by a professional poet or entertainer for performance in a court in Bavaria or Austria. This violent poem draws both on Germanic legends and on historical events of the distant past; it recounts the love and marriage between Siegfried and Kriemhild, a Burgundian queen of the Nibelung dynasty; the great quarrel between Kriemhild and her sister-in-law Brunhild; the treacherous murder of Siegfried; Kriemhild’s marriage to Etzel (Attila the Hun), her violent revenge for Siegfried’s death, and her death. The Niebelungenlied is composed in 4-line strophes of rhymed couplets. The long lines of somewhat irregular length have 7 accented syllables to a line for the first 3 lines of the strophe, and 8 for the last line. Over 30 manuscripts preserve this lengthy epic, in 3 main versions. It is known that the Nibelungenlied was originally sung, and a surviving melody called the “Hildebrandston” is believed to be very close to the original melody for the epic.

About the genre:
The epic is an ancient genre and is found in almost every culture. It is a long heroic narrative that 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:
Das Nibelungenlied: Song of the Nibelungs, trans. Burton Raffel, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2006. Note: characters’ names are spelled differently in this translation than they sometimes are. Original: Das Nibelungenlied, ed. Karl Bartsch & Helmut de Boor, trans. Siegfried Grosse, Stuttgart, Reclam, 2003.

About the performer/ensemble:
Julie Benko, Mary Lane Haskell, Hannah McGinley, and Samantha Morrice are Drama students in the CAP 21 Studio at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Zachary Maher is a student in Political Science in the College of Arts and Science at New York University (2010).

About the production:
This scene was created for the final public performance of the course “Acting Medieval Literature,” taught at New York University by Prof. Timmie (E.B.) Vitz, in April 2010 at New York University. It was filmed by Nitzan Rotschild.