Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Perceval: Perceval takes knights for devils, then angels

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About the scene and clip:
At the start of the romance, Perceval, who has been raised in the forest by his mother, sees knights for the first time, riding along. First he thinks they are devils (they make such a racket), but then he decides he is wrong: they must be angels, because they are so shiny and beautiful! The solo performer plays Perceval and various knights.

About the work:
Perceval is the last of the five surviving romances by Chrétien de Troyes who is often considered the father of Arthurian romance. This unfinished work, in octosyllabic rhymed couplets, was composed for Philippe of Alsace, Count of Flanders, around 1180. The romance recounts the adventures of Perceval, a noble youth who was raised in ignorance of knighthood in the woods of Wales by his widowed mother, but who gets himself knighted by King Arthur and progressively learns about knighthood; this romance also tells of adventures of Gawain, always given as a paragon of chivalry. In this work the Grail makes its first appearance in medieval literature; there will be many more.

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:
Perceval, or The Story of the Grail, trans. Ruth Harwood Cline, Athens, GA, University of Georgia Press, 1985, pp 7ff. Original text: Le conte du Graal, ed./trans. Charles Méla, in Romans, eds./trans. J.M. Fritz et al., Paris, Classiques Modernes/ Livre de Poche, 1994.

About the performer/ensemble:
Emily Leonard is a student of Dramatic Literature and Journalism in the College of Arts and Science at New York University (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.