Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Silence: Minstrels

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About the scene and clip:
This pair of clips tells of the vielle-playing minstrels in Silence. In the first clip, we hear about the minstrels who entertain at noble courts; in the second clip, Silence has become a minstrel. Zaerr performs the story in Old French while playing the vielle.

About the work:
Silence tells the story of a girl whose parents raise her as a boy so that she can inherit their land. Silence, though inwardly conflicted over her true nature, becomes a successful knight and minstrel and unwittingly attracts the love of the queen. Silence is finally unmasked by the seer Merlin; now a woman, she wins the love of the king. This unusual romance contains major female characters whose names refer to speech (Silence and Euphemie) and the allegorical adversaries, Nature vs. Nurture. The website contains several clips from Silence that demonstrate some of the many different ways in which characters and scenes from this work can be performed.

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:
A Thirteenth-Century French Romance, Silence, ed. /trans. Sarah Roche-Mahdi, East Lansing, MI, Colleagues Press, 1992, ll. 2759ff, pp. 128ff; ll. 3233, pp. 152ff.

About the performer/ensemble:
Linda Marie Zaerr is Professor of English at Boise State University (2007) and a professional performer of medieval literature who has performed widely at scholarly conferences and given many concerts. In her performances she narrates, acts, sings, and plays the vielle.

About the production:
Linda Marie Zaerr had these two scenes videoed and contributed them to the website. We wish to express our gratitude for this valuable contribution.