Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

St. Brendan: Adventures

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About the scene and clip:
The performer recounts several of the remarkable adventures of St. Brendan and his monks, including the casting out of a little devil from one of the monks, a fight in the sky between two great winged creatures, and the gift of miraculous fruits for the monks.

About the work:
This is a rather unusual work about a saint: it recounts not a life or a martyrdom, but rather a great sea voyage, a blend of fantasy and fact, full of Christian liturgical and symbolic details. Written in Latin in the 9th or early 10th century, it tells how a holy Irish monk, Brendan, gathered a group of fellow monks and traveled with them in a little boat over the deep, meeting with amazing adventures. They land on an island that turns out to be the back of a whale; they witness struggles between strange creatures in the air and in the sea; they meet interesting figures, such as Judas Iscariot, who suffers in the middle of the ocean; and they visit the Isle of the Blessed.

About the genre:
Stories about the saintly wisdom, heroism, or miracles of remarkable men and women exist in many religious traditions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Such stories are termed “hagiography.” In medieval Europe, the saint’s life or legend was an extremely popular type of work. A great many stories (and plays) about male and female Christian saints exist in Latin and in all the vernacular languages. These works may focus on the saint’s dramatic death by martyrdom, or recount the remarkable miracles performed by the saint, or may relate the entire life of the holy man or woman. Among the most important collections of saints’ lives and legends is The Golden Legend by Jacobus of Voragine. Chaucer’s “Prioress’s Tale” in The Canterbury Tales is a tale of martyrdom. Miracle and pious tales about the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, constitute a special, and highly important, category of saintly legends.

About the edition/translation:
The Age of Bede, trans. J.F. Webb, ed. D.H. Farmer, Harmondsworth, Penguin, rev. ed., 1983, pp. 211ff. Latin: Navigatio sancti Brendani abbatis, from early Latin manuscripts, ed. Carl Selmer, Notre Dame, Indiana, University of Notre Dame Press, 1959.

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.