Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

There Was a City: A crazy world, a sane man

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About the scene and clip:
The solo performer, standing on a chair, delivers Peire Cardenal’s ringing denunciation of the madness and sinfulness of this world, which has forgotten God.

About the work:
This is an allegorical “sirventès”—a strongly moral song—by the famous Troubadour Peire Cardenal. It tells about a city onto which a rain fell that made men mad and violent. One man, on whom the rain happened not to fall, remains sane—but the other people say that it is he who is crazy, not they, and they beat and insult him. This song is clearly allegorical and Christian in inspiration—madness is identified with sin; this is the “mad sanity of the world.” But just what it refers to specifically remains somewhat unclear.

About the genre:
Songs of all kinds were extremely important to medieval culture; there were many types, or sub-genres, of songs. The songs of the Troubadours (from southern France) and of the Trouvères (northern France), dating mostly from the 12th and 13th centuries, were particularly admired, and were widely imitated throughout Europe. While many songs speak primarily of feelings and do not have a clear narrative line, some songs tell stories.

Allegory is a way of composing and of interpreting texts: characters and the plot point beyond themselves to something “other”—something symbolic. Characters are often personifications of forces such as Love, Pride, Reason, or Friendship. The plot is also symbolic: characters’ struggles are between vices and virtues; their journey may refer to life’s pilgrimage or to the discovery of some great truth, such as the nature of love. Works may be entirely allegorical, or may just contain brief passages written in this mode. Allegorical works are often strongly religious, philosophical, or moral.

About the edition/translation:
Frederick Goldin, ed./trans, Lyrics of the Troubadours and Trouvères: An Anthology and a History, Gloucester, Mass, P. Smith, 1983 (reprint, original edition, 1973), pp. 302-9.

About the performer/ensemble:
José Pérez IV is a Drama student in the Experimental Theatre Wing at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts (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. Much of the videography for this class in spring 2009 was done by José Pérez IV.