Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Three Women: The Musical

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About the scene and clip:
Six performers (with modest costume elements) take turns telling the Three Women of Paris. They animate and modernize it by inserting appropriate songs from recent American musicals, to piano accompaniment.

About the work:
This fabliau tells about three women who go out drinking together. They have a grand time eating and drinking—but they get so drunk that they pass out naked in the street. Taken for dead, they are mourned by their husbands and are buried in the Cemetery of the Innocents. But the women revive and, filthy and covered with worms, they crawl out of their graves and head home. To some degree, this fabliau is a parody of a resurrection miracle.

About the genre:
Fabliaux are short comic tales. This narrative genre was extremely popular in the 13th and 14th centuries in France and elsewhere in Europe (Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale is a sophisticated fabliau). Fabliaux almost invariably deal with the passions of lust, gluttony, avarice–and with attempts to trick or deceive others. Characters are typically bourgeois, clerks and monks, or peasants–and often women. The treatment is comic or satirical, but fabliaux vary considerably. Some are extremely vulgar in language and treatment, inviting crude gestures in performance. Other fabliaux are based on puns or wordplay. Many have a moral at the end and some have ethical overtones throughout. A few fabliaux are refined and courtly in language and themes. Many fabliaux are anonymous, but a few are by known poets. Performance styles and strategies for the fabliaux probably varied considerably in the Middle Ages, according to the subject matter and characters, the poet, the performer(s), the occasion, and the kind of audience present.

About the edition/translation:
Abridged from Gallic Salt, ed./trans Robert L. Harrison, Berkeley, CA, University of California Press, 1974, pp. 398-417.

About the performer/ensemble:
Chris Chianesi, Katie Gassert, Rebecca Greenberg, Kevin Metzger, Jacob Richard, and Jennifer Seifter are all Drama students in the CAP 21 Studio at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. The pianist, Andrew Long, is a Drama student in the CAP 21 Studio, with a minor in Spanish literature and culture in the College of Arts and Science (2008).

About the production:
This performance was created for the course “Acting Medieval Literature,” taught by Prof. Timmie (E.B.) Vitz at New York University in spring 2008. It took place at the Maison Française at an event called “Making It Real 2008” in April 2008; it was videoed by Gina Guadagnino.