Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Tristan by Béroul: Lovers take revenge

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About the scene and clip:
Tristan comes in secret to see Iseut; she spots one of their enemies spying on them, and Tristan kills him with an arrow. The solo storyteller plays all the parts.

About the work:
Béroul’s mid-12th-century story of Tristan and Iseut is one of the earliest surviving versions of the love story. He is completely on the lovers’ side, though their love is illicit. Béroul’s narrative is full of dialogues and dramatic scenes, some of them strongly comic, some highly physical.

About the genre:
This work is probably best understood as a tale that is close to a romance, or an early romance.

The tale, like the epic, is an ancient genre and one found everywhere in the world. Many tales are firmly rooted in oral tradition and are recited or told by amateur and professional storytellers and performers. Other tales are the work of literarily sophisticated authors and are often intended to be read aloud or silently from written texts. Some tales circulate separately, while others are part of collections, which may be set in complex frames (as in the case of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Boccaccio’s Decameron and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales). There are many sub-groups of tales with specific characteristics; see for example the “lai” and the “fabliau.”

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:
Béroul, The Romance of Tristan, ed. and trans. Norris J. Lacy, New York, Garland, 1989, pp. 207ff.

About the performer/ensemble:
Brittany Holtsclaw is a Drama student in the Stonestreet Studio at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts (2008).

About the production:
This performance was created for “Acting Medieval Literature,” taught by Prof. Timmie (E.B.) Vitz in spring 2008; it was videoed in the classroom.