Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Yvain: Fight with demons, 1

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About the scene and clip:
The solo performer, playing all the roles, tells and acts out part of the fight between the devil’s sons and Yvain and his lion. She scrapes pot lids together to make alarming, dissonant music, and thrashes a belt for the lion’s tail.

About the work:
Yvain is one of the five surviving romances by Chrétien de Troyes, who is often considered the father of Arthurian romance. This great work, in octosyllabic rhymed couplets, was composed for Marie, Countess of Champagne, around 1170. The romance recounts the adventures of Yvain, a knight of King Arthur’s court, who wins the beautiful Laudine in marriage (having killed her husband in single combat). He then loses both her love and his honor through his failure to keep a vow to return home from his knightly activities by an agreed-upon date. The second half of the romance is devoted to adventures in which Yvain, accompanied by a lion, creates a new name for himself (the “Knight with the Lion”), recovers his honor through a series of good deeds, and finally wins back his wife.

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:
Yvain or The Knight with the Lion, trans. Ruth Harwood Cline, Athens, GA, University of Georgia Press, 1975, pp. 156ff. Old French: Le Chevalier au Lion (Yvain), ed./trans. David F. Hult, in Romans de Chrétien de Troyes, eds./trans. J.M. Fritz et al, Paris, Classiques Modernes/ Livre de Poche, 1994.

About the performer/ensemble:
Elizabeth Sprague is a student in Dramatic Literature and in Journalism in the College of Arts and Science at New York University (2005).

About the production:
This performance was created for a book party for Performing Medieval Narrative at the Maison Française of New York University in October 2005. The event was also sponsored by “Storytelling in Performance,” a workshop funded by the Humanities Council of New York University and co-directed by Profs. Timmie Vitz, Nancy Regalado and Martha Hodes. Videography was by NYU-TV.