Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Gesta: Of fidelity, or young prince rescued from pirates

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About the scene and clip:
The performer first tells the story of a young prince who was rescued from pirates by the beautiful daughter of the pirates’ leader, and of his promise to her. Then, in a forceful preaching style, the performer draws out the allegorical meaning of the story.

About the work:
The Gesta Romanorum is an anonymous collection of stories, written in Latin. Though the earliest manuscripts date from the 14th c., the stories were probably written earlier. The tales consist of stories allegedly about deeds of the ancient Romans, with a Christian moral attached at the end, and were probably used by preachers in their sermons. The work was widely known, and Boccaccio, Chaucer, and Shakespeare all retold tales drawn from it.

About the genre:
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.”

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:
The Tales of the Gesta Romanorum, translated from the Latin by Charles Swan, revised by Wynnard Hooper, New York, Everest Books, 1959, pp.8-9. Medieval Latin: Märchen und Legenden aus den Gesta Romanorum, mit Holzschnitten von Axel von Leckoschek, Leipzig, Insel, 1926.

About the performer/ensemble:
Zach Fithian is a student in Dramatic Literature in the College of Arts and Science at New York University (2006).

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 fall 2006.