Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Rose: Story until Lover receives kiss, 1

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About the scene and clip:
For their final, public performance, many students in “Acting Medieval Literature” (fall 2005) chose to perform an abridged version of the entire story of the Romance of the Rose by Guillaume de Lorris, up to the point where the lover receives the kiss from Fair Welcome. (A different group chose to do something similar, but to very different effect, the following year; see that clip, titled “Rose: Story until Lover receives Kiss, 2.”) The performance included dance and dramatic staging, with both solo and group scenes, and the students made extensive use of masks, costumes and props.

About the work:
The Romance of the Rose is arguably the most influential French work of the Middle Ages. This work is a romance, composed in verse and treating of love. But it is a highly unusual romance in many regards.The Rose introduced into romance a set of major allegorical figures such as Love, Reason, and Danger; it established the popularity of the dream vision; and it launched a new fashion in pseudo-autobiographical narrative. The first 4000 lines (in octosyllabic rhymed couplets) were written by Guillaume de Lorris around 1230. This strongly lyrical part of the romance emphasizes the beauty of the Garden of Love, and the suffering by the Lover in his quest for love; Guillaume’s romance was left unfinished. Around 1280, Jean de Meun completed the work by adding close to 18,000 lines; his lengthy and learned text features speeches delivered by such characters as Reason, the Jealous Husband, the Old Woman, Nature, and Genius.

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.

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:
Performance abridged from The Romance of the Rose, Harry W. Robbins trans., New York, Dutton, 1962, pp. 3ff; text abridgement by Jessica McVea. French edition: Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose, ed./[Modern French] trans. Armand Strubel, Paris, Lettres Gothiques, 1992.

About the performer/ensemble:
This production was directed by Jessica McVea, who is a Drama student in the Atlantic Acting School at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts (2005); it was choreographed by Adriene Couvillion, a Drama student in the CAP 21 Studio at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts (2005). Performers were: Andrea Alvarez, Adriene Couvillion, Andrew Cristi, Kristin Hambel, Michelle Hernandez, Tim Hughes, Zack Imbrogno, Leigh Jones, Xenia Kramida, Jessica McVea, Mary O’Rourke, Kati Rediger, Nitzan Rotschild, Danny Schmittler, Mackenzie Sherburne, and Elizabeth Sprague. Many of these students also appear on the website in solo or small group performances; further details are available there.

About the production:
This performance was created for “Acting Medieval Literature,” taught by Prof. Timmie (E.B.) Vitz, in fall 2005; it took place on December 15, 2005, as part of an event titled “Making It Real: Performing the Middle Ages,” at an Off-off-Broadway venue in New York City—The American Place Theatre, 266 West 37th St (22nd floor). The performance 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. Gina Guadagnino was the videographer.