Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Troilus: Reading in a paved parlor

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About the scene and clip:
This clip is a two-part dramatization of Book 2, lines 78-119, of Troilus and Criseyde, performed in Middle English with Modern English subtitles. Part I dramatizes the scene in which Criseyde and her friends are reading aloud to each other in a paved parlor. Part II recreates how medieval audiences would have experienced Chaucer’s poem.

About the work:
The great 14th-century English poet Geoffrey Chaucer is primarily famous for The Canterbury Tales, but he is also the author of several other major works. In Troilus and Criseyde, he retells the tragic story of the Trojan prince, Troilus, and Criseyde. (This story is actually more medieval than classical: it comes from the Roman de Troie by the 12th-century French poet Benoït de Sainte-Maure; Boccaccio also tells the story in Il Filostrato, which is Chaucer’s primary source.) Chaucer tells of Troilus’ love for the beautiful young widow, Criseyde; his extreme timidity as a lover; the intervention of her uncle Pandarus on their behalf; their love-affair; her move to the Greek camp (being forced by her father to do so); her taking of a new lover, the Greek warrior Diomedes; and the heartbroken Troilus’ death in battle. The work is written in “rhyme royal” (seven-line stanzas in iambic pentameter). Shakespeare drew heavily on Chaucer’s poem for his tragedy Troilus and Cressida.

About the genre:
Troilus and Criseyde to some degree defies genre classification, but it draws strongly on romance tradition.

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:
The Riverside Chaucer, eds. Larry Benson, Robert Pratt, F.N. Robertson, Oxford, Oxford Paperbacks, 3rd Rev. Ed., 1988: Troilus and Criseyde, Book 2, lines 78-119.

About the performer/ensemble:
Prof. Joyce Coleman produced and directed the film. Kevin Caliendo (actor, screenwriter), Mark Collett (actor, screenwriter), Christina Norman Dotson (actor, screenwriter), Emily Duda (actor, costumer), Lee Green (actor, location scout), Kimberly Martinson (Antigone, music researcher), Alex Miner (actor, screenwriter), and Ryan Schaller (actor, “Siege of Thebes” researcher) are all graduate students in English and History at the University of Oklahoma (2006). Prof. David Levy (“Philosophical Strode”) is an emeritus professor of History, and Prof. Alan Velie (“Moral Gower”) is a professor of English, both at the University of Oklahoma. Dr. Lynne Levy (Chloe) and Dr. Dan Ransom are, respectively, the Managing Editor and the Director of the Chaucer Variorum. Dr. Elisabeth Dutton (Criseyde) teaches at Oxford University.

About the production:
This video was created for a graduate course taught by Prof. Joyce Coleman at the University of Oklahoma in spring 2006: “Authorship through Medieval Eyes.” The film was shot on April 13, 2006 at the University of Oklahoma. Copies of the video with detailed liner notes are available through Prof. Joyce Coleman of the University of Oklahoma. We offer our thanks to her, a member of the advisory board of the website, for allowing us to use this clip.