Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase


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About the scene and clip:
This clip gives the entire lai of Equitan in Old French. The performer acts as narrator and also impersonates the characters. Note: You may need to use speakers for this clip.

About the work:
Marie de France, a major literary figure from the Middle Ages, is one of the few women writers of the period whose work has survived. Little is known of her, except that she was almost certainly of the nobility. She wrote in England apparently in the 1160s and ‘70s; her work is in French (or “Anglo-Norman”: the French language as spoken and written in medieval England). She wrote lais—a dozen short narrative poems with Breton roots, composed in octosyllabic rhymed couplets, and bearing on love in its many forms. The lais circulated separately, and also together in a volume that she dedicated to King Henry (probably English King Henry II). She also wrote Espurgatoire seint Patriz (St. Patrick’s Purgatory), about a pilgrimage down to the afterlife, based on Latin sources; and Fables, also based largely on Latin sources. She is now widely believed also to have been the author of the Anglo-NormanVie seinte Audree (Life of Saint Audrey).

The Lai of the Equitan is one of Marie de France’s Lais. It tells of the adulterous love affair between Equitan, the king, and the wife of one of his vassals. The two lovers decide to kill the lady’s husband so they can marry—but they are the ones who end up dying.

About the genre:
A narrative lai is a short poetic tale composed in verse, which claims to tell the story of how a musical lai from ancient Brittany came to be written. The 12th-century Anglo-Norman woman poet Marie de France is the best known author of narrative lais in French, and may be one of the creators of the genre.

About the edition/translation:
The Old French edition used here comes from Karl Warnke’s 1900 edition of MS Harley 978, as translated and annotated by Laurence Harf-Lancner, Lais de Marie de France, Paris, Livre de Poche, 1990.  Available translations are: The Lais of Marie de France, trans. Robert Hanning and Joan Ferrante, Durham, NC, Labyrinth, 1982; and one on-line by Judith Shoaf, at:

About the performer/ensemble:
Tamara Caudill is an independent scholar from Winchester, Kentucky.  She holds a Masters degree in French Literature from the University of Kentucky.

About the production:
This performance took place at the International Medieval Conference at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in May 2011. It was videoed at the conference.