Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase


About this site

Performing Medieval Narrative Today: A Video Showcase offers resources for scholars, teachers, students, and performers to explore contemporary performance of medieval narrative. Our purpose is to see how medieval stories can be brought to life in performance for modern audiences, and how performance can be used to teach medieval literature in the classroom. We hope as well to promote a better understanding of ways in which medieval narratives may have been performed for their original audiences.

Video clips constitute the primary resource here. The clips feature a variety of actors, storytellers, singers, musicians, mimes, puppeteers, and dancers, who are professionals, skilled amateurs, teachers, and students. They perform scenes drawn from a wide range of medieval narrative genres, including epics, romances, lais, saints’ lives, allegorical works, tales, fabliaux, and others. The website has had something of a focus on Western Europe, but the linguistic and geographical range of works is becoming increasingly broad. The website also includes performances of narratives from analogous traditions, such as Egyptian Hilali epic.

This site focuses exclusively on the performance of narrative, as broadly defined. While many recordings and websites are devoted to medieval music and drama, the performance of medieval narrative is now beginning to be appreciated as an important fact. Modern performers and scholars have long recognized that medieval plays were intended to be played and lyric poems were meant to be sung. Yet medieval epics were likewise typically sung with instrumental accompaniment, verse romances were often recited and even acted out from memory, and fabliaux and other tales were performed by minstrels and other entertainers. Public reading of stories to assembled audiences also became an important performance mode. But private, silent reading, which is the norm today, was extremely rare in the Middle Ages. In short, medieval narratives were created and intended to be performed. Their “performability” was, and remains, part of their fundamental character, affecting in significant ways audience response. This site aims to make these works live again in performance.

Performing Medieval Narrative Today: A Video Showcase was originally launched as a pilot website in spring of 2004. The site—now twice revised and relaunched with new URLs—contains well over 200 clips, and we continue to seek to increase the number of clips and the range of traditions covered. The original site complemented a book of essays, Performing Medieval Narrative, edited by the co-founders of this site, Evelyn Birge Vitz, Nancy Freeman Regalado, and Marilyn Lawrence (Cambridge, D.S. Brewer, 2005). The present site also serves to complement recent articles by Vitz on the performance of medieval narrative (see Bibliography).

A sister site—“Arthurian Legend in Performance” at —focuses entirely on performance of Arthurian material. We invite you to visit.

Clips from both websites can be viewed on smartphones and other such mobile devices.

Using this site

  • Drop-down boxes list categories under Performances and Original Works. In the drop-down lists, the number in parentheses refers to the number of clips that include each particular feature.
  • Under Performances you may search by Performance Descriptors (Free Adaptation, Mime, Puppets, etc.), Musical Instruments, Performer Categories, Name of Performer, Language of Performance, Setting, Geographical Location, and Title of Clip.
  • Under Original Works you may search by Title, Author, Genre, Subject, Period, and Language of Work.
  • Choosing a specific title from the Title of Clip drop-down box overrides any other search criteria and automatically directs you to the chosen clip.
  • Use the Advanced Search to search for several features simultaneously.
  • List All Search Criteria shows all the categories you may use to search the site.
  • List All Videos lists all clips.

About the musical instrument classification

The musical instrument classification system used on this website is based on the system published in 1914 by Erich vol Hornbostel and Curt Sachs. “Under this system – now accepted by musicologists all over the world – instruments are categorized according to the way in which sound is produced” (Diagram Group, Musical Instruments of the World: An Illustrated Encyclopedia with more than 4000 Original Drawings, New York, Facts on File, 1976).

These are the five categories of instruments in the Hornbostel/Sachs classification, with examples of some instruments within each category:

  • Aerophones:
    • Accordions
    • Bagpipes
    • Flutes
    • Harmonicas
    • Horns
    • Kazoos
    • Organs
    • Recorders
    • Whistles
  • Chordophones
    • Dulcimers
    • Fiddles, rebecs, and vielles
    • Gitterns and guitars
    • Harps and lyres
    • Harpsichords
    • Lutes
    • Pianos
    • Psalteries
    • Zithers
  • Idiophones
    • Bells
    • Castanets
    • Cymbals
    • Gongs
    • Percussion boards and vessels
    • Pots and pans
    • Rattles
    • Steel drums
    • Tapping feet
    • Xylophones
  • Mechanical and electrical instruments
    • Carillons and chimes
    • Electric and mechanical organs
    • Electric guitars
    • Hurdy-gurdies
    • Music boxes
  • Membranophones
    • Drums


Project Directors:

  • Evelyn (Timmie) Birge Vitz, French Department, New York University
  • Marilyn Lawrence, French Department, New York University

Founders of pilot website (2004):

  • Evelyn (Timmie) Birge Vitz, French Department, New York University
  • Nancy Freeman Regalado, French Department, New York University
  • Marilyn Lawrence, French Department, New York University

Website Advisory Board:


  • Anne Azéma (The Boston Camerata/Camerata Mediterranea/Ensemble Aziman), Boston, USA and Paris, France: voice, hurdy-gurdy; medieval lyric
  • Benjamin Bagby (Sequentia), Paris, France: voice, lyre, medieval harp; Beowulf, Edda, medieval chant, lyric, and polyphony; Bagby also teaches medieval performance practice at the Université de Paris-Sorbonne
  • Eberhard Kummer, Vienna, Austria: voice, Gothic harp, hurdy-gurdy; Nibelungenlied, Germanic lyric and narrative
  • Katarina Livljanic (Dialogos), Paris, France: voice; Judith, Vision of Tondale, medieval liturgy and narrative; Livljanic also teaches medieval musicology and performance at the Université de Paris-Sorbonne


  • Joyce Coleman, English Department, University of Oklahoma, USA
  • Mark Cruse, French Department, Arizona State University, USA
  • Sioned Davies, Ysgol y Gymraeg (School of Welsh), Prifysgol Caerdydd (Cardiff University), Wales
  • † Ulrich Mueller, Fachbereich Germanistik (German Department), Universität Salzburg, Austria
  • Nancy Freeman Regalado, French Department, New York University, USA
  • Karl Reichl, Institut für Anglistik, Amerikanistik und Keltologie (Department of English, American and Celtic Studies), Universität Bonn, Germany
  • Linda Marie Zaerr, English Department, Boise State University (Idaho), USA; Prof. Zaerr is also a performer (Psallite, Quill Consort): voice, vielle; medieval English, French, Spanish literature


  • Sam Erenberger, UG/Tisch Drama (Experimental Theatre Wing), BFA 2010, New York University
  • Justin Fair, UG/Tisch Drama (Atlantic Acting School), BFA 2005, New York University
  • Gina Guadagnino, College of Arts & Science (English; Irish Studies, Medieval & Renaissance), BA 2003, New York University
  • Jennifer Jordan, College of Arts & Science (Medieval & Renaissance Studies), BA 2005, New York University
  • Jessica McVea, UG/Tisch Drama (Atlantic Acting School) and College of Arts & Science (Irish Studies), BFA 2006, New York University
  • Michael Ritchie, French, PhD 2011, New York University
  • Nicholas Robbins, UG/Tisch Drama (The Meisner Studio) and College of Arts & Science (Medieval & Renaissance Studies), BFA 2007, New York University
  • Nitzan Rotschild, UG/Tisch Film and TV, BFA 2010, New York University
  • Abigail Wahl, UG/Tisch Drama (The Stella Adler Studio of Acting) and College of Arts & Science (Medieval & Renaissance Studies), BFA/BA candidate, New York University

Project supported by:

  • Digital Studio and Faculty Technology Services, New York University

Website Development:

  • Jennifer Vinopal (project manager), New York University Libraries
  • Jose Frias (website development and design), Digital Studio, New York University Libraries
  • Carlos Garcia (website development and design), Information Technology Services, New York University
  • Elizabeth Wright (additional design), “Wright Designs”

Additional technical support from:

  • Melitte Buchman and Rick Ochoa (technical assistance), Digital Library Technology Services, New York University
  • Sam Erenberger (videography, film editing and video digitization)
  • Gina Guadagnino (metadata and video digitization)
  • Lael Laderman (video digitization)
  • Nitzan Rotschild (videography and video digitization)
  • Abigail Wahl (fact checking and copy editing)

Special thanks:

We especially want to thank our most generous donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, without whom this project would not have been possible.

We are deeply appreciative for support from Edward Sullivan, Dean for Humanities, School of Arts and Science, and from Matthew Santirocco, Dean of the College of Arts and Science, at New York University.

We are also grateful for the generous support of NYU’s departments of French, English, and Comparative Literature; NYU’s Medieval & Renaissance Center; and “Storytelling in Performance,” a workshop of the NYU Humanities Council.

Rights information: Use of site content

Creative Commons Lincense

This site makes its Original Content, including video descriptions and supporting text (Bibliography, Videography, and Teaching Tips) available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. This license permits you to re-use Original Content on other websites and in other media, including creating translations or other adaptations of Original Content, for non-commercial purposes. Re-use under this license is subject to the following requirements:

i. attribution must be provided as follows: [e.g. Name of website, URL (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)]

ii. adaptations or other derivative works that you create from Original Content must in turn be made available under a compatible Creative Commons license.

Important note

Performance Recordings on this site are subject to third party rights, including copyright, and are made available with the permission of the rights holder(s). These recordings are not covered by this site’s Creative Commons license.

If you wish to use Performance Recordings for your own purposes, you are responsible for determining and satisfying any rights restrictions, including obtaining any necessary rights from the copyright holder. Users are free to provide links to Performance Recordings, or any other content on this site, without obtaining permission.


Although site content, including Performance Recordings subject to copyright held by third-parties, may be used within Fair Use (as provided under U.S. copyright law (17 U.S.C. § 107), we make no warranties or guarantees as to the suitability or non-infringement of any particular use.

All materials on this site are provided “as is” without a warranty of any kind, either express or implied, including but not limited to the implied warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular use, and/or non-infringement.