Academic journal article Arthuriana

Performing Medieval Narrative

Academic journal article Arthuriana

Performing Medieval Narrative

Article excerpt

EVELYN BIRGE VITZ, NANCY FREEMAN REGALADO, and MARILYN LAWRENCE, eds., Performing Medieval Narrative. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2005. Pp. 261. ISBN: 1-84384-039-1. $90.

The fourteen essays collected in Performing Medieval Narrative demonstrate a range of methodologies through which to understand the importance of performance to medieval literature. Performance is broadly conceived here, but all of the essays focus on what the editors describe as 'representations of the communicative bodily presence of a performer and of a receptive audience' (3).

A first section on portraits of performers in texts includes Sioned Davies's study of the praise of an entertainer in the Mabinogi and John Ahern's essay on the circulation of stories through performance and through texts in northern Italy in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Using the narrators of Boccaccio's Decameron as an exemplary storytellers, Ahern shows the ways in which performers drew on personal story repertories. In what is to my mind the most important essay of this section, Joyce Coleman takes seriously complaints about bad performance in the Middle English Wynnere and Wastoure and argues that these complaints point to historical shifts in performance style.

The essays on performance and the book in the second part of the collection are likely to be those of greatest interest to readers of ARTHURIANA. Keith Busby's essay comes in part from his Codex and Context (2002), and describes word separation and word clustering in manuscripts as evidence that texts may have been meant for reading aloud. Rich with examples, Busby's essay makes a convincing argument for the material evidence for the performance of romances and chansons de geste. Also in this section Marilyn Lawrence traces the different representations of the amateur and the professional performer in Ysaye le Triste and Nancy Freeman Regal ado examines descriptions of the staging of Arthurian interludes and chivalric jousts in Le roman de Hem. Evelyn Birge Vitz's essay (a version of which appeared in Poétique in 2004) examines what she calls 'erotic reading' and argues that the act of reading aloud intimate scenes that describe love-making may invite love-making by the readers (as in Dante's representation of Paolo and Francesca, which is one of the examples Vitz discusses). …

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