The Anglo-Saxon Monk ruminates over the success of the 'world premiere' of Daisy Black's dramatisation of the Bayeux Tapestry.
'The play was inspired by the work of scholars on the relationship between the familiar narrative in the central frame of the Bayeux Tapestry and the figures in the borders.'
Well, what an anticlimax!
No, I don’t mean the wonderful performance last Saturday of 'The Bayeux Tapestry: The Stitches Speak' by Daisy Black’s ensemble at the 50th International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo, Michigan.
No, blessed readers, that was, to borrow from the lexis of the locals, awesome.
Rather, I’m referring to the complete indifference manifest by my brothers on my arrival back from my unsanctioned adventures abroad.
Not a whiff of wonderment, not even a sniff of envy. I was at least expecting to hear that the bishop had got wind of my escapades and was planning to publicly denounce me. Well, I guess it’s for the best. But what a lot of dreary monks I hang out with, blessed ones.
But to the performance!
Well, I must begin by patting Daisy Black on her sore back (it twice served as the footstool for King Edward). She is a veritable
Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim, I can tell you!
And I have managed, blessed ones, to find room within my Christian heart to forgive her casting me as Guy, the campy, cowardly Count of Ponthieu, and thus can now state with absolute succinctness (yes, I can do succinct) that it was truly inspiring!
I will allow the writer and director to make her own amplifications:
‘This play was inspired, in part, by the work of Gale Owen-Crocker and others on the relationship between the familiar narrative in the central frame of the embroidery and the figures in the borders.
While several of these figures perform decorative purposes, others are inclined to misbehave: making wry comments on the action above and below them; prophesying events later on in the embroidery; telling fables; making lewd gestures; and generally interfering with the story of Harold, William and the English throne.’
Indeed! There was much misbehaving from the clever Fox and a foolish, camembert-eating Crow; a megalomaniac Lion and his three dullards/ hunting companions, Ox, Sheep and Goat (some impressive animal noises); and let’s not forget that nasty oath-breaking Wolf King and his poor victims: dimwit Roebuck, gentle Rabbit and the surf-dude Monkey.
You never realised that all this was going on in the Bayeux Tapestry, did you, beloved?
One of the most ambitious – and successful – aspects of the production was the workshop, which was held two days before the performance. At this, Daisy encouraged attendees to join the troop of performers, to take on roles within the fables, and to imagine being eleventh-century warriors before actually becoming them in the final battle scene.
Medievalist scholars are nothing if not enthusiastic!
What potentially could have been chaotic turned out to be a highlight of the play. There were plenty of go-for-it performances!
And I still cannot get over the way that infamous arrow sprung from the Norman archer’s bow, was helped on its undulating way by several obliging corpses, and with the minimum of deviation landed with precision at its target: Harold’s eye.
You have to admire, even reluctantly, the skill of those Normans!
It wasn’t all comedy, even though there were plenty of laughs. There were poignant moments, and moments for reflection on the meaning of the Tapestry’s narrative.
As Daisy puts it in her director’s notes:
‘Then there is the question of how to interpret the Bayeux stories. The multiple voices expressed in the central narrative and in the borders are frequently ambiguous, and the Bayeux narrative can be read from a Saxon or a Norman viewpoint.
Is William the clever fox who steals foolish crow Harold’s cheese, or does this woollen fable refer to Harold and Edward? Are we to read Harold, or William, as the tyrannical and crafty Wolf King?’
As the Master Embroiderer (Gale Owen-Crocker, of course) observes at the end of the play: ‘it tells a little more than a simple story of a broken oath and a conquered kingdom’.
Well, that’s it for now, blessed readers. Daisy Black will be developing the play into a professional production, so please keep alert for developments. And the Anglo-Saxon Monk will be interviewing her about this in due course.
Look out, too, over the next few days, for photos from the play: who can resist seeing eminent scholars letting their hair down?
And, perhaps we may be able to persuade that nice man from Anglo-Saxon Monk Productions to prepare a video of the performance – judiciously edited, of course.
'There's the question of how to interpret the Bayeux Tapestry. The multiple voices in the Tapestry are frequently ambiguous, and the narrative can be read from a Saxon or a Norman viewpoint.' Daisy Black
"And find that it tells a little more than a simple story of a broken oath and a conquered kingdom" The Master Embroiderer, 'The Stiches Speak'