Medieval literature

Students Build a Play with the Pros

On Friday, April 5, theater director Noah Himmelstein joined the students of Prof. Andrew Albin’s ENGL/THEA 4151: Performing Medieval Drama for a workshop on movement, devising, and stagecraft, to help them prepare their upcoming performance of the medieval morality play, Wisdom. Students explored the relationship between allegorical character and physical gesture, building up a bodily vocabulary for a climactic dance-off that tumbles into chaos at the center of the play. 

Katie Kudcey, Peri Rohl, Alesha Kilayko, Noah Himmelstein, and Charles Laboy (L-R) take a selfie after a medieval drama workshop and conversation.

Katie Kudcey, Peri Rohl, Alesha Kilayko, Noah Himmelstein, and Charles Laboy (L-R) take a selfie after a medieval drama workshop and conversation.

Afterward, students had the chance to talk informally with Himmelstein about his work and career. “He was very honest,” said Katie Kudcey (Music ’19), who plays Lucifer in Wisdom. “We would ask him a question and he wouldn’t beat around the bush.” Peri Rohl (English ’20), playing Anima, agreed: “‘[Theater] is something you do, it’s not who you are,’ he told us, and both our worlds kind of exploded!” 

Himmelstein’s emphasis on improvisation and intuition left a strong impression. “Connecting your physical actions to your character is really important for medieval work, where intention and motivation matter less,” said Savanah Manos (English ’20), who plays the role of Will. Rohl agreed, adding, “We can play around with our characters, play around with the scene, be spontaneous, and we’ll still get good results.”

Wisdom will be performed on Saturday, April 27 at 10:30am, at the entrance to FCLC’s Lowenstein Building on the corner of 60th and 9th. All are invited to come see this inventive, dynamic, and very funny medieval play come to life on the streets of New York! For more information, check out the Fordham Medieval Dramatists’ Facebook page and website.

Doctoral Student Danielle Sottosanti Attends Groundbreaking Symposium

English Department Doctoral student Danielle Sottosanti represented Fordham University at the first Race before Race symposium, an event designed for medieval and early modern race scholars.

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The two-day event, hosted by the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Arizona State University, featured scholars who are pushing their fields in new directions in the study of race, whether from archival, theoretical, or practical directions.

Speakers included Patricia Akhimie, David Sterling Brown, Seeta Chaganti, Urvashi Cahkravarty, Kim Hall, Jonathan Hsy, Dorothy Kim, Noémie Ndiaya, Shokoofeh Rajabzadeh, Carla Maria Thomas, Farah Karim-Cooper, and Cord Whitaker.

Sottosanti, whose Doctoral project explores the intersections of race, religion, and gender in the conversion narratives of medieval romance, enjoyed being a part of the symposium and supporting its more inclusive approaches to the study of race in the medieval and early modern world.

For more on the symposium, click here: Race before Race Symposium

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Reid-Mullarkey Research and Teaching Forum--October 24th

You are invited to the next Reid-Mullarky Reseach and Teaching Forum—Writing and Teaching in the Age of the Unspeakable. Wednesday, October 24th from 2:30pm-6:30pm at Rose Hill’s Duane Library, Room 351 and videoconference to LL309. Please plan to attend. Tea will be served. For more info see below.

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Doctoral Student Danielle Sottosanti Represents Fordham at the IUDC Doctoral Consortium

Congratulations to graduate student, Danielle Sottosanti, for being chosen to deliver a portion of her Doctoral research at New York City’s Medieval Inter-University Doctoral Consortium. The Doctoral Consortium, which draws from faculty and graduate students from CUNY – Brooklyn College, CUNY – Graduate Center, Columbia, Fordham, NYU, Princeton, Rutgers, SUNY - Stony Brook, and others, showcases the research of top students in and around New York City. Danielle’s paper, “The Romance of Crossover: Why Now is the Time for Broader Study of Late-Medieval Religious Conversion,” formed part of a session entitled “Finding New Paths,” chaired by Professor Steven Kruger of CUNY – Graduate Center. The Consortium was hosted this year by NYU on 27 April 2018. The attached image from the Auchinleck MS imagines religious conversion in the enigmatic, medieval romance, "The King of Tars," where the convert's skin color changes once he is baptized. Please join the Fordham community in congratulating Danielle for a job well done!

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English Faculty Receive Fellowships

Congratulations to English Department faculty members who have been awarded Fordham Faculty Fellowships! 

Fordham Students Experience the Camino

Buen Camino! This greeting is passed along the trail to the pilgrimage site, Santiago de Compostella, in Galicia, Spain. A popular shrine with medieval promotional literatures spanning genres of romance, ethnography, hagiography, and liturgical sources, the relics of St. James had a booming career in the twelfth century, and again in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

On September 29th, 2017, both of Dr. Suzanne Yeager’s course sections of Medieval Traveler heard first-hand about pilgrim experience from recent peregrinas, Dr. Christina Carlson and Rachel Podd. Dr. Carlson, a professor of Literature at Iona College, NY, graduate of Fordham University’s Doctoral Program in English, and recipient of Fordham’s Doctoral Certificate in Medieval Studies, shared her experiences of the trail, alongside Rachel Podd, a current advanced student in Fordham’s Doctoral program in History. “If making the pilgrimage is this gruelling today, even with all of our modern conveniences,” one student mused, “then this presentation gave me much more respect for the undertaking it was for medieval pilgrims.” Students were interested to learn of the intersections of medieval and modern, secular and spiritual aspects which both scholars presented. For Dr. Carlson, this was a first-time pilgrimage to Compostella, but she is a long-time traveler to the island of Iona, where she takes her undergraduate students on pilgrimage on a routine basis. For Ms. Podd, the journey was the third time she had made the trek, assisting Fordham students on their pilgrimages.

Clearly both scholars have a lifetime of medieval literature, history, and travel in their futures. Podd spoke of the rare scent of glacial mountains, when the wind was blowing just right. “I wish I could bottle the air!” she reflected. We were grateful for these Fordham scholars for offering us a vicarious taste or their pilgrimages. 

Biblical Pageants Set to Life

At the end of this semester, Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow Boyda Johnstone's Interdisciplinary Capstone course 'Medieval English Drama in Performance' (a course originally designed by Andrew Albin for his Lincoln Center students) will be staging a student-led production of a medieval play on the Rose Hill campus. Practice for this is already well under way: in class on Friday, Feb. 17, her ENGL 4148 students performed renditions of cycle pageants, which are medieval versions of biblical stories from the creation of the world to the last judgment. The groups each chose their favorite pageant and produced original adaptations of The Fall of Lucifer (city of Chester), Adam and Eve (city of Chester), Joseph's Trouble About Mary (city of York), and The Second Shepherd's Play.

The first sketch re-imagined God as Bernie Sanders with "Dolan Trumpeh" and Steve Bannon as the rebellious angels Lucifer and Lighteborne; the second split God into male and female counterparts as Adam and Eve struggle to decipher the mating rituals of animals; the third offered audience prompts to "boo" or "applaud" while Joseph wonders which man helped Mary cuckold him; and the fourth highlighted the harsh labor conditions under which the poor shepherds work.

One of the distinctive features of medieval cycle drama is the way in which it humanizes and personalizes biblical stories, transporting ancient tales into the streets of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century England. So transporting the stories yet further into our modern context of the twenty-first century makes a lot of sense. After engaging in the difficult work of adapting the texts into a more modernized English, the students could more directly confront the bawdy and slapstick humor of the cycle, reinvigorating tales whose themes of betrayal, hubris, and human suffering remain equally relevant today. Medieval drama was performed by amateur actors drawn from the communities gathered around them, so any lack of talent or mastery over the material can actually enhance modern engagement with how the pageants originally worked. Even the inevitable flub or mistake, for ENGL 4148, could represent a meaningful part of the entertainment.

After the class, students requested that they do more of these performance workshops, since it brought these somewhat esoteric pageants to life. So stay tuned for more performances from ENGL 4148!