Actors' Roles from Medieval France -- Graham A. Runnalls

Medieval actors' rôles are unusual but fascinating manuscripts. In an era before the widespread circulation of printed books, each actor learning a part in a play had to be given a special type of manuscript containing little more than those words he needed to memorise. These manuscripts, often little more than scraps of paper, were used during rehearsals, and probably discarded after the performance. By the very nature of things, few of them survive; and when they do survive, they are usually fragmentary and hard to decipher.

However, about thirty such rôles, of varied length, have survived from late medieval France. All have, in fact, been edited and published, but mostly in different and not easily accessible journals. The aim of the present article is to bring together a brief bibliography of publications about actors' rôles, a catalogue of all surviving French actors' rôles, and reproductions of two published articles containing the texts of a number of rôles.

  1. A Catalogue of Medieval French Actors' rôles.

  2. Articles:
    Two published articles containing discussions and editions of medieval French actors' rôles.
    [These two articles are reproduced with a minimum of modifications made to the original typescript.]


The best survey of French actors' rôles is undoubtedly: Elisabeth Lalou, "Les Rolets de théâtre: étude codicologique", in Théâtre et Spectacles Hier et Aujourd'hui: Moyen Age et Renaissance (Actes du 115e Congrès International des Sociétés Savantes [Avignon 1990]), Paris, Editions du CTHS, 1991, pp. 51-71. This concise but rich essay describes actors' rôles from a codicological stand-point, provides a list of surviving medieval French actors' rôles, and re-edits six of the shorter surviving rôles.

Actors' rôles are also discussed in the following recent articles:

Darwin Smith and Elisabeth Lalou, "Pour une typologie des manuscrits de théâtre", in Le Théâtre et la Cité: Actes du Ve Colloque de la Société Internationale pour l'Etude du Théâtre Médiéval, Fifteenth Century Studies, 13 (1988) 569-79.

Graham A. Runnalls, "Towards a Typology of Medieval French Play Manuscripts", in P. E. Bennett and G. A. Runnalls, eds., The Editor and the Text, Edinburgh University Press, 1990, pp. 96-113 [reprinted in G.A. Runnalls, Etudes sur les Mystères, Paris, Champion, 1998.]

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French Medieval Drama Database Project