Roland, a founding heroic figure
Roland is one of the founding heroes of the European world, like Ulysses or Achilles in the Greek tradition. Like them, Roland inspired generations of artists: Boiardo, Ariosto, Lully, Vivaldi, Victor Hugo, Klaus Kinski… Like them, his fate was told in epic poetry and early literary monuments such as Iliad and Odyssey in Ancient Greek, and The song of Roland in French.
But mummified in an abstruse language, confined to school textbooks, sometimes respectfully recited by younger generations, The Song of Roland feels a bit stale… We spent too much time comparing the different manuscripts and forgot what gave rise to chansons de geste: the spirit of jugglers. Like Homer’s texts, medieval epics initially belonged to popular culture, orality and performance.
Reviving chanson de geste
To prevent chanson de geste from being put away and becoming archeological remains, it is time to take it out of medieval libraries and summon its original vitality.
Before it was unearthed in the 19th century and presented to school children in its more or less mummified form as ‘the oldest literary text in French’, the story of Roland was put together in the oral and popular culture of the Middle-Ages, passed down from generation to generation.
Poetry is not composed to be read around the fireside or in school textbooks. We create it so it can burn as it proliferates and keep us on tenterhooks until the last verse. Nowadays, who better than a white clown to revive the freedom, insolence, humour and folly that characterise the many stories dedicated to Roland’s fate? We can imagine that Jean Lambert-wild’s white clown, Gramblanc, with whom, over the years, he has explored the possibilities offered by gestures and language, has the means to revive and embody in his own way the living language of chansons de geste.
A new translation, and an adaptation focusing on the Battle of Roncevaux Pass
Our adaptation is a new translation of the Battle of Roncevaux Pass, inspired by the famous 11th century Song of Roland. In it, the laisses of the original text appear in a new translation. The language is modernised yet remains faithful to the rhythm and poetry of medieval literature. Some sections were written to evoke Turold’s everyday life, or to tell the story of his trip to the moon where he would find the elixir of consciousness that would appease Roland’s madness (an event inspired by Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso).
FROM TUROLD TO… GRAMBLANC
Who is Turold?
Turold is the show’s main character. He is inspired by the hypothetical author mentioned at the very end of The Song of Roland, whose name also appears on the almost contemporary Bayeux tapestry, in connection with an individual dressed like a juggler but who holds two horses by the bridle. He is a sort of poet squire, or maybe a histrionic knight like Taillefer, who appears several times in medieval literature, singing Roland’s adventures as he launched the Battle of Hastings!
From Turold, Taillefer, and also Thierry from La Spagna, Roland’s squire who witnessed his death, emerged a character that is close to the famous paladin yet critical of him. He is a witness with distance, like Sganarelle, at times understanding and at times exasperated by his master’s excesses.
Squires, troubadours, jugglers and… clowns who talk
So that the vitality of Roland’s destiny can resonate, this show uses the jeering and poetic aesthetics of circus and troubadours. Doing so, it can reconnect with the free, impertinent and humorous spirit that characterises the many stories dedicated to this extraordinary destiny.
Deliberately following the tradition of the troubadours minstrels who used to voice epic poems, Gramblanc, Jean Lambert-wild’s clown, will become Turold, Roland’s squire. He will tell his story along with his circus menagerie: Chipie de Brocéliande, the incredible jenny from Cotentin, and three hens: Odette, Suzon and Claude. Without feeling nostalgic for a past that is unattainable, the show reconnects with the invigorating strength and the jovial inspiration that, from the Middle-Ages to our greatest clowns, has characterised popular high culture.
THE NARRATIVE STRUCTURE OF THE SHOW
Turold gets up at the crack of dawn. He puts on the radio and makes himself a cup of coffee, like he has been doing every morning, like all the world’s mornings, since the year 778 and until now.
Every day, Turold, Roland’s squire, retells the Song of Roland. His ancient world, suffused with melancholy and fury, unfolds in the present tense, with his hens, his jenny, and his varlets, all complicit in his madness.
The old man relives the Battle of Roncevaux Pass and also tells us of his master’s mad valour, of Olivier’s death, of his trip to the moon, of the Vascones’ omelette recipe and the knight Roland’s epic end on the battlefield.
Grappling with his ghosts, stuck in a perpetual present, Turold takes us on a joyous and poetic whirlwind and allows us to experience his chanson de geste and think about the immoderation of Heroes.