‘The Prisoner’s Lament’: A Performance of an Interlingual Medieval Song
Sung by Professor Monika Otter, Dartmouth College
‘The Prisoner’s Lament’ is an example of musical contrafacture, the common medieval practice of re-texting an existing melody, but it represents a very rare example of a re-texting that is also an interlingual translation, and, for us, a contribution to understanding the multilingual culture of medieval England. Its French and English lyrics, close but idiomatic translations of each other, together comprise a contrafact—but not strictly speaking a translation—of the internationally famous Latin lament of the Virgin under the cross composed by Godefroid de St. Victor, the Planctus ante nescia. By nature, lyrics are short, and their measured lines offer ‘sense units’ in each language. Careful attention to the various transformations the song encodes creates multiple opportunities to glimpse thirteenth-century translation practice by and for trilingual speakers in medieval England.
For fuller treatment of the subject, see Monika Otter, ‘Contrafacture and Translation: The Prisoner’s Lament’, in The French of Medieval England: Essays in Honour of Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, ed. Thelma Fenster and Carolyn Collette (Boydell & Brewer, 2017, pp. 55-81).
Note: This is an informal recording, with limited technical means and no pretense to professional quality.