“Beowulf,” the first great literary epic to come out of the British Isles, barely squeaked its way to us through time. Created between 650 and 850 A.D. and committed to manuscript circa 1000 A.D., it was almost lost in a 1731 fire, before being deposited in the British Museum. It now resides in the British Library.
While the text survives, it can only hint at how Anglo-Saxon audiences experienced this tale of a hero from Geatland (southern Sweden) who volunteers to kill a monster, Grendel, that’s been ravaging neighboring Denmark. Clues can be found in the poem itself, with its mentions of court poets who sing tales of brave feats to the accompaniment of a harp.
Benjamin Bagby, who brings his version of “Beowulf” to Town Hall this weekend, heeds those clues in his own half-chanted, half-sung approach to the poem. On DVD, his performance has the energy of an action movie — albeit one recited in Anglo-Saxon with modern English supertitles.
A DVD clip can be found HERE.
The original text can be found HERE.