Bagby performing Beowulf at Ozawa Hall 2018 © Hilary Scott
Bagby performing Beowulf at Ozawa Hall 2018 © Hilary Scott

How to perform Beowulf?

When the famous Nobel Prize winner, Seamus Heayney, took upon himself to translate Beowulf, he also made the poem a fashionable part of the medieval circuit. The wider question raised in a new book is what it takes to “perform beowulf”?

Beowulf at Kalamazoo: Essays on Translation and Performance.
Ed. by Jana K. Schulman and Paul E. Szarmach
432 pages including audio CD
Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo 2012.

In 2000 a new verse translation of Beowulf by the Irish poet and Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney was published in a bilingual edition. This edition and not least translation spawned a new and fresh interest in a wider public and made the epic poem a fashionable part of the medieval performance circuit. Thus it very effectively bridged the gap between on one hand the Ivory tower and the somewhat sterile debates concerning the dating of the poem, and on the other hand the sheer pleasure amongst lay readers to get to know the poem.

A new book, recently published, “Beowulf” at Kalamazoo: Essays on Translation and Performance is a collection of essays, which explores these phenomena and examine them in a wider context. The book documents a gathering of prominent Anglo-Saxonists and scholars of oral poetry at the University of Western Michigan at which occasion Benjamin Bagby was a participant and where he performed his version of ‘Beowulf’.

The book is conceived in three parts. The first section—essays by Daniel Donoghue, the late Nicholas Howe, R. M. Liuzza, Jana K. Schulman, Paul E. Szarmach, Jan Cermak, María-Jose Gomez-Calderon, Katalin Halacsy Scholz, Claudia Di Sciacca and Loredana Teresi, and Petur Knutsson—explores translations into modern English and languages other than English.

The second part—a roundtable with Benjamin Bagby, John Miles Foley, and Karl Reichl, moderated by Mark Amodio, and essays by Foley and Reichl—explores issues of oral theory and performance.

The third part of the collection offers a wide selection of reviews of Heaney’s Beowulf written by Anglo-Saxonists. A DVD of readings of the first fifty-two lines of Beowulf in Old English, Czech, Spanish, Icelandic, Hungarian, and Italian, and selections from Turkish and Asian epics accompanies the volume.

“Beowulf” at Kalamazoo should be of interest to Anglo-Saxonists, translation theorists, linguists, oral and performance theorists, and anyone anywhere in an English department who teaches Beowulf in translation.




Read more:

Beowulf. A New Verse Translation. Bilingual edition.
Seamus Heaney
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. New York. 2000

Listen to Seamus Heaney reading the poem
(CD with Heaneys reading of his translation )

Listen to Benjamin Bagby performing Beowulf
(DVD with Bagbys reading)

Benjamin Bagby’s personal page
with a presentation of his project

Tidbits of readings by Heaney of his translation





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