Beowulf the Event
On March 26, 2011, in Cohoes, NY, Beowulf the Event presented the entirety of the epic poem, Beowulf in modern English translation. We set out to present Beowulf as living, performance art. Each artist was asked to find their own voice, and to let the poem speak to them. They selected, with guidance, the translations they used. Some translated themselves. The performance time was four hours and fifteen minutes
I am indebted to Dr. M. Wendy Hennequin, Amanda Lord, Anne Rookey, Joel Lord, and each performer who took on the challenge to love the poem, to free it from dust, breathe life into Beowulf, and welcome its spirit into their own.
To everyone who has the opportunity to hear Beowulf anywhere, even if they have to recite it in a living room with friends—and a break for pizza—I say to you "HWÆT!" Open your ears and your hearts and your minds, and listen.
Beowulf the Event was more than performance art. It was environmental theatre. The space, the set, the performers and those who came to see and hear, were all one. I prefer to call the audience "hall-sitters" (from the line 2023: fletsittende - sitters in the hall) since they were really part of the whole experience. Since we all sat in the hall together—performers and non-performers—we were really all hall-sitters.
- Michael Dixon; Artistic Director
Beowulf’s Beacon Production Staff:
- Artistic Director: Michael Dixon
- Academic Advisor: Dr. M. Wendy Hennequin, Tennessee State University
- Technical Director: Joel Lord
- Assistant Artistic Director/Assistant Technical Director: Amanda Lord
- Assistant Artistic Director: Anne Rookey
From the Pikestaff
Event details "Hwaet! We Gar-Dena in geardagum.."
"Listen! We have heard of the glory of the Spear-Danes..."
...and we will hear the bards of the Known World perform the epic poem Beowulf in modern English translation. A glorious Anglo-Saxon feast prepared by Lady Nadezhda Voronova will be served.
Those who are interested in performing a section should contact Master Toki Redbeard (contact information below).
In addition to the main hall, the site features a separate bar that is available for socializing. We must ask that conversations take place in the bar. All alcoholic beverages must be purchased at the bar.
This is am "immersion" event. Seating will be on benches, light will be by flame, and tables will be appropriate to the setting.
There will be limited modern seating for those who require it. On-board space is limited
Artistic Director: Master Toki Redbeard
Academic Advsior: Dr. M. Wendy Hennequin; Tennessee State University (Mistress Fiana of Clare) Site Opens: 10am Site Closes: 10pm
Event Location Ukrainian-American Citizens Club 1 Pulaski St Cohoes, NY 12047
Directions: From the East and West: Take your best route to the non-toll portion of I-90 in Albany. Take exit 6 onto I-787 North. Take 787 for 7.9 miles. Turn right onto Ontario street, go .2 miles. Turn right onto Pulaski St. The site is at the end of the road. From the North and South: Take I-87 to exit 7- Troy/Cohoes onto RT-7E. Take the Albany/Cohoes exit onto I-787N towards Cohoes. Turn right onto Ontario Street. Turn right onto Pulaski St. The site is at the end of the road.
Event Fees Site : Adult: $10.00 Non-members will also be charged the non-member surcharge of $5.00. Teen (ages 13-17): $3.00 Youth (ages 6-12): $2.00 Child (under 6): Free
Feast: The feast is limited to 40 gentles. Enclosed flame allowed. Adult: $12.00 Teen (ages 13-17): $8.00 Youth (ages 6-12): $5.00 Child (Under age 6): Free
Make Checks Payable to: SCA, Inc. - Barony of Concordia of the Snows
Contact Information Event Steward: Autocrat: Lord Alberic von Rosstock
Send Reservations to: Send Reservations to: Lady Louise La Motte
Other Contact Information: Head Cook: Lady Nadezhda Voronova
- memories from individual people, can also be formal event reports. (This sub header should always be included so that people are prompted to leave their memories).
Beowulf, a Personal Relationship:
My relationship to Beowulf is personal rather than academic. I experience it more than I think about it. It is an emotional text for me, both inspiring and transporting. When I am telling a story in verse from the Beowulf epic, it feels as if the story comes not from me, but through me, burning bright, as if I am a temporary vehicle for a greater truth. When it is going well, my listeners and I can live together for a short while in the medieval world -- time travel for real! Surrendering to its pull I discover again and again that this Medieval Superhero story of monsters and kings is unexpectedly humane and insightful. In the section I will tell today, Beowulf describes King Hrethel's grief and despair at the accidental death of his eldest son Herebeald, killed by a stray arrow shot by Herebeald's younger brother, a very sad and moving scene. The medieval world-view lacks vocabulary to name King Hrethel's condition, but Beowulf describes him as taking to his bed unable to cope with the demands of leadership, involuntarily replaying the death event over and over again in his mind -- what we today might call depression and the flashbacks associated with PTSD. Through the centuries that separate us, a father's pain touches us in a common place. Though the outward forms of our lives are very different, though we hold different beliefs and assumptions than our ancient ancestors, the human experience remains the same.
- Anne Rookey; Assistant Artistic Director
Beowulf, for the Modern Audience:
I find myself drawn to the major themes running through Beowulf. The poem starts with the lineage of one king and ends with the death of another. Threaded between tales of hell-monsters and dragons, the poem and its hero returns to one central question again and again: What makes a good king? We live in a world where the qualifications for Anglo-Saxon kings may seem irrelevant. I would tell you otherwise. The values from Beowulf apply to all leaders of men. Courage and strength through adversity. Generosity to one’s people. Lastly, the mildness and wisdom to chose one’s battles and guide one’s people. In Beowulf, one hears of the legendary glory of spear-Danes and Geats, whose lessons still echo down through the years.
- Amanda Lord; Assistant Artistic Director/Assistant Technical Director
Theatrically speaking, the job is to ask the patrons to check their disbelief at the door, then give them a product that is believable enough to not break that suspension of disbelief. In this case, though, the audience members wanted to believe. That's a much more powerful force to work with. Of course, it doesn't hurt that every single person attending was participating, merely by their presence, in making the overall ambiance.
- Joel Lord; Technical Director
Beowulf, the Very Basics
No one knows exactly when or exactly where the poem Beowulf was composed, or who wrote it, or why. Beowulf appears in a single manuscript called the Nowell Codex (or by its British Library designation, Cotton Vitellius A XV), which includes several other works. The manuscript was created around the year 1000, and paleographers believe Beowulf was copied from an earlier manuscript, now lost. The Nowell Codex was badly damaged in a fire in 1731; a eighteenth century transcription by the Danish scholar Thorkelin helps scholars reconstruct some, but not all, of the poetry now lost to fire damage.
The action of Beowulf takes place in the early 500s. Several characters, such as Hrothgar, Beowulf's uncle Hygelac, and the Swedish king Onela, are actual historical figures who appear in other sources, including histories and Old Norse and Icelandic sagas. From these external sources, we know that Hygelac died around 521. Beowulf was composed in the West Saxon dialect of Old English (also called Anglo-Saxon), and it uses the poetic form common to Old English poetry. This form does not rhyme, as much of our later medieval and modern poems do; nor does it have a regular rhythm or meter. Instead, the lines of Old English poetry generally have four heavy stresses, and at least two of those stresses alliterate or repeat initial sounds of the stressed syllables.
Beowulf has both Christian and pagan elements. Scyld Scefing, mentioned at the beginning of the poem, is thought to be a vegetation deity, and Weland, who made Beowulf's mail-shirt, was the Norse blacksmith god. The Danes, in an effort to rid themselves of Grendel, worship idols. Yet Scyld passes into the Lord's keeping when he dies, Grendel is descended from Cain, God grants Hrothgar glory in war, and God awards the outcomes of every battle. The poem assumes the audience knows both the Christian and the pagan stories, as well as the histories of various kings, queens, and warriors mentioned in the speeches and digressions.
Despite digressions, alterations, and unfortunate losses to the poem, Beowulf continues to be a compelling and living work, a tale of fate, feuds, and kingship. And yes, monsters.
- Dr. M. Wendy Hennequin
Photos and Other Media
The victim that was sacrificed on the altar of immersion was the visual record. There are no photos of the performance that I know of. The video is dark and grainy. Blame me for that. I envisioned a moment in time--a moment that was seen or missed--that would vanish into the mists. About a week before the event, Pete Olsen convinced me I was being an idiot on that point. And there was video. Dark. Grainy. And absolutely not Pete's fault. Next time, there will be better video.
~ Michael Dixon, Director
Pennsic Independent Podcast Episode E022
- Add photos if we have them
In 2011 we performed the first 2/3 of Beowulf at Pennsic War 40 on Monday August 8th 8:00 PM, thanks to our hosts, the SCA's House Trotheim.
"Beowulf is alive."
I wrote those words prior to the performance known as "Beowulf the Event" (BtE), and I believe them even more after several months have passed. Now as we’re taking our act on the road. I suspect that it will be a very different performance from the last—new setting and new people to join us— and that’s what part of what I love about performance. We aren’t trying to re-create BtE, just to present Beowulf as living, performance art.
Huge thanks go out to TRH Eikbrandr and Runa of the Middle, THL Tyzes Sofia ("Zsof"), and the jarls and people of Trotheim for hosting the madness that comes with Beowulf. Thanks also to the the other members of the creative team—Dr. M. Wendy Hennequin, Bantiarna Aoife inghean Conchobair and Mistress Anne of Framlingham, and to the dedicated performers of seven kingdoms, all of whom inspire me.
Beowulf the Roadshow was a whole new experience. Once again we were all together as hall-sitters, but this time there was no set. The backdrop was the Pennsic War, an SCA event with some 11,000 people in attendance. About 200 trekked out to the Midrealm's battlefield pavilion to join us. The fire was real this time, and outside the performance space, darkness quickly closed in around us.
With both new and returning performers, we presented two-thirds of Beowulf, ending at line 1883, when Beowulf sets sail for Geatland. The actual performance time was just over two and a half hours.
This time, there were photographs, thanks to Kate Howell, who stalked the misty darkness around us like Grendel as a photojournalist. Kate's photographs may be seen here: Kate Howell's Beowulf images
(Photographs courtesy of Kate Howell. These images are intended for the use of the performers and for promoting Beowulf the Event and Beowulf the Roadshow - any other use without permission of the performer and the organizers of Beowulf the Roadshow. All rights to these images are retained by Kate Howell.)
The weather cooperated.
And yes.. there was Mist. When Dan Marsh (the SCA's Master Grim the Skald) performed Grendel's attack on Heorot, and the ensuing battle (lines 710 - 836), he was able to emerge from a fog bank and enter the performance tent.
|He moved through the mist||past moors and ice-streams|
|Grendel gliding||God's wrath on him|
- Beowulf, lines 710 & 711, Trans. Frederick Rebsamen, Beowulf: An Updated Verse Translation, 1991, HarperCollins: New York.
Beowulf the Roadshow: (Part Two) was performed at Pennsic War 41 - Tuesday August 7th, 2012 at 8:00 PM, in the Midrealm Battlefield Pavilion. It was also hosted by the SCA's House Trotheim.
So you want to study Beowulf, do you? Or perhaps you want to perform it? Maybe you want to immerse yourself in it? Do you want to hold a literary immersion event in a modern space?
Look no further! (Wait, that’s silly—look everywhere for information and good ideas.) Here at Beowulf’s Beacon, we’re happy to provide you with a few places to start your search.
Comparative Translation Source:
Beowulf in Old English
Eldesarian Metal Works These are the people that made the AWESOME braziers that we used at Beowulf the Roadshow.
Fake Fire This is the stuff we burned in our indoor firepit at Beowulf the Event. We didn’t burn the building down. Your mileage could vary.
Raymond’s Quiet Press—run by an SCA member, Raymond’s offers very nice reproductions of medieval jewelry and fittings at very reasonable prices. Raymond’s is a great source for ring-givers and hall-thanes everywhere!
Greg Priest-Dorman and Carolyn Priest-Dorman — known in the Society for Creative Anachronism as Master Dofinn-Hallr Morrisson and MistressThóra Sharptooth—walk you through the construction of a Saxon lyre, with history and playing techniques. The lyre looks great in the mead-hall and is perfectly playable.
I’m also a big fan of Thora’s site, Viking Resources for the Re-enactor:
Building Blocks of Old English Poetry - an article by Dr. M. Wendy Hennequin
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