DVD – Beowulf performed by Benjamin Bagby
Review by Kayla Ferguson
“Hwæt! Wē Gār-Dena in geār-dagum…” The powerful, flowing words are musical to the ear, spoken with conviction and emotion, strange and mystical like the language from some fantasy novel. Don’t recognize it? You should. It’s English.
Not modern English, but Old English, also known as Anglo-Saxon, the language spoken by the people of the same name who inhabited England during the Dark Ages and early Medieval Period, and it is the direct ancestor of the language spoken today. And the words you are hearing as you sit down to watch Scandinavian performer Benjamin Bagby’s mesmerizing performance is the opening passage of the greatest Old English epic: Beowulf.
This recording of one of Bagby’s live performances is a breath-taking journey into the past and the grandeur of Anglo-Saxon England. The fourteen-hundred-year-old story follows the English hero Beowulf, a man of incredible strength, as he battles three different monsters: the demon Grendel, Grendel’s vengeful mother, and a fire-breathing dragon. It’s a rousing adventure tale, full of fights, danger, and heroics, but it’s also a surprisingly beautiful story about friendship, family, loyalty, and the journey from youth to old age.
Benjamin Bagby not only performs the entire epic, all in Old English, from memory, but he performs it as it would have been delivered by an Anglo-Saxon bard in a lord’s hall hundreds of years ago, giving modern viewers a unique glimpse into that long-ago culture and time period. Bagby slips from dramatic chanting to haunting song and back again, accompanying the performance with his Anglo-Saxon harp which provides a beautiful background to the sweeping story of heroes and monsters. And don’t worry – if you don’t know the story or aren’t familiar with Anglo-Saxon vocabulary and grammar, there are subtitles in modern English throughout the entire performance.
For any history or literature buff, or for fans of fantasy, this is a not-to-be-missed chance to immerse yourself in the strange and powerful world that heavily influenced stories like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. From Bagby’s intense, lyrical voice to the ethereal music of his harp to the legendary story itself, this recording makes it easy to imagine yourself sitting in the hall of an Anglo-Saxon lord, reclining by the fire, listening to a master storyteller weaving a tale of beauty and dread. And who knows – there might even be a dragon lurking outside your door this very moment…
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