Performing Medieval Narrative Today

A Video Showcase

Beowulf: Dragon awakes

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About the scene and clip:
The solo performer tells how the dragon awakes and destroys the terrified town; he uses aluminum pans to produce alarming sounds, and a cardboard town and cigarette lighter to suggest the burning of the town.

About the work:
Beowulf, an Old English epic that was written down in the early 11th century, may actually date from as early as the 7th century, and is one of the great surviving medieval epics. While we cannot know who “created” the written version, it is clear that the text has its roots in an older oral tradition of epic storytelling. This type of Germanic verse is recognizable by the structural unity of its unrhymed alliterative lines, each line containing four stressed syllables.

It tells of the mighty struggles between the legendary hero Beowulf and three great supernatural monsters: first Grendel, then Grendel’s mother, and finally the Dragon. This song also sings of Beowulf’s great leadership and loyalty and of the virtues for which he was famed.

About the genre:
The epic is an ancient genre and is found in almost every culture. It is a long heroic narrative which tells of war and great deeds. Epics are generally composed in verse, and sung from memory or improvised in performance by professional performers with instrumental accompaniment. These narratives are created from traditional elements, commonly without recourse to writing, by poets whose names are often unknown to us. Among the famous traditional epics are the Iliad and the Odyssey, attributed to Homer; the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf; and the Old French Song of Roland. Many known poets adopt epic forms and themes for their literary verse (such as Virgil in his Aeneid).

About the edition/translation:
Beowulf (Bilingual Edition), trans. Seamus Heaney, New York, W.W. Norton, 2000, pp. 155ff.

About the performer/ensemble:
Michael Abourizk is a student in Dramatic Literature and Theatre History, with a minor in French, in the College of Arts and Science at New York University (2008).

About the production:
This performance was created for “Acting Medieval Literature,” taught by Prof. Timmie (E.B.) Vitz in spring 2008. Various students served as videographers.