BY JOHN Y. LAWRENCE
On Friday night, Benjamin Bagby brought his vocalized rendition of Beowulf to Chicago for a performance in the University of Chicago Presents series at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts. Bagby has been performing the poem throughout Europe and North America, in different versions of his own devising, since the mid-1990’s. The iteration that he performed on Friday night was devised for the 2006 Lincoln Center Festival, and consists of the first 1,062 lines of the poem, ending with the defeat of Grendel and the celebration that follows.
For his performance, Bagby accompanied himself on a small harp, alternately singing, chanting, and speaking the poem in the original Old English, as supertitles provided a translation. Bagby’s instrument is a historical reconstruction of an Anglo-Saxon six-string harp, of the variety presumably used by the Anglo-Saxon bards who sang the poem a millennium ago.