As the Roman Empire receded, its British territories were left ungoverned, and undefended. It was not long before this fertile island attracted the attention of its neighbours, and by the mid-to late-5th Century, tribes of Jutes, Angles and Saxons hand invited themselves, and settled in its south-eastern corner. On their migrations, these tribes brought with them their Germanic culture: their stories, their heroes, their history, and their language: dialects of Anglo-Saxon. On the continent, this language would develop into modern German, Dutch and Flemish. In England, Anglo-Saxon, or Old English, was spoken until 1066, when the French-speaking Normans influenced the language, and launched it on its road to Middle, and Modern English. The Anglo-Saxons wrote poetry about their new environment. They looked at the ruins of Roman halls, and bathhouses, and saw “the work of giants”. They wrote of battles on English soil, and recorded the names of heroes and cowards in verse. But they also wrote about their homeland, and reminded themselves and their children of their heritage, their forefathers, and their legends, through epic poetry. The greatest surviving epic poem Beowulf, takes place entirely in Scandinavia, and makes no mention of England, then country in which it was written.The poem exists now in a single manuscript dated around the year 1000. However, it is believed to have been composed up to 300 years earlier, and it may not be too romantic to imagine the poem preserved through these centuries, passed from generation to generation, entirely in an oral form. Possibly assisted with a lyre, a single performer (or scope), would perform from memory, reminding, informing, entertaining his audience with the story of the greatest hero of the Geatish tribe, Beowulf.
The primary goal of this project is to recreate something of that storytelling experience. The poem has been edited from 3182 lines, to just over a thousand, but a real effort has been made to remain faithful to the original. There is no paraphrasing; sections have either been faithfully translated, or edited out all together. An attempt has been made to echo the poetic resonance of the Old English, which was free of rhyme, but consistent in its use of alliteration. There was no further need to ‘modernize’, or jazz the poem up. I hope you find that a faithful rendering of the tale is as modern a theatrical event as it is ancient.
On a personal note, I would like to thank Thomas Conway for his dedication to this project. The Lynn Grundy Memorial Trust for their encouragement and financial support, and Prof. Eamenn O’ Carragain at the English Dept. of U.C.C. Felix Nobis.
The poem begins with a short history of the tribe of the Scylds.
Scyld Scheffing is introduced as the tribal forefather, and his sea-burial is described. The generations are then traced as far as Hrothgar, who embarks on the building of the greatest of halls: Heorot. Disaster strikes at Heorot in the form of the monster Grendal who reaps nightly havoc for twelve years. One the sea (in modern-day Sweden) Beowulf is the greatest of the tribe of Geats. He sails to Denmark, and does battle with Grendal, and Grendal’s mother.
The poem then skips some fifty years, and finds Beowulf as the king of the Geatish tribe. His tribe is terrorized by a dragon, and Beowulf embarks on one more battle.
Translator and performer
Felix is two times winner of the Australian Poetry Cup and has held the posts of Writer-in-Residence, and Poet-in-Residence, at the Q Theatre (1992), and the Hawthorn City Council (1994) respectfully. Of his four completed plays, A Half Faced Mary was performed at the Sydney Opera House (1990), and Wasted was read at the Sydney Theatre Company (1993). He has performed his own poetry in Australia, America, and Europe.
As an actor, Felix has performed with Sydney Theatre Company, Melbourne Theatre Company, and Belvoir Street Theatre Company in a selection of roles. Film work includes the role of Jock Blair in John Duigan’s award winning Flirting, with Nicole Kidman. Television work includes Neighbours, Home and Away, A Country Practice. Also the mini-series Bodysurfer, and Heroes II. He was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for the roles of Rob Griffin in the twenty-six part drama series JANUS, (released in Europe as Criminal Justice). In Ireland, Felix performed the one-man show The Christian Brother, also directed by Thomas Conway, at UCC and the Dublin ISDA awards.
At present Felix is completing a Masters Degree in Medieval Theatre at UCC, where he tutors Old English Grammar.
Thomas Conway is a graduate of UCC. He has competed with three plays at ISDA festivals, as a director and producer for the following: Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me (1997, discretionary award for direction), The Christian Brother (1998), & Calling Hilary (1998, for which Oonagh Kearney won a discretionary award for writing). He has since worked two terms as an assistant with director Ben Barnes: 1998, Uncle Vanja, by Chekov, trans. By Brian Friel, The Salvage Shop, by Jim Nolan, Kevin’s Bed, by Bernard Farrell; 1999, The Spirit of Annie Ross, by Bernard Farrell, and the Footfalls programme for the Gate Theatre’s Beckett Festival, which played in London. He has studied theatre at Colby College, Maine, where he directed two later works by Samuel Beckett, Catastrophe and Ohio Impromptu. He has also worked in London on Collateral Damage by the collaborative team, Tariq Ali, Howard Benton, and Andy de la Tour. He has worked with new writers Dan O’Brien (An Irish Play), and Alison (Listening to Butterflies). This year in Cork he has worked on Beckett’s play Rockaby, and has assisted Pat Kiernan on the outdoor theatre spectacle on Patrick’s Hill, The Trial of Jesus, scripted by Conal Creedon. He is currently completing a Masters at UCC.
see 2003 guest artist press release