Monday, August 9, 2010

"Fierce Poetry and a Pint of Thick Beer"

Artwork - R. Black
Sometimes, a search with totally random terms results in a surprising find. I combined the terms "Beowulf" and "banana," wondering what possible material for a post might emerge. What a treat to find a 2008 songplay Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage by a group called Banana Bag and  Bodice. Shotgun Players put it on throughout NYC and beyond in 2008 and 2009 to rave reviews.

The thousand years of baggage, according to the play's creators, is all professors' (mea culpa) contributions to the critical study of the Old English original:
Monsters and professors collide in blood-soaked Scandinavia as this hefty poem is rescued from 1,000 years of analysis and transformed into a defiantly raucous dissertation on art and violence. With an 8-piece band including dueling trombones, bass clarinet, accordion and saw, Beowulf combines Weillian cabaret, 40's jazz harmony, indie rock, punk, electronica and Romantic lieder into a cacophonous swirl.
I love the Old English poem, have studied it, read and re-read it, translated it, and written about it. The video clips I've seen of the Banana Bag and Bodice production are exciting and shine a different and important light on the poem - let's face it; how much beer and debauchery can one get across in class?!

The play seems a much better take on the classic than the recent movie. The movie with Angelina Jolie may stand on its own merits as a movie, or not, but does a disservice to the great work of art that the poem Beowulf is. Banana Bag and Bodice adds something that needs adding.

The video clip is of King Hrothgar lamenting is fate, what with the decimation of his Danes for twelve winters by Grendel. (Some might find some of the language offensive.)

(The title of this post if from the Banana Bag and Bodice write-up of the play.)


Owen Gray said...

Isn't it interesting that Beowulf, The Iliad, Faust never lose their hold on the human imagination.

Each generation sees them a little differently. But each generation refuses to abandon them. There is hope in that.

ChrisJ said...


It will be interesting to see how the digital age treats these works as it matures.