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'Beowulf' roars to life at ASU

Chris Vinsonhaler / Courtesy photo

Chris Vinsonhaler (courtesy photo).

March 29, 2019

Hwæt. “Beowulf: A Tale of Monsters and Men” arrives at Arizona State University in an award-winning performance with harp by Chris Vinsonhaler, a professional storyteller and a professor in medieval studies at the City University of New York.

Timely, authoritative and mesmerizing, this contemporary rendition of the epic poem brings alive sixth-century monsters, heroes and legendary battles. The action takes place on Thursday, April 4 in Neeb Hall, room 105 on the Tempe campus. Doors open at 6 p.m. and will close promptly at 6:30 p.m. when the performance begins.

The performance is sponsored by the Department of English, an academic unit of The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and is part of the ASU “Beowulf” Symposium. It is free and open to the public, but the program is suitable for adults and young adults only.

Awarded a fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts, Vinsonhaler brings the gift of the bard to this rendition with harp in modern English. The hour-long performance also features an animated re-enactment of the epic fight between Grendel and Beowulf — performed by ASU students in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

The “Beowulf” Project has received rave reviews from leading scholars of the poem, including ASU’s own Robert Bjork, a Foundation Professor of English and "Beowulf" expert himself.

He praised an earlier performance for “capturing the tone and energy of the original poem, while reflecting the intricacies of current scholarly debate about its content, meaning and mode of delivery.” And he noted also that the audience was all "hugely entertained.”

Others have lauded the show’s visceral immediacy: “You made ‘Beowulf’ come alive even for those who hated reading it,” one reviewer said. “You made the audience feel that Beowulf, Grendel and Hrothgar were with us — in the room, and in our time.”

“’Beowulf’ does indeed have something for everyone,” Vinsonhaler said. “It is a dazzling work of poetry, and it is also a knock ’em, sock ’em piece of pop culture about a Dark Ages superhero. It is somber and thought-provoking, but it is also great fun. That’s what great literature has always been about.”

Vinsonhaler will also join ASU’s medieval literature experts the next morning, April 5, at 9:30 a.m. for “Coffee and Conversation” in Ross-Blakley Hall room 196 on the ASU Tempe campus. All are welcome.

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