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on 3 October 2000
Following his readings from Middle English works by Chaucer and the Gawain-poet, Trevor "The Chaucer Man" Eaton now tackles the most famous Old English poem.
It is great to see that Anglo-Saxon is experiencing such popularity at the moment. While the amount of scholarly sites is growing on the internet (there are probably more OE than ME sites!), Seamus Heaney has equally breathed new life into this great poem through his recent outstanding poetic translation.
Beowulf is always regarded as a 'difficult' work, with Old English appearing very much as a foreign language, and as far more removed from modern language than the late Middle English by Chaucer. The story itself, however, is well worth the effort, and students of Medieval English will see this release as a great help. The learner should maybe consult a copy of the Anglo-Saxon original whilst listening to Eaton's reading (yes, this recording is unabridged!), to make it easier to know what is going on.
This brings me to the only real negative point. Trevor Eaton (probably rightly) regards himself as a modern version of a medieval minstrel, thus reading as if it were a performance. Those who have seen past performances by the Chaucer Man will know what that means, and agree that it is highly effective on stage. It is therefore unfortunate that a recording cannot quite to justice to Eaton's high charged delivery of the material, and I fear that some students just starting out in Old English will find the speed of his reading slightly daunting.
Yet we need material like this to really bring the literature of the Middle Ages alive. 'Pavilion Records' point out that they are happy to pass on any requests for a live performance of the work to Trevor Eaton himself, but listening to the CD will probably be the easiest way for most people to appreciate Anglo-Saxon literature. This is why I choose to award 5 stars to this recording, despite some minor quibbles.
I only wonder what Trevor Eaton will do next (maybe a collection of shorter Old English poems?)
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