About

Old Norse Poetry in Performance will be an interdisciplinary conference which aims to bring together literary scholars, actors and dramaturgs to explore the dramatic potential in the Old Norse-Icelandic poetic corpus. The conference will stretch across two days, focussing on an array of themes pertaining to both eddic and skaldic poetry. Each day will fall into three parts with a morning of performances by actors and dramaturgs seeking to put recent work on these texts into practice on a stage. Chief among these performances will be the musical renderings of eddic material by Sequentia as well as a poetry reading of translations based on skaldic verse by Andrew Smardon. Afternoons will be taken up with two sessions of papers presented by those engaged in research work on the dramatic mechanics and possibilities of these texts. Buffet lunches will be provided and there will be optional evening meals for attendees to subscribe to at local restaurants. Guests will, in adition, be welcome to join us as we head back to the conference venue after dinner on the first night to hear Einar Selvik from Warduna perform poetic material from the Edda.

The conference will operate as a focus for dramaturgs and academics to experience one another's approach to a notoriously resistant and fragmentary literature, both in order to aid the construction of a historical understanding of Old Norse poems as performance texts and to establish a practical research platform that is at once experimental and scholarly. The conference will be open to research students, musicians and theatre practitioners, all of whom will offer a pertinent and illuminating perspective on these texts.
 
 
In 1920 Dame Bertha Phillpotts published The Elder Edda and Ancient Scandinavian Drama, the first systematic argument that a substantial part of the eddic verse corpus had originally been designed for multi-participant dramatic performance. Professor Terry Gunnell re-opened the discussion in 1995 with The Origins of Drama in Scandinavia and followed this up with a series of articles on the same theme. In the past two decades support for this view has grown and Professor Gunnell has introduced the term “performance archaeology” to his work, calling in several publications for a serious study to be conducted involving live performances of these poems. Professor John McKinnell of Durham has conducted some small-scale experiments along these lines, but neither his work nor Professor Gunnell's stagings have yet been subject to any form of peer review.
 
The performance of skaldic poetry has received little attention from a dramatic perspective and yet, whether one considers skaldic verse purely as a form of political discourse or, additionally, as a source of courtly entertainment, it seems clear that the mode of poetic delivery plays an important role for both audience and skald (poet). In her book, The Structure of Dróttkvætt Poetry (1995), Kari Ellen Gade provides a useful overview of scholars who have treated the question of skaldic performance and those who regard the mode of recitation as an important mechanism for the comprehension of skaldic poetry. Gunnell’s ‘performance archaeology’ – initially concerned only with eddic poetry – seems an equally relevant avenue of research for tackling some of the difficult problems raised by these skaldic scholars.