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Essay on Women in Beowulf and Arthurian Legend

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Women in Beowulf and Arthurian Legend


A common theme in the stories we have read is that glory, happiness, and success come in cycles (this theme is commonly represented as "the wheel of fortune"). This theme is present in the Arthurian tales, as well as in Beowulf. Each story tells a tale (or part of a tale) of a rise to glory, and the proceeding fall to disarray. The men always were the kings and warriors, but the women played different roles in the different
stories. The women of Beowulf were used to bind up peace (or were peaceful women), whereas the women of Arthurian legend tended to disturb the peace and cause strife. There are many women described briefly in Beowulf, and a few women described elaborately in the various Arthurian tales. The women in Beowulf were mostly openly generous, but the women in Arthurian legend unintentionally created conflicts, with the exception of Morgan le Fay. Slight variations on the female characters are present in each story.
However, they all share common characteristics with other women in their time period.

In Beowulf, there are two main categories of women. The first category is women who are bound by arranged marriages. This was often used in an attempt to create peace -- although this approach often failed, it is no fault of the women. Beowulf's own parents had an arranged marriage, although it was not an attempt to make peace. Other women mentioned in Beowulf include Hildeburh and Freawaru. Hildeburh of the Danes was sent to marry Finn, the king of the Jutes and Frisians. Finn's men killed Hildeburh's brother, Hnaef, despite the newfound peace gained by the marriage. Her tale ends in tragedy even though she was supposed to bring and end to the feud between the two countrie...


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...nval's lover, Guinevere, and Morgan le Fay all did things the way they wanted to. Hildeburh, Freawaru, and Bercilak's wife were ordered to do things by the men in power. Offa changed Thyrth's behavior. Morgan le Fay and the original manifestation of Queen Thyrth both showed animosity towards others, whereas the rest of the women in the stories did not cause any harm intentionally. However, more women in Beowulf were kind-hearted and generous, when those in Arthurian legend showed signs of greediness, treachery, and hostility. The metaphorical wheel of fortune played an important role in every story. Some focused more on the upward sections, and other stories focused more on the parts towards the bottom of the cycle. Each woman played an important part in influencing the speed at which the wheel turned. They all helped to demonstrate that fate is always unchangeable.


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