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Medieval Women

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Medieval Women

The roles of women in early Anglo-Saxon culture were strictly defined. Women were viewed as possessions and served the function of the peace-weaver. In this role women were married off to warring tribes to promote peace and were to perform duties such as passing the cup from warrior to warrior during ceremonial functions. Women in Anglo-Saxon culture possessed virtually no autonomy and consequently were consistently at the mercy of their lords or husbands. The sense of isolation and desperation felt by these women is captured in the “The Wife’s Lament” as the speaker describes her inability to control her own situation. The female characters Wealhtheow, Hildeburh, and Freawaru in Beowulf also display the limited role of women as peace-weavers. The only female character with some power in Beowulf is Grendel’s mother, who retaliates for the death of her son.

The speaker of “The Wife’s Lament” is a peace-weaver who has been abandoned by her tribe. She describes how she has been separated from her husband and sent away “a friendless exile—to seek a household to shelter [her] against wretched need” (103). The exiled woman lives alone in the wilderness and reflects about how the vow between she and her husband to remain together forever has been broken. The implication is that war has likely driven the couple apart as seen in the lines, “Far and near, I must suffer the feud of my much-beloved” (103). It is clear that this woman has no control over what has happened to her and consequently is left to lament the loss of her love. Because she no longer has a husband, the speaker is without a role or place in society, and she cast out on her own.

The stories of Hildeburh and Freawaru, as...

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...time) remains ceremonial. It is interesting, and telling, that Grendel’s mother, the only woman in Beowulf who is autonomous and aggressive, is considered a monster.

Works Cited

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Seventh Edition. Volume 1. Ed. M.H. Abrams. New York: W. W.

Norton & Company, 2000. 114-209.

Sanders,Arnie. "The Exeter Book." English 211: Beowulf to Dryden>.

Dept. of English, Goucher College. 1 Feb. 2004.

"The Wanderer." The Norton Anthology of English Literature.

Seventh Edition. Volume 1. Ed. M.H. Abrams. New York: W. W.

Norton & Company, 2000. 114-209.

"The Wife's Lament." The Norton Anthology of English Literature.

Seventh Edition. Volume 1. Ed. M.H. Abrams. New York: W. W.

Norton & Company, 2000. 114-209.