The Role of Women in Beowulf

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The Role of Women in Beowulf

Beowulf is an epic tale written over twelve hundred years ago. In the poem, several different female characters are introduced, and each woman possesses detailed and unique characteristics. The women in Beowulf are portrayed as strong individuals, each of whom has a specific role within the poem. Some women are cast as the cup-bearers and gracious hostesses of the mead halls, such as Wealhtheow and Hygd, while others, Grendel's mother, fulfill the role of a monstrous uninvited guest. The woman's role of the time period, author's attitude, and societal expectations for women are evidenced throughout the poem.

Wealhtheow is Hrothgar's queen and the mother of his two sons. Wealhtheow portrays the role of a traditional Anglo-Saxon woman at the time. When Wealhtheow is first introduced to the audience, she immediately falls into her role as peaceful greeter and cocktail waitress. The author writes, "Then Wealhtheow came forth / folk-queen of the Danes daughter of Helmingas / and Hrothgar's bedmate. She hailed all of them / spoke her peace-words stepped to the gift-throne / fetched to her king the first ale-cup" (ll. 612-6). Wealhtheow then proceeds through the meadhall "offering hall-joy to old and to young / with rich treasure-cups" (ll. 621-2). When Wealhtheow first approaches Beowulf and the Geats, she "bore him a cup / with gold-gleaming hands held it before him / graciously greeted the Geats' warleader" (ll. 623-5). The author then reinforces that she is a member of the weaker gender by directing Wealhtheow to her proper pos...

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...and, like the rest of the female characters in Beowulf, she too is tamed by men.

The women characters in Beowulf show that during the time period in which this was written, the roles of women were clearly defined. While, the author's views on women may never be fully revealed, it is made apparent that he believes in male superiority, and disobedient females ought to be suppressed. Like Wealhtheow, females were to exert minimal power and influence, but should always keep the drinks coming.

Works Cited

"Beowulf." The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M.H. Abrams. New

York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2000. 29-99.
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