The Absence of Women in Beowulf, The Wife's Lament, and the Battle of Maldon

The Absence of Women in Beowulf, The Wife's Lament, and the Battle of Maldon

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The Absence of Women in Beowulf, The Wife's Lament, and the Battle
of Maldon

It could be argued that women are indeed present in the minority in
surviving Anglo-Saxon poetry, and that therefore, they are made
conspicuous through their absence. The fact they may appear less
frequently in Old English Literature does not necessarily mean that
women were any less significant in society at this time, although this
is the conclusion reached by some. It is assumed that women did, in
general, have less important and prominent social roles than men at
the time, and the power that they did possess tended to be dictated to
them by males. This essay will discuss and examine the social roles
and position of the women who did appear in Old English Literature,
and will look particularly at The Wife's Lament, Beowulf, and The
Battle of Maldon.

The Wife's Lament is rather unusual in the way its primary subject is
female. It is considered to be one of the few surviving Old English
poems thought to be narrated by a woman, concerning a woman's thoughts
and feelings, although it has been suggested that the poem was not in
fact narrated or written by a woman, meaning it could actually be
masculine in it's authorship.[1] This, some have argued, is not likely
though, considering the nature of the grammatical endings in words
such as 'geomorre' which make it clear that the speaker is feminine.[2]
The poem itself speaks of a woman exiled as a result of secret
plotting by her lord's relatives, who subsequently lives confined to
an 'earth cave' under an oak tree, within a grove, surrounded by
thorny branches. The poem describes her despair at this situation, and
concludes by describing the terrible fate of those who depend too
wholly on a loved one.


... middle of paper ...

..., R.M.ed. Old English Literature: Critical Essays. United
States, 2002.

[2] Mitchell, Bruce & Robinson, Fred. A Guide to Old English.
Oxford:Blackwell,1992. p.264

[3] Chance, J. Women as heroes on Old English Literature. New York:
Syracuse University Press, 1986, p.110.

[4] Bjork, Robert E. and Niles, John, D, eds. A Beowulf Handbook.
Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1998, p. 311

[5] Ibid, p. 313

[6] Ibid, p. 313

[7] Ibid, p. 313

[8] Ibid, p. 312

[9] Damico, Helen and Hennessey-Olsen, Alexandra, eds. New readings on
women in old English Literature. Bloomington: Indiana University
Press, 1990.

[10] Godden, Malcolm and Lapidge, Michael, eds. Old English Literature.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986, p.117.

[11] Chance, J. Women as heroes on Old English Literature. New York:
Syracuse University Press, 1986, p. 142.

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