Essay on Women in the Epic of Beowulf

Essay on Women in the Epic of Beowulf

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Women in Beowulf


Are women in this poem active equals of the men? Or are they passive victims of the men? The role of the women in Beowulf is not a stereotyped one of passive homemaker, but rather one having freedom of choice, range of activity, and room for personal growth and development.

The poem opens with Scyld Scefing, who came motherless to rule the Danes:

than those at his start
who set him adrift
when only a child,
friendless and cold,
lone on the waves. (44-46)

Scyld’s motherlessness perhaps tells the reader that the heroic, superhauman, violent deeds about to transpire are perhaps not all that compatible with women and womanly qualities like passivity, gentleness, compassion. For the same reason we see no mention of Scyld’s wife, of Beow’s wife, and many other wives and mothers in the poem. It is a predominantly masculine, rough and tough narrative which would only be detracted from by the presence of many women.

Yrse, the wife and queen of Onela, is only briefly mentioned in line 62 as a daughter of Healfdene and spouse of the Swede. Then everyone else is male for many lines: Grendel, Hrothgar, Beowulf and his boatful of warriors, the coastal guard of the Danes, the chamberlain, the scop.

“Gender as a critical category has been sometimes confined to feminist reexamination of patriarchally defined social roles, and analyses of marginality and oppression” (Overing 219). Perhaps social roles have a significant influence on the poem, and why the common women who do not possess royal blood in their veins, are just practically non-existent in Beowulf. Mostly royal women are mentioned in this epic: Queen Wealhtheow, Queen Hygd, King Healfdene’s daughter Irse, King Hrothgar’s daughter Freawaru,...


... middle of paper ...


... is certainly a function of women in the poem: Wealhtheow is a “peace-weaver” between the Helmings and Danes; Hildeburh between the Danes and Frisians; Freawaru between the Danes and Heathobards.

The roles of women in Beowulf are varied and non-stereotyped, except that they are expected to be peacemakers and non-warlike.  The women of royal blood have considerable freedom of choice, range of activity, and room for personal growth and development.

Works Cited

Chance, Jane. “Grendel’s Mother and the Women of Beowulf.” In Readings on Beowulf, edited by Stephen P. Thompson. San Diego: Greenhaven Press,1998.

Chickering, Howell D.. Beowulf A dual-Language Edition. New York: Anchor Books, 1977.

Overing, Gillian R. “The Women of Beowulf; A context for Interpretation.” In The Beowulf Reader, edited by Peter S. Baker. New York: Garland Publishing, 2000.

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