Are women in these poems active equals of the men? Or are they passive victims of the men? The roles of the women in Beowulf and other Anglo-Saxon poems are not always stereotyped ones of passive homemaker and childbearer and peaceweaver, but sometimes ones giving freedom of choice, range of activity, and room for personal growth and development.
Beowulf makes reference to Ingeld and his wife and the coming Heathobard feud:
in that hot passion
his love for peace-weaver, his wife, will cool (2065-66)
This is a rare passage, for Anglo-Saxon poetry rarely mentions romantic feelings toward women. In fact, one’s marital status wasn’t even considered significant. For example, with the hero himself the poet never mentions whether he is married or not, likewise with most characters in the poem. Because this is a poem about the heroic deeds of men, Hildeburh excepted, the feeling between man-and-woman is downplayed, and the feeling among warriors is emphasized. Remember that 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, superhuman, violent deeds about to transpire are perhaps not all that compatible with women and womanly qualities like passivity, gentleness, compassion. It is a predominantly masculine, rough and tough narrative which would only be detracted from by the presence of many women.
Chickering says that women in the poem had “all the dignity and standing they commanded in Tacitus’ day,” when they were greatly respe...
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...im (in the case of Hild). And the language in reference to the women seems to be respectful, non demeaning. Some women have stereotyped roles of passive homemaker and childbearer and peaceweaver, but others, particularly royalty, have freedom of choice, range of activity, and room for personal growth and development.
Alexander, Michael, translator. The Earliest English Poems. New York: Penguin Books, 1991.
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.
Chickering, Howell D.. Beowulf A dual-Language Edition. New York: Anchor Books, 1977.
Tacitus: The Annals of Imperial Rome, translated by Michael Grant. New York: Penguin, 1996.
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