In the epic poem dubbed 'Beowulf,' women play various functions that are critical to its development. Though it mainly focuses on heroic male, the poem has outlined the different roles that women play ranging from entertainers and peacemakers to the ones that contradict social expectations. The women presented in the poem are central to the manner in which the society undertakes its roles. The poem gives the voices of women that offer influence over the predominantly male group. It also highlights how women provide the voice of reason to their husbands. Women depicted in the poem include peace weaver, hostesses, and a monster. The events that transpire in the poem suggest that women should not be taken lightly as they play an integral role in society.
The two queens that have been introduced in the poem are Wealhtheow and Hygd. They are queens courtesy of being married to the kings. Moreover, the two queens are also regarded as hostesses because they often welcome people in the hall and attend to them by ensuring that they are served with drinks and enjoying their time in the room. The two queens played a vital role in hall ceremonies as well as taking part in diplomacy (Shelley 37). In the heroic Anglo-Saxon society, the noble women played a fundamental role by bringing people together at the hall. The hall was mainly used as the central social place where people would come along and comprehensively discuss the various issues that transpire in society. Wealhtheow has been vividly described in the poem as not only mindful of etiquette but also a very noble-hearted queen. As a hostess, she ensured that she carried the mead cup and passed it on to the king and warriors. This illustrated her noble status in the society as an ideal wife for the king.
Hygd is a young and beautiful hostess-queen. She was a queen because she was married to King Hygelac. Given that she is always gentle and kind, she has been contradicted in the poem with the legendary queen Modthryth. This is because queen Modthryth was cruel and wicked both in her actions and behaviors. Both queens also play a critical role in influencing how politics are conducted in the kingdom. For instance, during the celebration of Grendel's death, Wealhtheow addresses Hrothgar by pointing out the need to be gracious towards the Geats. She also argues Beowulf by insisting that Beowulf should not be made the heir of the kingdom (Shelley 45). This is because she heard that Beowulf wished to take the warrior to be a son to him. It is for this purpose as to why she encouraged Beowulf to make Hrothulf his heir as a means of protecting her sons. The developments imply that Wealhthoew is safeguarding her interest by making sure that someone from the family inherits the kingdom as opposed to letting an outsider ascend to the position of power. The issues she raised were taken into consideration, and this implies that she has some influence on the decisions that Hrothgar made.
When Wealhtheow presented the gift to Beowulf, she urged him to accept it. The words she used to express herself to Beowulf with the presents indicate that she was not only generous but also kind. It implies that the noble women played the role of hostesses while at the same time also giving gifts. The act of giving gifts established reciprocity leading to the existence of meaningful mutual exchange between the giver and the receiver (Weekes 68). It is what led to the formation of dynastic succession in the kingdom. The speech that Wealhtheow gave reflected bother confidence and self-assurance, and this illustrated the power that she had to command people easily.
Hygd also portrays another example of political power. This is because after her husband had passed away, she tried, by all means, possible to pass the kingdom to Beowulf. She held strong opinions that her son was not ready to rule the Geats. By this gesture, she was taking over the role of her husband by making vital decisions that he would have done. It is a situation that indicates that women in the poem are not marginal (Shelley 50). Instead, they are playing central roles by having a significant influence on political decisions and giving orders when they feel that there is a need to do so.
Hildeburh and Freawaru are regarded as peace-weavers. This is because they were given in marriage to people from the rival groups as a means of maintaining peace. However, when the opposing groups found peace and united, the women had a significant influence on both groups. These women are used as a link between hostile people that were united by marriage. For instance, the daughter of the Danish king, Hildeburgh was married to the king of the Jutes named Finn to establish long-lasting peace between the two groups in the society. Her task as a peace-weaver was successful when Beowulf defeated Grendel (Taylor 89). After realizing her role, she married someone else and had a son with him. This helped in blending the blood of the Danish with that of the Jutes. However, this union failed to last long as the two groups kept on fighting which led to the death of Hildeburh's brother, son, and husband.
There was also another attempt to unite two people in the case of King Hrothgar's daughter called Freawaru. Her marriage to Ingeld who was the king of the Heathobards was regarded as an insult because the two groups had been enemies for several years. It is for this purpose as to why the role she plays as a peace-weaver in the poem makes her relevant. There are also two monster-like women in the poem. They are Thyrth and Grendel's, mother. The reason as to why these two are regarded as women is because peace weavers and hostesses. This is because they are not only comfortable but also satisfied with how they use violence to solve their disputes (Weekes 74). Moreover, they do not welcome anyone that comes to visit them at their respective houses. It is for this motive as to why they are regarded as both violent and cruel as they continuously make use of weapons and the physical strength that they possess as opposed to utilizing either words or marriage to influence other individuals.
Another example of a powerful woman in the poem is Grendel's mother. This is because she lives in her house and protects the home herself. It is a situation that implies that she is independent. She also takes the initiative to confront Beowulf to take revenge for the death of Grendel. There is also Thyrth who has been depicted as not only an evil princess but also a one who was guilty of committing many crimes. She used to kill anyone that came into her hall. However, there is one significant difference between the two monster-like women in that while Thyrth was human, Grendel's mother was a monster. Grendel's mother never had a social status but on the other hand, Thyrth who was a princess, functioned within the society and this made her have social status (Taylor 102). It is for this purpose as to why the public she worked in finally had some influence on her, and this helped her to change her attitude. She ended up marrying Offa after finding love in him. Also, Grendel's mother was affected by the death of her son, and this indicates that despite her being a monster, she was finally tamed due to the influence that the society had on her. It is such developments that have depicted the critical roles that women played in the poem.
Women who have been depicted in the poem play a significant part in the society and it for this purpose as to why their roles have not been limited. The duties that they carry out include being peace weavers, cupbearers, and hostesses among others. Women also take part in active politics and make critical decisions that affect the manner in which the kingdom is run. Women have it all, and they can be gracious like Wealhtheow, evil like Thyrth, or independent like Grendel's mother. The most critical fact is that they are all powerful mothers and queens as illustrated by their actions in the poem.
Shelley, Mary. "Frankenstein." Medicine and Literature, Volume Two. CRC Press, 2018. 35-52.
Taylor, Kimberly. "Challenging the Gender Dichotomy in the Victorian Era: Reading Hemingway's" Up in Michigan" and Mansfield's" Frau Brechenmacher" Together." Inquiries Journal 10.03 (2018).
The Longman Anthology of British Literature, Vol. 1 (4th edition), edited by David Damrosch and Kevin J. H. Dettmar; Longman, 2010.
Weekes, Ann Owens. Irish Women Writers: An Uncharted Tradition. University Press of Kentucky, 2015.
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