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Beowulf is a title that refers to an old and very informative epic poem. Its setting is Scandinavia, and a lot of importance is attached to the field of literature.
This essay analyzes the role of women in Beowulf. The plot of the poem unfolds around a hero of the Geats by the name Beowulf who encounters three rivals; Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and a dragon. Grendel is mainly involved in attacking the warriors of the mead hall. The hero is engaged in different battles, but after winning two of them, he retires to his homeland in Sweden. There he gets the title of being the king of the Geats, and later, he engages in his final battle where he survives fatal injuries that lead to his death.
Female characters in Beowulf are very important, as they help to understand of the entire poem and also the culture of the people in ancient times (Orchard 8). This paper discusses the role of women in Beowulf with much emphasis given to the specific characters, their roles, and how they are viewed.
Female Characters in Beowulf
According to Porter (3), there are six significant female characters in Beowulf. They are Thryth, Hygd, Wealtheow, Freawaru, Hildeburh, and Grendel’s mother.
These women characters can be grouped into pairs according to their ranks and the roles they play in the society, for instance, Wealtheow and Hygd are queen and hostess, respectively. Hildeburh and Freawaru act as peacekeepers and peace weavers and participate in controversial situations in the society while Thryth and Grendel’s mother is depicted as monsters, although in different aspects.
They, in most instances, counter the hostesses and peace weavers by acting in a more masculine way. They utilize their physical strength and weapons as a means of impacting their influence on society as opposed to the use of words or even social aspects like marriages, as it is the case with the majority of women. The different women characters portrayed in Beowulf act as a way through which we can get a general overview of the gender roles in the Anglo-Saxon society of that time in general (Nilson 1).
Roles of Women in Beowulf
Women play a variety of roles at different times and occasions. They are supposed to recognize the bravery of their men at all times and to perform ceremonial practices entailing the passing of the mead cup. That is a way of taking care of the men’s welfare, satisfying their bodies and souls, that is a pure woman’s role.
In Beowulf, gender roles typical for the Anglo-Saxon society of that time are shown. Women serve as peacekeepers and weavers through their presence in all the post-battle sections of Beowulf. Peacekeeping is a role that gives women some form of identity. That, for example, can be seen in their effort in arranging marriages between clans that are surrounded by conflicts as they clearly understand the importance of peace and that its absence leads to failure in almost every aspect of life.
In Beowulf, the role of women is also that of transition figures. Grendel’s mother goes ahead and avenges her son’s death, and in return, gets killed. Prophesy is the other role assigned to women in Beowulf. This is closely related to the ceremonial practices carried out by the women and their power over the men’s wits and sobriety.
The women give signs and warn the people of anything that ought to happen, especially the unpleasant happenings, so that they can take the necessary precautions to avoid suffering. For instance, a woman appears after the demise of Beowulf to specifically warn the people that they have to be prepared as much awaits them from their former enemies following the slaying of their lord Beowulf (Edgington and Edgington 2).
Women are also entitled to the role of playing power politics in different occasions. For example, we see queen Wealtheow taking the opportunity of rewarding Beowulf substantially following his return from the act of slaying Grendel. That is a sign of caring for society – a role that is well played by women.
The women also serve a very significant role in society, which entails acting as role models by serving as mirrors to the young people through which they can gauge their failures and achievements. Women are very significant in Beowulf, although they are also viewed to be undermined by being given substandard roles. However, they are also valued as the roles they play could otherwise be unattended or done ineffectively.
They play essential roles like the clarification of the Germanic code utilized in the ruling during this time of the Beowulf. Grendel’s mother serves as a good example here where she is depicted as an evil beast and a savage woman and associated with the corrupt dealings of her son Grendel. The good part of this comes in her act of avenging for her son’s death, where she expresses the code of honor in a far much better manner than any man would do.
Her honor is obvious where she only kills one man as opposed to where her son, a man, killed many of them. The Germanic code demands that women need to show some specific elements, for example, humanity, warlike, and sympathy in all their dealings irrespective of the circumstances that faced them (Edgington and Edgington 4).
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From the roles of the women in Beowulf, it is right to conclude that although the parts are not too inflexible that they can limit the women’s actions, they are, to a great extent, responsible for restricting their powers. Gender roles in Beowulf also bring out the aspect of male dominance.
Suppression for women is an acceptable aspect, and the few who are viewed to express some possession of power are expected to do so at a very minimal rate. A good example is that of queen Wealtheow, who, despite having the title, has petty responsibilities like those of serving drinks to men.
Gender Roles in Beowulf
Women in Beowulf are homemakers who are not treated with the respect and honor they deserve. They are expected to be unassertive and are not given a chance to ask questions but rather to act unquestionably and serve the guests and the warriors and make the men happy under all circumstances. For instance, we see queen Wealtheow being viewed as just like a typical Danish woman, while Grendel’s mother is a strong, assertive woman and, worse still, a murderer.
That shows that, in Beowulf, some women are treated with the respect they require while others are despised too much. It is evident from the author’s viewpoint there is an element of suppressing the feminine forces in Beowulf even though there are chances of trying to counter this through praises to some women.
Women are also members of the weaker sex throughout the poem. For instance, when queen Wealtheow is directed to her position beside the king, and she is expected to be involved in serving drinks and greeting the guest or else following the king obediently for any occurring chance where her help is needed.
The strong attributes of the women, for instance, their intelligence and their ability to undertake specific duties correctly, then men like peacemaking are not emphasized in the poem, although they are evident. That helps to understand where the women’s place in society is, especially comparing to the men (MartinX 2).
This paper analyzes the role of women in Beowulf. The words and practices carried out by the women in the poem seem to play the overall rationale of it, which entails the demonstration of concentration on variation and opposition. As shown in this essay, women role in Beowulf is essential, although there are instances of them being undermined.
Edgington Byron and Edgington Mariah. ”The Role of Women in Beowulf – An Overview”. Ezine articles, 2011. Web.
MartinX. “Representation of Women in Beowulf.” echeat.com, 2005. Web.
Nilson, John. “Female Characters in Beowulf.” Searchwarp, 2006. Web.
Orchard, Andy. A Critical Companion to Beowulf. Cambridge: Bodydell & Brewer Ltd, 2003. Print.
Porter, C. Dorothy. “The Social Centrality of Women in Beowulf: A New Context.” Heroicage, 2001. Web.