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Published: 24-12-2019

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Analyzing Beowulf Women

A swift read-through of the Old English epic poem Beowulf reveals that the text centers heavily about male characters and generally masculine themes. The main character, Beowulf, a strong and renowned hero, sets on an epic journey to save the kingdom of Danes from the relentless cruelty of Grendel, a vicious monster, and throughout his initial journey and throughout the rest of the poem, there are several situations of violence, male dominance, and mischief, which may well lead the reader to wonder if the female characters present in the text matter at all. As a matter of truth, just simply because these characters are not front and center in the plot line, does not imply that they are insignificant to the narrative of the poem. Far from invisible, the women in Beowulf use their roles inside the kingdom to actively market peace and prosperity by acting as hostesses, generating familial bonds amongst kingdoms and in search of influence as political actors. They assert a silent but firm energy inside a patriarchal society, and their traits and behaviors illustrate their complexity and ask the reader to examine them as distinct characters rather than mere shadows of the males in their society.

In order to greater recognize the part of females within Beowulf, we might examine each and every female character individually. Wealhtheow, Hrothgar’s wife and queen of the Danes, is 1 of the most prominent female characters inside the poem. Whilst it may possibly be simple to disregard her position inside the kingdom, as she holds no explicit political power, a closer look will show how she uses her role to exert her influence. The reader is very first introduced to Wealhtheow at the elaborate feast hosted by King Hrothgar in Heorot Hall to welcome Beowulf, the wonderful warrior come to avenge his kingdom, to Danes and to celebrate comradery in between the Danes and the Geats. Wealhtheow enters the area adorned in her gold crown to perform the ceremonial act of passing a cup of mead for each warrior to drink from prior to starting the feast. She very first presents the cup to King Hrothgar then carries it from warrior to warrior till she reaches Beowulf. She thanks him for coming to assist her kingdom to which he responds by reaffirming his vow to bestow peace upon the kingdom. The words utilised to describe Wealhtheow during this ceremonial act, such as “regal and arrayed with gold” and “queenly and dignified, decked out in rings”, convey her presence to be both distinguished and commanding (621,641).

The passing of the mead-cup, which occurs as soon as at the feast to welcome Beowulf to the kingdom and again at the feast to celebrate his triumph over Grendel, is essential to note due to the fact not only does Wealhtheow use the act to encourage kinsmanship amongst the warriors and their respective kingdoms, she also uses it to silently denote the present rankings to the nobility present in the Hall. Prior to passing the mead-cup around at the second feast, she tends to make a brief speech, which she begins:

Take pleasure in this drink, my most generous lord

Raise up your goblet, entertain the Geats

Duly and gently, discourse with them,

Be open-handed, pleased and fond.

Relish their organization, but recollect as nicely

All of the boons that have been bestowed on you. (1168-1173)

She initial makes a plea to King Hrothgar to be grateful for the aid of Beowulf and his men, reminding all gathered at the feast to be gracious to one an additional. She then passes the cup to King Hrothgar, as she did during the very first feast, but this time, she passes the cup to Beowulf afterwards. Throughout the initial feast, after the cup leaves King Hrothgar, it is passed to many other warriors ahead of reaching Beowulf. By altering the order in the course of the second feast, handing the cup to Beowulf before the rest of the warriors, Wealhtheow is signifying that Beowulf, by fatally wounding Grendel, has moved up in the noble hierarchy. If the order in which the cup was passed held no significance, 1 could argue that it would look a bit redundant to mention it throughout both feasts. Even though she does not have the energy to personally rank the warriors in the kingdom, by passing the mead-cup in a certain order, Wealhtheow is generating that ranking evident to all that preside, which in itself holds a sense of authority. It is also important to note that when she passes the cup around and even when she makes her speech encouraging peace, she is amongst the most powerful males in the kingdom. Her speech, both the literal and symbolic a single, can be regarded as a kind of agency, which in itself is also a kind of energy. It is attainable to argue that by passing around a cup of mead, Wealhtheow is basically fulfilling her womanly duties of catering to the men but it is important to consider that for the duration of each feasts the poet passively states that there are currently servants standing by with “decorate pitchers, pouring bright helpings of mead”(495-496). The elaborate descriptions of Wealhtheow’s actions show that her function as hostess at each feasts has a more profound goal as a peacemaker and a small but considerable political actor.

Wealhtheow additional expands her modest function as a political actor inside the nobility by producing an work at influencing the transition of energy in the kingdom. During her speech at the feast for Beowulf’s triumph, she says to King Hrothgar,

And now the word is that you want to adopt

This warrior as a son. So, although you a lot of,

Bask in your fortune, and then bequeath

Kingdom and nation to your kith and kin,

Ahead of your decease. I am specific of Hrothulf.

He is noble and will use the young ones properly.

He will not let you down. (1175-1181)

With this speech, she tires to convince the King to leave his throne to a single of her sons when he passes in order to guard Hrothulf, Hrothgar’s nephew, from conspiring to steal it. Not only does she want to safeguard the future of her sons, she also desires to prevent a bloody coup by Hrothulf which may well lead to war inside her kingdom. The way she tries to speak Hrothulf into promising, by default, to be type to her sons, given that it’s unlikely he will speak in opposition to her request at that specific moment, is fairly clever. Despite the fact that the poem doesn’t state no matter whether or not her ideas created a significant influence on King Hrothulf, she does make an admirable, and even tactful, attempt, which is an assertion of energy, successful or otherwise.

Wealhtheow shares a comparable function with an additional female character in Beowulf, Hygd, wife of King Hygelac and gracious queen of Geatland. There is a scene in the poem when she, as well, acts as a hostess, presenting the cup of mead to each nobleman inside the King’s court, but Hygd’s far more active function is as a small political actor. When Beowulf gloriously defeats Grendel and returns house, Hygd delivers him King Hygelac’s throne after he dies in battle. Despite the fact that her son is the rightful heir, “she has no belief in her son’s capability to defend their homeland against foreign invaders” and sees that Beowulf would be a much better ruler (2371-2372). Hygd knows that this selection will jeopardize her son’s position in the nobility but she considers the safety and safety of Geatland to be much more grave and resolves accordingly. The poem does not state whether or not she was instructed by King Hygelac, ahead of his death, to give the throne to Beowulf upon his return but by stating that she herself does not believe her son to be match to rule, it suggests that it is feasible that she played some component in the choice-creating. At the really least, she affirms Beowulf’s claim to the throne . In either case, Hygd is exerting a mild but acknowledgeable sense of power.

In the case of each Wealhtheow and Hygd, their roles a peacemakers and minimal political actors can be criticized considering that both females didn’t actually make certain peace within either kingdom. Hrothulf does certainly stop Wealhtheow’s son from peacefully taking his father’s throne regardless of her efforts to cease him and after Beowulf at some point accepts Hygd’s offer for the throne, he dies in battle, which leaves Geatland vulnerable to attack. So if they both primarily failed in the finish, can they genuinely be labeled peacemakers? I’d argue that their efforts as peacemakers shouldn’t be disregarded even if they weren’t completely productive. After all, Beowulf was unsuccessful trying to defeat the dragon that terrorized Geatland but but he died with honor and his legacy as a hero was in no way disparaged or questioned inside the kingdom. It is important to don't forget that, untimely, these girls lived in patriarchal society that viewed them as subordinates. No matter whether or not they have been profitable, their efforts to avert bloodshed and make sure the prosperity of their respective kingdoms, in a time exactly where they had very tiny agency, is admirable. Relative to their circumstances, they have been as effective and as powerful as could be realistically anticipated.

We are introduced to however one more female character in Heorot Hall before Beowulf’s feast. Hildeburh, daughter of the King of Danes, marries the King of the Jutes in order to produce peace amongst the two kingdoms and bears a kid that mixes the two bloodlines and dissolves any animosity amongst them. Nonetheless, peace only lasts so lengthy and the two kingdoms erupt in a feud that causes Hildeburh to drop each her son and brother on the battlefield (1073-1075). She is left “a lady in shock, waylaid by grief” by her efforts to be a peacemaker (1075-1076). She is not to blame for the kingdoms’ feud yet she is the one that has to live with the grief of losing her loved-ones (1078). It is possible to claim that probably Hildeburh was just employed a token by the men of Danes and married the King of Jutes just since she was instructed to do so. The poem does not signify regardless of whether or not she personally select to marry him but nonetheless she did, possibly sacrificing her personal wants, a noble move that helped create peace amongst the two kingdoms for at least a significant period of time. It may possibly be effortless to pity her, but it’s challenging to deny her private influence and presence in the poem simply because in the end, she did execute her function as a peacemaker to the very best of her capability, having the strength to marry the Kind of Jutes, particularly if it was against her will, and the strength to carry on soon after her loss.

All three of the female character that had been just examined share quite similar characteristics, so is it possible that they are just performing the predetermined role of the female archetype inside the poem and none of their actions are deliberate or noteworthy? This could be a prospective argument had the poem not incorporated two female characters, Grendel’s mother and the evil Queen Modthyrtho, that do not play the identical roles as the other three girls to show the complexity of the female characters and the role of ladies. Grendel’s mother is just as frightening and treacherous as her monstrous son and even engages in battle with Beowulf himself to avenge her fallen son (1537-1540). She is far from a hostess, a peacemaker or a political actor but she does exert her own brand of energy by means of brute physical violence, a generally masculine attribute. The legend of the evil Queen Modthyrtho, recalled in the poem, describes her to be wicked, punishing any topic she suspected of conspiring against her with a cruel, unjustifiable death (1934-1943). This legend is placed in the poem to show the contrast amongst her wicked personality and the gracious a single of Queen Hygd, but, along with Grendel’s mother’s actions, it also performs to demonstrate the variety and complexity of all of the poem’s female characters and how they can't be generalized into 1 archetype. Wealhtheow, Hygd, and Hildeburh did not share similar qualities merely simply because they had been females. Their similarities stem from sharing comparable roles within the kingdom and using these part in related approaches to influence their kingdoms and exert their energy in 1 way or another.
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