Women's Role in Beowulf Essay

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Wealhtheow: The Role of Women in Beowulf

Beowulf is an epic tale written over twelve hundred years ago. In the poem, several different female characters are introduced, and each woman possesses detailed and unique characteristics. The women in Beowulf are portrayed as strong individuals, each of whom has a specific role within the poem. Some women are cast as the cup-bearers and gracious hostesses of the mead halls, such as Wealhtheow and Hygd, while others, Grendel's mother, fulfill the role of a monstrous uninvited guest. The woman's role of the time period, author's attitude, and societal expectations for women are evidenced throughout the poem.
Wealhtheow is Hrothgar's queen and the mother of his two sons. Wealhtheow portrays
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Wealtheow's duty as a queen is to serve the court as a peace-weaver, "a queen should weave peace" (ll. 1942). This refers to the way that women of the time period were offered up for marriage in order to make peace with enemies. Beowulf even describes her as "the queen / herself appeared, peace-pledge between nations" (ll. 2016-2017). She probably did not have a choice in this peace-offering, so while Wealhtheow shows obvious characteristics of a strong woman, she appears to be held back from being politically and socially powerful due to her gender and social oppression by the male dominated society of Beowulf.
Similar to Wealhtheow, Hygd, Hygelac's queen, holds some masculine power within the mead hall. She is first introduced into the story appearing very ladylike and proper: "Hygd, [Hygelac's] queen, / was young, a few short years at court, / her mind was thoughtful and her manners sure" (ll. 1926-1928). This initial description shows her feminine qualities as well as her potential for being a strong woman in the poem. Immediately after her entrance into the poem, the poet makes a reference to Great Queen Modthryth, and goes on to explain the "terrible wrongs" (ll. 1933) she committed, even in all her beauty. This is a device used by the poet "as a foil to Queen Hygd's virtues... the poet's device is similar to that of using the wickedness of King Heremod to contrast with the good qualities of Sigemund and