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Women in the Epic of Beowulf Essay

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Women in Beowulf

Are women in this poem active equals of the men? Or are they passive victims of the men? The role of the women in Beowulf is not a stereotyped one of passive homemaker, but rather one having freedom of choice, range of activity, and room for personal growth and development.

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, superhauman, violent deeds about to transpire are perhaps not all that compatible with women and womanly qualities like passivity, gentleness, compassion. For the same reason we see no
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The Queen comes to support her king and to encourage the volunteer Geat warriors to do their very best and bravest in the combat with Grendel. Only after the Queen has given him a cup of mead does Beowulf pledge to fight Grendel to the death, . And “these words well pleased the royal lady, the boast of the Geat” (639-40). As soon as the hero made this boast, “The gracious queen, her cloak gold-laden, then sat by her lord” (640-641). So it is obvious what her purpose was – to win a firm commitment from Beowulf, thereby pleasing her king and her subjects.

When Grendel had been routed, the order was then given to refurbish Heorot, both “men and women adorning the guest-house, that great wine-hall,” (993-94) working together side by side. Hrothgar that night distributed much gratitude and many gifts, then a scop sang the story of a very emotionally strong woman, Hildeburh, who lost son and brother to battle: “Beside them both the noblewoman wept” (1118). Hildeburh becomes a deposed Frisian queen and is taken back to her people, the Danes.

After the scop’s recital, Queen Welhtheow reappears and encourages her husband to be generous to the Geats, and he is so. And then the queen gives gifts: “It is right that I grant you these jewelled treasures” (1225). Do I detect a hint of equality here between king and queen? No,
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