Essay on Women's Role in Beowulf

1707 Words Jan 29th, 2006 7 Pages
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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614-616). However, as Wealhtheow continues her rounds of serving, it becomes apparent that Wealhtheow has more power than that of a common cup-bearer. This is evidenced when she is able to speak to the guests of the mead hall, and receives a respectful response from the guest of honor, Beowulf. In addition to the respect that she is given, it becomes apparent that Wealhtheow is well spoken and perhaps well educated: "With measured words she welcomed the Geat / and thanked God for granting her wish that a deliverer she could believe in would arrive / to ease their afflictions" (ll. 625-628). These descriptions of Wealhtheow's presence within the mead-hall show her obedience to her lord, Hrothgar, as well as the respect she has earned from the people fulfilling her role as gracious hostess.
Wealhtheow is portrayed as a strong female character, when she shows her strength in serving as an advisor to Hrothgar. She tells Hrothgar that he should not name Beowulf as the heir over their two sons with her and her sons' best interests in mind. Wealhtheow is also a confident woman; she shows her power and influence in the mead hall by speaking in front of the people.
Despite her strong personality and confidence, her inferiority to the male characters shows through because of her primary role to serve and be obedient to her lord. Wealhtheow was…