The Role of Women in Beowulf

English: An illustration of Beowulf fighting t...

English: An illustration of Beowulf fighting the dragon that appears at the end of the epic poem. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Consider the role played by women in the poem.  Although Beowulf–like all other heroic epics–is clearly dominated by male characters, the female characters have an important function in the poem.  How important are the female characters in Beowulf?  What is the attitude of the narrator and of the hero-warriors towards women?

Grendel’s mother is one of the main antagonists in the story. She embodies evil just like Grendel and their demonization is attributed to their lineage and relationships to Cain. She is a formidable monster who is on par with the other antagonists in the story. In that respect, this woman is presented as an equal to a man. She is a “mortal foe” who Beawulf “was not sorry to be fighting” (1537-1538). Unlike Grendel, his mother is humanized to certain degree in that her anger is attributed to what this man has done to her son. “She was down on this guest of hers and had drawn her knife, broad, burnished of edge; for her boy was to be avenged, her only son” (1545 –1546). Besides Grendel’s mother, the poem is dominated by male heroes. The role that women play is similar to material possessions. In other words, women are cherished and loved, but only as prizes that are won in battles. Just like material possessions, women are object that represent success in heroic feats.

Anonymous.  Beowulf: A Verse Translation.  Translated by Michael AlexanderNew York: Penguin Books, 2003.  Print.

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