Beowulf is an epic poem written back in the Anglo-Saxon time period. While the epic poem features a significant amount of female characters such as Grendel's Mother and Wealtheow, it is obvious that the men and their affairs are the focus of the story. A critic once pointed out that "the poem's powerfully sexist disposition is apparent in its largely male cast of characters and in relatively minimal attention given to women who do appear". As part of the heroic culture present in the poem, it is commonplace for women to be married off to men of rival tribes in order to insure observance of peace treaties. At first glance, it seems that the women of Beowulf are there simply to serve the men as servants or bargaining chips. Is this the case? Or do the women of Beowulf hold more influence than we think? In this essay - using two of the poem's most important female characters as example - I argue that in terms of word choice and the language of the poem itself, the women of Beowulf are portrayed as bed mates or wives first, and people second. However when it comes to the poem's plot, the women do hold a significant amount of influence.
The first major female character to whom we are introduced to is Wealhtheow, described as "Hrothgar's queen.... Adorned in her gold" (Beowulf, lines 613-614). A few lines later she is referred to as "Wealhtheow/Hrothgar's queen and bedmate (Beowulf, lines 664-665). Neither time is Wealhtheow referred to as simply Wealhtheow or even as the queen of the Danes, but as a companion to Hrothgar. Hrothgar on the other hand, is consistently referred to as simply "Hrothgar" or as "Halfdane's son". This is evidence that the strong patriarchal values of the heroic culture found within the poem.
That is not to say, however that Wealhtheow is completely powerless. Beowulf still feels the need to impress her addressing his boast, which "pleases the lady well" (Beowulf, line 640). Why would Beowulf think it's necessary to impress the...
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