Comparison between Female Characters in Beowulf
Beowulf, the Old English epic tells the story of one brave hero and his battles against evil monsters. The poem deals with mostly masculine elements like fight descriptions, depictions of armor and long inspiring speeches. However, the women characters in the epic also have important roles and they are far from being superficial, as it may seem at first. There are several female figures in Beowulf; this paper will focus on three of them- queen Wealhtheow of the Danes, queen Hygd of the Geats and Grendel?s mother. These characters have many parallels between them but in a way some are the ?alter-ego? of the others.
Wealhtheow is the perfect hostess and devoted queen and wife. Her first appearance in the poem demonstrates her official duties as the queen: ?Wealhtheow came in, Hrotgar?s queen, observing the courtesies. Adorned in her gold, she graciously saluted the men in the hall, then handed the cup first to Hrotgar?So the Helming woman went on her rounds, queenly and dignified, decked out in rings, offering the goblet to all ranks, treating the household and the assembled troop?? (lines 612-623). As a queen, Wealhtheow has a role to fulfill and she does it with grace. She welcomes the guests; offers mead and creates a peaceful atmosphere in the mead-hall. The figure of Grendel?s mother is quite the opposite in this aspect- she is the ?anti- hostess? and far from being graceful. This creature does not greet the man who arrives to her dwelling; she fights Beowulf desperately and only a divine interference saves his life: ?It was hard-fought, a desperate affair that could have gone badly; if God had not helped me, the outcome would have been quick and fatal? (lines1657-1658). One can claim that these manners of Grendel?s mother are quite masculine. We find that she fights well and has the qualities of a great warrior if she was almost able to overcome Beowulf and she takes upon herself the manly duty of avenging her dead son. Beowulf himself says to Hrotgar that: ?It always better to avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning? (lines 1384-1385). Taking vengeance for warrior?s death is noble but Grendel?s mother?s attentions are condemned by the poet ? she cannot be noble and she cannot act upon warrior?s code of honor; this notion comes from the fact that she is not really human and more important- she is a female.
The queen Wealhtheow cannot separate her own identity from her formal duties that are part of being Hrotgar?s wife; her identity cannot exist without the male figure of her life- her king. One can claim that Hrotgar?s generosity and prosperity are defined through Wealhtheow?s actions: when Beowulf first arrives at Heorot he receives his cup of mead from the queen only after many other men in the hall, however, when he defeats Grendel Beowulf receives his mead right after the king. This act emphasizes the fact that Beowulf has become an important and highly respected...