Women in Beowulf and Arthurian Legend
A common theme in the stories we have read is that glory, happiness, and success come in cycles (this theme is commonly represented as "the wheel of fortune"). This theme is present in the Arthurian tales, as well as in Beowulf. Each story tells a tale (or part of a tale) of a rise to glory, and the proceeding fall to disarray. The men always were the kings and warriors, but the women played different roles in the different
stories. The women of Beowulf were used to bind up peace (or were peaceful women), whereas the women of Arthurian legend tended to disturb the peace and cause strife. There are many women described briefly in Beowulf, and a few women described elaborately in the various Arthurian tales. The women in Beowulf were mostly openly generous, but the women in Arthurian legend unintentionally created conflicts, with the exception of Morgan le Fay. Slight variations on the female characters are present in each story.
However, they all share common characteristics with other women in their time period.
In Beowulf, there are two main categories of women. The first category is women who are bound by arranged marriages. This was often used in an attempt to create peace -- although this approach often failed, it is no fault of the women. Beowulf's own parents had an arranged marriage, although it was not an attempt to make peace. Other women mentioned in Beowulf include Hildeburh and Freawaru. Hildeburh of the Danes was sent to marry Finn, the king of the Jutes and Frisians. Finn's men killed Hildeburh's brother, Hnaef, despite the newfound peace gained by the marriage. Her tale ends in tragedy even though she was supposed to bring and end to the feud between the two countries involved. Freawaru, just like Hildeburh, was destined to marry someone from another country in an attempt to keep relations smooth. She was promised to Ingeld of the Heathobards. Beowulf predicted with uncanny certainty the events that would come in the future regarding Freawaru. He said that her father "believes that it is an excellent plan to use her as a peace-weaver to bury old antagonisms, mortal feuds. But the deadly spear rarely sleeps for long after a prince lies dead in the dust, however exceptional the bride may be!" (71). It was Freawaru's intent to maintain peace, even though destiny had other plans.
The other category of women found in Beowulf is the women in power, who distributed their wealth generously to maintain a peaceful society. Hrothgar's wife and queen, Wealtheow, was noted on numerous occasions giving away copious gifts. A theme present in Beowulf is that those who are open-handed with their wealth help to prevent any hostilities from forming. The Queen of the Geats, Beowulf's queen, was also noted for being charitable: "She was not too thrifty, not ungenerous with gifts of precious treasures to the Geatish thanes" (69). Such unselfish behavior allows friendship to flourish and falseness to...