Beowulf and Women

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Women in the Anglo-Saxon society have be viewed as having a very derogatory status, and although the Anglo-Saxon society did not necessarily have certain expectations of women ‘set-in-stone’, what they did have was a precise terminology for the words ‘man’ and ‘woman’. According to Carla Nayland in her article, Role of women in historical fiction set in Anglo-Saxon English, the old English word ‘man’ meant ‘human, person’ and was no way related to a sex-specific gender. Nayland writes that a male was described as ‘wapman’ meaning weapon person, and a female as ‘wifman’ meaning weaving person. This theory suggests that the normal social roles required of men and women were obvious, with the assumption that men were expected to fight and women were expected to weave. This theory is evident throughout Beowulf from the actions of both women and men. The Anglo-Saxon society presented women as either being used as servants to pass around the cup, serving as peace treaties and were offered as brides to end feuds between rivals, or were vicious women like Grendel’s mother, which was considered monstrous. Naturally, individuals no doubt moved outside the accepted conventions in response to circumstances or individual ambitions (Nayland). This distinction does not necessarily indicate superiority of one sex over the other, but it could be argued as a concept of ‘equal but different’. .

In a review of Beowulf written by M. Wendy Hennequin titled, We’ve Created a Monster: The Strange Case of Grendel’s Mother, we are presented with evidence of Grendel’s character outline which consists of being “…a noble and brave opponent and even as a somewhat sympathetic character” (Hennequin, 3). *Throughout the poem Beowulf, Grendel’s character has been constructed as Beowulf’s antagonist, but does not “depict her as a monster or even a villain in the modern sense of the word” (Hennequin, 3). Grendel’s mother had no choice but to be vicious because that was the only way to receive...
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