The Essential Women
Throughout the story of “Beowulf”, many of the women play important roles. Whether illegitimate monsters or peaceweaving queens, all are central and needed to the poem as a whole. Each of the women can be analyzed in a corresponding, anthropological fashion. Through this discussion of “Beowulf, “ the women will be presented centrally both to the story itself and within the society presented in the poem.
There are a few women in ” Beowulf “, who have major roles: Wealhtheow, Hygd, Freawaru, Hildeburh, and Grendel's mother, all of whom can be combined in corresponding pairs or groups. Wealhtheow and Hygd are all queens and, as hostesses, they both exert influence in the hall, usually thought to men, but they don’t always coincide with the wishes of their husbands. Wealtheow is “mindful of customs,” (623), of “excellent heart” and “sure of speech” (624). The primary function of these women within the story is that of hostess: they carry the cup of mead around the hall and offer it to the warriors. Hygd, the other woman who plays the role of hostess in “Beowulf”, has a much smaller part. She is described as moving through the hall, carrying the cup, but no order is given for her rounds. Hygd also held at least some political power, and this is shown most clearly when she attempts to deliver the kingdom of the Geats to Beowulf following Hygelac's death on the battlefield, in effect passing over her own son, Heardred.
Hildeburh and Freawaru can be described as peaceweavers. Hildeburh's story illustrates the conflict between the peaceweaver's marriage tribe and birth tribe. After the first battle, the scop says, "blameless she was deprived of her dear ones at the shield-play, of son and brother; wounded by spears they fell to their fate. That was a mournful woman." (1072- 1075) She has no grief from the death of her husband, and doesn’t want them avenged. This indicates Hildeburh's continuing close relationship to her birth people and she...
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