Points To Ponder

Is it significant that only one of the critical characters in Beowulf is female, and that she is unnamed?

Grendel’s mother is the only important female character in Beowulf.  While there are queens featured in the story, removing their presence would change neither the nature nor the tone of the story.  However, Grendel’s mother remains unnamed.  This could simply have been due to the fact that the story was transmitted orally over several generations, and her name may have been lost in this history of telling and retelling, with the poet unwilling to make up a name for her.  However, even if that is the case, it seems as if omission of her name is intentional.  After all, unlike Grendel, who has an unreasonable hatred of the occupants of Heorot, or the Dragon, who seeks to punish all of the Geats for the actions of a single thief, Grendel’s mother’s motivation is understandable.  She wishes to avenge the murder of her child, a motivation that can be understood on some level by any parent.  Moreover, it is because of her role as mother that she has any interaction with Beowulf at all.  Until her son is murdered, she is only a legend to the men in Denmark.  Hrothgar has heard rumors about her, but has had no reason to believe that she actually exists or that she poses any danger to his kingdom.  However, when her son dies, they learn that she not only exists, but that she is an incredibly dangerous foe.  Therefore, her maternal relationship to Grendel is of critical importance.  In fact, it is more important than her own identity as an individual.  Thus, she can play a significant role in the poem without being described as anything other than Grendel’s mother.

Why is reputation, including the reputation of one’s ancestors, so important to the heroic figures in the poem, and particularly to Beowulf?

To a modern audience, and especially to readers who were raised on the notion of individual...

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Essays About Beowulf